So myself and a couple of other like-minded chaps are on the cusp of hosting our first gravel event here in SA, and it’s been an interesting process. It’s been fun and a fair bit of work, and hopefully everyone has a great time and it’s all worth it.
After reading this little rant over at Singletrack, and, after yesterday mornings recce of the short course in less than ideal weather, I am currently pondering the nature of one particular complaint that can come from anyone at any time, and its essence is something along the lines of: “the route is not to my liking”.
Clearly, everyone has their own version of the perfect event. Or perfect anything. No one event will ever be just the right thing for everyone who sits somewhere in the “interested” camp. For some people it will be too long, too short, too hard, too easy, too rough, too smooth, etc, etc.
Even in the most extreme cases, it may simply be the case that the way you like to do a thing doesn’t align with what a particular event is offering, but that doesn’t mean that the event isn’t any good. It just means it’s not for you.
If the event failed to meet the expectations of the group of people who it was trying to gear itself towards, that would be a failing, but otherwise, and event just is, and it attracts who it attracts.
I struggled with this idea when designing the course for the Gravelaide Grinduro. How far is too far? How hard is too hard? Does it need to be road bike friendly? We have soooo much gravel at our disposal, and the simple truth of it is that most of it, unless you travel far enough beyond the hills that surround Adelaide, goes up and down a bit. There are a good number of smooth roads, but the really interesting, beautiful roads are often less so.
People all have a certain perspective from which they interpret things. I have a certain penchant for finding and making my way up hills. I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s more or less inevitable around here unless you just cycle up and down the coast. Still, one reason I like hills is the challenge, and another is the landscape that usually surrounds them.
The views are usually quite worth the price of admission. The satisfaction of making it there are a big part of that too, but that part isn’t for everyone, and that’s perfectly ok.
Even without hills, on a gravel ride of any length that has less than 4km of sealed roads, things are going to be pretty tiring for the old legs, so it doesn’t need to be all that hilly for it to get a bit challenging.
And that’s the other thing that I think makes a ride with a price of admission worth turning up to: some sort of challenge.
I don’t see any value in making an event of something that you could casually knock off any other day of the week. This of course goes back to the fact that the difficulty of a challenge for one person is not the same for the next, and that’s just one of the reasons why an event is just a thing like any other, and it will appeal to some people more than others.
Our first Gravelaide event aims to do these things: introduce people to the joys of riding gravel, introduce those who may already do that to routes that they have never seen before, bring these people together to have a good time, and, at least for this particular event, to make it interesting by throwing in a bit of everything, like hills, open spaces, smooth roads, rocky roads, killer views, a proper but short hike-a-bike section (which may be a little longer if the conditions are poor), a landscape that changes every few km’s, and two lengths that will ideally cater for those of a reasonable level of fitness and those who are found a little higher up on the Strava leader boards.
Yesterday mornings ride proved that we are not in control of everything. The weather has been far from ideal here lately with winter refusing to let go of spring. I’ve ridden the full 100km route and, though it was a very solid day in the saddle, it was very doable for someone of reasonable fitness with some experience riding bikes, who didn’t push too hard and looked after their fluids and calories. The shorter route on a cold, windy, and wet morning, proved to have the measure of the longer. Had I the option of jumping into a sag wagon, I would have.
So not only are events unable to always please everyone at the best of times, they can be pushed out of even more people’s comfort zones by factors that are out of our control. Ideally, in those cases, the quality of the event itself can still make the experience enjoyable.
So in the end, this first Gravelaide event is one for cyclists with some experience, of reasonable fitness, who are up for a bit of a challenge, a bit of climbing, and are keen to explore some less commonly traveled (not silky smooth) gravel roads.
I know that won’t please everyone, and if it doesn’t, then maybe the next one will, but if that appeals to you and you’re free on the 30th, go here for a good time.
Header image: The Sticky Bidon