I have been spending a lot of time the last couple of days thinking about gravel roads and riding bicycles on them. I am toying with this tour/stage race idea, thinking about the Renegade Gentleman's Race, and planning Trans Iowa V7 with my co-director, David Pals.
But why ride on gravel in the first place?
That's a very good question. Most folks assume it would be the worst place of all to pedal a bicycle. Dust, dirt, and rocks skittering underneath your tires do not make a pretty picture in most folks minds.
But where else would you ever see stuff like the images shown at the left? Where else can you find places you'll never see on a paved road in the city, or in the countryside on pavement, for that matter. Where else can you ride and not see another car, truck, or motorcycle for miles, maybe even for your entire ride?
Sure, it is harder to ride on gravel than pavement, but gravel travel is far more rewarding. At least for me, and there is no doubt that it is a stress reliever. That makes it all worth-while right there. But as fun and as relaxing as gravel road bicycle riding is, there may be some other reasons I am drawn to being out there in the country.
You see, both my parents were raised on farms that happened to be right next door to each other. (Well, as "next door" as you get in the Iowa countryside!) Almost all my relatives were farmers as well. So, I spent a big chunk of my childhood on farms and out in the fields.
All of that was linked by the gravel roads. I was raised on the sound of crushed rock on bias ply tires at 50 miles an hour. Plumes of dust. Seeing the headlights on the graded rock at night. Walking for miles on gravel with my cousin. Running the gravel of my grandparents driveway through my fingers as a child. Gravel roads figured into a big part of my best childhood memories. I suppose that could be a reason I enjoy being on them to this day.
But there is more to it now. I will always want to ride over that next hill, or down that unknown road, just to see where it goes. The joy of discovering new vistas and new things is still a big joy for me. Maybe I am an oddball, but that is one of my favorite things about riding out there.
Then there are all the friends I have spent hours and hours with on gravel roads riding bicycles. The conversations, the quiet times under the stars spent just looking around, sharing a sip of whiskey. Whether I am alone or with friends, I can always count on having a good ride when I am on the gravel.
Of course, there is the racing too. I am not all that fast, or good at racing, but it sure is fun being around the crowd that does do it well, and are fast. These folks are inspiring, easy to get along with, and never, ever snobbish. Good times whether you are slow or fast, and everyone seems to be bonded somehow by the experience.
I never felt that when I raced XC events back in the day. There was no real community, or camaraderie amongst the racers. There was a lot of posturing, posing, and looking down upon others though. Thankfully, I find nothing of the sort at gravel races.
Don't get me wrong though, I love riding single track, I love mountains, and I really miss riding in the desert. It is great to tool around town on my long-bike hauling a load. My fixed gear rat-ride is a blast too. I like bicycles, and riding all over, anywhere is fun. Gravel isn't the only thing, nor should it be.
But I have to admit, I'd be pretty broken hearted if I was told I couldn't ride the gravel roads anymore. I need that countryside experience. Maybe I'd have to move to the mountains then.
Well, it hasn't come to that yet, thankfully, so I'll be getting some good ol' crushed rock road riding in soon. I'll be real happy about that too, although you may not understand that. It's all good.
Have a great weekend! Ride your bikes. Have an adventure. Take some pictures!