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Post-Interbike Ramblings

Last week’s Interbike trade show confirmed that the bicycle industry has embraced the gravel bike in a big way. When brands like Niner, Specialized, and Surly all release gravel-friendly models, it doesn’t take a Magic 8-Ball to know that things are blowing up big-time. And it’s not just these new introductions making news. Salsa, a longtime gravel proponent, continues to fine-tune their gravel offerings, as well as expanding the number of dedicated racing rigs.

What’s causing all the gravel-related buzz? Dollars, for one. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, and with several popular 2013 bikes/frames already sold out (with plenty of good riding weather remaining), the demand for gravel bikes is clearly there. To the skeptics who think that gravel riding/racing is a flash in the pan, think back 30 years ago when Specialized introduced a certain bike called the StumpJumper (and we all know how that turned out).

Sales and market share aside, much of gravel riding’s increased popularity can be attributed to events such as the Almanzo 100, D2R2, Dirty Kanza 200, Trans Iowa, and Rebecca Rusch’s recent Private Idaho. Bikes able to withstand those types conditions appeal to racers and non-racers alike. Any brand that can claim a victory in one of those events immediately elevates itself above the competition (win on Sunday, sell on Monday).

When you talk to people about gravel riding, there’s one common theme that emerges–it’s fun. Exploring dirt and gravel roads brings out the kid in everyone. Returning to that wide-eyed sense of freedom is a welcome relief from the rules and structure of everyday life (both on and off the bike). Not surprisingly, many riders report that they prefer unpaved riding because of reduced interaction with cars. Other riders–myself included–say they like the challenge of riding skinnier tires on unpaved roads and trails.

Looking at the GRAVELBIKE site’s explosive growth, it’s safe to say that gravel riding’s popularity will continue to rise. A natural side effect of that increased popularity will be even more organized gravel rides and races, and as a result, we’ll see the bikes themselves diverge into two camps–adventure and race models. If, for some unlikely reason, none of that transpires, you and I will continue to do what riders have done for over one hundred years–happily ride our bicycles on dirt and gravel roads.

After The Flood

“Were you affected by the flooding?”

That’s the number-one question I was asked at Interbike this week. People would look at my badge, see that I was from Colorado, and then want to know how bad things really were. To be completely honest, my problems were very minor compared to the massive devastation reported by the media. A leaky roof and failed sump pump basically amounted to an expensive inconvenience. In short, nothing compared to losing one’s home, all worldly possessions, and in some cases, loved ones.

Today, like nearly every other Saturday morning, I grabbed one of my bicycles and hit the road. Unlike all those meandering, destination-free adventures, this one was different. Today’s ride was a recon mission to see if my normal route to work had been impacted by last week’s flooding. Aside from a bit more broken pavement, the first couple of (paved) miles were largely uneventful. That all changed, however, when it came time to leave the asphalt.

GRAVELBIKE.com Front Range Colorado Boulder flood

The first of what would be several trail-head closures.

GRAVELBIKE.com Front Range Colorado Boulder flood

Looking up, and to the left of the gate in the previous photo.

GRAVELBIKE.com Front Range Colorado Boulder flood

Approximately two miles farther, and another trail closure.

GRAVELBIKE.com Front Range Colorado Boulder flood

Makeshift warning alerting cyclists and motorists to the shoulder’s damage.

GRAVELBIKE.com Front Range Colorado Boulder flood

That wash-out is approximately four feet deep.

GRAVELBIKE.com Front Range Colorado Boulder flood

I don’t recall ever seeing this popular trailhead closed.

GRAVELBIKE.com Front Range Colorado Boulder flood

I can only imagine how deep this was a few days ago.

It was at this point that I decided to throw in the towel and head back home. As I pedaled through the various neighborhoods, I heard the sound of shovels scraping against mud and asphalt. Discarded carpeting and furniture littered the sidewalks. Extension cords and hoses snaked their way across the remains of people’s lawns and driveways. I counted my blessings, grateful for my good fortune. All the while, a familiar song played in my head.

Watch your life slip through your hands
They’re not for shaking
They’re not for praying
They’re just for holding close
Everything you love in this fragile little dream
“You Were The Cancer” – Thursday

Gravel Renaissance?

Is it too early to call it a gravel renaissance? Whatever term you choose, it’s definitely a big deal when some of the largest and oldest names in the bike biz start offering gravel-specific models.

Over the past couple of weeks, Raleigh and Specialized both announced steel-framed gravel rigs for (late-2013)/2014. Not content to rest on their laurels, Salsa rolled out updated versions of their popular Fargo (and other models) at their recent dealer camp. Last, but certainly not least, Surly added a new bike model (Straggler) and tire (Knard) to the fray.

What does this mean for you and me? Well, assuming the companies did their homework, more gravel bike options are always a good thing. More brands means more choices, which is especially good if your local bike shop is a one-brand affair. And with more companies scrambling for a piece of the gravel-grinding pie, competition will (hopefully) weed out the uninspired and/or downright-bad designs.

Looking ahead, I think we’re all in for a very exciting ride (bad pun intended).

Happy Birthday

It’s hard to believe that I launched GRAVELBIKE two years ago. So much has happened since that very first post. Yet, even with the growth and changes, I still feel a bit like a kid at times. From the excitement of planning the next two-wheeled adventure, to the simple satisfaction of making it home before the rain starts to fall, I’ve had the good fortune to experience it all. Bikes have come and gone during the past two years, but the memories remain. In my quest to inspire others to ride everything, I’ve managed to broaden my own horizons in the process (both on and off the bike). For everyone who has been a part of the ride, I thank you.

After your first day of cycling, one dream is inevitable. A memory of motion lingers in the muscles of your legs, and round and round they seem to go. You ride through Dreamland on wonderful dream bicycles that change and grow.

H.G. Wells, The Wheels of Chance

Remembering Dad

GRAVELBIKE.com Campagnolo cone wrenches father's day

Old friends.

My two-wheeled obsession started a relatively young age.  The day the training wheels came off, I began what would be a lifelong love of bicycles and cycling.  I wasn’t the most coordinated or athletically-inclined child, but those limitations seemed to vanish the moment I threw a leg over my bike.

Bicycles also satisfied my urge to tinker.  Armed with my well-worn copy of Anybody’s Bike Book and my father’s tools, I would spend countless hours learning the intricacies of my bicycle’s various components (although back then they were simply called parts).

Inside dad’s toolbox was the holy grail of tools–genuine Campagnolo cone wrenches.  Thanks to Bicycling! magazine and Eugene Sloane’s Complete Book of Bicycling, the Campagnolo mystique was not lost on ten-year-old me.  While I may have casually borrowed my father’s other tools, I treated those cone wrenches with a sort of reverence.

Eventually I began amassing my own set of bike tools; the commandeered Campagnolo spanners serving as the collection’s foundation.  Bikes came and went, but no matter how much I pruned my stable, those two wrenches remained in my possession.  When I hit a particularly rough patch, and N+1 turned to zero, those tools became talismans–reminders of what once was.

I don’t know if my father–or mother, for that matter–ever fully understood the impact that bicycles and cycling had on me.  When mom died, I rode my bicycle as a way of coming to grips with her passing.  In dad’s final years, many of our long-distance conversations included talk of the riding here in Colorado.  After his death, I found that I missed those post-ride phone calls more than I ever could have imagined.

Today I plan on venturing into the garage, opening up my tool chest, and pulling out those Campagnolo cone wrenches.  To others it may seem odd, but to me, it’s a fitting way to remember my dad on Father’s Day.

Number 200

I wanted to celebrate GRAVELBIKE’s 200th post by taking a moment to thank everyone for their support.  The blog’s readership has grown tremendously over the past year, and it’s great to know that there other like-minded folks out there.  So to all our readers, twitter followers, and everyone else who’s taken time to check out the site–thank you.

Although GRAVELBIKE is essentially a one-man show, I’ve been extremely fortunate to receive support from some amazing people in the bicycle industry.  Guys like Mike from Black Mountain Cycles and Peter from Vecchio’s, our advertisers, and the companies that have provided product/review samples.  Your generosity has been instrumental in GRAVELBIKE’s growth.

Ride everything.
Mark @ GRAVELBIKE