By Stu Garwick, Freeport Bicycle Company
March 6, 2018

The cycling world, in spite of its tendency to honor its traditions beyond their sell-by dates, is always evolving ever more creative ways to enjoy our two-wheeled lives.

Gravel riding has actually been around for a long time, going back to the roots of two-wheeling itself when hardy cyclists flew their high-wheel penny farthing cycles down the only roads that existed back then — dirt and gravel.

Pavement has tended to crowd out the gravel over the last century or so, especially around densely populated areas, making the current gravel scene somewhat rural-centric. Good for us in the northwest corner of Illinois — many well-known gravel events are easily accessible to us in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan.

But first, some notes on terminology: some will refer to a given gravel event as just that — a “gravel event.” Others will refer to the same event as a “gravel race.” In some cases, the event organizers push the race aspect by having a reward system with prizes and a podium recognition for the winners in different age, gender or equipment categories.

Great — we’ll call it a race. Other events, with no such prize system we’ll call an event. What you call it really depends on how you intend to ride it; some of us show up at an event, and regardless of the size of the rewards for the swift, ride with goals to merely survive, reach the finish, have a good time along the way and cross the line in good enough cheer to have a beer or two before heading home.

Even in the absence of rewards for the winners, some love the competition and will choose to race the event. This is the beauty of gravel events; every rider can decide what they want the event to be and ride it accordingly based on what they want out of it. We all have our own ideas of what constitutes fun and are unrestrained in how we ride these events.

Part of the reason for the indeterminate nature of gravel events has to do with the grassroots origins of the genre, which in itself is a sort of rebellion against the highly organized kit-and-carbon world of amateur road racing in America. The race fees, rule book, race officials, license requirements, course marshals, dress code (yes, it’s in the rule book) all add up to making sanctioned road racing less inviting to the masses.

Gravel events are free, or low cost, have very few rules if any at all, and don’t care what or how you are riding.

To check out a list of gravel rides go to: freeportbicycle.com.

Stu Garwick is the owner of Freeport Bicycle Company. Journal Standard article link.