On the Gravel
|Gravel grinders. Will they change the world of bicycle racing?
Every so often a movement arises in the bike world, based on the need for relief from serious competition. Road racing had been a seriously competitive sport for nearly a century when informal mountain bike races started in the 1980’s. Mountain bike racers were fun races. Little, if any prize money, but lots of fun on a Saturday in Colorado. As these races attracted attention, things got serious. Money poured in from all directions to where mountain bike racing is now a fully professional and Olympic sport.
The same thing happened in cyclocross in the US. It all started out for fun. It was a fun way for road riders to stay in shape long into the off-season with events they didn’t have to take so seriously. Even that world has professionalized, with athletes dedicating their lives to compete on the world stage.
Perfect route on a perfect day for gravel grinding.
Now comes along a whole new kind of race – gravel grinding, where the prizes are fun, glory, and parties. The venues are hard to televise but a pleasure to ride. The latest technology isn’t necessarily the best technology. Most importantly, everybody who rides, wins.
The second big reason is that Iowa has a long tradition of participant cycling, starting with RAGBRAI, now in its 42nd year. With well over 12,000 participants, it’s the biggest week long tour in the country, if not the world.
|By comparison, Trans Iowa should have about 500 riders this year. It started ten years ago with 50 riders trying out a new kind of adventure endurance sport for America’s Heartland.
It’s free, but they caution at every turn, “You are on your own!”. It’s an unsupported 300 mile ride on gravel, run day and night over two days. In fact, Trans Iowa is a great template for gravel grinding, whether in an event or even on your own. Their FAQ section gives good idea about how it works.
|More rides are coming on line every year. One big ride is Dirty Kanza, run in another gravel road-intensive state, Kansas. It’s Rider’s Bible not only provides event rules but includes a great checklist for what to carry on the ride. Here in Wisconsin, we have The Bear 100, a 100 mile one day ride – just about all of it on Northern Wisconsin gravel. Check out the growing number of events on the Gravel Grinder News Event Calendar.|
What they don’t talk about are the bikes themselves. Indeed, gravel grinder participants use nearly every kind of bike, from full-suspension mountain bikes to full-on road racing machines. We’ve worked with lots of gravel grinding enthusiasts using different designs. Gunnar’s CrossHairs turns out to have the kind of qualities that make it ideal for the sport:
What makes the CrossHairs and especially good investment is that it works so well for all kinds of cycling, including cyclocross, commuting, off-season training, and even light touring. There probably isn’t a more versatile bike on the market today.
|A lot of riders like bigger tires than can fit in the CrossHairs. For those people we offer the Gunnar Rock Tour. It comes in both 26″ and 29″ versions and fits tires up to 700 x 2.3″. Because the need for big tire clearance, we outfit the Rock Tour with chainstay mount disc brakes. This brake system lets you mount a rear rack, because you don’t necessarily want to carry everything on your back. With it’s relatively short top tube, it lets you create a drop-bar bike for the gravel.|
If you want disc brakes with the same versatility as the CrossHairs, Gunnar offers the Hyper-X. It’s the same fit and tire clearance but for disc brakes.
The beauty of gravel-oriented bikes is that they are good bikes for a wide range of riding, which makes them a better investment than a bike designed for only a limited range of use. And, of course, it’s as much about the fun as the win.