6 new gravel bike races are coming to Colorado this year
You’ve probably heard that gravel or dirt (aficionados use the terms interchangeably) is the cycling trend of the day. In recent years, increased sales of machinery, influx of websites dedicated to the discipline, and various magazines – including us – have reported it.
What is the attraction? Well, it’s a little more adventurous (and a lot less pretentious) than road riding and a little less gnarly – and less ego-driven – than mountain biking. “It’s this boom of cyclists who don’t like all the traffic of road driving and who don’t feel the need to do all the technical mountain biking equipment”, explains the race director of Mad Gravel, Dave Muscianisi. “They just want [do] some are driving in a really pretty and peaceful neighborhood.
And now there are more opportunities to do so competitively than ever before. Thanks in part to cancellations related to the 2020 pandemic, 2021 will bring us six new gravel events across Colorado’s back roads, each promising incredible views and accessible routes no matter what your skill level.
Crazy gravel | Kiowa, Colorado
Admittedly, even race director Dave Muscianisi was skeptical when course director Paul Raemer suggested hosting Mad Gravel in the Eastern Plains: “Who wants to go?” Muscianisi remembers asking. But driving the course quickly changed its melody. “That’s wonderful.” This includes breathtaking views of Pikes Peak and Longs Peak.
Another advantage of the location: lots of side roads with little traffic. “You start on dirt, you’re on dirt all the time, and you end on dirt,” Muscianisi says, noting that the three courses are all about 99.9 percent gravel. (This is rare because most races have paved sections.)
All three distance options (43, 78, and 123 miles) start at the Peaceful Valley Boy Scout Ranch, south of Kiowa, a 3,500-acre lot with an expansive dining room, outdoor patio, and parking lot. And Muscianisi and his team know a thing or two about hosting events, given their six-year history of hosting 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 made our way to Fruita with our full suspensions in tow. “What you don’t see from I-70 as you hurtle down the freeway at 80 km / h, this is one of the best gravel hikes, if not in the country then in the area for sure, ”Morgan Murri, founder of the Desert Gravel Series, said. “It looks like a wasteland, but it’s absolutely breathtaking terrain.”
Scheduled for May and October (including dates when Fruita’s desert conditions boast hot temperatures and sunshine as we wonder when the last late-season or early-season snow will hit), both Murri’s races Desert Gravel Series are designed to build on each other. The Co2uT, pronounced “coh-too-it,” offers five distances: the 30-mile Fruitadens, 70-mile Stegosaurus, 100-mile Triceratops, 125-mile Utahraptor, and 190-mile Allosaurs.
At 208 miles, Rexy, Queen of the Desert, lives up to her name. The route begins in Fruita and leads to Moab, Utah in what Murri describes as “a challenge, an odyssey and an adventure.”
Far Quarter Gravel Adventure Tour 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 stresses that it is about rides and not races, adding that the three-part series will both physically challenge cyclists 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 known,” he says, “and we know being on a bicycle is a fantastic way to do it.”
The Super Trinidad Rodeo route crisscrosses the Colorado-New Mexico border and includes driving through the otherworldly landscape of a cooled lava field. Then there’s the Noche Sucia, a nighttime stroll that takes advantage of the last full moon of summer and possible stargazing opportunities given the low light pollution in the area. Finally, Mitch’s Round-Up pays homage to the pioneering spirit of those who traveled the Santa Fe Trail, with the aim of offering a little taste of what these longtime travelers went through. Each route includes a short and a long distance and is capped at 49 runners.
Ned gravel | Nederland, Colorado
Named after the quirky town where it begins and ends, Ned Gravel will introduce riders of all skill levels to Front Range road riding. Inclusiveness is a key part of this race, says founder and race director Gavin Coombs. “We believe that the more people who cycle, the better,” he said, noting that registration was first open to people who identify as women and athletes of color. “I’m also very excited to do our part to help make cycling a more welcoming sport.”
All three course options take place at elevations above 8,000 feet, making Ned Gravel one of the tallest races in the country, but Coombs promises the 20-mile Silver Course is suitable for beginners. However, the Gold and Tungsten courses, with their 5,000 and 8,300 feet of climbing, respectively, are aimed at a more experienced audience. For both of these routes, expect lots of hills, rough roads, and spectacular views.
Grinder Gunni | Gunnison, Colorado
Too often the small town of Gunnison (population 6,403) is overlooked by the Front Rangers focused on Crested Butte, the showiest town 45 km to the north. But where Crested Butte is touted for its mountain biking, Joel Grimmett and the rest of the Gunni Grinder team are thrilled to showcase the gravel that makes Gunnison deserve a second look.–especially for cyclists who don’t mind a certain incline. “While most of the terrain is gradual, there is just under 10,000 feet of vertical drop for the long loop,” says Grimmett. “The road surface varies from hard packed dirt to nice, smooth, fast gravel.”
Runners can choose from three distances: 30 miles, approximately 60 miles, and 118 miles. Each course tackles lightly used gravel and dirt paths that can change dramatically with rain and snow, so runners should be prepared with extra layers, extra tubing, sidewall and tubing patch kit, multi-tool for bike and pump, as well as plenty of nutrition and hydration.
The ‘Rad Dirt Fest | Trinidad, Colorado
October 2 and 3
Another series of races is popping up in Trinidad, the ‘Rad Dirt Fest, is the latest event for the event gurus at Life Time, who also hosted the iconic Leadville Race Series and the Unbound Gravel Race in Kansas, among others. This year, the ‘Rad will coincide with Trinidad’s celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Santa Fe Trail, while also highlighting the little-known local flavor of the region. “You see this history and the cultures that have made Trinidad County and Las Animas their home,” says Tim Brosious, Events Director for Leadville Race Series and the ‘Rad Dirt Fest, referring to the different ecosystems, wilderness areas and towns. ghosts that showcase the routes.
Three different bike routes – a 38-mile loop with approximately 2,700 feet of elevation gain, a 90-mile route with 5,000 feet of climbing, and a 165-mile route with approximately 11,000 feet of vertical drop – include the gravel component of the ‘event (there are also two separate running routes, a 50 km and a half marathon). The event won’t include a pro category – but that’s a good thing, says Brosious: “You can ride along the start line with [the pros], and you might end up 6 hours after them, but you’ll all be drinking the same beer at the end of the day, after the race.