|The gravel scene is unprecedented in competitive cycling history.|
The way things seem to work in life, as far as movements, trends, and "scenes" go, is that there usually is some sort of genesis point where only a handful of folks know about, or participate at all, in the activity, or trend. Then there is a growth stage where things seem pretty cool yet, but the trend/scene/activity becomes more widespread. Then you have a point where, now days anyway, folks think a scene/trend/activity "jumps the shark". It gets "ruined", "sells out", and/or "everybody and their brother does it now", so it isn't "cool" anymore.
Now, I may have missed a point or two, or I maybe have it wrong in some way, but y'all know what I am talking about. Things don't stay cool forever. Music, fashion, and whatever else that grabs our fancy seems to rise and fall according to this progression. It is a cycle which we, for the most part, have either totally bought in to, or at the very least, have just shrugged and accepted as being "how things work".
What has this have to do with cycling, and more specifically, the gravel grinding scene? Well, just recently I posted about how I had been quoted in a magazine's online article that asked if corporate buyouts of events were going to "ruin gravel". This was briefly addressed in a "Friday News And Views" which I posted on October, 26th. I mentioned in that post that I had more to say on the subject, and today's post is that time to say it.
I think that an underlying current exists within the gravel community that is a foreboding, an expectation, or maybe more of a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will. It has to do with what I wrote here to open this post. People are waiting for the gravel scene to fall in on itself, to decline, to suddenly be "uncool". They may be thinking, "this" is when it will happen in light of certain events. Things like ever increasing entry fees, lotteries for event entry, or bombastic marketing claims by cycling companies and event promoters. What will be the trigger, because, you know it's gonna happen.
First of all, I think that is a real feeling folks have and I would submit, a false belief. I alluded to this in my "Friday News And Views' post linked above. Here is a quote regarding this "false" belief:
"......... we seem to feel that if an event experience we have is monetized, it cheapens our previous experiences and "takes away" from the event. Marketing can also be thrown in here. You start marketing the event to sponsors, corporate entities, and city businesses and it seems that this is a signal that filthy lucre is infiltrating the "purity" of the event experience."
|The Almanzo 100 is one event a lot of people point to when talking about "grassroots gravel".|
Yet we have new events also coming on the scene which do not go that route. They have the "down to earth", "real-ness" about their marketing. In fact, some are not competitions at all. Events that have a social aspect to them which is promoted as hard as the riding part is. Furthermore, as if in reaction to the corporate, highly polished event offerings, I am noticing a strong undercurrent of events cropping up. Let's call them "off the radar events". I like that term because these events are the antithesis to some of the more well known gravel events.
These include, but are certainly not limited to, gravel group rides which are happening all across the nation now on a regular basis. Just to take our local scene as an example, ten years ago there were two, solidly attended, long standing road group rides and another casual road/trail ride happening on a regular basis. Now we have a regular gravel group ride in two locations weekly along with a roadie group ride that starts and ends their season also riding gravel.
|Small, loosely organized group rides are happening more often than ever.|
While I am using local happenings here as examples, (none of which I had any hand in organizing, by the way), since I have an ear pressed to the ground in the Riding Gravel Ride Calendar, I can say that this is something that I've noted all over the country for a good year now. The numbers of these events that I am aware of is on the increase, and I probably don't know about many others. The local flavor of many of these events means promoting, in the regular sense of the term, is unnecessary, and thus many of these gravel events likely go unnoticed by anyone other than their participants.
These events are predicated on fun, adventure, and social gathering. They are not happening on the back of a slick marketing campaign, high entry fees, lotteries, or promises of "epic gravel". In fact, I would say that these events are happening in direct response to such "big time", "corporate" type events. So, what can we draw from this? What is the "message" here?
In my opinion, this kind of repudiates the belief on may 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.
Of course, there is nothing wrong at all with the "bucket list" type event, or the slick, highly processed experience that awaits anyone that wants their experiences "guaranteed" to be "world class", or whatever attracts those riders to these kinds of gravel based rides. They exist for a reason, and many would be promoters that see that as a "legitimate event" versus the "under the radar" type of thing will try their hand at one upping the previous "world's premier gravel grinder". That's going to happen and what competition breeds. It doesn't offend me, it just is what it is.
I think that's the message I am getting.