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You’ve likely heard that gravel or dirt riding (aficionados use the terms interchangeably) is the cycling trend du jour. In recent years, increased gear sales, an influx of websites dedicated to the discipline, and various magazines—including us—have signaled just that.
What’s the appeal? Well, it’s slightly more adventurous (and much less pretentious) than road riding and slightly less gnarly—as well as less ego-driven—than mountain biking. “It’s this boom of cyclists who don’t like all the traffic of road riding and who don’t feel the need to do all the technical stuff of mountain biking,” says Mad Gravel race director Dave Muscianisi. “They just want to [do] some riding in a really pretty and peaceful area.”
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And now there are more opportunities to do so in a competitive setting than ever before. Thanks in part to 2020’s pandemic-related cancellations, 2021 will bring us six new gravel events across the backroads of Colorado, each one promising incredible views and accessible routes—no matter your skill level.
Mad Gravel | Kiowa, Colorado
Admittedly, even race director Dave Muscianisi was skeptical when course director Paul Raemer suggested hosting Mad Gravel on the Eastern Plains: “Who wants to go out there?” Muscianisi remembers asking. But driving the course quickly changed his tune. “It’s stunning.” That includes killer views of Pikes Peak and Longs Peak.
Another bonus of the location: lots and lots of little-traveled backroads. “You are starting on dirt, you’re on dirt the whole time, and you’re ending on dirt,” Muscianisi says, noting the three courses are all on about 99.9 percent gravel. (That’s rare as most races include some paved sections.)
All three distance options (43, 78, and 123 miles) begin at the Peaceful Valley Boy Scout Ranch south of Kiowa, a 3,500-acre piece of land with an expansive dining hall, outdoor deck, and parking area. And Muscianisi and his team know a thing or two about hosting events, given their six-year history putting on mountain biking events of all types with Rattler Racing.
Desert Gravel Series | Fruita, Colorado
Co2uT: May 22
Rexy, Queen of the Desert: October 30-31
Many of us have made our way to Fruita with our full-suspensions in tow. “What you don’t see from I-70 as you rip down the highway at 80 miles an hour is some of the best gravel riding, if not in the country, then in the region for sure,” Morgan Murri, founder of the Desert Gravel Series, says. “It seems like a wasteland, but it is absolutely mind-blowing terrain.”
Scheduled for May and October (notably dates when the desert-like conditions of Fruita boast warm temps and sunshine while the rest of us wonder when the last late-season or first early-season snow will strike), the two races in Murri’s Desert Gravel Series are designed to build on one another. The Co2uT, pronounced “coh-too-it,” offers five distances: the 30-mile Fruitadens, the 70-mile Stegosaurus, the 100-mile Triceratops, the 125-mile Utahraptor, and the 190-mile Allosaurs.
At 208 miles, Rexy, Queen of the Desert, is aptly named. The route begins in Fruita and takes the backroads over to Moab, Utah, in what Murri describes as “a challenge, an odyssey, and an adventure.”
Far Quarter Gravel Adventure Ride Series | Trinidad, Colorado
Super Trinidad Rodeo: June 5
Noche Sucia: August 22
Mitch’s Roundup: September 4
One of two new gravel riding events in Trinidad, the Far Quarter Gravel Adventure Ride Series is brought to us by the local Trinidadians at Backshop Bikes. Founder Juan Delaroca emphasizes that these are rides, not races, adding that the three-part series will both challenge cyclists physically and introduce them to the beauty of Las Animas County. “We want people to see a new part of the state that they’ve never experienced,” he says, “And we know that being on a bicycle is a fantastic way to do that.”
The Super Trinidad Rodeo route crisscrosses the Colorado-New Mexico border and includes riding through the otherworldly landscape of a cooled lava field. Then there’s the Noche Sucia, a night ride that takes advantage of the last full moon of the summer and the stargazing opportunities possible given the area’s low light pollution. Finally, Mitch’s Round-Up pays respect to the pioneering spirit of those who traveled the Santa Fe Trail, aiming to offer up a tiny taste of what those long-ago travelers experienced. Each ride includes a short and long distance, and is capped at 49 riders.
Ned Gravel | Nederland, Colorado
Taking its name from the quirky town where it starts and ends, Ned Gravel will introduce cyclists of all ability levels to Front Range backroad riding. Inclusivity is a key component of this race, says founder and race director Gavin Coombs. “We believe that the more people riding bikes the better,” he says, noting that registration opened first to individuals identifying as female and athletes of color. “I am also so excited about just doing our part in helping to make cycling a more welcoming sport.”
All three course options take place at elevations above 8,000 feet, making Ned Gravel one of the highest races in the country, but Coombs promises the 20-mile Silver Course is beginner-friendly. The Gold and Tungsten courses, however, with their 5,000 and 8,300 feet of climbing, respectively, are for a more experienced crowd. For those two routes, expect lots of hills, rough roads, and spectacular views.
Gunni Grinder | Gunnison, Colorado
Too often, the small town of Gunnison (population 6,403) is overlooked by Front Rangers focused on Crested Butte, the flashier city 28 miles to the north. But where Crested Butte is touted for its mountain biking, Joel Grimmett and the rest of the Gunni Grinder team are excited to showcase the gravel that makes Gunnison worth a second look—especially for cyclists who don’t mind some incline. “While most of the terrain is gradual, it does have just under 10,000 feet of climbing for the long loop,” Grimmett says. “The road surface varies from packed dirt to nice, smooth, fast gravel.”
Riders can choose from three distances: 30 miles, around 60 miles, and 118 miles. Each course tackles little-used gravel and dirt roads that can change significantly with rain and snow, so riders should come prepared with extra layers, extra tubes, a sidewall and tube patch kit, a bike multitool, and a pump, as well as plenty of nutrition and hydration.
The ‘Rad Dirt Fest | Trinidad, Colorado
Another race series popping up in Trinidad, The ‘Rad Dirt Fest, is the latest event by the event gurus at Life Time, who also put on the iconic Leadville Race Series and the Unbound Gravel ride in Kansas, among many others. This year, the ‘Rad will coincide with Trinidad’s celebration commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Santa Fe Trail, while also highlighting the area’s little-known local flavor. “You see that history and the cultures that have called Trinidad and Las Animas county home,” says Tim Brosious, event director for the Leadville Race Series and The ‘Rad Dirt Fest, referring to the different ecosystems, wilderness areas, and ghost towns that the routes showcase.
Three different bike courses—a 38-mile loop with approximately 2,700 feet of elevation gain, a 90-mile course with 5,000 feet of climbing, and a 165-mile grind with approximately 11,000 feet of elevation gain—comprise the event’s gravel component (there are also two separate running routes, a 50k and a half marathon). The event won’t include a pro category—but that’s a good thing, Brosious says: “You can ride along the start line with [the pros], and you might finish 6 hours after them, but you’ll all be drinking the same beer at the end of the day, post-race.”