Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Gravel Events: More And Bigger

Inspiration 100- a new event
I keep saying this, and I probably sound like a broken record, (by the way, do younger folks even know what that phrase means? I wonder....), but anyway....I know I am repeating myself, but these gravel events keep coming outta the woodwork. I am flabbergasted.

The latest to hit the dusty scene is a west-central Minnesota event called "Inspiration 100". This is a free event, entry by postcard, self supported, and has some interesting rural points to check out along the way.

In many ways, this new event falls in line with most of what is going on in the "world of gravel riding", if I can even say that. (Some folks think this gravel stuff is small potatoes, nothing noteworthy.) However you see it, the point is that many, if not most, gravel events are low-key, free affairs that eschew any of the trappings of what normally goes for racing these days on two wheeled, human powered contraptions.

But not all gravel events are this way. Some are getting bigger, and bigger, and really starting to become something beyond a gravel road event. One such event is the Dirty Kanza 200. It has been slowly getting bigger every year for the last four or five years to the point where they had 400 riders on the start line this year. But that is going to look like small potatoes if the event directors goals for 2013 come to reality.

Next year the event is going to strive to deliver 1000 starters on the streets of Emporia, Kansas. Not only that, but the whole scene surrounding the race is planned to become even bigger than it has been.

Listening to a few recent podcasts with Jim Cummings, one of the promoters, and racer Tim Ek, it is apparent that the DK is going to become "a really big deal" if it continues to grow at the rate the directors want. Is that a bad thing? Who knows. All I can say is it is amazing to see.

Another facet brought up in these podcasts was how the "feel" of these gravel events is changing. Racers are getting faster, competition more fierce, and the "laid back" feel is fading. Maybe it is. But as they say, everything changes, so maybe we shouldn't be all that surprised. Maybe it is good, or maybe not. My view is that there are so many events now that if you don't like the intensity of one event, there are probably five others that are more about an adventure and a good time to choose from out there. Pick yer poison.

Gravel road racing and riding is becoming a big deal, more popular, and has gone way beyond anything I would have guessed in 2004 when Trans Iowa was cooked up, that's for sure!


BluesDawg said...

I would love to see some of these type events happening in the Southeast.

MG said...

Well, I will tell you about that change in feel from my own experience, as I'm planning to "do the double" and get both TI and the DK200 next season. Taking a year off from TI this year was the break I needed to remind me of why I love to do that, but I'm ready to be a part of it again.

I listened to both Eki and Jim on Mountain Bike Radio and thought both had some great points. I thought it was really true when Eki said that guys are pushing their setups and bodies further towards (and sometimes over) the line than ever, and clearly, he got bitten by a little of that in his tire selection for the DK... But at least he had spares at the checkpoint.

Jim's desire to make the DK a 1000 rider event is a grand scheme indeed, and I applaud him for his vision. It's going to be a lot easier to do 1000 riders in a gravel road race than it would be to handle them on singletrack! And the possibilities it opens up for the area in terms of tourism and economic development are not to be denied. They have a unique situation they would be stupid not to take advantage of down there in the beautiful Kansas Flint Hills... Kudos to Jim, Kristi and Tim for their vision on this. And also to you, my friend.

Clearly it was never your desire to do a 1000 rider event, but you were an innovator of the big course gravel grinder format. So when it succeeds, we can say you were one of the guys who dreamt this crazy stuff up! I know TI was an inspiration for the DK200. Jim has said so much many, many times.


Guitar Ted said...

@MG: I listened to both Jim and Tim's interviews with Ben Welnak as well. I guess I felt Tim boiled it down to the smallest common denominator when he said the following:

"Finishing the Trans Iowa makes you feel like a Buddhist Monk. Finishing the DK makes you feel like a rock star."

I think that sums up the styles of these two events well. TI is intentionally a very personal, introspective event. It isn't about anybody but the rider. No real amount of fans, spectators, or media could, (or ever would), want to cover that kind of an event. When a rider overcomes that challenge, there is a deep sense of personal reward that I hope sticks with the riders a lifetime.

Jim's event has elements of the same, but he has gone to a different feel and type of event intentionally. I was standing there when the sea change was declared for this event back in '09. DK is radically different then it was back then, which is now an event that brings in others to share in the rider's efforts, supporting them, and celebrating them in the moment.

Neither way is wrong, better, or has to be apologized for, in my opinion. I think Jim, Tim & Kristi have done a marvelous job with the pursuit of their vision, and it is rightly celebrated by riders, spectators, Emporia, and the larger community of gravel riders at large. That's exactly what the promoters want.

Conversely, I am not all that interested in those things, since you get more complications, headaches, and a dose of negativity along with the good stuff. Jim stated he is putting in 20 hours a week all year long on this event, and Tim Ek mentions that Jim aims to make it his "job" at some point, going full time with it.

I'll tell ya right now- there is nothing in that goal that appeals to me. In fact, one day I want to walk away from T.I. completely, as you well know, to enjoy the simple pleasures of riding gravel, snow, dirt, etc.

Again, neither way is wrong or right for anyone but the players. I wish Jim, Tim & Kristi all the best and much success. But that isn't my goal with T.I. at all. I think these things contribute to the different feels of these events. But I am not a rider of mine, so maybe I'm not one to speak about this with any authority. Just my opinion.

Steve Fuller said...

I fear that by growing the DK, that something special is going to be lost. While I love the crowds at the send off and at the finish, I also like feeling like I'm alone in the vastness of the Flint Hills. It certainly doesn't happen at the start of the race, but as you get further in and the riders start to spread out, you can really take the area in for what it has to offer, which is a beautiful solitude. That will be harder to find with 1000 people out on the course.

Ari said...

I personally think that nothing can change the feel of Trans Iowa. The landscape there is brutal and relentless. The weather is so unpredictalble. I have done both events and they are so different. Trans Iowa is so raw,scary. There are a lot more demons roaming the backroads of Iowa there there is in the Flint Hills. Once again thank you G.T. for offering us this gift and opening a whole new perspective of who we are and why we love to ride our bikes.
I always continue to be impressed with the people and the unexplicable feel that this event has.
Slender Fungus Cycling Association.

Jim C said...

G-Ted, I want to publicly thank you for being the inspiration that helped creat Dirty Kanza 200. Obviously, our two events have gone down two slightly different paths. And the fact that both are sill around after all these years suggests both are satisfying a need. But the fact remains... DK200 probably wouldn't exist, had it not been for you and Trans-Iowa. The same could probably be said for most (if not all) of these Gravel Grinders across the midwest. Thanks for having the vision and the passion to get this great big ball rolling.

Your Friend and Fellow Promoter,
Jim Cummins

MG said...

Amen... Thanks for taking the time to eloquently elaborate on what I was trying to get across (though not nearly as well). G-T, Jim... You guys are both awesome visionaries and I think both of you will succeed in your efforts. Thank you for all you both do to put on events that are truly life changing, albeit in different ways.

I am 100 percent supportive of you both. This is a win-win situation when we have incredible events like TI and the DK200. Thanks again to you both.

Guitar Ted said...

@MG, @Jim C: Thank you two, (and everyone that's ever ridden DK 200 and T.I.), a lot for making this all what it is. That said, there is one very important person you have forgotten that I want to point out.

Jeff Kerkove really needs to be congratulated and thanked far more than I. Had it not been for him and who he was to the greater endurance community at large, Trans Iowa would have been a minor footnote in the annals of grassroots racing.

Think about it- Joel Dyke, and most everyone on that roster in '05 had no clue who I was, but they all had heard of, or knew Jeff. Jeff got all the sponsorship, housing, and logistics up and running for Trans Iowa. I simply feel in with the vision and helped out where and when I could.

Now- I appreciate that people want to thank me for being involved with, and helping grow gravel grinding, and Trans Iowa in particular, but thanking me for "being a visionary", or "starting the ball rolling"? That's not for me to accept- not wholly. Maybe in part, but I need to point to Jeff Kerkove here, because he deserves the honor, not me.

Secondly, not many folks know why, or how, but Jason Boucher is another key figure in Trans Iowa history. Finally, my co-director of four years, David Pals also deserves a big heapin' helpin' of praise here too.

So, while I accept your thanks with deepest humility and gratitude, please do not forget these fine men in your thoughts about Trans Iowa and gravel grinding.