|Possibly a turning point|
Why is this? Why is all this happening now? In some ways, I am of the opinion that this phenomenon is a bit of a "perfect storm". This may be the only way to really explain it honestly, but I feel that when this is looked back on, an event that happened only last month will be pointed to as possibly the turning point where gravel as a cycling niche went "big time" afterward. This is certainly only my opinion, and I could be all wrong here, but I am going to state my case.....
Obviously the gravel road riding thing has struck a nerve amongst many riders out there. Numbers of riders in events going upwards to, (and in some cases over), one thousand folks in different parts of the country is certainly undeniable evidence of this. Not only that, but the number of the events themselves, going from a mere handful in 2006-2008 to well over 200 in a year that I know about, marks gravel riding as something that many folks everywhere are trying and enjoying.
|Salsa proto circa '09 (Image K. Steudel)|
What did happen afterward did make this a big deal and was what started the ball rolling towards the pivotal point. The Dirty Kanza 200 started to attract some bigger names in the cycling world and one of these was Rebecca Rusch. A sponsored athlete and well known in cycling circles, the Specialized backed athlete participated in the DK 200 and must have been impressed to the point that Specialized took notice. The company sent her back again this year with some special equipment geared toward the gravel scene. Meanwhile, events were getting bigger, and other companies were sniffing around the gravel scene as well. Some because their people had connections to the Mid-West, some for other reasons, but it started to happen.
Bicycles were starting to be prototyped that were going to be "gravel specific". With the road bike, mountain bike, and pavement sectors becoming a flat, or declining market, it can be argued that creating a "gravel specific bike" is just purely a marketing exercise to wrench more money from rider's pockets by these companies. However; whether that is true or not, the bikes have to be sold and believed in by those who sell them. Now to get industry folks on board with any idea, they have to see rider participation, (they do with all the events), and they have to see a need that can be met, (they do with regard to the bicycles and gear), and finally, they have to have a basis for experience to get passionate about any sector in the industry. This is where I believe Rebecca's Private Idaho, a 100 mile gravel event that took place in Idaho, (duh!), recently, is going to be seen as "that event" where the industry folks got turned on to the gravel scene.
I've been watching the increase in the numbers of media stories on the gravel segment and many of these latest stories have referenced Rebecca Rusch's event and the folks that were in attendance. Not surprisingly, because of Rebecca's stature in the cycling community, many of these folks represent several key cycling industry folks and to a person they seem to have come away impressed.
Like I said- I could have it all wrong here, but I don't think I do. So, should you, as a core rider from "back in the day" be ticked off that "big companies are cashing in" on a sub category of cycling that you feel will "ruin it all"? That's entirely up to you to decide. I think the best thing to do is ride for fun and, if you race, for the competition and challenges of it, and don't worry about it all. I, for one, applaud the inclusion of more companies if it gets folks out there to ride and have fun like I do. More folks riding is the bottom line, both for the companies getting into gravel, and for cycling in general. If that happens, that is fantastic.
And if I am all wrong? Well, then this will all blow over and nobody will care. Well, except for me and a few others that will continue to ride gravel despite the current fashion of the day.