Gravel road riding seems to be more popular than ever right now. There are gravel races, “gentlemen’s rides,” brevets and ultra cross events nearly every weekend. Some are organized, some are free, some are paid and some are just a bunch of people getting together to ride un-paved roads that are less traveled by texting, coffee drinking, lipstick putting on, yelling at the kids, paying no fucking attention what-so-fucking ever, minivan driving moms and their brothers; the pissed off, mad at the world, uptight, suit and tie wearing assholes who like nothing better than to fuck with a person on a bike as they blow by in their $70,000 SUV that will never be used for any “sport” or “utility” in its entire, never gonna be paid off for “because I gotta get a new one” life span. (I dare you to read that last bit out loud. Blowhard).
I love, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that gravel and dirt road riding has become popular. No, it’s not mountain biking and no, it’s not road riding. To me, more and more, it’s just the purest sense of just riding and/or racing your bike for the hell of it. For most of my time in Western Pennsylvania I lived where there were no gravel roads. Just urban sprawl that at some point would finally give way to paved farm roads (I used to have to drive my bike somewhere to even start a ride without being killed or run off the road). I of course hated the sprawl* like poison and continue to hate it with the power and venom of a thousand suns. I also of course loved the farm roads as much as any mountain biker could. They were steep, hilly, twisty, turny, cow lined goodness.
Eventually I found myself going out of my way to link together the shittiest roads I could for a loop. Crumbling wanna-be gravel roads that I affectionately called “shit roads.” This pre-dates me having a cross bike so I would utilize my hardtail with the fork locked out (much to the amusement of my hardcore mountain biking friends). All that crap road riding made me hungry for more.
Soon I found myself exploring the mountains that lay 45 minutes by car east of my home. I sought out not only the singletrack, two-track and snowmobile trails that I had been riding for years, but also the hundreds (?) of miles of gravel forest roads that crisscrossed the Laurel Highlands. Each weekend brought a new loop, a new adventure and new roads.
Then a few years ago, much to my surprise, my family and I founds ourselves moving away from the sprawl of the suburban-ghetto-metro-Pittsburgh area (and sadly the mountains 45 minutes away) and living in the middle of Michigan. No not, the decaying like a Brit’s tooth Detroit area of Michigan, but a college town surrounded by farmland called Mt. Pleasant (there are no mountains and barely any hills which is of course ironic and very unamusing to a mountain lover like myself). What the area lacks in mountains it makes up for with dirt and gravel roads, hundreds of miles of them most likely.
For me, gravel road riding went from something that was sought out or pursued to just being my “everyday” road ride. Somedays I like to get out on my road bike for a “proper” paved road ride, and somedays I seek out as much dirt and gravel as I can find. But most days I just go for a ride out my backdoor and it happens to contain a big chunk of dirt and gravel roads. Like today’s 30 mile
loop square from the house…
Today was just a standard ride that 60% of happened to be on dirt and gravel roads. The road parts were just… the road. A few blocks through town and some undulating ripples of pavement along farm fields.** The rest was the same but on dirt and gravel with more farms, more corn and more of that perfume like scent that I like to call– cow shit.
I’m not waxing poetically about it like I’m writing a fucking Rapha ad or to attempting to paint myself as some sort of cycling hard man that plans on riding Trans Iowa. Nope, just a standard ride to get outside on the bike that thankfully happens to be on dirt in the middle of nowhere. I can make it as long or as hard as I want, but none of that really matters to me. What matters to me is that I am riding. What matters to me is that those gravel roads are there.
*I won’t pretend that parts of Mount Pleasant don’t have “sprawl.” The main drag is a pretty typical Mid Western U.S. strip-mall nightmare of stop lights, Target, McDonalds and Tim Horton type businesses. Thankfully I live in town, where it is way calmer, laid back and just 3 miles from the dirt.
** Just over a few years ago this ride would have had even more dirt but it seems the year or two before we moved here they paved Baseline Road. I would call them jerks, but I REALLY enjoy Baseline, its smooth surface and wide shoulder when I am on my road bike.