Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Some Brief Observations

 NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

Today I am in Emporia, Kansas for the Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame gig. It is the "kick-off" event for Unbound gravel week and so there will be a lot going on in Emporia which I will be bringing to you over the course of the next few days. 

Tomorrow will likely be a short post with some notes about the goings on here which will get fleshed out in my reporting proper when I get back. That means there will be no "Friday News And Views" this week. 

I'm writing this ahead of the event and going into today's induction ceremonies and with Unbound this weekend I thought I would share a few observations regarding both things now. My impressions may change a bit afterward, but........probably not. Anyway, in no particular order....

Unbound has been ballyhooing its "star-studded" start list over the past several weeks. Last week, a mere eleven days before Unbound, the Life Time folks announced that a highly decorated Pro rider was announcing that he was coming. This struck me as being preferential, elitist, and as a person who has run events before, self-serving for the event promoters as a way to raise the prestige of the event in the eyes of..... Who? This is the salient point here. Since the whole thing about "rubbing shoulders with the Pros" for the amateur riders is being left behind at Unbound, I don't think Life Time sees that as the main purpose for having these elite athletes show up at the eleventh hour to bolster the already "star-studded" entry list. No, this is about "growing the event" on the Pro side. 

Is Life Time angling to get into the UCI World Championship Gravel Series? It would make sense for them to put Unbound up as the event that the UCI should include in North America, Or is Life Time going to try to have the biggest Pro field in gravel to be able to proclaim that they have the "gravel world championships" there in June? Whatever this portends or leads to, you can bet that elevating the folks whose shoulders this was all built up on is not the main focus anymore at this event. 

Then we have the inductees for tonight's shindig. I wrote about this in February when the new class was announced. I was questioned in the comments, for that post in February, about a statement I made concerning how people were nominated for the GCHoF, which I will post here: "Added to that is the way the Hall guides you in electing people which is going to lean toward "famous/well-known" and not so much on "historical impact". 

You can listen to N.Y. Rool debate this with me HERE.

Amanda Nauman, a board member for the GCHoF, didn't seem to like that comment. She questioned me about that and I think it is as obvious as the nose on one's face. If the GCHoF doesn't provide the historical backstory of gravel and expects that story to be told by democratic nominating procedures then we will get a bias toward "famous/well known" and the hidden stories, the ones of the pioneers of the sport, will get overlooked. This is such a paradox that it screams out - to me, at any rate. How in the world do you make a Hall of Fame that is set up to tell the "untold stories" of the history of the sport of gravel, so that people can understand where it all came from, when you are leaning on the very people who don't know the stories? 

The GCHoF "guides" people into this nominating of "famous/well known" folks by way of neglecting to provide the means for any other way for people to focus on the very history that the GCHoF claims to want to preserve. It's the perfect way to promote oversight and have the average person have to choose local heroes or folks that they know/have heard of in the media. A media, which I will add, that is not at all interested in uncovering the stories of gravel cycling's beginnings. 

So, I'll give an example here. We have a photographer, Linda Guerrette, being inducted tonight. She's a very talented and well known photographer who is probably best known from a "gravel perspective" as being the photographer at Rebecca's Private Idaho event. No issues with her getting in from my viewpoint. However; were you aware of Eric Benjamin?  

Probably better known as "The Adventure Monkey", Eric printed some of the most iconic early images of the gravel scene, especially of the DK200, that have been made. His artwork was given away as prizing at the DK200, he had his own magazine promoting gravel, and promoted cycling on gravel via his blog and website which was very influential. But will Eric Benjamin's story ever get told? Will he ever be honored in the GCHoF? 

I'm going to say that is a big, fat "no" unless I am proven wrong and someone picks up the reins here. He, along with many other early influencers, racers, and promoters are being left behind because many of today's gravel fans started riding years after these folks part in the story of gravel was over. Keep in mind that unless you are over the age of 30 years now you've likely no idea where gravel got its start. That history is hidden, and in a vacuum of knowledge people will fill in that vacuum with what they do know. Therefore you get "famous/well known" nominations versus those stories that are quickly falling to the wayside but were highly influential to the beginnings of gravel. 

How should the GCHoF handle this? They need to uncover these stories themselves by way of providing a venue - be that a blog on their site, social media, a You Tube channel, or all of that - and they need to get these stories out there so people can nominate based upon knowledge, not relying on mere random chances that someone will uncover these gems of gravel history. Cycling media will not do this. People who gravel cycle are mostly too young or have no knowledge of the beginnings of the sport.

And that's my opinion on the matter. Hopefully things change in the future regarding my views and the GCHoF, but as of now I see no evidence for that.


KC said...

You're spot on with this as far as I'm concerned. Some of the inductees this year are great but it they seem to be ok with skipping over a lot of history prior to the popularity boom. Eric is a GREAT example of that! I have a picture from him that sits next to my monitor. It makes for a perfect escape when work drags me down. I remember he also took some amazing pictures at a few races too (Worlds '12 or '13 comes to mind).

Imaginegnat said...

Thanks GT for taking this on.

I want to add some additional context to Eric Benjamin, the Monkey! In addition to all that you shared, he was also a local Emporia resident. I am guessing he put a lot of time in for free helping build the community. His imagery brought people to town. He also put on Adventure Monkey photography clinics and camps in the region. I presented at one of those and I can tell you that it brought a diverse mix of folks into the community, some of which were not even cyclists. He was also a participant in the event and likely donated tons of time & iimagery for the event and the community to use. I'd argue that this added value to the event and helped attract sponsors, money and influenced a culture. OH....And many brands used his imagery (I know as I bought some for my previous place of employment). Eric is a talented photographer that in my humble opinion should have been the 1st photographer inducted into the hall.

I think the reality is that the GCHOF has no revenue generation to support itself and no way to stand on its own outside the Unbound/Lifetime event and support. Hence, you get the popular, or organizational, led influence. The hall has no money to actually build the history and can't break from the circus of the event itself, which IMHO it needs to do be relevant. I know this because a founding member came to me at an event asking for free/donated Salsa history after I left the parent organization of Salsa. I was also asked to provide past imagery of gravel and early Kanza for free for the event.

That said, thus far, I am in support of the individuals that are int he hall. That gives some credibility. But I do agree that the deeper stories are not being told nor being saught out because the viewpoints are not popular or require time and money, all of which they do not have.

MG said...

Eric Benjamin is a perfect example of this phenomenon… I wonder how many people in gravel today even remember that Eric was an Emporia resident, and such a big factor in capturing those early events?

Well said, and I agree 100%. Thank you.

A-A-Ron said...

G-Ted - Be forewarned, lots of my opinion follows. First, let's acknowledge that Lifetime is in the business of for-profit race promotion. And they understand that the profit comes from the average Joe and Jane participant, not the pros. BUT - the pros may elevate the status of the event and attract more participants. So that is part of their business model, and they also make other changes year after year to grow their business and attract more participants to their events. In business, sometimes (a lot of times) what got you here won't get you there. It just seems that you have a problem with every change as that is not how it was done originally. As an example, I think you are over-indexing on people's comments that the allure to gravel racing is that they get to race the same event as the pros. I visit a few different forums daily and major social media sites and haven't seen anyone upset that they are not starting at the EXACT same time as the pros. They are still doing the same race as the pros on the same day (for now). They can still compare their time. That is plenty enough for most people. It is not like they were actually riding with the pros anyway, so this start time difference doesn't matter. And maybe they are angling to be a UCI event if they think that makes their race more attractive. Maybe the pros race on different day so that the rest of the average Joes and Janes can watch their favorite pro start and finish, and spend a day in between at the Expo. That might be a winning format (see Epic Rides). I just don't think you can compare this event to the early years of the DK200. It is not the same race. It is not the same time in this niche we call the cycling world.

Guitar Ted said...

@Imaginegnat - Thank you and definitely thank you for the additional background on Eric.

Guitar Ted said...

@A-A-Ron - You misread me if you think I want things “like the old days” at Unbound, or any other event, for that matter. They can do whatever they want and the folks that dig that should give their hearty approval and spend their dollars with Life Time and whatever other events that tickle their fancy.

I only see a divergence from what was ( recently) and where this event seems to be headed. It’s my opinion.

The event known as Unbound Gravel is, as you rightly point out, nothing like the original events in the series. Something I’ve said for years now.

We’ll see where it all goes. I’m here in Emporia as I write this and there are a lot of complexities to the event that are affecting a lot of different aspects of the community, the athletes, and the organization. What I wrote about today merely scratches the surface.

Eric Benjamin said...

Hey Eric Benjamin, the "Adventure Monkey" here. Just wanted to swing by and say how much I appreciate your comments. I was an Emporia resident for about 40 years and started riding my bike in the Flint Hills for relaxation and it was my antidepressant. The scenery was stunning, and as a photographer, I was inspired to start the Adventure Monkey blog on one of my long, hot rides. My mission? To inspire folks to "feed their monkey"—find adventure in life instead of becoming a couch potato after work.

Somehow, I got talked into entering the DK200, and my blog then focused on the beauty of the Flint Hills and my training escapades. The site attracted visitors from all over the world and did a great job of introducing the gravel scene to those who knew nothing about it. Unfortunately, the site got hacked and my tech skills weren’t up to the challenge of fixing it.

I feel like I played a significant role in the early gravel riding days. I was sharing our passion of gravel with the world. I contributed images as awards for the race. My five minutes of fame included being published in numerous magazines worldwide and having my work used by some prestigious bike companies. I even created my own adventure magazine and led photo cycling tours in the Flint Hills, thanks to the meticulous planning of Lelan Dains. I always tell my wife, who has no clue about my glory days, that I was a pretty big deal back then—cue the laughs!

Honestly, it’s a bit bittersweet that my contributions have faded into the background, but that's just how life rolls—things move on. But seeing that some do remember, warms my heart and thinking of my gravel days, makes me smile. I’d love to be there this week, but now I’m a physician assistant living in the southeast. Cheers to all the adventures past, present, and future! It would be an honor to be a part of the GCHOF, as I feel I played a big part in the growth of the scene, but really, I just miss the camaraderie we had more than anything and the way those long gravel roads soothed my soul. I hope to get my legs back into shape so I can join in the races again someday.

Guitar Ted said...

@Eric Benjamin- Hey! What a great surprise to hear from you. Thank you for filling in the blanks and yes- You have NOT been forgotten.

Don’t be surprised if you get the word that you have been nominated for the GCHoF someday soon. All the best to you and your wife. Thank you for everything you’ve done for the community of gravel! Cheers!!

Ari said...

I cannot imagine how many people are out there that nobody has any idea of how they helped the gravel scene. GT, you are right in saying that the young riders are completely unaware of this. A lot of the early Gravel scene happened even before social media was a thing. A lot of it captured on old blogs that Im sure nobody ever read. Some of those folks have moved on to other things or are probably still riding gravel all alone on some obsolete road with 26"tires. Thanks for the great post.

Eric Benjamin said...

As with any piece of history, it takes a dedicated soul to keep it alive. Thanks for being the guardian for the history of gravel, GT! Sounds like a great book idea, right? I even have some images you could use...