Friday, January 04, 2019

The State Of The Gravel Scene: 2019- Part 3

Guitar Ted's Note- this will be the final post in the series and as always.....NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

Late in the Fall I posted about the situation as I saw it regarding the status of gravel events, their growing numbers, and the future of gravel events in an article entitled, "The Message". I basically was saying that gravel events, as a genre, weren't on the decline and that grassroots gravel stuff wasn't dying. Here is a quote from that piece:

 "In my opinion, this kind of repudiates the belief on many folks parts that "gravel" is jumping the shark, about to decline, or has "sold out". Rather, I believe that the true, "grassroots" nature of this genre' is getting even stronger. It tells me that despite the groans and complaints I read when events charge more than a dollar per mile to enter a competition, or when events make outlandish claims in marketing, or even when "the roadies show up", that gravel grinding at the grassroots level is not dying. Quite the opposite, actually."

Since I covered that topic there, all I will say here are a few more thoughts on what I've noticed since the Fall.

Hopefully you have been keeping up with these posts over the last few days because what has been hot in the bike shops and online is also driving events. The "hot thing" is gravel, like it or not, and anyone with a hankering to put on an event, for whatever reasons, is probably not looking at doing a criterium, time trial, paved road race, mountain bike race, or anything not "gravel" related. It's interesting when you see some of the long running "monster cross" races, originally outgrowths of cyclo cross, now say they have gravel sections, or are outright calling themselves gravel races now. You know things have changed in focus when that happens.

There is another thing that has been an undercurrent in the scene for many years, which I have been talking a lot about over the past couple of interviews I have given. That is that "small town America" has latched on to gravel rides as a way to increase tourism and boost their economies.

The Cherry Grove Community Center benefited greatly from the 2018 Almanzo events.
No doubt success stories such as those coming out of Emporia, Kansas, Hastings, Michigan, and formerly, Spring Valley, Minnesota, are driving small town promoters, local chambers of commerce, and regional progressive thinkers with a bicycling bent, to take a look at gravel events. The possibilities are not lost on these areas which have languished in the past and generally are off the beaten paths. Paths which have rendered many great localities as invisible to the Interstate traveler. A good gravel ride/event can reinvigorate a community, give them a much needed economic boost, and provide a sense of pride for the local residents in their community.

This has also made things easier for would be promoters to start events. Towns and villages open up their arms, generally, when they understand how even having a gravel event pass through their town can provide great benefits. Gravel Worlds is such an example. The villages of Valparaiso and Malcom Nebraska have reaped the economic benefits from just having riders come and support local Boy Scout troops, charities, and of course, the local businesses. Gravel promoters who are sensitive to the mutual benefits of having towns and villages be a part of their events are seeing greater cooperation when it comes to allowing their events passage. Sometimes even as far as towns and villages providing venues and home bases to work out of for events at reduced costs, or free.

While most of the stories are positive, unfortunately, not all are. Almanzo, being the most notable example now. Spring Valley ran the event with Penn Cycles, a shop out of Minneapolis, until recently when the event was taken back by its creator, Chris Skogen. There was some sort of dialogue between Skogen and the community of Spring Valley which went awry, precipitating Skogen's action to pull the event from Spring Valley and move it. Northfield, Minnesota was eager to accept the event and become its new host, leaving Spring Valley in the lurch. This will, obviously, be a negative to the local Spring Valley economy, but not just for Spring Valley.

As a part of, I was a volunteer at the Cherry Grove checkpoint location which was at an old school house converted to a community center. Last Spring, the local manager of the venue put out a free will offering bucket and claimed a "significant portion" (the care-taker's words, not mine) of the yearly budget for the upkeep of the center. Obviously, that won't be happening this Spring if the event has moved to Northfield and the course is what I have heard it is going to be. That's a sad casualty and not what I like to see happen to Cherry Grove, but it is what it is.......

That said, you can see how gravel events are now not just oddball sideshows anymore. (Well.....some of them are. Like my events! HA!) They have become a significant part of culture in some communities. They have had, and will continue to have, significant economic and health benefits for small villages and towns for years to come.


teamdarb said...

I have noticed through the comtinuous span of my travels around America the small "odd" events watering down to include the word gravel in the title or description, as well. They were already that. The courses have not changed. Same routes, but more interests coming from local government officials, couch heros, and neighboring folk. Is good, is not good- no clue. Despite these word and particpation changes, joblessness, chemical abuse, small business high rent and tax continues, If this trend is grassroots.... how can it be that only the town center square or local fire department is the only thing prospering. I roll into these locations where events happen, but just a block later from the areas I find people and business struggling. To everyone out there growing mass participation in events I say " Stop putting the money into buying benches or plants for the garden club. Instead, toss it into a que for local business to take advantage of come tax season or revitalizing the town starting at the town line- not from the center. I may have gotten off topic. Yeah gravel bikes and gravel event trends are lowering the prices of tradition race (not TCR ones though, odd) bikes and making traditional touring bikes extinct.

Guitar Ted said...

@teamdarb- I think you have some valid points- that benefits coming from race hosting isn't often helping the poorest people/parts of town. Perhaps this is true, but isn't it also true that some benefit is better than none? We can discuss where and who should benefit all day, but without the resource, it is all just hot air.

So, the fact is that gravel events have been a positive influence. Now what can be done with that? Okay, there is a discussion worth having, very true.

I would also point out that it is local small villages like Cherry Grove (community center), Malcom, (municipal baseball/softball diamonds), and Valpraiso, (local Boy Scout Troop), that are getting the benefits, not some businessman/business that doesn't affect the entire community. I would point out that the Dirty Kanza 200 has brought a health benefit, in that it has spurred action and thought in regard to local's health, that would not have occurred without the DK200. I know this from speaking with individuals there.

So, while nothing is perfect, and certainly, gravel events and their influences are not, there is a huge benefit happening for everyone in some places, not just a fortunate few, (fire departments, town center squares), and I am not just guessing. I know it is fact.