Thursday, February 27, 2020

Gravel Grinder News: Guitar Ted Defines Gravel Riding Terms

It's a gravel road. Period.
 NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

This whole deal with riding bicycles on gravel has generated a huge trend in cycling. No doubt it is on par with the mountain bike craze of the 80's/90's and the "ten speed", so called "bike boom" of the 70's. Along with those bumps in bicycle popularity came several terms which remain in our bicycling vocabulary to this day. Today I am going to discuss, rate, and define some terms that have sprung up around this gravel cycling scene. Some well known, some maybe not so much.

First of all, I should disclose that I asked folks who follow me on Twitter about terms for gravel riding that annoyed them. Some of their feedback has informed today's post as well. 

My system will work like this: First I will list the "Term", then a rating of that term, then my definition and discussion, which may include bits of feedback I received on Twitter. Keep in mind that this is not an unabridged version, nor is it anyone else's opinion but my own when it comes to the veracity of the terms described here. This is my version of "the facts", and it may not conform to yours, or your beliefs.

With that said......onward.

"Gravel" (As A Category Within Cycling): Rating: Really Dumb. Definition and Comments: Well, anymore it is whatever marketing says is a product for riding off-pavement. I've seen shoes that ten years ago would have been readily accepted and described as "mountain bike shoes" now done up in a different color and with the "Gravel" label plastered onto the box the shoes come in. You get the picture here. Really this is an unfortunate and lazy label that grew from how the cycling industry understood cycling. Namely- from a racing perspective, and not as an "every-man's transportation, transformative" viewpoint, which is what I was advocating for back in the day. The term "gravel" is so limiting, and the cycling industry really has fouled the waters with the use of this term. But here we are. It's what we have to work with now. Still.....really dumb.

Gravel Bike (See Above Also): Rating: Unfortunate, uninspired, short-sighted. Definition and Comments: A bike that you ride on gravel, that works for what you want and are doing, is a gravel bike. That said, the industry is trying to move this category more towards what amounts to a wider tire clearanced road racing bike. This was not what I had wanted to see ten years ago. My vision was for an "any-road" bike that most people would be better served by, rather than the racing bike derived "road bikes" of the 90's-2000's. Bottom line: Many brands within the industry are bent upon ruining this category, seemingly. Ditto for many in the current entrenched cycling media.

Gravel Grinder (See Also "Grinder"): Rating: Cool if you know the history. Dumb if you don't. Definition and Comments: Completely misunderstood and misused term. Originally anyone training on road bikes on crushed rock roads in the Mid-West of the US called what they were doing "gravel grinding". This was a term coined back decades ago, long before Trans Iowa, and long before anyone ever thought riding on gravel roads was a "good thing", which, by the way, a LOT of people still think is a crazy idea. Nowadays many events call themselves "gravel grinders" because it seems like the thing to do, or because it makes their marketing sound more "mainstream gravel". All I know is that many times when the term is used out of context and without understanding where it came from it becomes annoying to many folks. (See "Gravel Race/Event/Ride" below)

This was called "gravel grindeing" for decades before the current gravel scene started. The term makes sense when applied correctly. (Image of T.I.v14 by Celeste Mathias)
 Groad (See Also "G-Road"): Rating: Really Dumb. Definition and Comments: A conjunction of the term "gravel road" I first saw used in an "Outside Online" article by Frank Bures in 2013 which was describing the burgeoning gravel scene. Whether or not Mr. Bures came up with this term, I've no idea, but I do know I was dismayed when I saw he used it. If the reaction I got from Twitter is any indication, most folks find this term extremely annoying.  

Groadie: Rating: Juvenile. Definition and Comments: A contraction of "gravel roadie" which is kind of ironic since most gravel riders would not identify as a roadie. In the end, it just comes off as some juvenile terminology for a cyclist which just sounds dumb to outsiders and exclusionary to the casual cyclist. It should be banished from our vocabulary. We're smarter than this......

Grav-Grav: Rating: Seriously? Definition and Comments: I've seen this used for what riding on gravel roads is, or for what the activity surrounding an event is, and frankly, it's really childish. I know.....I know. Some people are just being silly out there and trying to have some fun. #OkayBoomer Yeah......

Gravel Race/Event/Ride: This is a bit different, but this is a term that I wanted to cover because some folks are saying their events are "gravel" events when....well, are they really? I used to hold a standard for events wanting to get on my old Gravel Grinder News calendar. The event had to have a course with more than 50% of its mileage in gravel. It also could not have more than 10% of its course mileage in single track.

Imagine if these two simple prerequisites were in force for events today. I'm betting there would be a LOT fewer events under the "gravel" category. And frankly, I am okay with that. There are "back roads" events that should promote themselves as such, and there are fire road events that should present themselves as such. There are events with miles and miles of dirt roads that call themselves "gravel grinders" that should not call themselves that.

 See, this is what happened when we assigned the term "gravel" to mean "off-pavement cycling". It's misleading, it causes misunderstandings, and it ultimately turns many people off. I'm all for calling events on miles of crushed rock roads "gravel events", because that's what they are, and calling them that informs would-be participants that is what they can expect. Calling a ride with mostly dirt roads and pavement sections a "gravel grinder" is not informing would be participants correctly. Nor is it good to call a mostly paved ride with unpaved sectors a "gravel event".

To wrap things up: Again- these are just my thoughts and opinions, and a few comments I gathered from Twitter which seem to support my views. You may disagree. Cool!  I'm all ears and would love to hear the reasons why I am wrong, if you think I am. I also would love to know if you have other terms for the gravel scene which you've heard that you think are silly, dumb, or irritate the bejesus out of you. List those in the comments and I may do a "Part 2" on this. Stay tuned for a follow up on some other things I learned from Twitter users that are subjects that bother them related to gravel riding.That post will publish here on Saturday.


WizGnomad said...

Most of this terminology is totally groady

graveldoc said...

It seems to me, in my opinion, the word gravel is nearly like putting a dollar sign in front of the wording. In other words, gravel is used to stimulate sales. I suppose the "industry" needs a boost. From what I've seen of riders who have participated in wetter events such as midsouth or Trans IOwa, the misnomer Groadie may apply as well. That red clay mud in oklahoma makes me think of "gravey grinder".

Michael said...

The times I’ve seen grav-grav used it was being used by back roads cyclists as a way to poke fun at themselves. It was supposed to be silly. And in that context I think it’s fine. Used in any other way grav-grav would grate-grate on my nerves/soul.

I enjoyed this post. Thanks for working on it.

Unknown said...

What about "Gnarvel?" Have thought about it for "roads" that would be better on a mountain bike, and the events that use those heavily (like Iron Cross, which is not a gravel event in my not-so-humble-opinion).

Guitar Ted said...

@Unknown - Gnarvel? Wait! Isn't that the Hollywood movie franchise with all the super-heroes? No?

Just kidding!

Oliver said...

What is red-sauce? Originally heard in context of Oregon high desert terrain/road surface.

I thought it might be the red cinder roads they have out there, but it appeared to be used in a negative context, and red cinder roads, esp if the surface is fine enough is quite ncie to ride on.

Maybe the moon dust? But then it's been called moon dust for decades, and it's not really red, more like chocolate milk powder.

Guitar Ted said...

@Oliver - I don't know. I've never heard that term before used in conjunction with cycling. I would guess it is local, maybe regional slang for something.