Saturday, January 30, 2021


 Recently I got a nice email from an old friend of Trans Iowa who had listened to the "Riding Gravel Radio Ranch" podcast recently. He was remarking about a way that Andy and I were describing 'winning' in terms of how that worked out for the early grassroots gravel scene. 

I've written a lot about the differences between what has happened with the big, corporate backed gravel events, the media narratives, and the perceptions that gravel races = Pro roadie-like events versus challenges, democratic experiences, and rider engagement both socially and with the events. There is some overlap, to be sure, between these things, but what we discussed on the podcast really distills this down to a finer point. 

Basically, it boils down to a choice: Do we want singular "Winners" or do we want everyone to feel like a winner. This can be a fine balance, and even some events you'd throw under the bus, maybe, are actually pretty good at doing the right things. Or they were. Here I will bring up that event formerly held in Emporia Kansas, the Dirty Kanza 200. I know.....we aren't supposed to 'name the name', but that's what it was called. The name doesn't matter in this discussion. What matters is that Jim Cummings and his crew made everyone that they could feel like a winner. Yeah, a big hoopla, fancy-pants finish line experience may not be your cuppa, but ya gotta admit, a LOT of people responded to that treatment in a very positive way. There was a big winner overall, but that wasn't THAT big of a deal, until near the end, where I feel like things got tilted too far in the direction of catering to the Pro/Media/Corporate side. 

There are other events which feature challenges, where if you can manage to get through to the end, you are celebrated, and maybe even if you don't make it, you still feel like a winner. It was upon THAT foundation that "The Gravel Scene" was founded. This happened without any sense of organized racing, without much of any help from the cycling press, and without any support from the cycling industry early on. It didn't need those things to become wildly popular. Why? Because of what I described above- everyone was welcomed, everyone was made to feel important. Winners all. 

But now I am hearing about events being put on with big prize money to five places down, or a big purse for Pro class riders, or events with nine million age divisions, (I jest, but you know what I mean), and lotteries to even get a chance to get in some of these events, like those are good things for everybody? 

Are not these the very reasons many people grew tired of criterium racing, road course racing, XC MTB, and other highly categorized, winner take all, cut throat mentality events? I would say, YES! And yet we want to start going down that road with gravel events, eh? Good luck with that.....

We know the end of that road, and it has a "Dead End" sign on it.

1 comment:

Phillip Cowan said...

Looking at the big gravel events now I become conscious of a faint soundtrack playing in the back of my head. If I listen intently I can just make it out. It's Cyndi Lauper singing "Money Changes Everything". As you've pointed out before there's lots of small local events that keep the original spirit. I guess we should vote with our feet.