Team Sports Garage gears up and heads out to hit the gravel. When the pavement ends, don’t stop.
Somewhere on the cycling spectrum—between road biking, cyclocross, cross-country trail riding and amongst the population of spandex-clad riders—lives “gravel grinding.” In this genre of riding, cyclists choose routes that incorporate mountain and county roads, terrain with loose dirt or rockier features and gravel roads that could include any size of gravel and rock.
While this off-road road biking is not revolutionary in the industry—folks have been riding on dirt roads forever—its recent popularity is notable. More bike races that entail ripping down loose dirt roads or crossing through narrow forested trails are popping up. Bike designs that aim to adapt the efficiency of road bikes to the stability and burliness of cyclocross and mountain bikes are becoming more popular. And of course, in the spirit of outdoor sports, the general shift to get off the beaten path has permeated cycling.
“One of the greatest appeals of riding gravel and dirt roads is that you can really get out there,” says Greg Mionske, cyclist and photographer of the cycling ride to Gold Hill featured in this issue. “Another plus is that the roads are typically quiet and devoid of traffic. There’s a sense of adventure that comes with riding in these places.”
As pleasant as riding longer distances in more rural areas can be, gravel grinding races are often considered more arduous than a typical paved road race. Events don’t just vary in distance and elevation, the condition of roads, the size of gravel and overall terrain encountered can differ as well. One of gravel grinding’s most talked-about races is the “Dirty Kanza 200,” which covers 200 miles Kansas’s Flint Hills, consists of gravel and dirt roads, includes river crossings and finishes on pavement. Elements like these play a role in deciding what size tires to use, how to position your handlebars and what level of clearance you’ll need on the terrain.
“A good gravel bike has a longer wheelbase, thicker tires and a lower bottom bracket height, which helps lower your center of gravity for when you’re peeling down a dirt road at 40 miles an hour,” explains bike enthusiast Alex Lundberg. “I’d say a mixture of a traditional road bike and cyclocross bike makes for a great gravel bike.” Lundberg works at University Cycles in downtown Boulder, and according to their numbers, they’ve sold more gravel bikes than road bikes this year, demonstrating the growth in the game.
“Call me a retro grouch, but I don’t even have a thru axle or disc brakes,” boasts old schooler and Product Development Consultant Gregg Bagni, who’s worked with brands like Schwinn Cycling and numerous other health food and outdoor companies. Bagni scoffs at the necessity of a specific kind of bike to get off main roads and out on gravel. “I’m riding a Cannondale Carbon Evo with 25c tires and using a helmet with a visor, a rearview mirror on the end of my drop bars, and I have a rear blinky light running all the time. I’m a complete geek.”
Bagni is one of the many characters you can come across on the countless county roads and dirt paths that surround Boulder. He and Mionske are advocates for taking the roads less traveled, regardless of the bike. As Mionske puts it, “When the pavement ends, don’t stop. Just keep going.”
“When the pavement ends, don’t stop. Just keep going,” says Mionske
Favorite Local Rides
– Gold Hill Road up to the Peak to Peak highway
– Logan Mill Road off of Four Mile Canyon
– Switzerland Trail down to Sugarloaf
– Saw Mill Road up to Ward
For endless information about gravel grinding and to learn about related events and races along the Front Range and beyond, check out GravelCyclist.com.