Everyone understands the appeal of riding a bike, but when it comes to competitive cycling, many Americans are confused or indifferent. What’s the appeal of bike racing, anyway? Is this the grandeur of the Tour de France? The raw adrenaline of downhill mountain biking racing? The human dog track, what is the Keirin of velodrome racing? The six days, the criterium, the alley cat? Where do you start with a sport that encompasses everything from artistic cycling to freestyle BMX? And what is hiker, anyway?
It’s no wonder that with the exception of the anomaly of an American leading the Tour de France, American sports fans are giving up cycling and going back to watching people play with balls.
Nevertheless, every once in a while people tout a cycling discipline like the one that will eventually get Americans addicted to bike racing. I’m old enough to remember when it was cyclo-cross, the idea being that it was an excuse to hang out in a park, drink beer and watch people get dirty. After that it was fixed gear criteria, which was an excuse to hang out in a gentrified urban neighborhood, drink beer, and watch people crash. Then came the urban exodus; rural is the new urban, handlebar bags are the new messenger bags, and the discipline of gravel racing has come to define the cycling zeitgeist.
While national road races have been stagnate for years, and the aforementioned fixie reviews have taken over rim brake, gravel racing is becoming more and more popular every year. The six-race Life Time Grand Prix, which includes three gravel races and three mountain bike races, offers a purse of $250,000 with an equal amount for men and women. There is a race called gravel worldsand there is even a Gravel Hall of Fame. gravel evangelists tout the inclusiveness of the sceneand on the surface anyway the the recklessness of the gravelista seems to be the antithesis of the roadie culture of the seatpost in the ass.
However, like everything cool, gravel takes great care of maintain independence, kind of like that kid with dyed hair who refuses to explain what his T-shirt means. Good luck to those casual fans who want to follow him from afar. But let’s try.
Who is in charge?
USA Cycling is the American branch of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the international governing body for the sport of cycling. They set the rules, issue race licenses, field the national team, oversee the various national championships and enforce anti-doping policy. Whether you’re a young Olympic hopeful or a middle-aged road-racing dentist, you’ll be competing under their auspices.
The most popular American gravel races – Unbound Gravel, Belgian Waffle Ride, SBT GRVL and others – are not sanctioned by USA Cycling or the UCI. The latter organization recently sent organizers of the Gravel World race in Nebraska a cease-and-desist letter because the event used rainbow stripes on its championship jersey (the UCI claims to own it). ). USA Cycling has courted gravel racing organizers in the past and references the discipline on its website. But the gravel is its own thing, so get down.
So it’s an underground thing, like Alleycat Racing
No. Gravel is technically “unlicensed”, but some of the biggest events are now owned by companies. Life Time Group Holdings Inc. (NYSE: LTH) has Unbound Gravel as well as Utah Crusher in the Tushar, plus a bunch of triathlons and running events. No publicly traded company is trying to buy Monster Track or the Single Speed World Championshipsat least as far as I can tell, although OxiClean should totally acquire the underground celebration of the art of cycling Kill on a bike to showcase the cleaning power of their product on those dirty denim vests. Basically, a gravel race is less like an underground race and more like a half marathon, only much, much hipper.
Who sets the rules and what are they?
Sanctioned bike racing, regardless of discipline, has all sorts of rules about what kind of bike you can ride, what you can wear, what you’re allowed to wear, and what you’re not allowed to wear, when you can eat and when you can’t, and so on. Racing it is like attending the White House State Dinner. That is why when, say, road racer uses dropper posteveryone acts like they just used a straw to eat their soup and rushes to the rule book to see if they need to be punished.
In the gravel, the organizers themselves make the rules, but some of the most important rules are unwritten… you just have to understand and be cool, maaan. Do you attack in the supply zone? Should aero bars be used or not? Nobody really knows. In that sense, the gravel race is less like a formal dinner party and more like a weed-smoking circle. Confusing? Just check Top gravel rider Peter Stetina’s explanation from how the fastest runners determine whether or not it’s kosher to attack near pit stops – it turns out it’s not, according to Stetina. Basically, gravel racing is both a sport and an alternative lifestyle; as in any sport, there is sportsmanship, and as in any alternative scene, there is social anxiety. These two forces inform what constitutes appropriate behavior at any given time.
How is it different from other races? Isn’t the interest still to win?
Damn, you sound like a Gen-Xer or something. The hustle culture is toxic! The gravel crushing culture is not a crushing culture, sheesh. Some ride to win, some ride to finish, some just ride. To find?
Does Gravel have star athletes and teams?
Of course, there are teams and riders with strong Instagram followings. But if they ride to win then people don’t like them. It’s much cooler when they’re “showcasing the culture and creativity of sport.“Ultimately, it’s about diversity and inclusionremember?
Can men and women strategize together in races?
You are opening a Pandora’s box now. This is even more complicated than the power zone thing.
Listen, I have three sets of 650b Rene Herse tires to install tubeless. Are we almost done here?
How are these races still different from the Gran Fondos?
Sigh. You don’t understand, do you? Maybe you should try following the triathlon. Or maybe try hiking. I hear it’s like gravel, only more pretentious.