Gravel grinders are popping up faster than many cyclists can keep track of. With so many options out there, how do you choose the right one for you? Before signing up, here are a few things to keep in mind.
LOCATION // Choosing an event closer to home is a great way to start, as you may be able to preride the course if it’s open to the public. Preriding can help you determine what type of gear will be best for the terrain, how much fuel and hydration you may need, and how to navigate tricky sections. “The day of the event can be overwhelming, but you’ll find a little peace knowing what the start and finish are like,” says Cynthia Frazier, race promoter for Gravista in Buena Vista, Virginia.
SEASON // Events in the spring or fall may see unseasonable temperatures, unexpected snowfall, or heavy rain. These variations can impact your clothing choices, tire selection, and equipment options—like packing fenders or an extra derailleur hanger or deciding if a mountain bike might perform better. Facebook groups, YouTube videos, and Instagram posts can provide historical context for previous race conditions.
DISTANCE AND ELEVATION //Choose a distance based on your fitness, schedule, and openness to adventure. You may be able to find routes on Ride With GPS, Strava, or the event’s website. This can help you determine which course’s distance best suits your abilities and goals. Course elevation is also important. “The easiest way to decipher whether the elevation will be challenging is if there are roughly 50 feet of elevation per mile or more,” Frazier says. But a flat race can present its own challenges, like wind and exposure.
TRAVEL AND COSTS // Costs can add up quickly, so budget how much you’re willing to spend. If you choose to fly to an event, you may need a bike case, which averages $500 to $800 new. But a well-packed cardboard bike box from a bike shop also works. Most major airlines now only charge a checked-bag fee for bikes, or you can ship your bike to your destination. Other costs can include registration fees, transportation, lodging, food, and event swag.
RIDE VIBE // “It’s really important for folks to find the right events and rides that suit them, that they’ll enjoy, and that will help build confidence,” says Alex Forte Howell, race director for Dirty Kitten Gravel Race in Rapidan, Virginia. “If you’re a novice, start small and work up from there.” The key factor is atmosphere, says Frazier. Most gravel events prioritize community, though some are less party-focused, with a race-centric atmosphere. ■