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Sado-Masochistic Gravel Events

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Cyclocross and Gravelbiking (Recreational) This has to be the most physically intense sport ever invented. It's high speed bicycle racing on a short off road course or riding the off pavement rides on gravel like : "Unbound Gravel". We also have a dedicated Racing forum for the Cyclocross Hard Core Racers.

Sado-Masochistic Gravel Events

Old 06-07-18, 02:08 PM
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Sado-Masochistic Gravel Events

I'm all for a challenge but don't really understand the prevalence of extreme gravel cycling events.

I'm talking about 50 mile rides with 10k ft climbing and 20% grades. There is a ride where they intentionally put riders through a pre-constructed mud pit. Rides through crater fields, trails that would challenge full suspension mountain bikes, bushwhacks through the woods.... Courses designed to be ridiculously difficult, intentionally beating up people and machines so that it becomes a pain threshold contest/photo op and not a ride or race.

I get the feeling that some promoters, those who don't ride gravel and even some riders feel or think that this is or should be the norm.

Last week I rode a 56 mile race. 2600 ft elevation. 10 miles of pavement. A few puddles from recent rains and a little bit of mud. Two bridges, one of them wooden. A guy handing out cups of beer with 1.4 miles to go. Blistering speed. Nobody rappelled down a cliff or dragged their bike through a gauntlet of flamethrowers. Did I mention fast? It was fun and those who participated made it hurt as much as they wanted.

I guess every thread should have a question. Here's mine. Extreme gravel racing - what's the point?


-Tim-

Last edited by TimothyH; 06-07-18 at 02:12 PM.
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Old 06-07-18, 02:59 PM
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sounds like fun, but I race cyclocross so its pretty much an extended version of that contrived niche.
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Old 06-07-18, 03:41 PM
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Originally Posted by TimothyH
Extreme gravel racing - what's the point?
If you have to ask, extreme gravel racing isn't for you.
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Old 06-07-18, 05:32 PM
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Sense of accomplishment, epic ride, bonding with others, bragging rights, seeing what your meatbag is capable of, etc. Lot of different reasons, not all of which I personally understand, but hey, who am I to judge.

I think the race you describe Timothy sounds about perfect to me. Side note: I once had a beer at mile 23 of a marathon. Much easier to keep down when riding on a bike.

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Old 06-07-18, 06:29 PM
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I've done just one supported "gravel" event, which here in SoCal means access roads and singletracks. I didn't care for it, because too much of the route seemed to opt for any piece of trail that wasn't pavement, regardless of how much of a bombtrack it was. If I wanted to ride a mountain bike, I could. But I don't want to. I continue to regularly ride bits and pieces of that route-- but I will never do that event again.
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Old 06-07-18, 06:35 PM
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I'm passed needing to kill my equipment and prove myself...I'll gladly do a fun ride with beers and friends....but paying an $80USD entry fee to honestly blow an entire weekend going 110% being spent just isn't fun to me. One of mi amigos around here did several hard gravel rides in these parts last year....ended up running up a $500USD tab in parts and manpower in ruined bottom brackets and jacked up rims....on top of all the event entry fees.
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Old 06-07-18, 08:27 PM
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I'm all for 110% and love the challenge of a race but draw the line at an event designed to hurt people and break machines.

Some things are out of control - weather at Land Run 100 for example. No one can be blamed for that coming out of left field.

Southern Cross for example, was challenging and Winding Stair Gap Rd is brutal, but the organizers didn't intentionally design a course so that a significant portion of the field would DNF.


Originally Posted by bbbean
If you have to ask, extreme gravel racing isn't for you.
No, it isn't for me for sure. Real life is extreme enough. I'd like to do more fast races and not obstacle courses.


-Tim-
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Old 06-07-18, 09:06 PM
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I think part of it is that it's relative and the other part is that the promoters are still figuring out what people will be into - with some "ideas" bleeding over from MTB and Cross.

For the former, something like Dirty Kanza seems extreme to me. If I did the event it would be at least 16 hours, maybe closer to 18. That's much too long and way past my limit for gravel or racing or really riding in general. But the 88 mile/12,000' Death March Revival is fine and something I am excited to do - it ends up being a little over 8 hours of hard riding. Last year it left me so wound up afterwards I popped out of bed the next day at 4am and rode for 3 hours with legs full of hot coals just so I could get some rest. The whole experience was interesting, as a person and as an athlete. So I think that's a big part of it, people want to find their limit and that limit is vastly different from one person to the next.

The other part is that a lot of promoters and riders are coming from MTB backgrounds where it's not unusual to be routed through endless climbing or tons of creek crossings in combination with 12/24 hour events. So when they branch out it seems normal to plan a gravel ride that is literally nothing but climbing or descending or ends up going through a lot of mud or something more akin to a hard MTB race than a gravel event.

I think down here in the Southeast we are seeing a maturation of gravel that is separating it more and more from it's MTB-lite roots. Events that would have had fields split pretty evenly between cross bikes and MTB a few years ago are ditching their singletrack sections and going to entirely gravel or dirt roads. If singletrack is included it's much more benign than in prior years and more of a fun change of pace for a sec than a real challenge.

But I am in agreement with you, I like events to be hard and challenging within my limits and follow a logical course.
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Old 06-08-18, 07:34 AM
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I mean, the answer is inherently subjective. My thought is that if I wanted to ride a mountain bike race, I would've entered one. If I wanted a hike, I would've gone on a hike.

Dirty Kanza is hard because it's long and the terrain is challenging and the weather is usually adverse. But - you can ride 99.9% of the course without putting a foot down (other than the water crossings). I like a race in which if I DNF it's because my training and preparation weren't sufficient (recognizing that bad luck also is a thing) -- I don't want to participate in races in which the organizer intentionally throws gratuitous obstacles that really add nothing to the race and are just included to feed that particular organizer's DNF fetish. For example, refusing to provide GPS files of the course, insisting that everyone use cue sheets that are intentionally confusing, unrealistic cutoff times, and including terrain that goes from "challenging but rideable" to "unrideable to all but a small fraction of elites".

I'm also not a big fan of single track on my gravel bike.

But some people are, and that's fine. I think the race description should be clear about what to expect so people can make an informed decision.
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Old 06-08-18, 08:35 AM
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Different strokes for different folks.
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Old 06-08-18, 08:58 AM
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Originally Posted by TimothyH
... Nobody rappelled down a cliff or dragged their bike through a gauntlet ...
I heard about somebody who rapped into a slot canyon with an MTB and rode 20 miles out. To be honest, that sounds like a great time, and I might do it myself one day.
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Old 06-08-18, 09:37 AM
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The early days of MTB racing produced some downright absurd races that we did as part of the exploration of the sport's possibilities, and because we were stupid.
Over time w/ the inevitable negative consequences of being extreme just to be more "X-treme" the sport sorted itself out in a trail of broken machines and bashed-up riders.
UCI acceptance of the sports' disciplines with regulations and insurance put paid to the Wild West days of unsanctioned MTB "racing", and here we are today with great racing.

If "gravel racing" follows the same path that BMX and MTB took for "mainstream" cycling acceptance as a genuine cycling discipline things will sort themselves out, in the meantime......

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Old 06-08-18, 11:13 AM
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hold my beer, while I take a selfie.

everything evolves.... sometimes it evolves into a "It's got what plants crave!", Brawndo world.
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Old 06-08-18, 11:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Marcus_Ti
I'm passed needing to kill my equipment and prove myself...I'll gladly do a fun ride with beers and friends....but paying an $80USD entry fee to honestly blow an entire weekend going 110% being spent just isn't fun to me. One of mi amigos around here did several hard gravel rides in these parts last year....ended up running up a $500USD tab in parts and manpower in ruined bottom brackets and jacked up rims....on top of all the event entry fees.
Yeah, that sums it up pretty well. I'd rather upgrade my equipment than pay money to the podium gang and promoters. Gets expensive with hotel, travel, event fees, equipment, etc. Every once and a while is fun, but bottom line - there are lots of fun weekly rides I can do at any level from Slow Roll, to imitation race day - all free.

I did train for a 212 mile ride this spring, but in the end I asked myself what I was trying to prove?
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Old 06-08-18, 11:59 AM
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Originally Posted by chas58
Yeah, that sums it up pretty well. I'd rather upgrade my equipment than pay money to the podium gang and promoters. Gets expensive with hotel, travel, event fees, equipment, etc. Every once and a while is fun, but bottom line - there are lots of fun weekly rides I can do at any level from Slow Roll, to imitation race day - all free.

I did train for a 212 mile ride this spring, but in the end I asked myself what I was trying to prove?
Past 2 years I considered private sagging an amigo in DK....can't reliably get the time off that time of year, and both ended up being crazy busy times at work.

It would be neat to watch support I think...get a taste of the Old School S&M days of Tour de France, before they went team-tactics and corporate. Seeing those vintage B&W photos from the 1900s-1930s still makes us all go WTF.
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Old 06-08-18, 12:41 PM
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Originally Posted by chas58
Yeah, that sums it up pretty well. I'd rather upgrade my equipment than pay money to the podium gang and promoters. Gets expensive with hotel, travel, event fees, equipment, etc. Every once and a while is fun, but bottom line - there are lots of fun weekly rides I can do at any level from Slow Roll, to imitation race day - all free.

I did train for a 212 mile ride this spring, but in the end I asked myself what I was trying to prove?
My initial post was not about paying money to promoters nor about the expense of racing. I'm happy to pay for a well run event. If you are not then that's ok too but that's not what this thread is about.

My initial post was about events where the goal is to hurt people and break bikes, events designed to increase the chances that participants will require medical attention. It's cool if people want to participate in these types of events. I don't. That's the point of this thread.


-Tim-
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Old 06-08-18, 01:52 PM
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i'm guessing some of this is a crossover from running events like tough mudder, and the assumption that cyclists want in on the pain?
i'm with you, though...i don't need contrived hazards and electric shocks to make my rides painful.
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Old 06-09-18, 12:49 AM
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Originally Posted by TimothyH
I guess every thread should have a question. Here's mine. Extreme gravel racing - what's the point?


-Tim-
You will get shallow non answers from crowd followers.

On the flip side If you want to understand a psychology disorder, you might not want to be asking the people with the disorder. They probably have no clue why they suffer the disorder.
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Old 06-09-18, 05:57 AM
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Originally Posted by TimothyH
Last week I rode a 56 mile race. 2600 ft elevation. 10 miles of pavement. A few puddles from recent rains and a little bit of mud. Two bridges, one of them wooden. A guy handing out cups of beer with 1.4 miles to go. Blistering speed. Nobody rappelled down a cliff or dragged their bike through a gauntlet of flamethrowers. Did I mention fast? It was fun and those who participated made it hurt as much as they wanted.
Depend on where you are, really - When I was in the midwest a ride (road or gravel) have a headwind, always. 15, 20mph - that was just how it was.

Here in the mountains, a 50 mile ride would almost *never* have only 2600 ft of climbing, unless it was an organized tshirt ride along a river valley (and even then, probably more than that).

So, lots of climbing here (100 ft/ mile) is standard, and a 50 mile ride with 5500 or 6000 feet of climbing is just a 50 mile ride. Likewise, there will be washouts on those rides because rain happens all the time. Just how it is.

Of course, when there is an organized ride with 1000+ people and it happens to rain the night before - well, that's a muddy ride but the ride goes on.

Really, any organized ride with that many people seems like a bad time to me, so I don't do them.
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Old 06-09-18, 06:36 PM
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I'm not talking about a 50 mile ride with 6000 ft elevation or headwinds or rain. Those are normal.

Southern Cross here in North Georgia had 6500 ft over 56 miles and it was challenging but the course wasn't designed to rip your derailleur off. It rained a few days prior and they eliminated the singletrack section because of it. The race organizers were sane, not trying to kill people.

I'm talking events like the 2015 Hell Hole. I won't even call it a race.

Hell Hole Gravel Grind Stage Race Report: by Dr. Pain - Gravel Cyclist: The Gravel Cycling Experience


-Tim-
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Old 06-10-18, 08:42 AM
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I recently rode a gravel event around here that was 74 miles, 7700' of climbing. It was hard, but not crazy. For most of the ride, I was with a young guy I had met in the parking lot. He was telling me that, last year, he attempted the Hilly Billy Roubaix but was a DNF. He described sections of pure hell, which caused many crashes, mud-encrusted bikes, an injury or two, etc. He kind of shook his head at it, as if he couldn't believe that the organizers had thought it was a good idea. When I asked him if he was doing any other gravel rides/races this year, he said, "Well, the Hilly Billy Roubaix."

I'm not sure how to answer your question, TimothyH, but I think some people just like different challenges.
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Old 06-10-18, 09:58 AM
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Originally Posted by TimothyH
I'm not talking about a 50 mile ride with 6000 ft elevation or headwinds or rain. Those are normal.

Southern Cross here in North Georgia had 6500 ft over 56 miles and it was challenging but the course wasn't designed to rip your derailleur off. It rained a few days prior and they eliminated the singletrack section because of it. The race organizers were sane, not trying to kill people.

I'm talking events like the 2015 Hell Hole. I won't even call it a race.

Hell Hole Gravel Grind Stage Race Report: by Dr. Pain - Gravel Cyclist: The Gravel Cycling Experience


-Tim-
The guy standing first place on the podium in the picture is a local rider to me. Very fit, fast, accomplished rider. I've never heard of that ride...sounds like something I never want to do.

Extreme is apparently what a lot of people gravitate to. We got the Red Bull Rampage, the Tour Divide Race, the Transcontinental Race, RAAM, all sorts of epic, extreme, badass, high-risk, dangerous, radical...pick your adjective, events meant to challenge those who are apparently no longer challenged on regular events. I couldn't tell you why people do that stuff because I'm still sufficiently challenged on regular events.
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Old 06-11-18, 06:00 AM
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Yup, it's "Extreme". We even call them heroes.
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Old 06-12-18, 01:10 PM
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Originally Posted by bbbean
If you have to ask, extreme gravel racing isn't for you.
^^^ this! If you like riding nice roads in nice weather, road racing is a better fit for you. No shame in that, we need to know where our joy lies. For me, I love the challenges of adventure/gravel biking.

Last Saturday's Westside Dirty Benjamin was a major challenge... and I can't wait until 2019! I haven't had time to review too much from my GoPro, but this give you a flavor of the conditions for the race:

(you hear my 'ow' at the start of the edit, that's the hail kernels in the rain pelting me)

No two rides are the same, even the same course is different year-to-year. I love the challenge!
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Old 06-12-18, 01:18 PM
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Originally Posted by TimothyH
I'm not talking about a 50 mile ride with 6000 ft elevation or headwinds or rain. Those are normal.

Southern Cross here in North Georgia had 6500 ft over 56 miles and it was challenging but the course wasn't designed to rip your derailleur off. It rained a few days prior and they eliminated the singletrack section because of it. The race organizers were sane, not trying to kill people.

I'm talking events like the 2015 Hell Hole. I won't even call it a race.

Hell Hole Gravel Grind Stage Race Report: by Dr. Pain - Gravel Cyclist: The Gravel Cycling Experience


-Tim-
OK, my last post was about conditions.. I missed this post prior to making mine. We have some big vertical challenges across the boarder in WI, or the Almanzo 100 with 7,500 ft (that's one of my favorite rides every years).

Do you lump extreme distances in too? Like Trans Iowa, Alexander 380, DAMn ?

(I'm signed up for DAMn this year)
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