Friday, February 05, 2021

Friday News And Views

The proposed 2021 RAGBRAI route.
 RAGBRAI Announces Proposed 2021 Route & Plans:

The big ride is on again, so they say. Of course, this is not without a fair bit of skepticism, behind the scenes intrigue, and irony. First, the obvious- What about COVID-19? Well, it may be obvious to many of us, but some would rather ignore this and rush headlong back to "Normal". For them, none of the hand-wringing and honest questions matter. So, there's that. 

But the question was posed at the release party and a representative of RAGBRAI basically washed over any specifics as to how the proposed "social distancing and mask wearing" would work with the desire of the organizers not to limit participation in the ride. (Read: We want the money! Ta Hell with your virus!) Yes.....I'm not a fan. Ever been to RAGBRAI? I have several times and maintaining a six foot distance from anyone at any point during the ride is nigh unto impossible. I'd really like to believe this guy at the announcement party is a smart, honest, caring fellow, but don't expect me to believe that we can have "normal numbers" of people on RAGBRAI and have COVID-19 safe protocols in place. Not happening, because, well....physics, for one thing. 

This doesn't even take into account human nature, which as we all know is such that everyone would maintain a six foot distance throughout the ride because they were asked to. that's ever going to happen. Did anyone point out to RAGBRAI what happened at the Sturgis Rally last Summer? 

And to top it all off, this is planned to come through my home town. Great! 

Mentioning towns, yeah.... Some opted out during the route finding for 2021 as they weren't thinking it would be possible to have a safe ride come through for themselves or the riders. No one was talking about that though. 

Well, Summer is coming and we will find out soon enough what will or will not be happening. If I were a betting man, I'd say this looks to be a big, big mistake if they barge through with this ride for 2021.

 RAGBRAI Dips Its Toes Into Gravel Events:

In more news from RAGBRAI, it was revealed that a day on the route will feature a gravel course alternative. This will happen on the third day out, (assuming there is a RAGBRAI), and will be traversing a pretty flat-ish, not very exciting part of the state. is a gravel option. While it is true that RAGBRAI offered a short loop of gravel in the past, this will mark the longest segment that they have ever offered during the annual ride. (Officially, mind you. People have been doing gravel on RAGBRAI on their own routes for years, not to mention other paved roads not on the route)

But the bigger news was the announcement of a Fall gravel ride of indeterminate length to be held out of Iowa Falls in September sometime. Plans are to have around 3,000 riders come to do a loop course of some sort. Originally the thought was to do the ride during peak Fall colors time, but typically that aligns with peak harvest time, so the organizers nixed that idea. Yet the icon for the ride in the marketing shows Fall colors. I can assure you, September in Iowa has minimal Fall colors on display. Anyway.....More details are promised at a later date.

Comments: Another revenue stream is generated for Gatehouse Media/Gannett Corporation/RAGBRAI and why not? Gravel is the hottest segment in cycling and organizers are taking events more toward a corporate format to cash in on it. RAGBRAI won't be the first and it won't be the last. This is an interesting turn of events, because ten years ago you would never have thought this would have ever happened. 

Will casual riders take to this? Can an organization make enough money off events like this to turn a profit? (See below) If gravel events start becoming the realm of organizations, will this push out the grassroots events organizers? Or will corporate backed events fail and see these companies retreat from the scene? 

Packaging Gravel Events:

This isn't anything necessarily 'new', as I've seen this before, (DK200 events, Michigan Gravel Series) but as COVID-19 restrictions look to be fading sometime in the future, you can expect there to be a release of a pent up desire for many folks to gather and 'do things'. Waiting in the wings to grab the economic benefits of this demand will be events that hope to rope you into an 'ecosystem'. A series of events similar, but not the same, in a general area, to attract cyclists, (or runners, or whatever...) One such series is dubbed "Roll Massif" and is centered on Colorado based events. 

These are 'sportifs', not races. The idea being that there are timed sections but the overall vibe is that of enjoying the scenery and having fun. Of course, you will pay for the privilege. So, I clicked on one of the events, the Wild Horse gravel event, just to see what is up here. What I found was interesting. A not-traditional-for-gravel way of doing things that I think is clever, (if you are in to making a buck, that is) and it will be interesting to see if it pans out. Basically everything is ala carte. 

Want to ride in the event? Sure! Give 'em $130.00. Oh! Did ya hear that they have a pre-ride breakfast? Yep! Just pay for that. Want to join in the post-ride barbecue? Pay 'em, and its no problem. Schwag? They got it. Just give them your money. 

On the one hand, this is smart for the consumer who thinks that they are getting a deal on the event, because costs for schwag, eats, etc are not included in the event price, (but do you know that? Hmm....), and if you want those things, well- pay for it. On the other hand, are these just more barriers to participation? It's an interesting conundrum. 

As I have said, the 'ecosystem' marketing tactic is nothing new, nor is the ala carte event packaging, but as gravel gets more monetized and marketed, you can expect to see more things like Life Time Fitness (Unbound, Big Sugar, more promised, Belgium Waffle Ride, now three events with a new one in Kansas), and this Roll Massif thing to be a common choice in the future. Some will be competitive, some not, but gravel is where the focus is, so I see this coming sooner and more often than not.

How Paved Road Riding Will Become Popular Again:

In recent articles in trade papers I have seen, there is currently a lot of research and development into making road riding safer. Now, this is mostly directed at urban riding, but the technology is just as easily applicable to any paved road riding bike. Basically, this is all tied up with the big push for self-driving cars. 

Now, I won't be getting into whether or not self-driving cars are good or bad, but everything I am being told and by all accounts, self-driving cars are going to happen. It's not an if- it is when. That's what I've seen. Anyway, the expectation is that within the next 40 years, self-driving cars will be the norm and almost the exclusive form of transportation by motor vehicle. Of course, they all will be electric too, which plays into this. 

Cycling companies are deeply involved with the auto industry to solve one of the major road blocks to self-driving cars being able to operate within a city- that being the detection and avoidance of cyclists, scooter riders, and pedestrians. Detection devices and tracking devices will be required equipment in the future, or otherwise cycling and other non-auto forms of movement will be prohibitive to the seamless integration of self-driving cars. (You can thank "Car Culture's" over-riding dominance in terms of priorities in the urban landscape for all of this)

How that happens is another topic for another day, but my point today is that cycling companies have to be thinking of the renaissance of paved road riding is firmly tied to these developments. Think about it- What is the biggest drive for cyclists to ride gravel today? It is because they are afraid of getting hit, injured, or killed by automobiles. What if those automobiles all had technology that would force a safe space around cyclists as they were riding over the road? What if these cars and trucks could not pass until it was safe for all road users involved to do so? If the answers make road cycling safer, cycling companies would be able to make the shift to promoting road cycling as cleaner, easier, and even safer than gravel riding. 

You may laugh now, but I believe this will eventually happen.   

Left Over C.O.G. 100 Merch:

In an agreement between myself and N.Y. Roll, we have placed the remaining C.O.G. 100 merch on my Garage Sale Page for sale. There are two types of hats, some jerseys, and a small amount of patches. That stuff needs to go and is priced fairly. All brand new, never worn before merch. Shipping is extra. Details on the page, go see it before you ask any questions. 

I plan on using USPS flat rate boxes for the shipping as this will help preserve the integrity of the hats in particular. Jerseys will be in their plastic bags we got them in. I took imagery of the ones we are keeping, so anything you get will never have been out of the bag, as far as jerseys go.

What I show on the Garage Sale page is what I have. Nothing more. Very limited quantities on the jerseys and patches, so act quickly if you want anything there. Hats I have a lot more of, but again- these won't last forever. Own a piece of gravel grinding history. 

Thanks for your consideration in advance. 

That's a wrap for this week! Stay warm and don't get too crazy with your Super Bowl partying! Ha!


MuddyMatt said...

Hi Mark, I really hate that idea of bike with sensors so cars can see them. Why? Because it puts the onus on the bike rider, not the car driver (be it human - inevitably - or machine).

It's a tacit admission by the car companies that they can't fix the problem of being able to 'see' riders, pedestrians, anything that's not a rectangular block of metal (and even there - snow storms, heavy rain and stuff screw the sensors), despite the SoCal hype of the tech-bods.

I for one wouldn't EVER rely on a sensor to trigger a cars' warning/avoidance protocols and programmed in there will be a decision - take out the cyclist, or the car coming toward them with multiple citizens in it. Who loses?

The idea should be fought as hard as it possibly can be. It will affect your safety on gravel as much as road; pretty soon it'll be 'Oh, you didn't have that sensor? - too bad' - no insurance, policies won't pay out, loved ones lose out etc.

I don't think the idea of driverless cars will fly anymore given the above; but taking the blame OFF the driver and onto other road users? The auto industry has a LONG history of this (c.f. jay-walking) and they will be pushing this hard. Bike companies need to push back just as hard, not collaborate. It will ultimately be another reason for people NOT to ride ('I dont have the sensor!') and so on. Which will lead to fewer bike sales, and a smaller market over time in my view.

The only thing that will get people cycling is road design (limiting/reducing/removing traffic), protected infrastructure where that's not possible, and an assumption of fault on the drivers' part in any collision (unless demonstrated otherwise). The more people cycle, the more everyday people understand the issues facing cyclists.

None of this is easy to effect; maybe the climate emergency will hit hard to make people think?

Sorry for this sort of rant, I just really don't see sensors as a solution to fundamental problems.

Phillip Cowan said...

I've done RAGBRAI three times over the years which may have been one time too many. I have to agree that it's gonna be a little hard to social distance when it's "just you and 10,000 of your closest friends".

Guitar Ted said...

@MuddyMatt - All excellent points. I agree, for the most part, and obviously, things could change radically based upon many unforeseen factors. (COVID-19 anyone?)

The thing is, we've taken 100 years plus to get where we are now with car dominant city design and cultures. If reversal doesn't start now? I don't know.... I see it happening in fits and starts, but nothing that says to me, yes- we are reversing the wave of car culture.

Then, of course, there are new developments unforeseen in technology as well. People thought we could go to the Moon in the 1930's, they just didn't know how we'd get it done specifically. Obviously technologies no one could have predicted made it possible later.

I don't disagree with you, and please don't feel bad about the 'rant', I enjoy your comments. I just think we're too far out to have anything other than a smeared window view of the future of urban mobility. But that said, I agree that the cycling/pedestrian element of society should fight this self-driving vehicle pathway to the end.

Guitar Ted said...

@Phillip Cowan - And many times crowd estimates are well above 10.000 per day for the ride, especially in and out of bigger cities. Yeah, I just cannot see it being a safe thing in July of 2021.

Tman said...

Sturgis? Local to me and NOTHING happened. Go back and read the "big article" posted worldwide about the rally and it was nothing but speculation and shoddy journalism. I know folks from all around the world that attend the Rally every year. Not one of them were infected nor knew anyone that got the kung flu while in at Sturgis. A half million people is a pretty good litmus test.

Guitar Ted said...

@Tman - Read that and let me know what you think.

Tman said...

@Guitar Ted 86 people? Out of a half million. Pfft! Not saying there is not a virus. But, the books are being cooked. Good thing we cured the flu since last year.

Guitar Ted said...

@Tman - So, my point still stands. It is not a good idea to have RAGBRAI if we are not over this pandemic in late July. "Cooked books" or no. Dead people don't lie. (And that link was just for Minnesota- other states also reported issues stemming from Sturgis) Not to mention 'long-haulers' and what we do not understand yet about this virus.

Go ahead and ride it if you want. I don't want any part of it if we aren't out of the woods yet.