The pre-dawn meeting at a Maverik station off of River Road is just an eye-opener for the next couple hours of rowdy antics on wide-open dirt roads radiating out of St. George. As the group leaves, it will become clear who wants to ride at tempo and who is content bringing up the back at many regroups and photo ops. On this morning, the ride is an out and back abbreviation of the Turkey Farm Loop.

The ride starts with a fairly casual pace for about 7 until a short steep climb up out of town into the Red Cliffs Conservation Area. From the top of this climb, the pavement continues for a few more miles before the tarmac gives way to wide-open dirt. The pace of the ride settles in at this point and you can go a little harder off the front or enjoy a casual conversation pace, either way, be ready for a long gradual climb up to around 5,000 feet.

Back in town, the roads are filling with morning traffic but out here as dawn breaks on this unnamed road we have yet to see anyone. This solitude is one of the big draws for a gravel cyclist. On the fringe of the cycling market just a few years ago is gravel cycling is now easily the fastest-growing category. Modern gravel bikes make this washboard ride enjoyable and doable for all levels of experience. The wider tires at a lower pressure seem to glide over the bumps and absorb the rest of the ruts with general ease. It makes cycling accessible to people hesitant to ride on open roads or sane enough to veer away from technical mountain trails.

While you will see basic overall trends in gravel bike equipment, the details of individual equipment can differ to fit an individual riders’ preference. For example, unlike road bikes where everyone is on a bike with 700x25c tires and a 2×11 drivetrain with an 11×28 or 11×30 cassette, gravel gives you the full buffet. One rider can have a setup closer to a cyclocross bike with 700x35c tires while another could be on 650x47c’s. For drivetrains the 1x setup seems to be the more popular choice for their simplicity but a 2x, (what I prefer), both have their advantages. Want to take the edge off the rough road throw on a Lauf fork and bang you have 30mm of progressive travel perfect for added control on a washboard road. Try not to let all of this equipment variety confuse or steer you away. Consider that a good chunk of the riders at the Belgian Waffle Ride, one of the more if not the most technical courses on the gravel circuit, are doing it on road bikes with 28c tires.

 Back to the top of that climb on our morning ride. After a regroup, the ubiquitous selfie session and refueling before turning around for a 10-mile descent back into St. George. If you enjoy descending on a road or a mountain bike, I think you will quickly find gravel holds its own. What seemed like a rough road ascending smooths out at speed. For me, having access to some extra gearing with the 2x on the high end makes speeds on gravel descents flow without the bouncing you can get spinning out a lower gear. Ultimately, it is all about preference and being yourself when it comes to gravel riding.

After the quick trip back into town, the sun is up and everyone splits back up to start their day. That means checking Strava, who doesn’t want to see what kind of damage they may have done to a short or long KOM along the route. Along with the great comradery, most of the people on this group ride have goals for the year whether it be finishing a new event or besting last year’s Crusher time. Individuality is one of the great things about this group ride while it is fun and casual it is a great workout and an excellent clinic in bike handling and skills. If you are looking to get into gravel, like everyone and their brother seems to be, you would be hard-pressed to find a better group ride to make that leap with.

Photos and words by Travis White.

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