Thursday, April 11, 2024

The Gravel Paper: Reactions And Comments - Part 2

Being at one with nature. Trans Iowa recon 2010 (Image by David Pals)
This is Part 2 of my reactions to a recently published collegiate study on gravel riding. If you missed part 1 it can be seen by clicking this link HERE. 

One of the themes in the paper I discussed yesterday was that of riders in events feeling that they were able to become "one with nature" yet have a community experience and a social element to the event that previous types of cycling events either neglected or did make not available. 

The freedom to enjoin in both facets of these characteristics of gravel events was also seen as important by the study participants. One can move from a more communal scene - a checkpoint, as an example - then minutes later find themselves in a serene, peaceful setting alone, or nearly so. Typically gravel events also provide the freedom at which level one wants to experience these things as well. Varying distances, and at times, different courses, allow an individual the freedom to craft an experience that appeals to them, or is appropriate for them. 

Communing with others: Checkpoint at Mid-South

With the passing of time, I think a lot of people have either forgotten about how events used to be in cycling or perhaps never knew. To be sure, many younger folks probably don't have any memory of such things today, having been born too late to experience such things, Because of this, I think it bears reminding us all that at one time, (and in some cases, this still is how it is done) , you signed up for an event, showed up, rode the required course "X" amount of times, rolled back to your car, and went home. That is, unless you won, at which point you may have been required to have a podium appearance, which usually wasn't a big deal and was more of an inconvenience than anything. 

This bland, single-focus on competition was pretty much all you had to choose from. Sure, there were some charity rides, RAGBRAI, or maybe you could go to a 24hr MTB event. The latter were very popular for the inclusion of social factors such as group settings in "the pits" and entertainment during the night. However; even those events became cumbersome due to the time commitment and style of racing, which meant venues to engage in such activities were extremely limited. 

Then along came gravel events which had several advantages over previous styles of cycling events and were more engaging, on many levels, than other cycling events. My discussion of this study bears a lot of this out,and the paper itself pretty much spells out why gravel became as popular as it did, once you realize that nothing like it existed previous to 2005. This was a new way to enjoy cycling which could be replicated worldwide. You actually do not even have to have "gravel" to "gravel", if that makes any sense. 

Breaking the mold in events: Almanzo 2018

 Previously held rule structures, or preconceived notions about how a cycling event must be run, were shattered with the advent of gravel events. Course design, venues, pricing structures, and even intent in terms of what and who the event benefits were all redefined with the new form of cycling called "gravel". 

This paper bears this out and with the perspective of history, one can easily see how gravel cycling has become, and still is, the most popular form of cycling event in North America. 

The paper also points to why other forms of cycling events have diminished over the past nearly 20 years now. Their old ways of doing things just are not as satisfying and dynamic as what one can find in the gravel scene. Road racing has probably been the most notably affected form of cycling in this regard. Yet mainstream cycling media still tries to prop up Pro Road racing as being the thing to emulate. I will admit that road racing is a spectacle, but it is not nearly as engaging, nor satisfying to participate in, as gravel cycling, and that for several reasons. 

While many decried the advent of Pro level gravel racing, I think it is readily apparent that the form of gravel racing and riding that brought us to this point is not going away anytime soon. This paper I have been a part of, (in a VERY small way, to  be sure) is evidence of this fact. 

That's my take. Let me know what you think in the comments.


S.Fuller said...

Pre-2005, randonneuring would be the closest equivalent to what gravel events provide today, at least from the lower emphasis on competition. Still, not anywhere near the same thing, and no where near the numbers.

Guitar Ted said...

@S.Fuller - That's true. I'd add in the ultra-distance stuff Mike Curiak and his friends were doing out West including the Great Divide Race. The rules, especially, were something that influenced gravel events to a great degree early on.

There were elements of cycling that definitely were influential on what gravel became and had similar vibes to the current gravel scene but, as you say, "not the same thing, and no where near the numbers".

teamdarb said...

@S Fuller Now we see USA randonneuring being influenced by gravel's changes. What used to be effort and explore focused is now become hurry up digital guidance, no need to interact with the community plannning, ride a carbon or aluminum event bike, drive hundreds of miles to pay $$$ to sleep somewhere nice. I am sure the next thing will be reduced brevet time limits as the result of all the individual time trials taking place during events of recent. I love the challenge of true multi-day brevets like brevet week and taking as much time the brevet allows. That last part is harder than people realize. Bring back paper, cues, photos, and chasing a local down for a signature as the primary. This is why people need to pay attention, be active on the club's board and actively vote, not just read the newsletter..

Guitar Ted said...

@teamdarb - You forgot that the car the rider will travel in will be autopilot guided to the event and that the bike will have a motor and be shifted automatically and vary assistance depending on headwinds and hills, also automatically. ;>)

MG said...

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to read the paper, as there was a paywall by the time I tried to download it. However, from what I’m hearing you say, it sounds like the content tracks with my experience with gravel… I didn’t come into it until 2007, but the reasons why we dropped out of the ‘traditional race scene’ are totally correct. We were done with that dog and pony show and simply wanted to ride our bikes fast, have fun and not have arbitrary limitations or rules imposed on us. No more. No less.

Guitar Ted said...

@MG - Hey Brother! Check your gmail!

MG said...

Thanks Brother!!

S.Fuller said...

@teamdarb - I just so happen to run a cue sheet only event. A lot of people think it's antiquated, but it does force you to pay attention and not ride aimlessly. I believe we had GPX files for the last 1200K I did, back in 2018, but we still had our cards signed by people in convenience stores along the route. I've seen a number of people going out to set fast times on organized brevets. To each their own. I don't mind taking photos, enjoying a coffee and a pastry and experiencing the area I'm riding through.