TCI Friday works best when you weigh in. This is a discussion topic, not a manifesto.
Last weekend Emporia KS staged the Unbound Gravel race, an event that has become the biggest on the gravel calendar. The news there is that there is a gravel calendar. There are races. There is prize money. There are athletes focusing on the discipline and traveling to compete. Drug tests are happening. This seems a long way from riding 28s in the woods on road bikes, which I was still doing 10 years ago.
I have this pet theory that, at any one time in the cycling industry, there is a single animating idea. For example, in the ’90s the Tour de France and pro racing captivated formerly casual riders and turned them into mile-counting, watt-obsessed roadies. In the ’00s, somehow, messenger culture and fixed gear bikes swept the board. Now, those trends didn’t prevent other categories from growing. It’s just that shops bet their inventory on the animating idea to make their daily bread.
Retail needs this kind of focus so they’re not just hucking all the spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. To be sure, most shops sell kids bikes and fitness hybrids and entry-level road and mountain bikes all the time. That’s the background radiation in the cycloverse. But the animating idea is the one that makes or breaks the season. Gravel is currently that idea.
You know a category has truly arrived, has fully come to fruition, when people begin to wring their hands over what’s right and wrong. If the first few years of “gravel boom” were occupied with arguments about whether gravel bikes were any different from cyclocross bikes and what the right tire size was for general off-road fun, we are now actively wondering if we even think this thing should be competitive.
Spoiler alert: Some do. Some don’t.
What I think is this: People are gonna do what they’re gonna do. I can’t sweat any of it too hard. I’m not that interested in racing myself, but I’m also content going to a race, riding around in whatever way makes sense to me, and then crossing the finish line just like everyone else. In other words: Honey badger ain’t care.
But this week’s TCI Friday ask YOU, do you think gravel is heading in the right/wrong direction? Is it all just of a piece with how humans do things? Do you want to race? Or are you still riding your road bike around wondering what all the fuss is even about it?
As much as we appreciate our sponsors, we also need folks to subscribe to TCI to keep this wreck on the road. There’s a subscription for every budget. For the price of a Dunkin latte you can keep a cycling writer in Dunkin lattes. Be a part of the solution, eh?