|A Guitar Ted Productions series|
Gravel cycling has a lot to offer the person interested in human powered activities that is capable of taking part in them. It isn't for everyone, nor can just anybody take part. That said, more people would cycle if they felt safer and felt that they had a community/social aspect of that activity to enjoy.
First off, considering the battle between bicyclists and those trying to drive on paved roads, we are not going to see more people take up cycling until it is made safer. That isn't going to happen for paved road cyclists anytime soon. Meanwhile, distracted drivers are taking chances with all user group's lives and this presents another issue that affects both urban and rural drivers and riders. This issue also doesn't look to be getting solved anytime soon either.
While we as cyclists have a right to ride on the open road, it doesn't matter to my family that I have that right if I end up maimed or dead. Does this mean we as cyclists should just give over? No! Not ever! But in the meantime, I would rather be riding where I don't have that worry so present to mind. I would like to enjoy the ride. I really cannot do that currently on paved road routes.
I can do this on gravel roads though. Ironically enough, while there are exceptions, the vast majority of other gravel road users are kind. Not to mention the much lower traffic counts. I can ride 40-50 miles and maybe get passed by one or two vehicles. Maybe none at all. The peace of mind this lends me is, in my opinion, priceless.
Add in the scenery, the historical elements out there, the wildlife, and the challenges of roads not cut into the earth as much as they roll with the terrain. It is an experience that is diametrically opposed to the one I used to have when I rode paved routes in the country and a far cry from urban cycling. It is an experience I believe is so superior to traditional road cycling that I cannot see myself ever even wanting to ride paved roads again. Not the way things are now, at any rate.
The State of Iowa has the unique honor of hosting the largest paved cross state ride in the nation, and it is also the longest running. Of course, I am speaking of RAGBRAI. Technically the ride happens on "open roads", but for all intents and purposes, the ride takes over the roads to the point that you just do not think about dealing with automobiles and trucks. Other cyclists are another thing, but cars and trucks are not an issue.
The social aspect of the event is also a big draw. It is my contention that these two characteristics are the main draw for RAGBRAI. Now if, on a much smaller scale, a community of riders springs up and does gravel rides periodically throughout the year, that same feeling could be a thing out in the country. My contention is that this sort of situation could immediately be grown and implemented across much of this nation. I feel it would draw a lot of folks out to bicycle that are not doing that now. Oddly enough, this was exactly what happened in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century with cycling. It still happens this way in Europe in many places. I'm saying, "Why not here?"