You might be asking yourself what does this have to do with Travel By Bike - well the majority of the bikes I highlight on Thursday are quite capable of being the rig you can ride on gravel and have a great time. Add into the fact that this week has been about racing and there really aren't any commuter or touring races (unless you know something I don't and if you do please let me know!)
How do you find gravel races? Well there is this blog - Gravel Grinder News - and the host of it Mark Stevenson puts all gravel races around the country on it that he is notified of. Mark is also the Race Director of my favorite race - TransIowa. I have attempted TransIowa 2x and not finished either time. If you don't click the link to learn about I will give you some background on TransIowa - it is a 320+ mile non-stop race. You start at 4:00am on the chosen Saturday and you have 2-3 time checkpoints to hit or you don't get to go on. The first checkpoint is generally 50 or so miles and most people make this if the road conditions allow for it. You will then receive your next set of cue sheets (there are no Marshall's or signs - you navigate on your own) to checkpoint #2 which is usually 150 or so miles away. If you make that in the allotted time then you will receive directions to the finish line.
The majority of gravel races are 100+ miles, have no course Marshall's so that means you are responsible for course navigation, are in rural areas, require you to eat gas station food for nutrition, and are a battle of willpower for sure. They are not like a local crit race where if you get dropped you just pull off to the side and then cruise back to your car and head home for the day. Local road races are a longer loop but there is generally a SAG wagon on the course if you have mechanical issues to help you along. In gravel racing you are your own SAG wagon, bike mechanic, nutritionist, physical therapist, and most importantly psychologist to convince yourself that you are doing fine and to just keep turning the pedals over!
Sure you have to do crazy things at times to finish the race - carry your bike through a flooded area or walk your bike along side a road that is so wet you can't pedal through it!
|I am the second in line in this picture from last years TransIowa|
The challenge of TransIowa is that it is run the last weekend of April so all of your training has to occur during the winter. It is great motivation to get you on your bike all winter long because if you don't ride your bike all winter long you really have no chance of finishing this race and quite possibly might not even make the first checkpoint in time to go on.
It is always a great way to spend your day or weekend. The other racers are genuine people who are just as concerned with you finishing as they are. There are maybe 5-10 that enter that have a chance to win the race the others of us are there for the challenge!
If you would like to find a bike that will help you compete in these races stop by the shop and ask some questions. We will guide you correctly and answer any questions you migh have about bikes, the terrain, or nutrition.