It’s early morning in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. As the sun crests over the ridge, the clouds in the valley slide up and over the surrounding mountains. Like lost spirits of past floods clocking out from their shifts haunting the city, the morning rush hour of weather is a wondrous sight to behold. It’s like watching a timelapse video in real-time. I told myself I wouldn’t talk about floods, or THE flood, when mentioning Johnstown, PA, but here we are. Here we are for Higher Ground.
The first time I caught sight of Ronnie at this past weekend’s Nutmeg Nor’easter, he was handing out welcome gifts as a crowd of riders waited for the ferry’s return on the west banks of the Connecticut River. “Get your poop bag, everyone gets a poop bag,” he exclaimed—like the bygone vendors who’d hawk peanuts at old baseball games—doling out little green compostable doggie bags between hugs and hearty salutations. I later learned 250+ riders had shown for the two-day rootsy New England bikecamping event; a far cry more than the group of five dozen that made up the inaugural Nor’easter six years hence. For me, this would be my first time in Nutmeg country!
Already in its second year of glory, Rapha’s Pennine Rally has easily made its name as a worthy must-experience off-road event here in the UK. Respectfully inspired by the Second City Divide route, the Pennine Rally covers 500 kms of the best unboring, mixed and testing terrain that this (middle-ish) part of the UK has to offer. This special event runs over five days winding, climbing and descending its beauteous way from Edinburgh to Manchester.
Thanks in no small part to the magnificent Louis, the rally’s beating heart, and his socially conscious approach to its organisation, the 2022 Pennine Rally attracted a whole host of keen shredders, many of whom are doing rad things in their communities, and it shows. The Pennine Rally embodies its tag line of ‘its a rally not a race’ and the event as a result is a magnet for many of the change-makers who are working to create a UK cycling scene that is more inclusive, wholesome, and socially active.
I haven’t been hanging around in the UK for very long, but it’s clear that there is a unique scene here and it only feels right to shout about it, so I decided, as part of my own participation in the event, to photograph some of these folks, describe their endeavours and in doing so to some way capture a feel for what is going on here. Please behold and be inspired by this selection of the following incredible humans who make this magic happen.
What’s your intention for the race?” Jaimie asked as we gathered with others the evening before lining up at the start line of this year’s Odyssey of the VOG, which is a 350-mile bikepacking event that takes riders through the rural farmland of the Willamette Valley, the rugged and vast Oregon coastal range, and the unrelenting gravel climbs found in the Willamette and Tillamook National Forests.
Excitement and nervousness-filled conversations about bike setups, weight, steep climbs, estimated times… are you going to sleep? Over an inch of rain was forecasted to fall the next day. Some wanted to win. Most were intrigued by the adventure. I told Jaimie, “I want to be present and enjoy while challenging myself. I want to feel it.”
Oversized white t-shirts flapping listlessly between a great white softbox Welsh sky and endless hordes of casual, sunbathing daisies. Jersey pockets bulging with hard boiled eggs and gummy bears. Hushed whispers of chain ring print, oil tattooed cyclists entering a bird hide and unzipping Leica binocular cases. Nature’s comfortable chatter pauses incrementally to listen to the doppler shifting cacophony of a freewheeling Hope RS4 flying down a caution signed gradient. The Fforest Gran Ffondo must be, objectively, the finest road cycling event around right now.
I couldn’t stop moving the day before Gravel Camp. I was so excited, so nervous, and full of jitters. For years this camp had been an idea; since last year it was a real goal; and for the past two months, it was practically a part-time job.
Together, my fellow organizers (and friends), and I planned a weekend bike summer camp for femme, trans, women, and non-binary (FTWNB) folks to build the skills, confidence, and community to adventure on their bikes. From all over the East Coast and as far as Colorado, campers were coming to New Haven, CT, to learn about bike mechanics, riding skills, and bikepacking — all while in a community with other Queer, BIPOC, and radically cool riders. After years of dreaming, it was finally here.
Saying we woke up would imply sleep, which is a luxury the night before the Concours de Machines race hadn’t afforded us, owing to thick black clouds of mosquitoes that infested our van. I lit a church of citronella candles and closed all the doors and windows, while Josh rolled himself up in a sheet and slept outside on a decrepit shezlongé that sat outside the factory. Mosquitos spent the night screaming and raging in our ears while doing their best to tear us limb from limb. At 4 am they sat lining the window sills, fat and bloated, drunk on our blood.
I killed a dozen of them with an old sock in one limp sleep-deprived swipe as a tokenistic act of vengeance, knowing they’d be saving their strength for another assault the next evening. I stood in Andreas’ elegant la fraise workshop contorting my body to scratch bites between nerve endings on my back, craving coffee as the pilotes clip clopped in on road shoes. For many of them, road shoes were a terrible choice. The 204km route billed as a road with some cobbles and gravel somehow encompassed 1466m of short sharp climbs in an oppressively pancake-flat landscape, as well as some muddy singletrack. The singletrack must have caught teams rolling on 28c slick tyres off guard, and would prove catastrophic for some.
This is the second of two reports from the 2022 Concours de Machines. Be sure to check here for the first installment!
All year long, gravel races and events seem to pop up in towns across the US. With its approachability, it’s no surprise that “gravel” has become so popular with cyclists in disciplines spanning the continuum between mountain and road riding. IMO, the most successful of these races are the ones that embrace and exemplify the values and character of the communities in which they are based. Having lived in Fort Collins, CO for nearly fifteen years, the FoCo Fondo is a special one for me, as it shows off some of Northern Colorado’s incredible mixed surface riding with multiple expertly-curated routes while also fostering an inclusive and comfortable environment for a diverse group of riders.
Kristen Smith – Co-Founder of The Elevated Alpine – and Brooke Goudy – Co-Leader of Black Girls Do Bike Denver – recently organized a trail-building retreat for women, non-binary, and femme individuals in Nederland, Colorado. She Digs brought over fifty riders together to shape new trails and become advocates for trail building.
We’re pleased to share a wonderful video and photos recapping the event. Check it out below!
“It’s the best” must be one of the most common, purely subjective statements made so regularly with enthusiastic conviction. We do it all the time, but it’s ludicrous. You have to define a word like “best” in your own terms. It’s a value statement. Saying something is the best only tells you a little bit about the thing in question, but a lot about the person saying it and what they value. What’s the best gear ratio for a single-speed 29er? What’s the best tire choice for a course that’s littered with mud pits, rooty singletrack, and rock gardens, but is also interspersed with long, hot, 15 miles stretches of pavement? Do you like to mash or spin? Are you a confident bike handler and want to make the long road stretches easier? Are you strong-legged and get annoyed at spinning out on the flats?
So what am I really saying when I write that the MountainCat 100 is the best bike race in America?
6:27 a.m., Friday the 13th, 2022. Twenty-four grown-ass adults are walking around in circles ringing bells and there is a dude wearing a Scream mask counting down the minutes until a bike ride begins. What the F%#k is going on?
Rainbow-colored, grinning unicorns jump up and down, cheer, and offer you homemade chocolate chip cookies as you pedal past. Are you delirious? Dreaming? Bonking? No, you’ve likely reached an aid station at Rasputitsa Dirt — New England’s most community-based, grassroots, and visible gravel race and creative bike event of late.
It should not have been a grand revelation to anyone in the cycling world when hosts of the Girls Gone Gravel podcast announced that there would be an eponymously named Girls Gone Graveling Festival in the cycling mecca of Bentonville, Arkansas this past April. Kathryn Taylor and Aimee Ross organized and led the three-day gravel cycling event which was intended for novice and seasoned gravel cycling enthusiasts. The event promoters stressed from the beginning “it’s not a race.”
The Southeastern Appalachians are filled with a lot of my favorite things. It’s considered the salamander capital of the world. There are more than 160 native tree species (there are only 50 in the state of Colorado), but above all else, my favorite thing in these hills are my friends. Over the winter a few of us came together and reflected on last year. What could we do to help grow our casual cycling community? We figured that these hills have a lot going for them, but there wasn’t a good swap meet, and that’s a problem worth solving.
The East Texas Showdown is a bikepacking event founded last year by Patrick Farnsworth, notoriously known as the host of the Bikes or Death podcast. The event includes two distance options: the 380-mile SHOWdown or the 280-mile SLOWdown. With the event’s theme revolving around the community, the offer of two distances provides intrigue to both seasoned and newer bikepackers.
Tennessee might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think about gravel, but the roads west of Nashville will have you saying “gosh” and “darn” more than once over spectacularly challenging and varied terrain. Gosh Darn 5 welcomed over 240 riders and offered four rugged routes ranging from 16 to 100 miles.
Following a hiatus in 2021, Single Speed Arizona (SSAZ) returned earlier this month – over an action-packed weekend – to Cave Creek. We’ll be hosting a full event report and photo gallery soon, but today we’re kicking off our coverage with a pre-ride tour of Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center and a gallery of bikes (and their riders), which is about as eclectic and diverse as it gets.
Sometimes we don’t understand our reasons for doing something until we’ve fully emerged. That was my lesson learned from waffling around the start and finish lines of The Big Lonely with a camera and disconcerted heart. What is this big and lonely thing that I speak of? Described in one word by the riders themselves: it’s “relentless”, “jarring”, “cold”, “delightful” – “resilience.” It’s “incomplete” and it’s “grueling”. It’s “epic”, “stoke” and “go.” For one rider it was “mom.” Most commonly though, it was described as “community” and I found this to be a curious notion. The dichotomous idea that a 350-mile self-supported ultra-endurance bikepacking race called The Big Lonely cultivated the word “community” more than any other is sort of like a metaphor for life and all the funny ways our experiences are everything at once.