Monday, May 01, 2023

A Reckoning

 Over the weekend there was tragic news coming out of a few gravel events. The things you never want to hear about, experience, see, or read about happened and with those events comes many emotions and thoughts. 

Details; The most publicized of these events happened at the Raputitsa Dirt event in Vermont where a 54 year old man lost his life in a crash with a pick-up truck. Another death was reported to me concerning an event in Kansas, which I have been unable to confirm officially, so I won't say more about that. Another incident that was described to me by N.Y. Roll occurred in an event in Northeast Iowa with an accident where an unconscious rider was seen on a rural road being looked over by two other racers. All of this brings to mind a lot of emotion and concern with me personally due to my experiences with gravel events and with Trans Iowa in particular, since I was the guy in charge of things regarding that event. 

So, I have some thoughts and opinions based upon my past experiences which I am going to share. These are my opinions only  and they may not reflect the opinions of many others in the gravel community, but I feel it is time for a reckoning in gravel events. 

I want to be respectful of those who are affected by this past weekend's tragedies. That said, we need to look hard in the mirror as riders and promoters and speak out some things that have been assumed, or forgotten. 

First of all, while gravel racing and riding is beautiful and worthy of doing, things can and will go wrong leading to personal injury and even death. While that sounds rather clinical and obvious, we have to ask ourselves, "Do we really understand and accept this fact?

I'm not assigning blame to anyone or any organization here, just stating a fact that, by necessity, should be examined carefully up front, not just for gravel racing, but in each of our lives. This should be the number one thing you've considered before riding in anyone;s event and your loved ones should know it as well. 

And then when something does go wrong, it is okay to talk about it with respect and love being foremost in our commentary. Let's be honest, with the spiraling popularity of gravel events, accidents, crashes, and injuries leading to death will happen. It isn't a "when". So, acknowledging the worst is being honest. When I see participants gleefully enjoying the after-event party on social media after a tragic event occurred, it seems like a disjointed thing when I know that "they" don't know something tragic happened, and is that fair to the participants? I cannot answer that question, but it needs to be examined. I think if we are going to celebrate the good stuff and hide the "bad" it feels wrong. Again, I remind you all, these are my opinions. 

Moving on- Can we make our events better?  Can we educate riders in skills and tactics to make large groups of cyclists racing together a safer thing to do? I feel like "gravel camps" are doing this, but they, by their very nature, can be exclusionary due to admission prices to come to them and participate. Shouldn't this sort of information be freely given to all for the benefit of the community? Can we disseminate specific information to participants in a more effective way? 

A lot of these newer riders to gravel could maybe benefit from knowledge and skills attained through experience that veteran riders of crushed rock roads possess. Becoming a mentor to these new riders is a worthy pursuit. Could we foster better community to see this happen, or is competition hindering us? 

Like I say, there are a lot of questions and we probably have a lot more of them we could, and should be considering. Those are my thoughts on these things.


DT said...

Tragic, indeed. I'd also like to point out that Sule Kangangi died at VT Overland last year, making 2 of the deaths in the state of Vermont. I would not be surprised to see some legislation (or something to that effect) come out, based on the proactiveness and size of that State.
Personally, for any gravel races I do, I treat it all as a ride with roads open to traffic unless I see people actively controlling traffic at intersections. I feel like these bigger races (>1,000 people?) should have roads closed to traffic in the sections where riders are present. I know that's not very easy (especially for 100+mi races in the Midwest) but in theory it could be done for some shorter events. Other than that I don't know what to say, other than everyone has to be responsible for their own safety and accept a certain amount of risk when out riding on public roads. It's a shame but I'm actually surprised it doesn't happen more often.

MG said...

I’m saddened to hear about the events that happened this weekend. Apparently I’ve been out of the loop.

I agree that safety on the road is something we need to look at closely, especially as average event sizes continues to grow.

Let’s be safe out there, folks.

Skidmark said...

Greets GT, your post brought to mind the cave dive mission and death of Dave Shaw (2005). Look on Wikipedia.