What’s gravel biking and why is it so widespread in Colorado?


5 years in the past, Brad James went for one final trip, then bought his highway bike. He’s by no means appeared again.
Nowadays, you’ll discover him completely driving his gravel bike on the unpaved dust roads all through Boulder County.
For 50-year-old James — and lots of different Colorado cyclists — gravel driving is now king. As an alternative of driving from stoplight to stoplight on paved roads and dwelling in fixed concern {that a} distracted driver will hit them, cyclists driving on gravel can roughly loosen up and benefit from the surroundings. They’ll head out on their bikes and simply discover, turning down random dust roads and seeing the place they lead.
“I’d get on my highway bike and say, ‘Let’s go hammer out an hour-and-a-half, two-hour trip and I need off the bike,’” stated James, who owns the Sports activities Storage bike store in Boulder. “‘I’ve seen nearly all of these roads a thousand occasions, there’s tons of site visitors. Let’s simply get a exercise in and be performed.’ The gravel bikes provide the capacity to discover. You could possibly’ve lived in Boulder for 30 years and there are locations you’ve by no means seen in your highway bike.”
Possibly you’ve heard individuals speaking about gravel driving, one of many hottest developments in biking. However what’s it, precisely? And what makes it so particular? Maybe extra importantly, how do you get began and the place are you able to trip in Colorado? We’ve acquired solutions.
What’s gravel driving?
Gravel driving, aka gravel biking, isn’t actually something new, however it has grow to be extra widespread in recent times. It’s an excellent easy idea: Hop in your bike and begin driving on dust and gravel roads, versus driving on paved roads.
Cyclists have lengthy been driving on dust roads. They’d usually modify their highway bikes, placing on greater tires that would deal with the ruts and bumps of unpaved roads.
Lately, bicycle makers determined to get on board with the development and begin making bikes particularly designed for gravel. Higher gear has made it simpler for extra individuals to begin gravel driving, thus boosting its reputation.
Along with greater tires, gravel bikes usually have greater frames and are simply all-around extra comfy than highway bikes.
“The gravel bike will substitute the highway bike as a result of it could accomplish that way more,” stated Whitney Allison, a professional bike racer and bike-focused enterprise proprietor in Fort Collins. “You’re not simply restricted to 1 particular factor. With a mountain bike, you’re restricted to just about trails, in any other case, it’s going to really feel actually sluggish. With a highway bike, you’re just about restricted to roads or tremendous mild gravel.”
Put one other manner: “Gravel bikes are just like the SUV of the bicycle world,” James stated.
What are the perks of gravel driving?
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As increasingly more individuals transfer to Colorado, new growth continues to skyrocket. This implies there are extra stoplights on the town, extra automobiles on the roads and simply usually extra individuals and built-out areas.
Gravel driving harkens again to less complicated occasions, whenever you hopped in your bike and simply began driving — for enjoyable, with out worries or disruptions. Many Colorado dust and gravel roads are principally freed from automobiles more often than not, which makes them really feel safer to cyclists.
One other perk is exploring new areas on two wheels. Highway cyclists are restricted when it comes to the place they will go … as you would possibly anticipate, they stunning a lot persist with paved roads. And mountain bikers usually persist with trails. However there are literally thousands of miles of gravel roads, which opens up tons of potentialities for cyclists.
By and huge, gravel bike lovers will inform you the game is way more laid-back and welcoming than highway biking. It’s only a completely different vibe.
“Within the highway bike world, they had been fairly snobbish and tremendous clique-ish,” stated James, who as soon as was an avid highway bike owner. “If you happen to didn’t have the precise gear, numerous occasions individuals wouldn’t really feel accepted into teams. There have been lots of people intimidated by straight-up highway cyclists who sported their spandex. Gravel is freaking convey what you bought, come all, we’re all right here for simply enjoyable. You may present as much as a gravel group trip and there’ll be loads of spandex however loads of individuals in dishevelled shorts and dishevelled shirts — and no person cares.”
That accessibility is among the fundamental causes Rose Barcklow and Laura Karpinski based Gravel Bike Adventures, a web site and gravel bike neighborhood for ladies and LGBTQ cyclists. Although COVID-19 has put a damper on their neighborhood rides this spring and summer season, they plan to arrange them once more as quickly because it’s secure to take action. Every week, in addition they analysis, take a look at and doc gravel routes on their web site, which is a useful useful resource for different riders.
“We actually wish to present girls and the LGBTQ neighborhood which you could exit and trip and also you don’t need to have that mentality of racing,” Barcklow stated. “I often say highway biking is like operating and gravel biking is like mountain climbing. You’re actually slowing down, recognize that you simply’re on a brand new journey and also you don’t actually know what’s going to occur.” 
How do I get began?
You don’t should be a hardcore bike owner to strive gravel driving — removed from it, in truth.
Probably the greatest methods to get began is by going out and driving with somebody who’s accustomed to a selected area. There are additionally common group rides in cities throughout Colorado, so a fast Google search might help you determine the place and when these rides happen.
As in your gear, take into account visiting a motorcycle store and attempting out a demo bike. You may hire a gravel bike for a number of days or perhaps a full week to see the way you prefer it. A motorbike retailer will be sure that the bike suits you, too.
A number of different items of recommendation:

By and huge, gravel driving feels safer than each highway biking and mountain biking. But it surely nonetheless has dangers. Because you’re driving in distant components of Colorado, there aren’t many individuals passing by who may give you help in case you get injured or need assistance. Equally, there aren’t a ton of comfort shops or gasoline stations you possibly can pop into in case you want fast energy or some water. Be ready and watch out.
If you happen to’re a highway bike owner, keep in mind that a gravel trip will take longer than you anticipate, so plan accordingly in terms of water and meals. “We principally need to double our highway biking time for gravel,” Barcklow stated.
At all times trip with another person. As talked about above, gravel driving can take you to some distant locations, so it’s a good suggestion to have a buddy who can get assist if wanted.

The place ought to I am going gravel driving in Colorado?
Technically talking, you possibly can go gravel driving wherever there are dust roads. However that’s not very useful, is it? Contemplate making a protracted weekend out of it and visiting these up-and-coming gravel biking locations in Colorado.
Fort Collins
Fort Collins is certainly one of Colorado’s finest gravel driving locations as a result of it has the right mix of in-town facilities and easy-to-access, lengthy gravel rides, in line with Zach Allison, a longtime gravel fanatic and professional bike racer.
“Fort Collins is fairly dense, however it’s not loopy dense,” he stated. “You will get out of city actually shortly.”
You may also entry various gravel terrain, he added. Lengthy, open stretches, mountain bike trails which can be simple sufficient which you could hit them in your gravel bike, difficult climbs, rolling hills — it’s all right here.
And the perfect half? Whenever you get again, sweaty and dusty, you possibly can hit up all the opposite issues that make Fort Collins nice — the breweries, eating places, lodges.
Allison ought to know. In 2016, he co-founded FoCo Fondo, a gravel trip (select 12, 25, 50 or 100 miles) and pageant that takes place every July. 
He additionally co-founded a motorcycle journey and tourism firm known as Bike Sports activities together with his spouse, Whitney Allison. 
By way of Bike Sports activities, the Allisons provide multi-day gravel driving holidays and camps for individuals who wish to spend a number of days exploring all of the area has to supply, on two wheels. (Their enterprise additionally features a gravel racing staff, a motorcycle match studio and a separate web site known as Gravel Graceland that describes gravel routes in northern Colorado.)
If you happen to’re new to the world of gravel, the Allisons will take you out on a guided journey tailor-made to your targets and health degree. A typical itinerary consists of three days of driving between 40 to 60 miles every day (with a assist car driving behind), adopted by beers and dinner at a Fort Collins restaurant or brewery. By way of partnerships with native retailers, they will additionally get you arrange on a demo gravel bike to check out. 
“It’s actually a full, tremendous enjoyable weekend of recreating however with out having the stress of attempting to determine the place to go or touring along with your bike,” Zach Allison stated.
Boulder is already a hotbed for all issues biking, so it stands to purpose that it might be a haven for gravel driving, too. Much like Fort Collins, it’s fairly fast and simple to get out of city and onto dust roads, with out numerous trouble.
James, the Boulder bike store proprietor, recommends heading north and west in your gravel bike in the course of the hotter months. When he has a day to kill, he’ll trip up Sunshine Canyon and simply go the place the gravel roads lead him.
Pre-COVID-19, the shop organized huge group rides all year long. These are on maintain for now, however hold a watch out for once they begin again up once more.
Whenever you arrive again on the town after your trip, after all there are dozens of craft breweries, distilleries, eating places, espresso retailers and shops to take a look at, too.
Steamboat Springs
Need to actually get out of city and discover new surroundings in your bike? Head for Steamboat Springs.
Steamboat has lengthy had a gravel driving tradition. However now, this mountain city is turning into a vacation spot for cyclists throughout Colorado and past. 
And it makes good sense. Steamboat is accustomed to having hundreds and hundreds of holiday makers every year throughout ski season — there are lodges, eating places, bars and tons of actions. The area additionally has a robust historical past of ranching, which continues to today, so there are “countless gravel roads” to trip on, in line with Amy Charity, who helps run SBT GRVL, a Steamboat gravel biking occasion that began in 2019.
“We actually have over 600 miles of dust roads round Routt County, which is unimaginable,” Charity stated.
And Steamboat’s gravel driving is accessible. If you would like one thing difficult, it’s right here. If you happen to’re simply getting began, you’ll discover simpler rides as effectively.
“Individuals gravitate towards it as a result of it’s like, ‘Wow, we are able to simply spend our day on our bikes and discover these cool locations we’ve by no means been,’” Charity stated. “The sensation is a bit bit freer, which you could go wherever. It’s not about how briskly we’re going, that is about exploring and, ‘Oh wow, did you see the elk out right here, there are llamas on this highway, there’s buffalo on that one.’”
If you happen to’re new to the world, Charity recommends heading north out of city. There, you’ll discover gravel roads in every single place.
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