Friday, January 05, 2018

The State Of The Gravel Scene: Where Does It Go From Here"

A Guitar Ted Productions series

NOTE- The first "Friday News And Views" for 2018 will be next week. 
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.......

If you haven't read the introduction, Part 2, or Part 3, please go HERE, HERE, and then HERE. This is the fourth part of the series.

The last Interbike show I went to was in 2013. I was editor of the now defunct "Twenty Nine Inches" website and I was cruising the halls of the showroom floor at the Mandalay in Las Vegas for the latest big wheeled things. I received a message that Steve Hed of HED Cycling Products wanted to meet with me. I was a bit perplexed by that request, since HED  was all about triathlon and aero stuff. Hardly the beat of a 29"er mountain bike site. But, although I considered not going over, I decided to show up. I was about to be blown away.

Steve knew I was into the gravel scene and that I ran Trans Iowa. He wanted to show off his gorgeous custom built steel gravel bike to me. It was built by Eric Noren of Peacock Groove. But beyond the bike, Steve was really interested to make sure I understood he was really a "gravel grinder" at heart. He said that was where his heart was. It was how he enjoyed cycling as a youth in Minnesota. His ongoing focus was going to be more about this gravel grinding culture. Not racing- but just the whole idea of enjoying friends and nature out on crushed rock and dirt roads. 

Sadly for us, Steve passed away the following year and never got to push his passion for gravel to the fore, as he said that he wanted to. However; I feel that he was dead nuts right. He got what the scene needed to be about. Shaved legged, skinny young men on dirty drop bar bikes with dropper posts doing silly mountain bike-like things is definitely not what it is about. However; much of the industry is trying to re-frame gravel cycling as a pseudo-enduro, "bro-culture", rad activity that isn't inclusive of the average ordinary individual who is seeking fun, a safer place to ride, and wants a social aspect to their experiences.

Neither is the industry getting it right with regard to the bike packing aspect of gravel cycling. If your scenery doesn't include a mountain as a backdrop, you're seemingly not "getting it", according to the small niche of folks driving this genre. "Routes" that are pre-packaged as "epic" bike packing experiences don't seem to include any gravel rides to a local State Park in non-mountainous areas, but maybe they should. There are probably more people that could relate and see themselves doing that instead of some grandiose Chilean jaunt hardly anyone will ever get to experience.

So, you may be thinking, "All right Guitar Ted. What are you going to do about any of this? Qwitcher bellyachin and give us some ideas on solutions!" Fair enough, and in fact, I have been planning all along to do something in my own back yard. On January 13th here at a place called "Doughy Joey's", which is a local pizza place, we are inviting any beginner gravel folks, curious people, or cyclists that just want to hang out and hear about it to find out how I see this moving forward. I want to see more folks take whatever bike they have and just give gravel a try. I am going to provide 4 different local routes. I am going to suggest there are good reasons to ride gravel. I also am going to talk about the social aspects of the scene. Note- I am not going to say much, if anything, about racing. (Facebook event page here)

So, there ya go. That's what I am going to do. Who is next up?

Next: Final Thoughts

1 comment:

VA Grinder said...

Guitar Ted,

Love your thoughts, feelings, and comments. Being new to the scene starting in 2015, I have the same feelings that you have but also for Triathlon. It used to be grassroots, causal, and fun but now it's big business. It has lost what initially drew me to the sport. All I can say - keep up the fight! It's worth it. I love your passion for the sport as do I. Wish I could join you on your ride but I am a long way from Iowa. Ride On & Celebrate Life! Cheers!