There’s a dust cloud brewing to the south. Over Nebraska, above Iowa. Kansas, Idaho, Montana, Oregon. Wheels are turning and dust is flying. Gravel-road cycling is exploding in popularity in the mid-western and western USA as more and more wheelmen and women discover the freedom and joys of going gravel.
Used to be, only a few years ago, gravel riding “events” were rarities, oddball gatherings. Think Dirty Kanza, the TransIowa, the Cino Heroica, and a handful of other hardcore races which you had to dig deep into the web to find out about. (Gravel riders have long depended on gravelgrindernews.com for the latest race info.) But now gravel races and rides—not to mention blogs and forums and stories about gravel riding—seem to be popping up all over the web and the west.
Some are one-day races/rides, like Rebecca’s Private Idaho or the Oregon Coast Gravel Epic or The Gritty Brevet (Iowa) or the Gran Fondo Ephrata (Washington) or the Gravel Worlds in Nebraska. Others are grander multi-day events, like the recently announced Race across Texas, which kicks off in November, 865 miles, 90% of it on gravel roads--inspired by Tour Divide-style racing. Just the other day I read about Adventure Cycling’s new Idaho Hot Springs Route, a 500+ mile loop of gravel and dirt (and hot springs, of course). They call it a Mountain Bike route, but it looks to me more like a gravel tour.
Gravel blogs abound now too. Check out velodirt and gravelbike and gravelgravy (okay, that last one I just made up—but you wait, someone is bound to nab that domain name).
However, the big question we’re asking here at the Dusty Musette is this: When will the dust cloud drift north of the border? On the Canadian Prairies—Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba—we’ve got gravel galore: thousands of kilometres of (mostly straight) dirt roads criss-crossing our provinces—endless, quiet, beautiful dusty roads.
So where are the gravel riders in the Great White North? I’m sure they’re out there the way we are out there—stealthily doing their own backroads thing. But for whatever reason (I’ve got some theories; more on that another time) Canada lags far behind the US when it comes to organized cycling events of all kinds (how many group century rides can you think of in your area, Canadian readers?). Especially now, it seems, with gravel riding.
Our Canadian dust cloud consists of a few isolated poofs in various nooks and crannies of our cycling landscape. In my search for Canadian gravel events, I didn’t come up with much. In 2013, Manitoba had an intriguing gravel event called the operacion muerto, which involves cycling clear across most of that province on gravel roads. But I don’t know if it will live on in 2014 and I haven’t heard about many others. Tell me about them, please, if you can.