Friday, January 03, 2020

The State Of The Gravel Scene - 2020; Part 3

 NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

This is the third and last in this year's "State of the Gravel Scene" posts. 

Grassroots Gravel In The Age Of "Big Time" Events: 

Sometimes I have to remind myself that even in the year 2020, a full fifteen years after the first Trans Iowa, that people are still "discovering gravel" and that the punters and media wonks think it is the "new thing" yet. Obviously gravel cycling has grown up over the last 15 years. At least the "modern version" of it. Heck, even "Velo News" has a weekly Wednesday column on the genre now. So, if that site has consistent coverage on gravel/all-road cycling, you know it is something that is worthwhile covering from an impact and monetary viewpoint. They pretty much had to start talking about it. 

Oh, I'm sure they want to as well, but make no mistake- gravel cycling is big time now- both in numbers of riders, in terms of impact on the industry, and in terms of money out there to be made from it. So, is it all over? Is grassroots gravel grinding going away while corporate entities and hordes of fans run rough shod over what was fun, free, and alive?

In a word- No.

I've beat this drum to death on here, and mentioned it in a previous post in this series, but my take is that there is a definite and strong reaction to the "Big Time Gravel Machine". It takes the form of what I already mentioned as "pop-up" gravel events, and it also takes the form of many low-key, down to earth events that hearken back to the late 00's gravel scene. But I also can tell you that people have been saying that "gravel is dead" for a decade. Even I felt that way at one time, but I have come to realize that the scene just keeps reinventing itself despite the "big time" productions, higher than high entry fees, and marketing and promotion shtick that makes you shake your head in disbelief.

Yes, me- Guitar Ted - thought gravel had lost its soul at one time. It would have been around 2010, or maybe it was 2009. Hmmm....... Anyway, the "soul sister" to Trans Iowa, the Dirty Kanza 200, was going "big time" and I felt that if this is how gravel events look in the future than I am not going to like it. I was fond of the spontaneity, the freedom, and the intimacy that "Small Dirty Kanza" had. That was special. I felt it needed to be nurtured, not slathered in fancy trappings and what not. But Jim Cummins saw it differently.  In years afterward I saw several finish lines of DK200's, and I participated in the 10th DK200, and I get it. I see why Jim wanted to expand the opportunity to the many, and not nurture the way it was for the few.

That said, I feel there should be both things. And there are, if you shut out all the "shouting" by the "Big Time Gravel Machine" Those events which feature the vibe that the '06 DK200 had are still out there. Most are like these "pop-up" events which I see a lot of now. Group rides, annual gatherings, or one-off deals. They happen all the time in numbers too big to count here.

So, I feel that if "grassroots" gravel, the "soul" thing, is what you are after, it probably will be found in several smaller events. It definitely will be found in the "local scenes", the group rides, and the annual gatherings some have where there may be competition, but it is mostly about just being out there. Making yourself go further than you thought you could. Doing things that you didn't know you could do. You don't need a fancy finish line, slick website, timing chips, or a three digit entry fee to get that. You just need to pay attention to the quieter things and get out there.

That's the end of "The State of the Gravel Scene - 2020" for this round.


NY Roll said...

So Big time vs Small time gravel will always struggle. But lets not forget what big time gravel has done for gravel, it has shifted the bike market to larger plushier tires. Go look for a 23mm road bike new on the shelf today. I struggle to find a 25mm, my CAAD13 came with 28mm. Would this be this direction without gravel? Maybe, maybe not. Point being that experiences of Pros/Semi Pros/Gym Class Hero's is impacting the industry.
With all that said, the small gravel group rides has a guy show up on the latest idea rig, and everyone fawns over it. To be honest, without the big events we would be seeing small bike companies fill a niche market, and not have the Shimano, Vittorias, Maaxis, and WTBs of the world paying attention. Okay WTB would be coming along and a few others, but you get the point. And maybe that is the tax we pay, maybe we pay a tax for bing mainstream now and we are rewarded with technology advantages in tires, drive trains, frame, and other areas of engineering. But I draw the line at eBikes in competitive fields.
-NY Roll

Slim said...

I often think there is a bit to much focus on (big) gravel racing, and to many supported* events for my taste. But, just like paved riding, bikepacking and mtb riding, the great thing about gravel biking is you can do it HOWEVER YOU CHOOSE TO DO. The events like DK that don't appeal to me, also don’t take anything away from me.

Perhaps, if I have any criticism, it is to the media, who might not portray the proper breath of the sport, or the differences. All though, I feel that’s more an issue in mountain biking than in gravel biking.

*support crew for hire? What the heck? For me, that’s pretty much opposed to my whole idea of riding gravel and doing big rides, but apparently lots of people love it...