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What is gravel biking and why is it so popular in Colorado?

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What’s gravel biking and why is it so well-liked in Colorado?

A gaggle of gravel bikers decide up velocity as they experience the rolling hills close to Steamboat Springs. (Supplied by Amy Charity, SBT GRVL)

5 years in the past, Brad James went for one final experience, then offered his highway bike. He’s by no means seemed again.

As of late, you’ll discover him solely using his gravel bike on the unpaved grime roads all through Boulder County.

For 50-year-old James — and plenty of different Colorado cyclists — gravel using is now king. As a substitute of using from stoplight to stoplight on paved roads and residing in fixed worry {that a} distracted driver will hit them, cyclists using on gravel can kind of loosen up and benefit from the surroundings. They’ll head out on their bikes and simply discover, turning down random grime roads and seeing the place they lead.

“I might get on my highway bike and say, ‘Let’s go hammer out an hour-and-a-half, two-hour experience and I would like off the bike,’” mentioned 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 visitors. Let’s simply get a exercise in and be completed.’ The gravel bikes provide the potential 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 folks speaking about gravel using, 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 experience in Colorado? We’ve obtained solutions.

What’s gravel using?

Gravel using, aka gravel biking, isn’t actually something new, however it has develop into extra well-liked in recent times. It’s a brilliant easy idea: Hop in your bike and begin using on grime and gravel roads, versus using on paved roads.

Cyclists have lengthy been using on grime roads. They’d typically 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 pattern and begin making bikes particularly designed for gravel. Higher tools has made it simpler for extra folks to begin gravel using, thus boosting its recognition.

Along with greater tires, gravel bikes typically 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 will probably accomplish that rather more,” mentioned 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 gradual. With a highway bike, you’re just about restricted to roads or tremendous mild gravel.”

Put one other method: “Gravel bikes are just like the SUV of the bicycle world,” James mentioned.

What are the perks of gravel using?

As increasingly more folks transfer to Colorado, new improvement continues to skyrocket. This implies there are extra stoplights on the town, extra automobiles on the roads and simply typically extra folks and built-out areas.

Gravel using harkens again to easier occasions, if you hopped in your bike and simply began using — for enjoyable, with out worries or disruptions. Many Colorado grime and gravel roads are principally freed from automobiles more often than not, which makes them really feel safer to cyclists.

Two gravel bikers take pleasure in a experience by means of a grove of aspens close to Steamboat Springs. (Supplied by Amy Charity, SBT GRVL)

One other perk is exploring new areas on two wheels. Street cyclists are restricted when it comes to the place they’ll go … as you may count on, they beautiful a lot follow paved roads. And mountain bikers usually follow trails. However there are millions of miles of gravel roads, which opens up tons of prospects for cyclists.

By and enormous, gravel bike fanatics will inform you the game is rather 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,” mentioned James, who as soon as was an avid highway bicycle owner. “In the event you didn’t have the proper gear, a number of occasions folks 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 carry what you bought, come all, we’re all right here for simply enjoyable. You possibly can present as much as a gravel group experience and there’ll be loads of spandex however loads of folks 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, an internet site and gravel bike neighborhood for girls and LGBTQ cyclists. Although COVID-19 has put a damper on their neighborhood rides this spring and summer time, they plan to prepare them once more as quickly because it’s secure to take action. Every week, in addition they analysis, check and doc gravel routes on their web site, which is a useful useful resource for different riders.

“We actually need to present ladies and the LGBTQ neighborhood you could exit and experience and also you don’t should have that mentality of racing,” Barcklow mentioned. “I normally say highway biking is like operating and gravel biking is like mountaineering. You’re actually slowing down, recognize that you just’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 must be a hardcore bicycle owner to attempt gravel using — removed from it, the truth is.

Among the best methods to get began is by going out and using with somebody who’s acquainted with a specific area. There are additionally common group rides in cities throughout Colorado, so a fast Google search may help you determine the place and when these rides happen.

As on your gear, think about visiting a motorcycle store and attempting out a demo bike. You possibly can lease a gravel bike for just a few days or perhaps a full week to see the way you prefer it. A motorcycle retailer will be sure the bike matches you, too.

A number of different items of recommendation:

  • By and enormous, gravel using feels safer than each highway biking and mountain biking. However it nonetheless has dangers. Because you’re using in distant components of Colorado, there aren’t many individuals passing by who might give you help in case you get injured or need assistance. Equally, there aren’t a ton of comfort shops or gasoline stations you’ll be able to pop into in case you want fast energy or some water. Be ready and watch out.
  • In the event you’re a highway bicycle owner, do not forget that a gravel experience will take longer than you count on, so plan accordingly relating to water and meals. “We principally should double our highway biking time for gravel,” Barcklow mentioned.
  • All the time experience with another person. As talked about above, gravel using can take you to some distant locations, so it’s a good suggestion to have a buddy who can get assist if wanted.
Gravel biking is a extra low-key experience than hitting trails in your mountain bike or the pavement in your highway bike, fanatics say. These three riders comply with a mud path close to Boulder. (Supplied by Sports activities Storage, Boulder)

The place ought to I’m going gravel using in Colorado?

Technically talking, you’ll be able to go gravel using wherever there are grime 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 one among Colorado’s greatest gravel using locations as a result of it has the right mix of in-town facilities and easy-to-access, lengthy gravel rides, in response to Zach Allison, a longtime gravel fanatic and professional bike racer.

“Fort Collins is fairly dense, however it’s not loopy dense,” he mentioned. “You may get out of city actually rapidly.”

It’s also possible to entry numerous gravel terrain, he added. Lengthy, open stretches, mountain bike trails which might be straightforward sufficient you could hit them in your gravel bike, difficult climbs, rolling hills — it’s all right here.

And one of the best half? While you get again, sweaty and dusty, you’ll be able to 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 experience (select 12, 25, 50 or 100 miles) and pageant that takes place every July. 

He additionally co-founded a motorcycle journey and tourism firm referred to as Bike Sports together with his spouse, Whitney Allison. 

By means of Bike Sports activities, the Allisons supply multi-day gravel using holidays and camps for individuals who need to spend just a few 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 referred to as Gravel Graceland that describes gravel routes in northern Colorado.)

In the event you’re new to the world of gravel, the Allisons will take you out on a guided journey tailor-made to your objectives and health degree. A typical itinerary consists of three days of using 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 means of partnerships with native retailers, they’ll 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 mentioned.


Boulder is already a hotbed for all issues biking, so it stands to cause that it might be a haven for gravel using, too. Just like Fort Collins, it’s fairly fast and straightforward to get out of city and onto grime roads, with out a number of problem.

James, the Boulder bike store proprietor, recommends heading north and west in your gravel bike throughout the hotter months. When he has a day to kill, he’ll experience up Sunshine Canyon and simply go the place the gravel roads lead him.

Pre-COVID-19, the shop organized large group rides all year long. These are on maintain for now, however hold a watch out for once they begin again up once more.

While you arrive again on the town after your experience, in fact there are dozens of craft breweries, distilleries, eating places, espresso outlets 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 using 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 at the present time, so there are “limitless gravel roads” to experience on, in response to Amy Charity, who helps run SBT GRVL, a Steamboat gravel biking occasion that began in 2019.

“We actually have over 600 miles of grime roads round Routt County, which is unbelievable,” Charity mentioned.

And Steamboat’s gravel using is accessible. If you need one thing difficult, it’s right here. In the event you’re simply getting began, you’ll discover simpler rides as properly.

“Folks 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 mentioned. “The sensation is just a little bit freer, 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.’”

In the event you’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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Gravel bikers can discover loads of grime roads that may be ridden by even new cyclists close to Fort Collins. (Supplied by Whitney Allison, Bike Sports activities)


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