By Ted King: The King of Gravel
If you want a water bottle cage that’s been optimized for gravel, that exists. If you’re in the market for a helmet or tire or wheel or drivetrain or saddle or saddlebag or virtually any other product in the cycling space designed for gravel – including, riding virtually – those all exist too. The market for gravel is as piping hot as a midsummer’s day in the Kansas countryside. As products pop into being to meet the needs of gravel riders heading to events or just heading off-road to explore all around the world, the question begins to loom: what does the future of gravel look like? Grab a handful of brakes for a second and hear what’s anticipated as the sport continues to expand.
Hanging out at LandRun, photo Ansel Dickey.
As I peer into my crystal ball to predict the future of gravel, it is obscured by a tremendous amount of dust being kicked up. I’m just throwing darts at the wall if I were to guess. So rather than doing that guesswork singlehandedly, I reached out to some movers and shakers in the gravel space to see where their predictions lie. And I’ll wrap up with a little insight from the guesswork taking place in my crystal ball.
“The future of gravel is going to be incredible,” explains SBTGRVL co-founder Mark Satkiewicz. “There is such a willingness from riders and race directors to focus on the greatest parts of riding a bike. Attributes like joy, freedom, and most importantly fun. The great part is that these attributes are for everyone and the gravel community is the most inviting place in all of sport right now. It’s amazing and I’m so excited for the future.”
Next stop was chatting with Dirty Kanza Promotions’ Kristi Mohn, “There isn’t a much better platform to experience different parts of the world than on two wheels. And because gravel bikes offer the ability to explore on mixed terrains, racing or riding, gravel is the best.”
Hanging in the Dirty Kanza pre-race expo, photo Ansel Dickey.
No disagreement in either of these reviews, but my bias for the bike is strong. I asked Kristi why it’s the best. “One, gravel will continue to provide a safer outdoor cycling alternative to road riding. Two, gravel cycling will continue to inspire more and more casual riders to push their boundaries through life enriching experiences. And three, the gravel ‘culture’ will continue to grow and expand because of the amazing community of people involved in gravel riding.”
Given that Kristi was talking world travels, it seemed a logical step to explore what is happening overseas. I reached out to a former World Tour colleague of mine, turned retired colleague of mine now in the gravel space, Dutch cyclist Laurens Ten Dam. “I don’t think the future of is entirely gravel, per se.” As someone who has my foundation on the road, I’m immediately intrigued. “I think it’s just fun and riding for adventure. Road riding can be adventurous too! In Holland this gravel concept isn’t competitive at all. The events are like a ride more than a race. I just think it’s the community of bike lovers.” Bike lovers. Assuming you’ve read this far, I trust you’re in that category.
The finish line at The Rift, Iceland, photo Ansel Dickey.
Continuing overseas, I caught up with race promoter of The Rift. Gudberg Björnsson has created the first of its kind gravel race that unfolds over the stunning landscape of Iceland. “The future of gravel is bright and growing into a double track. Bigger road style events, or set of events, sprinkled with smaller grassroot style with a lot of punk to it. More focus on teams without taking over the beauty of individual play. This is definitely going to be the largest segment out there, there is just so much to play with when road meets mountain bike!” Clearly there’s a facet of “gravel” that still includes asphalt, especially as being experienced overseas. Gravel is almost an all-encompassing term.
I picked the brain of one of the sharpest minds in the industry, Cannondale’s Director of Global Sports Marketing, Jonathan Geran. “Gravel is only going to get more rad, participation events that let riders experience unique courses over varied terrain bring every level of cyclist closer together through riding and sharing the experience in the party after ride. Bikes will also get more rad for a better and more capable gravel rider to expand their skill set and ramp up the fun factor.” More skills, better bikes, more participation, more rad.
Looking at particular trends, I reached out to Brendan Gorman, founder of the Gravel Cup. There’s been talk of linking events for years and Brendan has created one of the first series worldwide taking place in eastern Canada. “A gravel series aims to be a ‘multi-experience provider’ that formalizes the community social aspect while maintaining a grassroots feel on intricate courses that enhance an escape into nature.” That’s poetry. Brendan isn’t naïve to what may happen and points out the 700 pound gorilla in the room. “Gravel faces a future of certain uncertainty. Clues can most likely be found in the past by examining the evolution of mountain biking as it became more mainstream, standardized and less grassroots. The uncertainty is just a matter of how quickly the process unfolds.”
Rooted Vermont podium festivities, photo Meg McMahon.
It made sense for me to holler across the living room and eek some insight out from Rooted Vermont race promoter and all around ripper, who also happens to be my wife, Laura King. So last and certainly not least, “I foresee gravel increasing future female ridership due to the inclusive nature – the run whatcha brung attitude and join the party without a categorized system. Add to that the safety factor in getting off-road and away from distracted drivers, and the lesser technical skill required as compared to mountain biking. The more the gravel community can promote the fun factor, the familial feel and emphasize gravel as a lifestyle event, I believe we’ll see more women attracted to riding than ever before.”
Mid-race at Grinduro, photo Ansel Dickey.
Collectively from these responses and the countless others out there, we can glean that gravel targets fun, adventure, and community. I think it’s such an exciting time for gravel and we’ll see more people being attracted to the sport, more events popping up, and more people getting on bikes. The implications are tremendous as we think of a healthier, more patient, and a safer society if cycling can continue the moment that gravel has started to that point that cycling could even become – wait for it – mainstream. We can analyze trends and data till we’re blue in the face. But far more enjoyable than that is to get some dust on your face by ripping around bikes with friend, so I encourage us to not think too deeply about it. Let’s not overengineer gravel. Let’s enjoy gravel for what it’s meant to be all about: fun, adventure, and community.
Welcome to Ted’s Talk! This is the third 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.
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