The Rise in Gravel Bike Racing
Gravel cycling has picked up tremendous traction over the last decade for its adventurous capability, no-frills race community, and mixed terrain versatility. Not limited to smooth surface roadways, gravel bikes extend the boundaries of cycling potential, allowing athletes to enjoy dirt two-track, rugged jeep roads, and everything in between.
The beauty in today's modern gravel bikes is their ability to accommodate wider tire clearance. In fact, most gravel bike models can fit a 2" wide tire, or about 45c. Some progressive gravel bike frame designs can go even bigger, especially when running a 650b wheel, or 27.5" in mountain bike lingo.
Gravel bike racing is gaining interest from all types of cyclists and endurance athletes, including former tour pros and weekend warriors alike. Compared to paved road cycling and conventional bike racing, the big attraction to gravel is enjoying less busy, low-traffic back roads. In turn, there has been a plethora of gravel bike races that have cropped up. Below we've mentioned some of our favorite gravel bikes as well as a few of our favorites.
Our Favorite Gravel Bike Models
Among our two favorite gravel bikes are Thunderhawk and Beaux Jaxon by Bearclaw Bicycle Co. These are two legendary gravel bikes that have been consistent front runners in the gravel bike scene. Each bike offers its own set of capabilities, with Thunderhawk being an aggressive race bike and Beaux Jaxon offering wider-tire adventure ability.
Both Beaux Jaxon and Thunderhawk have been industry pioneers in pushing the boundaries and inspiring the gravel bike community. With flat bars, Beaux Jaxon may be confused as a hardtail 29er mountain bike. That’s because Beaux is a pioneering rebel in gravel boost geometry and provides massive tire clearance for a "gravel bike."
Thunderhawk, however, provides greater aerodynamic potential to go faster and further. Able to run a 2.1" tire with 700x wheels, Thunderhawk doesn't compromise on adventure. But it doesn't compromise on speed either. This titanium gravel bike is a true steed among top-performers.
Gravel Bike Races
Below are some of our favorite gravel bike races in the U.S. There are tons that we could mention, but these are our top picks for long-distance, ultra gravel bike events.
Moran 166 (Moran, Michigan)
A 166-mile ultra-distance gravel bike race (also a 66-mile short course option) starting in Moran, Michigan, the Moran is relatively flat, fast, and stunningly beautiful. Located just 10 miles northwest of the Mackinac Bridge in the stunning Upper Peninsula, the gravel bike race route takes cyclists through the Hiawatha National Forest, a well-preserved natural haven that's dense with wildlife and breathtaking sights. There's also a $10,000 cash purse for the top 10 male and female finishers.
Big Sugar (Bentonville, Arkansas)
Big Sugar is a well-known 100-mile gravel race that involves over 9,900 feet of climbing but delivers stunning views of the Ozarks throughout the ride. For a shorter-distance race option, Little Sugar is a 50-mile route that offers a stepping stone toward the Big Sugar route. The course features tree-covered gravel roads with mixed gravel roads, a handful of paved sections, and a few water crossings.
Unbound Gravel (Emporia, Kansas)
Unbound Gravel is the pinnacle gravel bike in the US that brings all of the best gravel pros from all over the world. The most popular main event is the 200-mile course, however, there is the XL version that spans 350-miles as well as a couple of shorter options. Unbound Gravel attracts several thousand gravel cyclists every year, transforming the town of Emporia, Kansas in early June. The routes cover the vast Flint Hills of Kansas and offer big, expansive views and exposed Summertime sun. The race is challenging with steady climbs and notoriously hot conditions.