Sunday, September 03, 2023

The GTDRI Stories: Things Changed

Dawn over the Flint Hills plains West of Emporia Kansas, 2017
"The GTDRI Stories" is a series telling the history, untold tales, and showing the sights from the run of Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitationals. This series will run on Sundays. Thanks for reading!

After 2016 it seemed to me that the gravel scene shifted into another gear. By this time some of the older events were gone, others were coming in to become "big time" gravel events, and the pinnacle of the gravel calendar had become the DK200. 

Businesses were beginning to roll out "gravel specific" designs for everything. Companies you'd never would have thought would bother with a "gravel bike" were now making them. By 2017 rumblings were beginning to surface at the very top of professional cycling that this "gravel thing" was now becoming so powerful that it was at once a threat to the establishment and an opportunity waiting to be exploited. 

I was aware of all of this as the UCI sent me a cease and desist order intended for Gravel Worlds, but apparently they thought I was in charge of this whole gravel scene. Anyway, it was obvious that "gravel", as I had known it, was forever changed and was becoming mainstream. 

WTB Resolute at the DK200 expo in 2017
I remember being at the 2017 DK200, the "gravel expo" showcased new and exciting products including hints at the future. A front suspended bike was shown, and WTB's Resolute was shown on a bike which wasn't supposed to be shown yet. That told me that the industry was going to really start pushing gravel as a category, because the brand that leaked the tire was obviously trying to get a leg up on the competition. Obviously, they knew something was afoot. 

Well, obviously, there was something afoot!

This all fueled rider interest in gravel cycling to unforeseen heights. That translated into a bigger interest in all rides off pavement and the GTDRI was not left out of this. This affected the event in a positive way, but in a way I was not expecting at all. 

After 2016's tribute to the first GTDRI, a 150 mile grind in the heat of Summer, I dialed back the idea for 2017 to be around a century mark. While being something more attainable for me, it was a GTDRI idea that wasn't so imposing for others as well. But that's not all. I decided to do a route and I tried to include as many dirt roads as I possibly could. In my mind, this was a tribute, a tip of the hat, you might say, to the Pirate Cycling League's "Tour of Dirt Roads", which was a ride they did featuring Nebraska MMR's. That ride had been a popular PCL event and was rooted in the very beginnings of the gravel scene. I never have been to one, because it is difficult for me to get over to Lincoln on a whim and a tight budget. So I decided to do my own take on the idea in Iowa.

A minimum maintenance road in the Flint Hills, 2017.

 There would only be three more GTDRI's after the 2016 ride, but of course, at that time I did not know that. My experiences with the GTDRI in 2017 would push me to start thinking a bit differently about gravel riding and why it was becoming "bigger" and more popular. I was not convinced that it was due to the big productions like the DK200, or the newer events coming in which were emulating that formula the DK200 had going on at the time. 

2017 was definitely a pivotal year in many ways. For the gravel scene, for bicycle brands involving themselves in that scene, and from the aspect of what was motivating riders to want to be in that scene. I saw a piece of that germinating within the GTDRI. 

Next: The run-up to the twelfth GTDRI.

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