|Riding into the future or off to the sunset?|
I also see stories in mainstream cycling media stating that the downturn in the American road racing scene is a big issue that needs to be addressed. One of the several ways suggested to bolster that ailing racing scene is to tap into the burgeoning gravel road racing scene. It is no secret that USAC has already taken a hard look at this and is already trying to woo promoters over to their ways and means of doing things.
As I sit and contemplate these things on a chilly late November evening, I am happy to say that the predictions of the inevitable fall of the gravel racing scene into a similar morass that the road racing scene seems to find itself in has not materialized. I am happy to see that the tentacles of governing bodes and sanctioning have not reached into the heart of the gravel racing scene and ripped its heart out. I am sure that there are those that feel it is a "sooner rather than later" situation. That at some point, yes, even gravel racing will be found to be as rotten for many as other forms of racing seem to be. Maybe for a few it already is there.
|A "family reunion" at Gravel Worlds registration at Cycle Works in Lincoln, NE.|
In my humble opinion, there isn't any reason to believe that the gravel racing and riding scene will end up getting to the point that road racing finds itself in now. How can I say this? Well, there were signs, and still are signs, that gravel road racing, at any rate, is an experience that many promoters understand intimately. Because of that they offer that same experience to others. That resonates with riders and since this is the case, we see things like the Land Run 100 selling out 1000 spots to its 2017 event in two hours and twenty minutes. We see things like the Dirty Kanza 200 selling out in hours as well, with 2000 riders total. The demand to have the chance to be part of the "family" and have a social and physical experience, the likes of which is not offered by any other form of cycling, is still on the rise. Obviously it is. That much is fact.
|The people involved are what makes it work like it does. (Image courtesy of C. Parsons)|
People come to these gravel based cycling events and they know they will be accepted. They know that there isn't a hierarchy based upon classes, points, categories, or what have you. People understand that you can show up on a Schwinn Collegiate converted to single speed and get the same amount of respect and acceptance as a guy on the latest Open Cycles UP rig. People understand that if you need help out on the course, someone, or five, will offer you assistance. In the gravel scene, there basically is only one rule. That is, "Don't be a dick", to put it bluntly. It seems to have been a widely accepted, respected, and followed rule, as far as I can tell.
There is also a social element to the gravel road racing scene that may be as big a part for many as the riding itself. At the gravel race, you simply do not just show up and ride. You come early to mingle and stay late to swap stories over adult beverages. Many events foster this by offering pre-race events, days ahead of the riding in some cases, and often post race gatherings. Some will offer the rider both. The chance to interact with fellow riders, (I wouldn't go so far as to say "competitors", because that isn't the case), will forge new friendships and reunite old friends in a way that I haven't seen in other competitive cycling events.
I think it also must be mentioned that gravel races or rides don't require special, hard to create, hard to get to venues. Most places have roads where the surfaces are unpaved and the traffic counts are super low. That has made the creation of routes and rides easy to do. Trying to set up a road race, criterium, or even to find a good venue for mountain bike events is much more difficult to do, in my opinion.
|As long as promoters and riders still "get it", gravel racing and riding will be around a long time.|
There may come a day when the whole deal fades away, gets "ruined" by something or another, or is superseded by something else we haven't discovered yet on two wheels. But until that day comes, I don't think we need to worry too much about this form of cycling getting sullied by things like too many sanctions or what have you. As long as the promoters and the riders "get it", this scene will keep kicking up dust for years to come.