What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Goes Gravel Riding

Gravel Series Intro: I’ve ridden and raced on the road for more than 30 years now, but over the past decade, cyclocross has served as my gateway drug into the emerging world of gravel. It’s about time that I start spreading the gospel, so we will start a regular series in 2019 about all things gravel.

A Whole New World
Unless you’ve been riding blindfolded the past five years or so, gravel has become the hottest and fastest growing segment of the dropped-bar cycling scene.

What’s behind the popularity?

• No or almost no cars. ‘Nuff said.

• Remember how much fun cycling can be? Just today a buddy and I were debating on ride options on a 2°C and showers day. After 30+ years, my desire for road riding in the rain has dropped to near zero, so I vetoed a road ride. Yet something about gravel just gets you back to the simple joys of being on two wheels, and we happily did a fabulous ultra-climbing gravel ride in those same conditions.

• Depending on where you live, there’s probably a massive network of unpaved roads that you’ve never considered taking your lightweight carbon bike and wheels on. But a gravel bike just begs for you to take the road less travelled. This is exactly the case for me back at my usual home base in Ontario, where I have lots of paved roads for cycling, but linking dirt farm roads and rail trails have opened up a whole range of new route options.

• Gravel races are a blast. The best analogy I’ve heard concerning gravel events is that they’re “mullet events”. That is: “business up front, party out back!” Unlike road races, where the sole objective is to be first across the line, gravel rides are thoroughly inclusive of all, from pro racers through to first timers digging out old mountain bikes from garage cobwebs. At every gravel event I’ve ever participated in, I’ve yet to meet a single rider who didn’t thoroughly enjoy their day regardless of placing or time.

The Pez Gravel Treatment
I’ve been racing cyclocross since 2008, and have been doing primarily gravel races the past three seasons. In fact, my gravel fetish grew so much that my 50th birthday party this past summer involved grabbing a few friends and riding the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonée in Massachusetts.

To share the fun, I’m hoping to take Pez readers on a gravel journey with me in 2019. We’ll have articles on gravel events, interviews, equipment, and training, among others. To that end, I’ve secured a number of partners along the way.

The big event that I’ll be targeting is the brand new Steamboat Springs Gravel (SBT GRVL) race in Colorado on August 18, 2019, which has already sold out at 2,000 riders within the first week of registration. I’ll be riding the “Blue Course” 100 miler, featuring 6,000’ of climbing. First off, I’m a sucker for birthday rides, so it’ll be a great way to celebrate my 51st birthday. Second, as an environmental physiologist studying extreme temperatures and altitude, I’m looking forward to the challenge of riding an event at 7,000’ as a lowlander. Look for upcoming articles with ride organizer Amy Charity, including some behind-the-scenes insights into the fun & chaos behind event organizing.

Keeping with the Colorado theme, Niner Bikes has generously supported me with a RDO 9 RLT carbon gravel bike, complete with Shimano Ultegra mechanical groupset and Stan’s Grail wheels. Besides testing and reviewing the bike in detail, I’ll be using it as a test bed for different gear and equipment ideas, such as tire choice/width/pressures.

And since we’re talking about high elevations, it’s only fitting that I “Peak” properly for the event. To that end, my Cutting-Edge Cycling co-author and famous power-based cycling coach Hunter Allen from Peaks Coaching Group will be my coach for SBT GRVL. Together, we will be running articles on how my training is progressing, and what insights can be used by other Pez readers.

If we’re training with power, we have two more tools to talk about. I’ll be using the Pioneer Dura-Ace R9100 dual-sided power meter on the Niner. I’ve been using Pioneer since 2014, and have found it resolutely reliable in data quality.

And for training and analysis, we will be relying on the Xert software for workouts, data analysis, and its innovative Adaptive Training Advisor.

What do you want to read about as we explore the world of gravel? Chime in and I’ll do my best to accommodate!

About Stephen:
Stephen Cheung is a Professor at Brock University, and has published over 110 scientific articles and book chapters dealing with the effects of thermal and hypoxic stress on human physiology and performance. Stephen’s new book “Cycling Science” with Dr. Mikel Zabala from the Movistar Pro Cycling Team has just hit the bookshelves this summer, following up Cutting-Edge Cycling written with Hunter Allen.

Stephen can be reached for comments at [email protected] .

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