Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gravel Grinding Our Way Back To Nothingness?

Every year this whole gravel grinding thing, the rides, the races, the "culture" of gravel grinding- well it all just amazes me by how it keeps chooglin' along, getting "bigger" every year. I've been hit up by a few media folks about the whole shindig out here in the Mid-West and beyond. The "outside world" wanting to know just what the heck is goin' on out here.

On the gravel road to.....
I guess it is kind of amazing. I mean, I've added more events on Gravel Grinder News this year than in any other besides when I first started the site. Events keep getting "bigger". More attendance, bigger side attractions at some events, and definitely more media covering events, and celebrating them.

The "Gravel Metric" has those funky, fun promotional shorts, Dirty Kanza has video contests for participants, and even in-race video available on-line, Even documentaries and movies are being made about gravel grinders like the Almanzo 100 and Trans Iowa.

Not only visual media, but print media has been chasing the mystery of gravel grinding as well. Trans Iowa itself being written up in a book, in magazines, and in various articles over the years. Heck, now bicycle manufacturers are even designating product as good for "gravel grinding" and writing such in promotional ads and catalogs.

So....just where is all of this going? Maybe it is getting to the point of becoming a something else. Maybe it is the end of the salad days. Maybe it's, (as my Dad used to tell me when I thought I was "really sumpthin"), too big fer its britches. I wonder sometimes, and it reminds me of this old 63XC article about single speeding.

Or maybe we're just evolving into.....I don't know, something more "mainstream", I guess. Whatever it is, I feel it has changed a bit. Is it bad or good? I can not say. And maybe it just doesn't matter.

 Just like Sir Corson states in his rant on single speeding and "cool", gravel grinding won't go away as long as people are doing it and having fun. Forget about all the media, films, documentaries, magazine articles, and hob-nobbing that goes with it. Just go ride.

And that is just what I intend on doing.


Jason said...

Media: From what I can tell most of the media covering is in pubs like XXC, Dirt Rag, and a couple others (XXC from the beginning I might add. Ha!). So it's not like we're talking NBC Sports here.

Unlike singlespeed bikes, you can't ride gravel anywhere. You're sort bound to your geographic location.

The Cool Factor: I THINK riding gravel is cool, you think it is too, along with a BUNCH of other folks in the mid west and western states. But just like I don't "get" singlespeeds (I like me some gears), there are a ton of folks that see NO reason to ever ride or race on a gravel road. I mean I LOVE being out in the middle nowhere surrounded by the barns, corn, cows and all the smells that come with, but there are a ton of folks that think that's about as exciting as riding a rail trail.

MFGs: I have no issue with brands like Salsa who have had a ton of their staff riding and racing gravel for years branding certain products as "good for gravel grinding." What I will have a problem with is if MFGs, start labeling bikes that COULD be ridden on gravel but really shouldn't. I mean I CAN ride my road bike on gravel, but if I want to enjoy it, not flat and not get beat to hell I'd much rather ride my cross bike with room for 40c tires.

Were is gravel going? Hopefully not away anytime soon. Just like riding a long band of singletrack, riding gravel is good for the soul.

Jason Mahokey
XXC Magazine

Unknown said...

It is getting big and it is only going to get bigger! The interest in off piste cycling events is growing in general'imply because they are less mediated and more fun (focus on fun).

@Jason, you mention Salsa and so I'll mention that we've been riding gravel since TIV3 in the 07' and we haven't looked back. It is in our blood and in many cases a return to our roots of riding rural farm roads on a Schwinn Thrasher growing up.

I for one love the competition that is developing and showing up at these events. For some of the misfits that have been around it has been motivation to train, race, and become more competitive. We're still hanging on to the lead positions (barely) even with the fast roadies and cross racers showing up. It takes more than legs to ride/race one of these, which is precisely the allure.

Guitar Ted said...

@Jason: First off, thanks for the comments.

I think that the entire Gravel Grinding thing is always going to be a fringe, outside the norm for society and cycling as well. Saying "media attention" and "gravel grinding" in the same sentence, by its very nature, is sort of an oxymoron. That said, nationally distributed publications like "Dirt Rag" and "Outside magazine" are covering gravel grinding more regularly.

That gravel riding gets anything beyond the typical newspaper blurb or mention in an article about something else in cycling is very noteworthy, considering the niche that gravel grinding is in the world of cycling.

(So thanks for being one of the first to jump on that subject, by the way)

"Cool" is what others say an activity is. Those who have a passion for whatever the activity is in question could give a rodents hindquarters what anybody else says is "cool", and most likely would prefer to not consider what they are involved in as "cool" as the masses define the term. Underground and out of the limelight is probably preferable.

That said, it is flattering to think anybody else would derive a sense of inspiration from gravel grinding by reading about it, or seeing a film about it.

MFGS: I see your point, but also consider that it is kind of a negative sign when you see things like free ride bikes being ridden on RAGBRAI. How customers "pose the product" in the end says something about the genre' as well. Not that it will die, but maybe that it has jumped the shark.

Where is gravel grinding going? Like I pose in the title, maybe right back into the shadows, or maybe into more of a sharp focus by others. We'll see, but I agree that it won't stop those that derive a sense of satisfaction from riding rural roads from grinding gravel anytime soon.

Cornbread said...

The way I see it, the more the merrier. More articles, more MFGS making products, and more folks out crushing gravel is all good and has no effect on my love for riding gravel. Most folks that I talk to about this topic feel the same way.

The only downside of the growth is the inherent danger of more folks on rural roads. Especially if they are not experienced with gravel etiquette (ie. staying to the right, proper potty break locations, canine encounters, etc.). There will be growing pains.
Let us embrace the whatever change comes our way and never lose hold of our passion.

Dave said...

I believe one of the attractions to gravel races is the fact that they are mass-start events - that have both the "race for the line" element and the "do it to finish" element. Look at the marathon as a model - some run sub-5 miles to win, some run/walk at 12 min/mile pace just to say they did it.

Gravel racing has that same pull for cyclists, cyclists who are tired of the squirrel in a cage crit/XC races all competitively divided up by categories. That system is not as beginner friendly as an Almanzo that ordinary people can sign up for, get out of their comfort zone and push themselves just to finish a 100-miler (or a 100K or 330-stupid-miles (sorry guitar:) - You don't have to be Joe-racer-head to really enjoy one of these events - and it's not the "FREE" that is attracting folks - it's the challenge of doing it - you don't get 'dropped' or 'pulled' or 'lapped' - you just finish when you finish - and you come back next year and try to ride a faster time.

As far as the media? I covered Trans-Iowa as a cover story in Iowa Momentum because of the uniqueness of the event - the challenge of the event and the quality of the event - not to mention the beauty of, not just the event, but of the rural Iowa landscape that is felt, not just seen.

Gravel racing will become more competitive over time - look at Leadville - it's history, it's stories, it's challenge - have made it a "super-race" with great big names racing so fast they just as well be on road bikes - but the rest of us... are there to finish, and maybe shave some time off our previous year. Just like the marathon.

Peace - Dave Mable, Editor, Iowa Momentum Magazine

Ari said...

I can see some people migrate from road and other disciplines but not for long. It takes a certain personality to enjoy the dust, the mushy surface and also the extra amount of cleaning and wearing of parts that gravel riding does. Most of my customers have a hard time pumping tires. The back areas scare most people and unless there is an organized event I doubt they will venture out there, specially in the dark.