By Ted King: The King of Gravel
Spires of rock shoot up around us that have the feel of another planet. Gazing out the window, safely with one eye on the road, we sporadically utter, “Whoa, look at that one”. It’s downright otherworldly. That’s 2020 in a nutshell; things have occurred this year that seem out of a sci-fi movie or perhaps from another world. Epidemiologists may have predicted this global pandemic, but the other 7.777779 billion people on earth sure were blindsided. The King family is currently well into week five of our road trip, and this particular leg spans from Flagstaff, Arizona to Durango, Colorado. Skirting the Grand Canyon somewhere north of 5,000 miles into the trip, the landscape is breathtaking. The thermometer pushes 110 degrees Fahrenheit, which is also enough to take your breath away, or at least enough to make you hope that you have functional air conditioning.
What began as a blog series on the booming year of gravel that 2020 was predicted to be, all hit the skids in the late winter with Covid-19. Initial optimism of events being pushed a few months later on the calendar inevitably met the reality that that just wasn’t going to be the case.
The timing was certainly interesting in our household. As the world went into lockdown in early March, my wife Laura and I came home from the hospital with our days-old daughter Hazel. Blessed with a healthy and happy baby girl, if there’s ever a time to figure out a “new norm” such as during a global pandemic, I suggest it trying out as brand new parents. My schedule is quite busy in normal times. Jetting off to gravel events and trade shows, cycling camps, and weekend adventures, those events quickly fell off the calendar as the enormity of covid began to be absorbed. Time at home with family earned its due priority, but it was also initially the only show in town.
In an effort to make the most of every race weekend that I would have lined up for under normal circumstances, I created DIYgravel. Specifically, it takes my 2020 event calendar and I ride the same distances on the original event. With the incredible support of Saris and other great sponsors, I opened up DIYgravel to the masses so that anyone can participate. Riders simply submit their rides over the course of days or weeks following the event with chances to win some amazing prizes. Take just a minute to think about how many people’s schedules have gaping holes without 2020 events. Collectively it’s tens of thousands of people who are trying to stay occupied, stay motivated, or just stay distracted from the bizarre year that is 2020. Other riders in the gravel world have created their own challenges, never has Everesting been so popular as this calendar year, and others are chasing FKTs. These are our daily distractions.
Taking one step back, it takes good health and good fortune to have this perspective. I’m lucky to not have sick family and friends, I haven’t lost anyone close to me from Covid, personal economics have been affected, but not catastrophically. Time marches on and all things considered I’m relatively okay.
So what does the future hold? Before Covid this was billed as the year of gravel. Early entries into this blog forecasted hundreds of events booming all throughout the country. The truth behind gravel event operations is that it’s a hobby for most event promoters. It takes an endless amount of input and that’s juggled with family and work obligations. So much work has been poured into these events on the 2020 calendar only to see the events not exist in the first place. They will be hard to relaunch in 2021 or beyond. Meanwhile, we see group rides booming, small rides taking place in the same location and date of the original ride, but very much underground. Strava challenges are hot, local time trials, and local clubs hosting a variety of events to help scratch the itch that people miss without events. Covid has taught us that we’re a social culture. The initial lockdown period was isolating, to state the obvious, but the less obvious was our inevitable need to interact through the glue that is the bicycle.
My crystal ball is hazy right now. I foresee gravel events coming back strong again in the future. Will it be 2021? That’s not for me to say. But I see riders coming together, community happening with the common thread of the bicycle, and people getting out and about because of our shared addiction to bikes. This trip has taken us from the east coast to the west coast and we’re tracking back home east now and throughout the trip we’ve seen pop-up rides or couples or families riding together. Covid will have long lasting repercussions for this generation, so looking for positive takeaways, the need to get outside, to ride, to be in community (safely and appropriate socially distanced) seems to take priority. And, certainly, prioritizing time with those you love.
Welcome to Ted’s Talk! This is the fourth installment of a five-part series spearheaded by the King of Gravel, Ted King, as he goes deep on all aspects of gravel cycling. After a ten-year career in the World Tour ranks of professional road racing, Ted thought he was hanging up his wheels and setting off towards the horizon of retirement in 2015. But his fondness for the sport of cycling was too strong and it’s like he never left! Ted is a brand ambassador, gravel cyclist, racer, advocate, and consultant on all things two-wheels.