Gravel Cycling Is A Growing Sport Across Rural Southern Arizona

Gravel Cycling Is A Growing Sport Across Rural Southern Arizona

A group of cyclists, some from Tucson and Phoenix, begin a bike ride at Camp Rucker near Douglas, Arizona on October 22, 2022. Bikepacking is like a cycling adventure, like walking, but cycling. Their backpacks contain food, water, bike repair tools and other essentials for long rides. © Sarah Lapidus / The Republic A group of cyclists from Tucson and Phoenix start a bike ride at Camp Rucker near Douglas, Arizona on October 22, 2022. Their backpacks contain food, water, bike repair tools and other essentials for a long ride

Corrections and clarifications. An earlier version of this article misspelled Page Redmine's name.

As gravel biking grows in popularity around the world, the former Midwestern foot sport has found a home in southern Arizona.

Gravel cycling, also known as gravel or simply gravel, has become popular in recent years, primarily off-road riding on mostly dirt and gravel roads.

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People say they like the sport because it has aspects of road cycling and mountain biking.

Professional cyclist Sarah Swallow lives a semi-nomadic lifestyle in Patagonia for part of the year. Organize the Ruta del Jefe race, a competition that aims to raise awareness of the area's complexity and unique culture.

"The event honors the ancestral lands of the Tohono Odham, Yomi and Chirikawa Apaches," Ruta del Jefe said on its website. 16% withdrawal, 16% profit will be indivisible Tohono.

Dirt roads travel all over the world, but keep coming back to southern Arizona for its unique and diverse landscape. Located in southeastern Arizona and northern New Mexico, the Sky Islands Mountains are one of the most diverse regions on the planet.

A group of cyclists, some from Tucson and Phoenix, begin a bike ride at Camp Rucker near Douglas, Arizona on October 22, 2022. Bikepacking is like a cycling adventure, like walking, but cycling. Their backpacks contain food, water, bike repair tools and other essentials for long rides. © Sarah Lapidus / The Republic A group of cyclists from Tucson and Phoenix start a bike ride at Camp Rucker near Douglas, Arizona on October 22, 2022. Their backpacks contain food, water, bike repair tools and other essentials for a long ride

Southern Arizona "lies near the Sonoran and Chihuahua deserts as well as the western Sierra Madre," he said. Considered the Sky Islands, the Santa Catalina Mountains are a popular spot for gravel riding.

For long-distance cyclists, this means quick transitions from cactus and desert scrub to foot-high grasslands with oaks and cedars and streams and even ponderosa pine forests.

And as gravel biking becomes more common, people are discovering the magic of Arizona's southern landscape.

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Areas such as Patagonia, Elgin, Sonoita, the Santa Rita Mountains, the Chirikawa Mountains, and the Catalina Mountains are popular destinations.

Swallow noted that southern Arizona is experiencing a cycling boom in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Because places like Patagonia are among the few places with dry dirt roads in the winter, "people flock to the area," says Swallow, who says that through his work he tries to develop a special respect and understanding of "the area." ” and fragile of “complex problems”.

Why ride on gravel?

A group of cyclists, some from Tucson and Phoenix, begin a bike ride at Camp Rucker near Douglas, Arizona on October 22, 2022. Bikepacking is like a cycling adventure, like walking, but cycling. Their backpacks contain food, water, bike repair tools and other essentials for long rides. © Sarah Lapidus / The Republic A group of cyclists from Tucson and Phoenix start a bike ride at Camp Rucker near Douglas, Arizona on October 22, 2022. Their backpacks contain food, water, bike repair tools and other essentials for a long ride

Gravel cycling has been around for a long time, but has gained popularity in recent years.

Mark Stephens told the Arizona Republic that what started as a "crazy idea" of two Midwesterners to ride their bikes on dirt roads in Iowa, has turned into a booming industry.

"People are looking for safe, quiet places. Gravel paths provide that," says Stevenson, who helped found the modern gravel bike scene. He is one of seven gravel racers, the first, to be inducted into the 2022 class of the Gravel Hall of Fame.

With its road and mountain bike features and accessibility for everyday and adventure cyclists, dirt biking is a competitive sport, says Tucson cyclist and athlete Paige Redman.

Redman is a two-time champion of the Long Voyage 300 women's division, a gravel endurance race in Lincoln, Redman, Nebraska.

“There is something adventurous about gravel. Every time you hit the ground running, it feels like an adventure, even if you've done it before,” Redman said.

While gravel biking across the country is fun, Arizona's desert landscape and diverse wildlife make gravel biking even more adventurous.

While driving in the Midwest, he may see deer and rabbits, but in Arizona he sees a variety of animals such as baboons, hawks and snakes.

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Redman has compiled a long list of biking spots, including the Arizona Trail in the south to Giant's Cave, as well as places as far north as the Phoenix Canal, Chino Valley and Prescott County.

Redman not only fell in love with the sport, but also with a family of gravel riders; Competitive as a road cyclist and relaxed as a mountain biker, he says.

"Includes gravel," said Redman.

Gravel begins

The gravel bike dates back to the 1800s, when the bicycle was invented. Everyone rides gravel bikes where there are no paved roads. When paved roads appeared, cycling focused on riding on sidewalks because it was easier and safer, Stevenson said.

this year

In 2004, when Stevenson, who had a mountain bike background, was working at the ski shop with Iowa Bike and Endurance Mountain Bike partner Jeff Kerko, they came up with an idea.

Inspired by their boss who decided to ride a road bike in Iowa the day before, they thought the challenge could be tackled off-road with a mountain bike.

They have an off-road race in the state called Trans Iowa. The first Trans Iowa event was held in April 2005 and was 310 miles long and had to be completed in 35 hours or less.

"To our knowledge, this has never been done before," he said.

Thanks to Kerkov's contacts in the industry, many endurance athletes attended the event and many were unable to complete the event, which meant Stevenson and Kerkov had something to do.

People brought all kinds of bikes to the competition: from old Schwinn cruisers to hybrids and mountain bikes.

"Bring whatever you have, whatever you think you can," Stevenson said.

They quickly learned that this phenomenon was not limited to mountain biking.

Inspired by the event, many cyclists want to build their own off-roaders. Stevenson said that among other things he co-founded Unbound Gravel, the first gravel event in the United States.

And while there are gravel-specific bikes with thin frames and fat tires like road bikes, he says many bikes can be used for gravel riding.

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Fast forward to 2022 and gravel races across the country like the SBT GRVL in Colorado, the Belgian Waffle Ride across the country and the Lifetime Grand Prix Series among other interstate races.

"It all started with us," said the director, noting that in the past off-road racing was aimed at mountain bikers.

Gravel development

A group of cyclists, some from Tucson and Phoenix, begin a bike ride at Camp Rucker near Douglas, Arizona on October 22, 2022. Bikepacking is like a cycling adventure, like walking, but cycling. Their backpacks contain food, water, bike repair tools and other essentials for long rides. © Sarah Lapidus / The Republic A group of cyclists from Tucson and Phoenix start a bike ride at Camp Rucker near Douglas, Arizona on October 22, 2022. Their backpacks contain food, water, bike repair tools and other essentials for a long ride

When companies started making dirt bikes in 2012, the sport became more popular, Stevenson said.

Keep a calendar of events for all races.

He knew how many opportunities "I can count on my hands" in 2018. During the year he said there were "over 700 events" in 2020, not including team races.

Unlimited Gravel in Kansas has grown from 34 participants in 2006 to nearly 4,000 in 2022.

Gravel bikes are a top seller. According to the 2021 market survey, gravel bike sales are up 109 percent from two years ago.

Both Redman and Swallow agree that while recreational gravel biking is popular in Arizona, gravel racing, which draws people from all over the country, has lagged behind other states.

Because the permit is so expensive and difficult to obtain, it's "a major barrier to very small, low-impact gravel events," Swallow said.

He noted that getting a permit from the Arizona Department of Transportation is especially difficult because the main dirt road connections in southern Arizona are Highway 82 and Highway 83.

For recreational cyclists, Arizona continues to be a popular destination for off-road exploration, and gravel biking is the way of the future, according to Sitcernak.

Coverage of Southern Arizona is funded by azcentral.com and The Arizona Republic, a nonprofit American reporting company in partnership with The Republic.

Contact the reporter at sarah.lapidus@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared in the Arizona Republic. Gravel biking is a growing sport in rural southern Arizona.

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