Gritty Take: The Top Gravel Stories of 2019 – by Guitar Ted
The year is about done for, so it is a good time to look back on 2019 and determine the most impactful stories on the gravel scene for the year. While there are a lot of things that happened over the course of the year, three things really stand head and shoulders above the crowd when it comes to stories we talked most about during 2019.
#1- GRX Introduction Marks A New Component Line Just For Gravel:
Without a doubt, this is the most impactful story of 2019. We cyclists have taken it for granted that you either rode a bicycle using “road” or “mountain” components. There were no other choices for the gravel rider and integrating certain aspects of mountain and road components wasn’t very easy to do. This all changed when Shimano introduced a completely new group range just for gravel and adventure bikes in early 2019.
It’s hard to describe how historically important this is, but I think once some time has passed, more people will begin to understand what this means. I wrote about this back in May . In my opinion, this GRX component group is akin to what happened in the early 80’s when Shimano first introduced a dedicated mountain bike group. There was nothing like it before. I think we all know how that turned out. (And they said mtb was a fad too.)
#2– The Almanzo 100 Ends
One of the oldest “modern era” gravel events, and certainly one of the most popular gravel events, ceased to exist after its 12th edition this year. The Almanzo 100, and its attendant 162 mile Royal and 380 mile Alexander routes, were the brainchild of Chris Skogen. These events were held in May the weekend after Mother’s Day, and were always free to enter.
The Alamanzo 100 was celebrated for years and feted in several endemic and non-endemic publications. Called “The Grandaddy of Gravel”, the Almanzo 100 drew well over a thousand riders for each version of the event in later years after starting out pretty small in 2007.
The event took a few unexpected turns in the last couple of years which ended up with Mr. Skogen, the originator of the event, withdrawing from putting on the event and then “retiring” the name shortly afterward. (You can read all about the details on Guitar Ted’s blog here.)
With the Alamanzo’s passing, we have lost one of the first populist, and arguably one of the prototypical grassroots style gravel rides. It is somewhat akin to something like the Dirty Kanza 200 going away, or Gravel Worlds, as far as significance to the gravel scene. Now what we have is a situation where there are two events that are springing forth from the ashes of the Almanzo. They are the “Spring Valley 100” and the “Heywood Ride”. Look for a story about the Heywood Ride soon here on Riding Gravel.
#3- Life Time Fitness Expands Gravel Portfolio In 2019:
After announcing in September of 2018 that they were acquiring the Dirty Kanza 200, Life Time Fitness announced a new event and purchased another popular Western gravel event in 2019. The Minnesota based concern has already acquired the Leadville events, the Chequamegon Fat Tire 40, and other cycling events as well. Now they have the newly minted “Big Sugar Gravel NWA” event, set to have its inaugural running in 2020, and the classic “Crusher in the Tushar”, which will have its tenth edition of that event in 2020.
During the introduction of the Big Sugar event, it was let out by one of the promoters that Life Time is seeking to build a six race calendar of gravel events to be held annually under its direction. This is notable because of the corporate nature of Life Time and the more “grassroots” nature of gravel events. How these events are eventually accepted and run is yet to be seen, with the exception of the 2019 Dirty Kanza 200, which ran its first event under the ownership of Life Time.
Life Time has put out the story line that its ownership of both the DK 200 and the Crusher in the Tushar will “secure the future” of these events. And with the ambitious plan to expand the portfolio of gravel events, it is assumed that Life Time means to be in the business of selling people on the merits of racing on gravel for years to come. Given the success of Life Time’s past, it would seem likely that their style of slick, expensive, big production events will not be going away anytime soon. This despite being somewhat of an antithesis to the roots of the modern day gravel scene up to this point.
Honorable Mention: Niner MCR-9 Full Suspension Gravel Bike Released:
While talk about this outrageous design, and prototypes of it, were heard and seen for a couple of years now, the Niner MCR 9 actually has hit the roads and trails in 2019.
Seemingly half mountain bike, half gravel road grinder, the MCR -9 is a head turner, and a design marvel. You can debate whether it is really a short travel mountain bike, or a brilliant stroke of genius in gravel travel all day, but one thing is certain- The MCR 9 stirred us all up and caught our attention. While it isn’t really all that surprising anymore, (we’ve known about the bike for some time), it is notable that something this unique and “out there” actually did make it through to riders in the field. That isn’t always the case with bicycles, and for that I felt this story deserved an honorable mention.
Those are my “gritty picks” for the Top Stories of 2019 in the gravel scene. Let us know what you think in the comments.