|The proposed 2021 RAGBRAI route.|
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. Yeah.......like 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.
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. But......it 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?
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.
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.
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!