|A Guitar Ted Productions series.|
In my decade plus of my involvement in gravel rides and races which includes promoting, riding , competing, writing about, and reviewing products, I have seen a lot of changes. I have a lot on my mind about where the scene has been and where it is going. I have thoughts on what it is and what it should be. So, buckle up for a series of thoughts and opinions concerning gravel grinding. It goes without saying that these opinions are my own and may not reflect anybody else's. So here we go.......
Gravel grinding represents something for me that I am quite certain is quite a bit different than what you might think I would be thinking, and it is damn sure a far sight away from what the industry thinks it is. The pundits and media wonks get hung up on the name. They think the name "gravel grinding" is stupid and yet not one of them has an alternative name that sounds any less ridiculous. (The term "groad" is probably the silliest of them all and it was invented by a media guy covering CIRREM one year long ago.) The industry thinks it is all about "racing" and "extreme adventures", but it shouldn't be about either one of those. It wasn't all about that in the beginning either. Speaking of which, let's go back to the beginning......
The Days Before Modern Gravel Riding
The beginning of gravel grinding goes way back before my time. It was going on all over the world, but here in the Mid-West, and specifically Iowa, the idea of training in the early Spring winds on higher resistance roads, ( gravel roads), was called by those old time roadies by a name. That name was "gravel grinding". This activity was going on in the Lincoln, Nebraska area when you could join in on any friendly group training ride that featured a bunch of college students getting ready for the mountain bike race season. That group later became the nucleus for the "Pirate Cycling League" which then started putting on gravel rides on purpose, eventually becoming the promoters of Gravel Worlds. This activity was going on in Kansas where a wily promoter named John Hobbs was putting on an event dubbed the "Flint Hills Death Ride" for anyone foolish enough to test themselves against the 70-ish mile course in the heat of Summer. This long before any hint of a Dirty Kanza ever was thought of.
There were races and events all over the nation. Paris-Ancaster was going on in Canada long before the term "gravel grinder" was a well known thing. Events in California that would later become the Belgian Waffle Ride were happening on the back roads of California long before this scene was a thing. Mountain bike promoter Richard "Deke" Gosen was putting on gravel road events for mountain bikers in Northeast Iowa in the 80's. Rides like the Colfax 40 were a thing for roadies that were crazy enough to bomb gravel descents at 40 plus miles an hour long before Trans Iowa existed.
You get the point.
Right Time- Right Place
So, why now and why is it any different than it was then? Isn't it really all about racing, feats of strength, and roadies and mountain bikers getting their kicks on gravel? Well, it was in some cases and not in others, but something changed all that. Ironically, it was an ultra endurance competition that happened at the right time.
The scene in terms of cycling in the early 00's was a very different one than we enjoy nowadays. The mountain bikers were all about going around in circles for 24 hours back then, Road cycling was enjoying the rise in popularity brought on by the "Lance Effect". Fixie freaks were tearing it up in the major urban areas. An oddball contingent of single speeders were having their own World Championships. The "latest thing" was 29 inch wheels, but everyone knew that would never catch on. There were no fat bikes, plus bikes, enduro bikes, road plus, endurance road, or e-bikes. No one had ever heard of "gravel grinding".
It was in this atmosphere that Trans Iowa was born in. It drew from the ethos of 24 hour racing due to its main creator, Jeff Kerkove, who was a sponsored solo 24 hour racer. It also drew from a nascent movement that was an outgrowth of 24hr mountain biking and was driven mainly by Mike Curiak who was busy helping set up "ultra-endurance" length challenges like the Great Divide Race, the Iditarod Challenge, the Kokopelli Race, and others. This was all happening pre-social media and post "analog marketing". So, the internet cycling forums were then the "cork message boards", the cycling blog was the "digital flyer", and the new PC based culture which was quickly taking root in everyone's homes was the conduit for the messages about all these new, oddball ideas that were out there waiting to be found by a curious populace.
I'm maybe being a bit laborious about the set up here, but this is all about the set up. If you miss this, you will miss why it was Trans Iowa that was the first domino, and not some other event. It could have been something else that kicked this whole thing into motion, but it wasn't. Understanding the setting in the days leading up to that November 2004 announcement of Trans Iowa is necessary to attain any understanding of what came afterward. Ironically, for some of you, I had nothing at all to do with it either. I was simply along for the ride. The man who pushed that domino over was Jeff Kerkove.
Next: When The First Domino Fell