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Sunday, August 30, 2020

2020 Black Hills Gravel Series (Season 4 wrap)

Country roads, take me home
To the place, I belong
South Dakota, Black Hills gravel
Take me home, country roads
apologies to John Denver, Take Me Home Country Roads (1971)

Another season of the Black Hills Gravel Series brought together a growing community of cyclists to share their love of riding remote roads. The Black Hills Gravel Series attracts all kinds of folks, from young to old, beginner to veteran, novice to expert. It's a community treasure, created and nurtured by the indomitable force of nature known as Lucas Haan.

Behind that friendly face, Lucas Haan is constantly cooking up amazing Black Hills Gravel routes.

This fourth season offered seven start locations scattered throughout the Black Hills area, each with a Green route (easy 10-15 miles), Blue route (moderate 20-25 miles) and Black route (difficult 45-55 miles). Generally, the Green routes not only are the shortest, but also have fewer, easier hills and better road surfaces. The Blue routes basically double the number of miles, as well as gain more elevation on less developed roads. The Black routes double the miles again, gain even more elevation on more difficult climbs, and often include stretches of "roads" that challenge even the most accomplished cyclist.

To keep the good times rolling all summer long, Lucas released the routes about once a month from March through August. Even with the popular group starts and after ride gatherings canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, folks eagerly anticipated the announcement of the next route, rode their chosen distance on their schedule, and shared their experience on social media. With this regular Black Hills Gravel connection, our local gravel community not only survived, but thrived throughout this season.

Here's a snapshot of each of the seven Black routes of the 2020 Black Hills Gravel Series. The first three ventured into the rolling prairie surrounding Piedmont, Sturgis and Spearfish. The next four dove deeply into the Black Hills from Custer, Merritt, Hill City and Rochford. Each route offered a unique mix of fast gravel and lumpy dirt roads, with the Black routes adding a little something extra, like some rocky two track, gutted ATV trail or overgrown single track. All are creative, memorable routes worthy of riding again and again. Thank you, Lucas, for another season of Black Hills Gravel!

2020 Black Hills Gravel Series #1 (Piedmont)
The Black Hills Gravel Series kicks off in late March with a prairie ride east and north out of Piedmont. In brilliant sunshine, 60 degrees and little wind, cyclists fly over dry, hard, fast gravel, if a little rough from our snowy winter. It's a great spin fest to start the season. (2020 Piedmont Photo Album).

Bear Butte looms on the horizon early on the Piedmont route.

2020 Black Hills Gravel Series #2 (Sturgis)
Just three days after a foot of fresh snow in early April, the Black Hills Gravel Series streaks back into the rolling prairie, this time north and east out of Sturgis. Surprisingly, cyclists revel in sunshine, light winds, 40-50 degrees and hero gravel everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except a mischievous 3 mile Minimum Maintenance Road filled with snow, ice and mud. Well, alrighty then! Let the infamous route twists on the Black Hills Gravel Series begin! (2020 Sturgis Photo Album).

One mile into a three mile stretch of ice, snow and mud on the Sturgis route.
Otherwise, it's hero gravel all day.

2020 Black Hills Gravel Series #3 (Spearfish)
Building momentum for upcoming rides deep into the Black Hills, the Black Hills Gravel Series adds longer and steeper climbs on the next ride out on the prairie and surrounding hills from Spearfish. Maybe it's a bit more cloudy and more windy this time, but nobody complains about the 60-70 temperatures and great gravel. Even gullied Lookout Mountain Road isn't too hard to navigate, nor is a closed bridge. We're ready to hit the Hills! (2020 Spearfish Photo Album).

On the Spearfish route, a closed bridge awaits at the bottom of this twisty steep.

2020 Black Hills Gravel Series #4 (Custer)
Into the Hills! North and west out of Custer stream a series of remote roads that quickly spider web into a mass of sometimes interconnecting gravel, dirt, two track, barely a track and even elk "roads." Factor in virtually no cell coverage for a true Black Hills remote road adventure. This day dawns even more magical with early morning mist and 55-65 degree temperatures. Recent snow and rain softens the various road surfaces, slowing everyone. This is where it's at. (2020 Custer Photo Album).

Early on the Custer route, a Forest Service road climbs toward the mist.

2020 Black Hills Gravel Series #5 (Merritt)
Bring your "A" game to this course. Primary, secondary, and tertiary USFS back roads, logging trails, ATV trails with Black Hills sized gravel, overgrown single track and multiple creek crossings, including a mid-thigh creek fording if you're not paying attention! Hot, dry, and dusty all day, with plenty of exposed, steep climbs in the second half, including right at the end. This one's earned. (2020 Merritt Photo Album).

Innocent enough start to a long, hot, hard day on the bike on the Merritt route.

2020 Black Hills Gravel Series #6 (Hill City)
Into the Heart of the Hills from Hill City, cyclists climb over 5,000 feet of elevation in 55 miles on mostly secondary USFS roads with virtually no traffic and little development. Rough roads follow streams lined with meadows and granite. Rolling ridge lines reveal the biggest peaks in the Black Hills. And just when it looks like a downhill coast to the finish, the route turns onto a rock-infested ATV trail for 3 miles of bonus bike handling clinic. On a Black Hills Gravel ride, it aint over 'til it's over. (2020 Hill City Photo Album).

Ridge line view of Harney Peak from a wild flower lined road on the Hill City route.

2020 Black Hills Gravel Series #7 (Rochford)
In the season finale, the Black Hills Gravel Series rolls out of Rochford up postcard perfect Black Fox Camp Road to summit Flag Mountain, quickly descends fast gravel with big views, jumps on a nifty 3 mile dirt connector, and then climbs up a rough, winding Castle Creek Road. Recent rains deliver hero gravel everywhere, although some navigation is required around puddles and cow pies. All rideable. All fun. A worthy finish to another outstanding season. (2020 Rochford Photo Album).

Rolling up toward the high country early on the Rochford route.

Go to Lucas' website for news of all things Black Hills Gravel, including a digital library of GPX files for all of the Black Hills Gravel Series routes over the past four years. Also, check out his Black Hills Gravel FaceBook Page for the latest Black Hills Gravel news. Then, get out there and ride!

Take Me Home Country Roads
John Denver (1971)

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