Wednesday, October 09, 2013

A Pivotal Moment

Possibly a turning point
It's no theory- Gravel bicycles, events, and associated gear is gaining the attention of the mainstream bicycle companies, bicycling media, and in some cases, the non-endemic media as well. This is tripping up some folks feelings in the gravel circles, while it is bringing in tons of newer riders and interest from places the traditionalists of gravel riding never thought they would ever see.

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)
By the latter end of the '00's, a few companies were beginning to take notice of the gravel scene. Salsa Cycles was the most notorious of these and by 2011, they had already designed, prototyped, and manufactured a purpose built gravel road racing bike. Taken by itself,  that isn't a big deal, really.

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.

Giant Revolt
What does this mean? I believe it means that the pieces are all in place for further development into bicycles and gear for the backroad cyclists. Giant, Specialized, Raleigh, HED Wheels, Clement, Challenge Tires, and others are amongst the bigger names joining the ranks of Salsa Cycles as companies focusing product on the idea of bicycles beyond paved roads and suitable for everything up to mountain biking. Industry folks are not only aware of the category, but due to events like Rebecca Rusch's and some others, are now experiencing this for the first time and getting passionate about the category.

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.


Unknown said...

nice GT. i agree with all of this and i will add when it comes to events in this category for the mass majority of people it is about finishing. i love seeing the distances go beyond the 100 miles it seems it is the tipping point when the "fun" class is basically the whole field. people are not out there claiming the time there going to do it but rather just curious of themselves in finishing. DK is a great example of this. i too live in a place where there is more gravel roads then paved roads and when talking about this category in the shop, which i tend to a lot and get excited about, the customer starts to smile and says "yes, that is what i want to do". GT - it's getting big and the reasons why are awesome - it just makes sense and is more fun for the majority. thanks for helping spread / start it all!

Guitar Ted said...

@Jay Petervary: Somehow it doesn't surprise me to read that you like the longer distances in events. ;>)

Thanks for your comments!

Andrew said...

Why doesn't the Revolt have valve stems? Is that a gravel specific feature?

Guitar Ted said...

@Andrew: Funny guy, you. :>)

youcancallmeAl said...

Grant Petersen, for one, was focusing on bicycles designed for going beyond paved roads and suitable for everything up to mountain biking long before Salsa.

Guitar Ted said...

@youcancallmeAl: And so were other companies before Rivendel. (Or Bridgestone) However; this never really affected, or was part of the gravel road events that I am speaking of.

What I am referring to is a product that was called out specifically for gravel road events. While the idea behind it is nothing new, (and I have written and said as much), the marketing was new. Grant obviously advocates for an "all road" type of "Country Bike" these days, but that message, if it existed in the early 00's, was not a message heard here in the Mid-West.

youcancallmeAl said...

GT: you were referring to events AND bicycles. And specifically Salsa bicycles.I merely pointed out that Rivendell was there earlier. The fact is Grant's message existed long before the 00's and the fact that mid-westerners (and most others) didnt hear it says more about them than it does Rivendell.

MG said...

Agreed... It's a great time to be a gravel rider. Even though a lot of us have been riding gravel for 20 years or more, the equipment has never been better than it is today (and it's come a long way from when we rode our 26-inch mountain bikes on gravel back in the '90s).


Guitar Ted said...

@youcancallmeAl: Here's what I wrote above: "By the latter end of the '00's, a few companies were beginning to take notice of the gravel scene. Salsa Cycles was the most notorious of these ..."

Rivendel did not take notice of what was going on out here, because if they had, we'd have heard about it. Besides, as you can plainly read, Salsa Cycles actually did take notice and participated in the gravel road scene. (To wit: the image in the post of a Salsa Cycles titanium rig raced at T.I.V5 in '09)

Participation and interaction with the gravel riders was what I was writing about. (a product that was called out specifically for gravel road events) Again, Grant Petersen may agree with all of that, you may believe he was "preaching the message", but he may as well have been in China for all we knew here. Salsa? They could have done the same, but here's the thing: They didn't. They reached out. They got involved. They made a product and marketed it as a gravel race bike.

I appreciate your passion for Grant Petersen's vision, but as someone who maybe has been around this scene a bit, I can not agree that Rivendel, Grant Petersen, or anyone remotely connected to either had any influence at all in the early days. Should they have? That's what you are implying. That is an entirely different discussion and not at all part of my opinion piece written here today.

youcancallmeAl said...

I am implying nothing of the sort. I was merely commenting on THIS PARTICULAR PORTION of your original post: "Giant, Specialized, Raleigh, HED Wheels, Clement, Challenge Tires, and others are amongst the bigger names joining the ranks of Salsa Cycles as companies focusing product on the idea of bicycles beyond paved roads and suitable for everything up to mountain biking." That is a very general category that has nothing to do with "out here" and that grant and others were focusing on long before Salsa.

DT said...

I think you just hit on the name you were looking for . . . "further development into bicycles and gear for the backroad cyclists". Why not a "backroads bicycle" instead of a "gravel grinder"?

Guitar Ted said...

@youcancallmeAL: So you are using a circular argument. This just takes me right back to my first response to you, which is that " this never really affected, or was part of the gravel road events that I am speaking of."

Yes- Grant Petersen advocated, and still does, for a certain type of bike for a certain type of riding. That never did influence the "gravel culture" in the beginning, and now it can be looked upon as "the others" that I mentioned in the quote you pulled from the post, if you'd like. However; it bears mentioning that while Grant's vision may be on a parallel path to the gravel specific stuff other companies are preaching now, I still do not feel Rivendel is a major influence on what is happening with gravel events or gravel racing now.

Again, the whole piece today is my opinion and while you may not agree, it is what I perceive as I look at the developments and influences being seen and felt out here and within the industry.

Thanks for your comments.

youcancallmeAl said...

If you are confining yourself to gravel events and "out here", then perhaps it would be better if you left out such generalized statements like " focusing product on the idea of bicycles beyond paved roads and suitable for everything up to mountain biking." It obviously confused at least one reader.

Guitar Ted said...

@youcancalmeAl: Hey, like I said, it's your opinion, and I respect that. If you seem to be confused by mine, I am sorry, but your points raised have not convinced me to change my mind or what I have written. Again, thanks for the debate and your comments.

youcancallmeAl said...

I dont expect you to change your mind but I will continue to take issue with your attempts to reserve the general concept of "riding bicycles beyond paved roads and suitable for everything up to mountain biking" for an activity as narrow as gravel racing taking place in a few mid-western states.

Guitar Ted said...

@youcancallmeAl: Wow, Al. Where on Earth did you ever come up with the idea that I think "all road" riding is only for gravel racing? Did you not read this post?

I mean, how much broader of a concept for these bikes can you get?

Go ahead and take issue if you feel compelled to, but it makes no sense at all to me.

Max said...

@youcancallmeAl & GTed

Although the Midwest is not the only place where people have been doing gravel/mixed terrain cycling, it is the Midwestern gravel scene that has in my opinion, gotten the bike industry to take notice of this endurance, "all road" type of cycling in a major way. Events like Trans Iowa and Dirty Kanza have attracted tons of media and rider attention.

On the West Coast for example, people have been doing mixed terrain rides for years as well. I did a lot of that out there myself, but to my knowledge, there are no major events of this sort to really attract much attention. I'm sure there's stuff going on, but not nearly as well known. It's mostly just guys riding fire roads on cyclocross bikes for fun.

When it comes to Grant Peterson and Rivendell, GP has long advocated for versatile, steel bikes with big tire clearance that are not race oriented. That being said, GP just sort of did his thing over the years and never seemed to really reach out in any way to promote backroads/mixed terrain cycling in any way other than through his own brand.

So basically, yeah people have been sort of doing the gravel road thing everywhere for years, but the Midwest and certain companies based in the upper Midwest truly jumped on board and helped to get this type of riding recognized.

youcancallmeAl said...

Max, youre absolutely right. And if I was a father with a young family and a brand new business being run on a shoestring, I would have done exactly the same as Grant did.. The fact that "events" are required to interest the masses is a fact of life. And the fact that major suppliers are getting behind these events can only be good for cycling in general.It's been a long time coming and I think we're all pretty glad it has finally arrived.

Rebecca Rusch said...

GT: thanks for the mention of my event and I agree with you and Jay Petervary. This gravel thing is growing and I think that's awesome. If more people are finding inspiring ways to get out on two wheels, I'm all for it. Like Jay, I live in a place where there are more gravel roads than pavement and it's a great way to explore on two wheels. I do plenty of rides alone and with no fanfare. However, if events and improved equipment provide more awareness and access for people, I'm all for it. Two years ago when I raced Dirty Kanza for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised at how fun gravel racing was. It was way better than any road race I've done. Gravel riding seems to be the happy medium and a great challenge for roadies and MTB riders, pros and beginners. My experience at DK200 motivated me to launch Rebecca's Private Idaho ( At my first year event, there were pros (CX, road, MTB) , first time 100 miler riders and everything in between. People showed up on gravel specific race bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes, steel touring bikes and even a fat bike. The tool of choice didn't matter. They were all there (even the pro roadie winner) to challenge themselves and check out the beautiful terrain. Events and improved gear are fueling the awareness and growth of this segment which just means more people riding bikes. I'm stoked to see this happening and be part of it. You are all welcome to come ride in Idaho anytime.

Guitar Ted said...

@Rebecca Rusch: I really should take you up on that invitation to ride in Idaho. My friend, Michael Troy, who rode in your event said it was awesome. Thanks for chiming in here.