Thursday, January 26, 2023

Entry Fees Up

Entry for the 200m? $290.00
We used to say that gravel riding and racing was a cheap way to enjoy competition or to just have fun. Heck, many of the earliest gravel events of the 2000's were free or had a very low bar to clear to enter. I recall someone saying that it was such a good deal because many events were so cheap to get into and long enough that you could ride your bike all day. Choosing any gravel event as something you put on your calendar was often predicated upon whether or not the travel time was longer than the event riding time, not on race fees. 

My! Times have certainly changed! 

The old way I used to gauge expenses is out the window now. I just got off of BikeReg, which lists a little over 300 events as "gravel" on that site. I just randomly went through and picked out about eight or nine events to check on where race fees are at these days. I was shocked. 

Once upon a time, back when the Dirty Kanza 200 was getting "big" and raised their entry fees to just under 100 bucks, someone piped up and said to me that if race fees went over a buck per mile of the event's course, that they would quit going to that event. Well, let me tell ya, there are not many events you've heard of that are even close to a buck-per-mile anymore!

Would you pay more than a dollar/mile to ride on this?

Now, of course, gravel events are more than just riding on gravel/dirt/whatever roads they use for their courses at whatever events you want to name. You've got timing and scoring. Then you have all the pertinent "furniture"- barriers, finish line arches, podiums, etc. You've likely got insurance, materials to facilitate the event, race numbers, tape, etc. 

And maybe you've got merchandise, you've maybe got an event headquarters you need to pay for, permits to close down streets, police, ambulance, and medical staffers, maybe. I don't know everything about these massive productions like Unbound, but yeah- There is a LOT going on there to produce the event. I get that.

But I've said it before, and I'll say it as long as I am able to- Gravel events don't have to be like that. 

You don't need thousands of participants, you don't need twenty-five categories for race participants, you don't have to have finish line arches and big time concerns with cities, police, etc. The gravel experience exists outside of those confines, but the big events have put all that inside their own boxes and have put the focus on other stuff. Is that what you want? Cool.... Join the thousands of others that are all about that too. I understand I probably am in the vast minority of opinions here, but "big time gravel" has become just like "big time roadie events" and "big time MTB events". Crowded, expensive, harder to get into due to what perceptions are about equipment, and broken into so many sub-divisions of people that it becomes less about overall community and more about individual groups. 

And then you top it all off with really expensive entry fees. 

I took a look at several events, as mentioned above, chosen at random from across the country. Various distances were included. Plus, I also looked at pricing for sub-categories. Following are my 'not-so-scientific', random findings*

  • The more well known the event was, the higher the entry fees were. No big surprise there, but what caught my eye was one of the events that I looked at, which is fairly new, is the most expensive per-mile-of-course I found and the hardest to get into as well. Due to a somewhat convoluted registration scheme where riders can defer their participation to a following year, giving them dibs on a roster spot, and due to this particular event focusing on diversity and inclusion initiatives along with a preference to entry for sponsor's athletes, the "regular person" takes a back seat. But it is their event to run, so.... 
  • The longer the event, the cheaper it is per mile: This seemed to be universal across all the events I checked out. Some made sense, others, not so much. When the featured distance costs the same as all the other distances you offer, that's sort of odd! 
  • Not all events are really expensive. In fact, I found one long-time Pennsylvania event was actually under  a dollar-per-mile of its course. But just by ten cents! 
  • The average cost per-mile-of-course for all the events and categories I checked out? $2.05/mile. The cheapest, or if you'd rather, best bargain event I found, was a sub-event of the Swamp Fox Gravel Fondo which at 177.6 miles costs .28 cents a mile to enter. The most expensive? A 25 mile option at a Vermont based event that was $6.00/mile to enter!

*All figures and information for these findings was culled from currently available data on for the events I looked at on 1/25/23

Now- Let me say this- I know that many events are cheaper per-mile. I get it. Don't get your hackles all up and come at me with your examples of particular events that don't fit my story here. I understand that for as many events as there probably are, most are not all that expensive. But you are not going to see any of those written up in mainstream cycling media, and many of those I checked on are those events. Some weren't, but most were. But of the events I knew of that are not what you'd call "big-time gravel? Even most of those were more expensive than a buck-a-mile. 

 Image from Trans Iowa v10 by Wally Kilburg
So, what do we make of all this?- Obviously, everything is more expensive as time goes on. Call it "inflation", evolution, or what have you. That's just the way things seem to go. Time goes by, things get more expensive. You can pretty much count on that. 

Well, according to the almighty Google, a buck in 2009 is worth a $1.38 today. So.....yeah. Inflation? I get it, but event fees have essentially more than doubled in the course of 12 years. It's got more to do with than inflation. 

Demand? Yeah, maybe.... That's part of this. I always said that event directors who were trying to make this gravel thing into a career were going to keep jacking up entry fees until they perceived a ceiling had been reached. And rising tides raise all boats to a degree. I mean, when smaller events see what Unbound gets out of racer's wallets then they see an opportunity to match "what the market will bear", I think, and that's natural. 

And again- people are paying these fees gladly. Well, I assume that they are, because I don't see rosters and field limits less than full. So, I have to adjust my expectations as well. A buck-a-mile is dead. Entry fees are up, and they are not coming down anytime soon, or so it would seem. There are still cheaper events- I was invited to such an event in Minnesota a few days ago. Twenty-five bucks to enter and I could ride whatever distance I wanted up to 300+ miles or as little as 25. There are still events that are free, just not very many! So, I have options. 

And I can create my own adventures. The roads are free to ride. I don't need a permit, finish line amenities, or aid stations to do a fun, adventure filled gravel ride. I can even compete on a personal challenge level. You can too if current event prices have you down. The "gravel experience" doesn't have to be a wallet-draining one. It was never meant to be like that. 

But if the thrill of all the things those big events bring to the table tickles your fancy? Go for it. We've got plenty of choices.


Phillip Cowan said...

Great minds must run on the same track. I didn't ride a single organised event last year. I did fun rides, a few ramble rides with friends and I laid out a couple of routes for my own personal FKTs. I had the most fun training for and riding an FKT each month of the summer. To make it more challenging I rode some singlespeed and did one on my road bike. Didn't cost a penny other than snacks.

bostonbybike said...

I admit I never understood the appeal of organized events. Those roads are free to ride. You don't have to pay for it. Ask a few friends to ride together if you can't picture doing it alone. Is comparing yourself against others really that important?

Guitar Ted said...

@Phillip Cowan - Yes, it sounds as though we are in a similar boat here when it comes to gravel riding. While I like more organized and produced affairs from time to time, the real meat and potatoes of my riding is much like what you have described there.

Guitar Ted said...

@bostonbybike - I've heard this criticism of "paid-for" gravel events in the past going way back to when things were just getting rolling. Supporters of the Almanzo come to mind. Anyway, that is a valid point. The roads are free to ride.

But I think what needs clarification is what is meant by "organized". I think I know what you mean, but you could say that "asking a few friends to ride together" is an "organized ride" also. Essentially, that was what the Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational was. Again- I think I understand where you are coming from, but another good question to ponder is- "Where does an organized event cross the line to being the sort of event that turns you off?" When it becomes a race? I think the answer may vary depending upon who is asked.

KJ said...

The rising cost of entering events is definitely one factor influencing my choice of races this year. To the extent that as of this point there's only one race I'm planning on actually riding and it comes with free camping. You really don't see much of that anymore. On the flip side, as a race director our event is going to continue to do whatever we can to keep our costs down. A lot of the big events keep pushing inclusivity, but they're going to end up pushing out the same people they want to include as the price of entry becomes harder to meet.

Guitar Ted said...

@KJ - That's a great point about inclusivity and how entry fees can be a barrier to that.

MG said...

Bicycle racing has always been a sport that caters to the more affluent end of the spectrum, and I gleefully participated for more than two decades, but today I’m definitely more into my random adventures with (or without) friends. In some respects, the dramatic ramp up of entry fees helped ease the transition from ‘racer’ to ‘rider’, and that’s a change I’m fine with. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone other than myself on the bike.

Guitar Ted said...

@MG - That's an interesting perspective and I appreciate your experience as not only a racer, but a sponsored racer.

I know that we've both been influenced recently by interactions with less privileged individuals and I think, at least in my case, that has influenced how I look at events that, as you say, "caters to the more affluent end of the spectrum". This statement and what "KJ" commented about in terms of how high entry fees affect inclusivity are things I find troublesome.

MG said...

I agree 100%. Events I want to participate in are ones that everyone can choose to participate in. And it’s important for me to use my place in our sport to help others find their own unique love of cycling. For cycling to change the world, it has to be inclusive, not exclusive. I think of my friend Abdul “Stylish” Karin Kamala and his Lunsar Cycling Team in Sierra Leone. Through his work, he’s made it possible for countless people to have and ride bicycles in his country. He inspires me to do more, and to aspire to more, every day.

Irish said...

"And again- people are paying these fees gladly"......People who can afford these fees are paying them gladly. I fully believe the next phase of financing available for big event entry fees isn't that far off. It's gross.

Guitar Ted said...

@Irish - Whoa! Let's hope it doesn't come to that, but I hear ya....

Alex said...

I'm happy to pay for events where I think I'm getting my money's worth. I pay $30 a week to race at our summer weeknight MTB series, you do that 7-10 times and it adds up. But they respect the rider and give us our money's worth. It's a closed and fully marked course, it's got great support, it's got a bunch of things that some of these gravel races don't. The idea of paying $100+ to ride an open and unmarked course is ludicrous to me - and now some of them barely have aid stations, they just tell you there's a gas station open on the way. What am I paying for other than the race director's permit and profit?

Guitar Ted said...

@Alex - I'd be interested to know if you have attended any gravel events that you describe in your comment. But beyond that...

"Value" is a subjective thing. Some people might see a self-supported, self-navigated route as a challenge and that the event director had taken care for the riders in other ways not related to aid stations, marked courses, and freedom from worrying about external occurrences and forces, counting those as "wild cards" to the challenge overall. It's obvious that some people feel that way, or events like that would not have existed in the past or present.

Take the Tour Divide, for instance, as probably the most visible of events like that. I'd find it very odd if anyone that had done that event didn't think there was value in the participation in that. True, there is no stated entry fee, but the costs to do that event are far beyond what you pay for your local MTB series, so I think it stands up as a comparison in terms of the "value" proposition and is representative of an event type that some find attractive.

The bottom line here is that if we are going to take "value" as the sole means for judging participation in events, then all choices are valid to those who make the move to attend whatever event they are going to decide to "pay" for. Especially so if the decide to come back again.

And that goes for my metric of measure as well. As I say in the article. I probably have a minority opinion on the subject, but going by the numbers this post is generating so far, maybe not......

Christopher said...

As a race director who hasn't raised fees in 5 years, I will tell you that everything costs more. Insurance, food, shirts, awards. The brain damage you get from running an event is significant. A lot of 'free' events were fun for a year or two, but when you burn out and try to turn them into longer running events, you have to have some way to pay the people putting all the time and effort into the events.

I don't think there is anything wrong with the comments about just riding on your own instead. I do that often. But please know most events that aren't run by a major corporation are a labor of love and event directors could realistically make more money working at walmart.

See here:,to%20be%20a%202022%20exclusive.

Guitar Ted said...

@Christopher - I think it is important here for me to underscore what I wrote in the post above:

"I understand that for as many events as there probably are, most are not all that expensive."

Obviously your passion and feelings were somewhat offended by this post or you probably would not have felt compelled to write your comment, I think, and if that is wrong, I apologize. But as a former event director for 15 years, and having put on mostly free to enter events during those years, I think I have a good perspective on this. I get the comments you are making about worrying and "labor of love" and all of that. I think most of my regular readers here over the years have heard that message beaten to death here.

So, know that I come from a similar place as you, in as far as producing and running events goes. If you have to raise your fees, then you do so out of great care and concern for being able to do the event the best way you know how to. And as I stated also- raising prices is an inevitable consequence of being a running event for a long period of time. So, I agree with you on the subject of your rising costs.

That said, I stand behind what I wrote in this post as well.

Thanks for your comments.

Christopher said...

Not offended, just unsure about your (and others) perspective/experience. I really appreciate the response! My event is actually a road event (a unicorn these days), and I deal with many frustrated participants over things that I can't control. I think that's more the mindset with road racers, but I just often wish they had a clue about what goes into putting on events.

It sounds like you do have a clue, and again, thank you for the article and response.

Guitar Ted said...

@Christopher - Hey, no worries. Frustrated participants? Oh...yeah, I hear that. That's always one of those things that sticks with you, even though 20 other people are patting you on the back. That one person with the negativity though.... If I may, I would suggest trying to just block that out, (unless the criticism is useful in growing you/your event), and moving on. Focus on those that have the good reports of your event with a mind to keeping the bar set high for yourself.

I received similar encouragement once and it really helped me out. I hope it does something similar for you.


J.C. said...

Late to the party.... Few things maybe need to be put out there;

All of the large scale events that charge in the neighborhood of $200.00+ to participate are FOR PROFIT entities. Even though they lay claims to supporting social injustices, being inclusive, donating money to non-profits. They are still making a $50,000.00 - $100,000.00+ profit at the end of the weekend. Also on the backs of an army of volunteers. I doubt these people would donate a 100% of their time to do these events, if they were unable to pay themselves. Not a lot of transparency on this part.

Pretty good business model if you ask me.

Inclusivity? Look at steamboat Gravel charging $5,000.00 for a V.I.P. weekend package. That's an inclusivity of its own kind, $$$$.

You can offer a free entry to these rides, but really that's not the barrier to entry into the cycling world. Maybe even offer a free bike to bolster the image of said event and bike manufacture. You still have travel expenses, plane fairs, lodging cost, meal expenditures, time to train, and those 7 sets of tires you bought trying to dial in your ride to meet the west rolling resistance of said course. Most middle class folks work 50+ hours a week to just stay a float these days.

Event cost have remained fairly level. Insurance and permits if needed, most cycling related nutrition companies will offer event pricing, and the miscellaneous other stuff. The big commitment is time required by the organizer to pull things off, and what is your time worth? Or are you in this for the glamor?

So, essentially these events are catering to an exclusive group that falls under the upper crust of societal demographics. There are exceptions of coarse.

There are hundreds of other rides out there, do some research, go and have a fun time.


Guitar Ted said...

@J.C. - Yeah, points taken and well understood. (We talk about things like this on my podcast quite often, by the way)

Your last statement, " some research...." Ah......yeah. I've been doing research into this gravel event thing for many years. Unless you weren't speaking to me directly......

J.C. said...

@G.T., Not speaking to you directly in any way. That should have been better directed to those that think Lifetime Fitness and Belgian Waffle Ride are the holy grail of gravel.

I talked to someone that has tried and been denied an entry for Dirty Kanza, Unbound Gravel for 9 years I think they said. It was like life was not worth living anymore. Hey, there are lots of other events out there to check out.

I thought your blog ended? I’ll find it and give a listen.

Guitar Ted said...

@J.C. 10-4. No worries.