Gravel: Events and Races

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.

 The real origins of gravel cycling?

The real origins of gravel cycling?

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 meerly 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 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 this indeterminate nature of gravel events has to to with the grass-roots 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.

That's as deep as we want to get into the roots of gravel events right now - more on this later.

With that as background, here follows a list of a few of the gravel events in the midwest we are familiar with, starting with those closest to home.

Frost Bite 40

FROST BITE.jpg
  • When: February 25, 2018 9:00 am
  • Where: American Legion Hall, Pecatonica IL
  • What: 40 mile self support bicycle ride taking place on gravel roads in Winnebago and Stephenson Co.   It will start and end at the American Legion in Pecatonica Illinois. 
  • Vibe: First gravel bash of almost-spring. "Last year we set a record for the most smiles in one day for the month of February", says ride organizer Stu Garwick. No support, but there will be a rest stop halfway with beverages and cookies. Fun for all - bail out options to shorten the course if your winter training went off the rails.  No charge to ride, but the hat will be passed to support a local civic cause. 
  • Sponsors: Freeport Bicycle Co. and Chainlink Cyclists Bike Club
  • Website: Freeportbicycles.com - see Events

The Ten Thousand

 Real hills, real gravel - The Ten Thousand

Real hills, real gravel - The Ten Thousand

  • When: May 27, 2018 9:00 am
  • Where: Freeport Bicycle Co 120 S Chicago, Freeport IL
  • What: A 120-ish mile bicycle adventure with roughly 10,000 ft. of elevation gain in Illinois’ Driftless region. Primarily on gravel, though there will be paved sections along the way. There will be 75 and 50 mile options. Self supported with several towns along the route for food and drink.
  • Vibe: Major event on the gravel calendar that attracts top talent from around the region - the full 120 mile route is for the serious rider looking for a real challenge. Ten Thousand feet of climbing on the 120 mile route in the most scenic part of the state will test even the best. Many enjoyed getting a taste of the big gravel world on the shorter routes last year.
  • Sponsors: Freeport Bicycle Co. and Comrade Cycles of Chicago
  • Website: Freeportbicycles.com - see Events

Brews Cruise

generations.jpg
  • When: August 12, 2018 10:00 am
  • Where: Freeport Bicycle Co 120 S Chicago, Freeport IL
  • What: Mixed terrain ride of gravel and pavement of around 50-60 miles with stops at three craft breweries: Wishful Acres, Lena Brewing, and finishing the day at Generations Brewing Co. in Freeport
  • Vibe: Save your race legs for some other day - this ride is about stopping to smell the flowers. Hops are flowers, right?
  • Sponsors: Sponsors: Freeport Bicycle Co. 
  • Website: Freeportbicycles.com - see Events

Dust At Dusk

  • When: September 2, 2018 6:00 pm - 10:00 pm
  • Where: Oregon IL
  • What: Fifty or so miles of rolling gravel roads beginning an hour before sundown from Conover Square Mall in Oregon, IL. This is a FREE self-supported ride with routes provided but NO cue sheets.
  • Vibe: There will be an after party in downtown Oregon with location TBD. Grab your lights, a buddy, and your appetite for gravel!
  • Sponsors: Sponsors: Freeport Bicycle Co. and White Pelican
  • Website: Freeportbicycles.com - see Events

Dairy Roubaix

 One of the many beautiful roads of the Dairy Roubaix

One of the many beautiful roads of the Dairy Roubaix

  • When: April 21 2018
  • Where: Hugh Harper Group Camp at Wyalusing State Park in Southwest Wisconsin
  • What: The Dairy Roubaix is a one day unsupported gravel grinder starting and ending at the Hugh Harper Group Camp at Wyalusing State Park in Southwest Wisconsin.  Routs of 100 miles and 50 miles. Really big hills. Running each year since 2011, this event has become a Wisconsin cycling tradition and a chance to reunite with old friends in a relaxed atmosphere. Entry is free to all, but limited to the first 500 registrants.  We do accept and encourage donations to support the event and it's organization's good works.  Starting 2016, this organization is Vernon Trails Org - a group of folks building single track trail networks in and around Vernon County, Wisconsin.
  • Vibe: Running each year since 2011, this event has become a Wisconsin cycling tradition and a chance to reunite with old friends in a relaxed atmosphere. Entry is free to all, but limited to the first 500 registrants.  We do accept and encourage donations to support the event and it's organization's good works.  Starting 2016, this organization is Vernon Trails Org - a group of folks building single track trail networks in and around Vernon County, Wisconsin.
  • Sponsors: Sponsors: Blue Dog Cycles Viroqua WI and Vernon Trails Org.
  • Website: http://dairyroubaix.weebly.com/

Almanzo 100

 Massive Almanzo 100 field rolls out of Spring Valley - quite a variety of bikes for a day in the gravel

Massive Almanzo 100 field rolls out of Spring Valley - quite a variety of bikes for a day in the gravel

  • When: Saturday may 19 2018
  • Where: Spring Valley MN
  • What: The Almanzo 100 gravel bicycle race is held annually in Spring Valley, Minnesota, where it all began. This grandfather gravel event starts and ends in downtown Spring Valley. On site check in will be open to participants on the first Friday after Mother's Day from 5pm to 9pm at the Spring Valley Community Center. The race begins at 9:00am near the Community Center on the first Saturday after Mother's Day.
  • Vibe: The Almanzo events are, and always have been, FREE TO ENTER and are produced and sustained with significant, generous contributions from the Spring Valley Tourism Committee and Penn Cycle. This event attracts a large diverse crowd. Great roads through beautiful hilly driftless geography in SE Minnesota.
  • Sponsors: Spring Valley Tourism Committee
  • Website: www.almanzo.com

Land Run 100

 At Land Run 100 the roads can fight back when they get wet

At Land Run 100 the roads can fight back when they get wet

  • When: April 17 2018
  • Where: 120 W 7th Stillwater OK
  • What: 100 miles of gnarly Oklahoma gravel.  The red clay in the region presents a special challenge in wet weather.
  • Vibe: (quoted from the End Run website) "These roads have a depth of history, and a soul. They are unique, unforgiving, ever-changing, but always red. On April 22, 1889, cannon-fire signaled the beginning of the first Land Run in Stillwater, OK, the home and start/finish line of the Land Run 100. At the heart of this event are some of the most rugged and daunting, beautiful and memorable roads in the Oklahoma country. They take on a personality of their own. But they are also marked by the people who travel far and work hard to ride them. Making yourself a part of these roads makes them a part of you." Plus, the ride actually starts with a blast from a cannon.
  • Sponsors: District Cycles in Stillwater
  • Website: www.landrun100.com

Dirty Kanza

 In the Flint Hills of Kanza

In the Flint Hills of Kanza

  • When: June 2 2018 (the 2018 event is sold out - watch for info on next year's event)
  • Where: Emporia KS
  • What: DK200 is a grass-roots event, organized and managed by folks who are passionate about cycling, and done so for the primary purpose of providing life-enriching cycling experiences for our event participants. 200, 100, 50, and 25 mile routes.
  • Vibe: From a grass roots origin with 34 riders in 2006 to a massive event with 2200 riders in 2017, this is among the top gravel events in the world. Beastly tough gravel in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The gravel is flint, like in arrow heads. Tough tires a must for this ride.
  • Sponsors: Dirty Kanza Promotions
  • Website: www.dirtykanza.com

That is a quick look at some of the things happening in gravel this year here in the midwest.  if you want to learn more about evolution of gravel riding, follow this link to the to the ridinggravel.com website for an interesting read one the history of the sport:

The State Of The Gravel Scene

At FBC the owner and staff have a passion for cycling – we all ride to help you ride better. Come and see us in Freeport at 120 South Chicago in Freeport to find out how we can help you get full enjoyment out of your cycling experience.