Not far out of the gates of the “Central Iowa Rock Road Endurance Metric” (or CIRREM as it’s known in gravel circles), riders started going down on the dirt road in the middle of Iowa. A big guy on my left spilled hard and almost took me out. Another one up front went over and slammed his helmet into the ground. I slipped on the ice a few times, but managed to stay upright. In the lead pack, a rider broke away and the others started to chase him. Nearly all of them went over, too.
We were just a few miles into the late-February, 63.5-mile bike race that brings out the hardest of the hardcore groadies (gravel roadies). Gravel riding, or “gravel grinding” as it’s known, is a different sort of race than the ones that came before. These are epic rides on forgotten, unpaved roads covered in crushed rock. They’re more relaxed, more low-brow, and more hardcore than you average road crit.
Not only that, but they open up a vast new territory for cycling. At last count, there were 1.3 million miles of unpaved roads throughout the United States. Cyclists are just beginning to discover these as a new frontier where there are no rules, no governing bodies, and where you can just announce a race and people will show up to ride 60, 100, 200 miles or more.