With PRs to think about and some pretty serious King of the Mountain competitions in just about every Gran Fondo, it can be easy to forget the most important part of racing a bicycle is having fun. Enter gravel rides, which steer more toward kicking up dirt and having a good time than nailing a podium finish.
If you’re ready for an epic ride away from all the urban roads and traffic, try one of these 10 gravel races that offer scenery, comradery — and a break from the cycling norm.
TOUR OF BATTENKILL
Greenwich, New York | April 2019
Dubbed the “Queen of the Classics,” this event in upstate New York is one of America’s largest one-day races. The course features long-sections of dirt and more than 5,000 feet of elevation gain on short, punchy climbs on back roads with very little traffic. Though you’ll be challenged whether you choose the 76-mile Gran Fondo or the 40-mile Medio, the all-inclusive after-party with food, craft beer and entertainment promises to be just as epic as the ride itself.
Chino Valley, Arizona | May 5, 2018
One of the premier gravel rides in Arizona, this scenic 115-mile event is an out-and-back from Chino to Williams, which is known as the gateway to the Grand Canyon. Participants head through Prescott and Kaibab National Forests on gravel and paved roads (70/30 split) that feature some rolling hills but very little traffic. Roving mechanical support is provided should you get yourself into trouble.
CINCO DE GRINDO
Boulder, Colorado | May 19, 2018
This small 57-mile ride around the beautiful backcountry of Boulder is more a party than a race. Low-key, relaxed and with plenty of fun on the menu, this is a ride where you gather your friends and head to Cruiser Boutique & Spoke Brewery before rolling off with a pack of guys and gals who are all about getting dirty and riding bikes. The best part, though, is it’s absolutely free, the way cycling events should be.
Prosperity, Pennsylvania | May 20, 2018
Traversing some of the original roads and covered bridges of the 1791 farmer’s rebellion against the first tax on whiskey, this tour is just as historic as it is scenic. Though the 100K route through rolling farmlands will be challenging, the organizer offers several different pace groups to ensure no one rides alone. To complete the course, a gravel bike, mountain bike or road bike with at least 32mm tires is recommended.
Emporia, Kansas | June 2, 2018
One of the original gravel events that started this whole crazy thing, the Dirty Kanza is indeed a classic. The 206-mile course around the fire roads of Emporia takes most cyclists around 11 hours to complete, so you’ll need to be in seriously good shape to give this one a try. If you’re not up for the main event, there are also distance options of 100-, 50- and 25-miles available. Because of the event’s popularity, there are a limited number of spots. Once you put your name in the hat, a random computer selection determines your fate.
GRAN FONDO ELLENSBURG
Ellensburg, Washington | June 10, 2018
More road than gravel, this 90-mile race with 7,500 feet of climbing keeps things interesting with 36 miles of dirt in the middle — some of which are on roads that are anything but flat. You’ll conquer 2,600 feet of switchbacks in about 6 miles, and though you’ll have to work plenty hard to get to the top you’ll also receive some of the best views you can find of the tree-lined valley below. Gravel, cyclocross and mountain bikes are recommended.
FOCO FONDO – BITE THE BULLET GRAVEL GRINDER
Fort Collins, Colorado | August 4, 2018
This cycling adventure, suitable for the whole family features, 12- and 25-mile easy routes in addition to the classic 50- and 101-mile Bite the Bullet Challenge. No matter which option you choose, you’ll be treated to an epic ride on beautiful, secluded roads with plenty of on-course support. Afterward, enjoy a FondoFest complete with food trucks, vendors, bike demos, live music and lots of activities for the kiddos.
HELLHOLE GRAVEL GRIND
Cordesville, South Carolina | September 14-16, 2018
Just outside of Charleston, this race takes place in Hellhole Swamp in Marion National Forest, with 90% of the race on gravel, single-track and double-track trails. The two-day stage race option consists of 75 miles each day, though you may choose a one-day option of 75 or 45 miles. At least 28mm tires are recommended, and expect plenty of mud and other swampy obstacles to challenge your will to reach the finish.
Quincy, California | September 29, 2018
This classic race is part gravel grinder, part mountain bike enduro run on a 60-mile loop. The roads are both paved and unpaved, with sections of very sketchy singletrack. Winners of the event are taken from four timed sections, which means no one really cares how long it takes you to complete the course in its entirety. Expect a fun and festive atmosphere and a long wild day on the bike that’s capped off with live music, a DJ, a few beers and a night of camping.
DEATH MARCH REVIVAL
Ellijay, Georgia | November 17, 2018
Originally created to test up-and-coming racers in the Southeast on the old Cohutta 100 route, this minimally supported revival ride is for those slightly off-kilter cyclists who are willing to head into the wilderness to test their metal. The 88-mile course features more than 12,000 feet of climbing on gravel roads in the North Georgia Mountains, which made the naming of the event a fairly easy task. Cyclists are expected to carry all supplies needed to complete the course, including food, water and route maps. A bonfire and live music are part of the post-race festivities, and, if you are able to finish the route before sunset, you will be awarded a patch to commemorate the revival of the Death March.
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