The Crunchy Stuff

09/03/2019

Back in the fall of 2013, a friend of mine invited me out to his neck of the woods to ride this new thing called “gravel”. I was living in Arlington, Virginia at the time and there were not many dirt or gravel options close to home. Occasionally, I’d ride my mountain bike on the C&O Canal Towpath – an unpaved, 185-mile long path that runs along the north bank of the Potomac River – but the path is flat and long days of riding along the river quickly got boring. So, with the temptation of new roads to explore, I loaded up my bike and traveled out to Haymarket, about 45 minutes west of Washington D.C. 

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Always a good reminder

Chris Randle, or Crandle as I he’s often called, led the much anticipated gravel ride. We headed out with a few paved roads to start but quickly turned off onto smaller, less-traveled gravel roads that twisted their way through the trees and hills. I grew up in Michigan and there are plenty of dirt roads out there, but not like this. This was something I had never seen before. Beautiful winding country roads that are only wide enough for one car. The roads meander through forests and farm lands that are lined with historic stone walls and that constantly rise and fall with the rolling hills. My sense of direction quickly evaporated as we made our way farther and farther away from the start. 

 

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Crandle showing me a route in the early days

 

As we pedaled our way through the changing countryside, we laughed and told stories, we smashed it up climbs trying to playfully beat each other, we took pictures of the views and looked on in silence. I still poke fun at Crandle because he broke one of these silences by saying “it is so romantic” and of course we all busted out laughing and made fun of his choice of words. A few hours in and I was completely hooked.

 

I was so hooked that the very next day I ordered a cross bike and within a few months had moved to Haymarket to be closer to the roads I fell in love with. It sounds dramatic but making those decisions didn’t feel that way at all. It was just what I needed to do.

 

Gravel gives me the freedom to explore, to sift through my thoughts and zone out, to let the day decide how the ride is going to go. Sure, you can experience this on paved roads but there is something unique about gravel mountain roads where you don’t have to worry about cars or have to stop at intersections. The sound of tires crunching along, the babbling of creeks next to the road, the bunny hopping potholes and having wildlife surround you. This is what makes gravel special. 

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The crunchy stuff

 

And while my gravel experience has quickly evolved in the last six years, so too has the equipment and bikes designed specifically for this type of adventure. Sure, we hear all the time about how people have been riding gravel for years and that you don’t really need a gravel specific bike, disc brakes, tubeless 40c tires, blah blah blah. But you know what sucks? Riding a road bike with rim brakes and 28c tires with tubes on chunky gravel roads. Chains dropping over washboards. Pinch flats all the time. When tire companies started making gravel specific tires I was so happy because while cross tires got the job done, some bigger volume and more robust rubber sure makes the ride more fun. 

 

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Embrace advancement

 

And while my gravel experience has quickly evolved in the last six years, so too has the equipment and bikes designed specifically for this type of adventure. Sure, we hear all the time about how people have been riding gravel for years and that you don’t really need a gravel specific bike, disc brakes, tubeless 40c tires, blah blah blah. But you know what sucks? Riding a road bike with rim brakes and 28c tires with tubes on chunky gravel roads. Chains dropping over washboards. Pinch flats all the time. When tire companies started making gravel specific tires I was so happy because while cross tires got the job done, some bigger volume and more robust rubber sure makes the ride more fun. 

 

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Rasputisa gravel race in VT
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