Gravel: Michigan’s dirty blessing

Gravel roads are where it’s at. What “it’s” am I talking about? It, man. I’m talking about it. If you don’t get it, I’m gonna make you understand. Right now.

Here in Michigan, we have more than 30,000 miles of unpaved roads. Some improved, others not so much (read: sand). But the fact of the matter is: if you don’t ride gravel, you are absolutely missing out on all the fun.

Alright, so you’ve got your road bike. You (probably) baby the thing and think it’ll explode if you even turn it toward a gravel road or ride it down your dirt driveway. I’ll tell you what, that’s fake news! I’ve ridden carbon road bikes with 25mm tires on gravel roads and hard packed two-tracks, and the bikes came out fine! Have you heard of Strade Bianche? It’s a modern classic, and a beautiful race to watch. Plus, a lot of modern road bikes can handle a wider more capable tire like the WTB Exposure 28mm or 32mm.

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What about the mountain bike? That’s even better suited for gravel! Mountain bikes were intended for dirt, and gravel is dirt! If you’ve got some terribly nasty gravel (read: sand) roads near you/around here in Northern Michigan, that mountain bike is probably going to fare better in the really nasty stuff than someone on a gravel or cyclocross bike.

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MTB’s work just fine for getting after the gravel

Which brings us to our third type of bike: gravel/cyclocross. Yes, I know the differences between the two. However, my cyclocross bike is my gravel bike, and my gravel bike is a cyclocross bike. Cyclocross bikes are designed to race cyclocross, and gravel bikes are more like endurance geometry road bikes, but with bigger tire clearance. In my opinion, the dedicated drop bar gravel/cross bike is the best option for most every road. They’ve got the speed and stability for nearly every situation you’ll encounter on paved and gravel roads.

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Bikes we have include the Cannondale Slate, Cannondale CAADX Tiagra, and Giant Toughroad GX SLR 1. The Slate is a bike intended to go anywhere and do anything in the most fun way possible. The CAADX is absolutely a cyclocross bike; the geometry is race oriented and will get you where you need to go fast! If you’re jonesin’ for adventure, the Toughroad is your rig, as it is a comfortable bike with a bunch of rack mounts and clearance for 700x50mm tires (aka 29×2″). If you want to see any of these bikes, come on in and we’ll show you!

Now that you have the skinny on not-so-skinny tires, you may still wonder why you’d ever traverse some non-paved stretch out in the middle of nowhere. What if you get lost? Then you get lost. But honestly, how lost can you get in Northern Michigan? The Gaylord State Forest is a bunch of wilderness, but you’ll eventually pop out on a paved road or into a town. And if you go north of Petoskey, you’ll eventually either hit Lake Michigan or US-31, depending on whatever strange, non-north direction you head.

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Does traffic on main roads worry you? Then ride some gravel! On even the busiest of holidays, it’s often surprising to see any more than 3 cars pass by on any of our gravel roads in the Petoskey area. Not to mention, some of those roads are as smooth as a newly paved road. However, some can get pretty washboardy after extensive rain, but that’s just part of the fun!

Are you interested in racing? Gravel racing and cyclocross are the fastest growing racing disciplines in the USA, and also in the world. Many of them are intentionally challenging. Some are for charity. Most have multiple distances to suit multiple people. Entry fees are reasonable. And some are HUGE, like Barry-Roubaix: the biggest gravel race in the world in Hastings, Michigan! If you don’t like racing but like doing cycling events, gravel races have you covered there, too. Business in the front, party in the back. Here’s a comprehensive list of Michigan gravel races.

Have I convinced you? Obviously! Now that you want to shred that sweet grav grav, you should come to our gravel group ride: the Tuesday Bump n’ Grind! The pace is kinda fast, but we regroup at the top of the big hills and major intersections if dropped. Most likely we’ll start them up again in March and run through October! Along with that, we also have two gravel events: The April Fools’ 40/20 and the A2R2 (Autumn Anyroad Ride). Everyone loved the route I made in April, then hated me for the A2R2, which will change for 2018…

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However, if you want to just go out for a ride to check out how fun gravel is, here are a couple routes for you. The April Fools’ 40 and 20 were well loved that may not change for its 2018 edition. Here’s another Bump n’ Grind favorite that includes the old railroad grade that parallels Old 31, which is always a treat.

Will I see you out riding gravel in 2018? Hint: the answer is yes.

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