Less than a decade ago, the term “gravel” didn’t mean much of anything in the world of cycling. You were either a mountain biker or a road cyclist, and that was that. But these days— there’s no arguing with the fact that there’s a new kid in town. Over the last few years, gravel has established itself as a main industry player with a devoted and enthusiastic following. The race scene has blown up and, what started off as an American phenomenon, has quickly gone international. There are dozens of new gravel events popping up each year.
Gravel bikes have evolved to include space for thicker tyres, a lower and longer frame for better stability, and a more upright sitting position for comfort. Manufacturers are making specialized gear and overall, it is safe to say that gravel is having a moment. How far is it going to go though? Let’s look into some of the unique opportunities that gravel offers and see where the race scene might be headed in the years to come.
Gravel racing has the opportunity to make its own way
When it comes to what you can expect to find at a gravel race, the feedback is pretty much unanimously positive. From the laidback vibe to the supportive atmosphere of eager participants, the gravel community has managed to carve out something pretty awesome. Taking a blank slate and making it their own, gravel racing doesn’t have the same long history as road racing, cyclocross or even mountain biking, so races don’t really have to operate within any particular set of rules or structure. The bigger races have done a great job of creating a positive culture, including making sure that not only the race is well organized, but the pre and post party surrounding it are on point too.
More women are racing gravel
The number of women competing in gravel events is growing exponentially from year to year. Some events have been running female-focused campaigns, such as the Belgian Waffle Ride, that ran a promo in 2019 where each woman could sign a (female) friend up for free.
This led to a significant boost in women signing up, tripling the number from the year before. Women are happily onboard with longer, more formidable events too. Take the famous 200-mile Dirty Kanza for example. In 2010, only 2 women finished the race, but by 2019, that number jumped to 142. And while that’s still only about 20% of the total registrations, it’s also a 7,000% increase in 9 years.
UCI is noticing the buzz
This January, while in Adelaide for the Tour Down Under, the UCI President David Lappartient told attending media that the UCI acknowledges the increased public interest in gravel racing and would therefore consider creating a gravel racing world championship. Although the details of such an event remain to be seen, it speaks volumes to the impact that the discipline is having.
Gravel events are proving that they care about accessibility
Gravel events as a whole seem to be conscious of making their races accessible to the largest number of participants possible. The unofficial Gravel Worlds race in Lincoln, Nebraska, for example, is a 150-mile race with the following categories including Men/Women Open, Men/Women Master, Single Speed, and Fatbike/Cargo Bike/Recumbent Men/Women. In its 11th year, they also host a “Buccaneer” race, which is a non-competitive 50km event for those that want to get their feet wet on a less demanding course. The race also offers free entry to riders who cannot afford the registration fees, aiming to encourage people from all walks of life to participate in the event.
Gravel provides a great entry point for new cyclists
Speaking of accessibility, gravel also provides a new entry point into cycling for riders who may be intimidated by the road, or simply want to rediscover the sense of fun and adventure that riding a bike brought them as a child. When it comes to gravel, the focus is just having fun on your bike and seeing where it can take you. Gravel bikes give you options and present all sorts of opportunities for dynamic and creative courses. We’re always happy to see a new gravel race making a name for itself and are eager to see what the future holds. Let’s hope that this free-spirited movement continues to gain traction and introduce more new riders to the sport we all love!