Gravel Grinders

One of the latest trends (relatively speaking) is the rise of "gravel grinders", or races on gravel/dirt roads. In other words, what road cycling was before paving smoothed everything out. Everything old is new again. Anxious to cash in on the latest fad, most bike manufacturers have released bicycles specifically designed for the activity. A lot of people use cyclocross bikes, and some use regular road bikes with wider tires. The races themselves usually play out like road races, with the strongest riders kicking the weaker riders in their lady parts before riding off to contest the win. Mud, dust, and loose gravel can add elements to the races, but barring mechanical difficulties, usually the result is the same. Race promoters will add the word "Roubaix" to the title to imply that riding over pea gravel equates to riding over centuries-old cobblestones in France. It doesn't, but it adds to the romance for some self-styled hard men.
I'm kinda "meh" about the whole concept.
While I ride my road bikes on gravel from time to time to get from point A to point B, I usually don't go out of my way to ride on dirt roads. I sold my 'cross bike to keep down the wear and tear on my body, so I don't have a bike that's really suited for extended use on our dirt roads. The dust also gets under my hard contacts and creates situations where I'm more engaged in pleading for a merciful death than having fun riding my bike. Hey, that may just be me. 
In a couple weeks I'm helping out with the Green Lake Grinder/Matt Matyas Memorial. It's being held on Joint-Base Elmendorf-Richardson, which has the most gravel road in the Anchorage Bowl, so I ended up as the military sponsor. Pete and I met with the wildlife conservation officer to talk about the potential for grizzly bear maulings and moose-stompings and how we could effectively mitigate the dangers for the racers. Always better to be safe than sorry in this regard. I think it will be a great (I hesitate to abuse the word "epic") event that will broaden the local racing options. There's certainly nothing like it in Anchorage.
That said, I'm not racing. Just like mountain biking, randonneuring, fat biking, bike polo, and pretty much every other freakish subset of cycling other than road cycling (with a road racing bias), I don't feel the desire to participate at the moment. That's not to say my tastes won't change over the years, which is why I generally support just about any of the cycling pursuits in the area. In my own ego-centric perception, I'm just ensuring my own options for later down the road.
I am racing in the Tour of Fairbanks, which I just found out will have a stage with a significant amount of dirt road included. This was done because the traditional queen stage route is unusable. Can't say I'm thrilled about the prospect, but I figure it's a completely valid venue and might add another interesting element to the race. We'll see, and my perception will likely be influenced heavily by ability to avoid mechanical difficulties and how much time I lose or gain.
Given the choice, I'll always opt for smooth pavement, but sometimes it's fun to get a little dust on the downtube just to keep things fresh.


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