Is this the spirit of gravel?

There is some strong language and drawn imagery of human reproductive organs in this post. If you think that might bother you, probably want to skip reading this one.

Whenever something comes up in gravel cycling, whether it’s how a race responds to weather, or drama between racers or questions about formats, there’s this looming question; is this “the spirit of gravel?”

So much digital dialog, and probably even more beer conversations, has been spent on this topic, but I had an experience on a race recently that got me thinking about it and I guess I need to put my two cents in…

The back story

I was cleaning up after a race and taking down the course markers we post along the route. I got close to a turn and, at first, thought someone had stolen one of our signs from the route. This rarely happens, but it’s not surprising when a sign goes missing; I call it “shenanigans” and expect it will happen on occasion.

But this time was different.

Someone had indeed stolen a sign and replaced it with this…

A sign depicting a phallic symbol riding a bike with a little green helmet.

I don’t know if you can tell what that is… but, it’s exactly what it looks like. It’s a penis riding a bike.

You can probably understand why I’m posting this on our blog and not on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/etc. and why I added a warning to the post. Pictures like this really aren’t what I would call “aligned with the Iowa Gravel Series brand”. We’re not putting on that kind of race.

So, I’m looking at this bit of art work and I turn the sign over. Written on the back is this…

A sign saying, "tell your riders to stop being dickheads to the people who live here or find a different route!"

For those that are using a screen reader or can’t make out the handwriting, it says;

Tell your riders to stop being dickheads to the people who live here or find a different route!

A concerned citizen

As a race director, I feel I take my job and responsibility seriously. For those racing, I’m here to make sure people are safe and having a good experience. For the community, I’m here to keep the communities we visit safe and get the right permission for racers to use the places where we ride. I’m a race director for the racers and the community. So, a message like this I take seriously.

Kind of…

I mean, let’s first acknowledge this is funny stuff. Someone had such a unique experience that they made the effort to go home, find or draw an image, tape it to some cardboard, write a note, bring it back to the route, and post the sign. So, I appreciate that; well done. 👏🏻 This is an intelligent and hard working individual I’m assuming. I can laugh about it and I am very willing to listen and do anything I can as a race director to make things right. I will do my job.

I do wish this person gave me some details or contact number. I’m sure you’re wondering along with me, “what did the cyclist do?”, “where did this happen?”, “how does that little penis even pedal a bike?”, and “where exactly is the saddle it’s sitting on?”


Don’t worry fair reader, although I don’t have answers for you yet, I am working on it. But the point of this story is really to bring us back to the title of the post; “is this the spirit of gravel?”

The right question with no answer

I’m not going to actually answer the question, “is this the spirit of gravel?” because I believe that’s not the point of asking the question. Now, to be clear, posting hand drawn phallic depictions of male anatomy riding a flat bar bicycle is certainly not the spirit of gravel. I think we can safely agree on that.

The point of “the spirit of gravel”, as I see it, is that we’re doing our absolute best to make things a good experience. It’s a never ending and very impossible goal to achieve. It’s a mantra and a mission. The spirit of gravel is to make a space for everyone to ride a bicycle with a smile on their face; preferably with the same old wild abandonment of youth. Some days we nail that goal and it all works out. Some days, well… we end up being a bit of a dickhead™️.

It also means we have a responsibility to represent what cycling, especially gravel cycling, is to the world. Namely that we’re different.

People don’t get it… yet

I was talking to a print journal editor the other day and she had some very real questions around what and why and “…no, really, why?” anyone would ride a bicycle on gravel roads. The idea just didn’t make sense to her. But, she was genuinely curious and listened to mey explain the joy I get from riding a bike and I think she was even inspired by those that do ride 60/90/200+ miles on gravel roads. So, hopefully yet another article comes out soon where we can introduce the public to our crazy world of endurance dirt cycling.

In the meantime, we need to be a good example. We need to be the ones that are patient with ourselves and others when things don’t go right. At times that can be hard; like, life and death hard. Cyclist get hit by cars all the times. That’s not right. Riding a bicycle, especially in a race scenario, can be really stressful and we can be too focused on our own needs and struggles and not see a situation or other people for who they really area… another person trying to live their life.

I’ve certainly met my fair share of people being inconsiderate and down-right dangerous on the road. I’ve been scared and angry and rude right back to people that I felt had been absolute dickheads™️ to me. But, that’s not the spirit of gravel in my humble opinion. I have to be different and I have to let things go. And, I have to be the one that will let peace prevail over my predisposition to argue and correct others. That takes very real emotional and physical work; but I’m going to keep doing my best… because that’s the spirit of gravel.

So, I’ll keep digging in and see if I can find out what happened on that day on that course. If it’s worth the effort I might share what I learn here or I might not. It’s more likely that I’ll never know what happened. The only action item I would leave you with, as you enjoy the beautiful back roads of Iowa, is “just be cool“; and don’t be… whatever this sign is.

One response to “Is this the spirit of gravel?”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Kudos to you for your thoughtfulness toward the aggrieved sign maker. I recently pre-rode a gravel course, a rather high profile one. There are several spots on this course that seem unsuitably unsafe. Also, the public was not made aware that riders would be racing by their homes. I was told by the promoter that these potentially dangerous spots in the course were a part of gravel racing. This is a very different response when I pointed something similar out to another promoter who deviated the route around the are of concern. I feel there needs to be some standardized guidelines for gravel promoters. You seem reasonable and kind. Perhaps you could help with this standardization. Many gravel participants are older roadies like myself who want a challenge but not at the risk of broken bones or a ride in an ambulance. I noticed that none of the older women who did this event I’m describing last year returned for it this year.

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