A Closer Look at Gravel Biking’s Meteoric Rise

In Gravel Roads, Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc., Soil Stabilization, Unpaved Roads by Frank Elswick

Gravel biking is transforming the cycling community — and making the case for greater investment in unpaved gravel roads in the process.

With more than 1 million miles of unpaved roads across the United States, cyclists looking to get off the beaten path have an opportunity to enjoy scenic rides without the congestion of paved infrastructure. That’s exactly why cycling on gravel unpaved roads — known as gravel biking — is taking off across the country and around the world. 

What started out as a new pastime for a small group of off-road cyclists has surged in popularity and captured the imagination of the cycling community. For instance, the Dirty Kanza — a series of gravel biking events hosted in Emporia, Kansas — started out with an inaugural race between 34 people in 2006, but has evolved into a wildly popular event of 2,700 participants. And that doesn’t even include thousands of potential entrants who didn’t make it past the lottery-based application. 

Gravel biking is on the upswing, but there’s no reason to think that this is a passing fad. In fact, industry insiders predict that gravel biking will soon overtake paved road cycling in popularity in the near future. Given this changing landscape, it’s critical that community stakeholders invest in the technology they need to maintain their unpaved roads, such as innovative road stabilization products. By doing so, they can be part of the gravel biking boom — and support local business and tourism in the process.

Behind Gravel Biking’s Popularity

“I call it the incredibly fun, welcoming side of cycling,” Ted King, a former professional cyclist who retired in 2015, told Worth. “I think gravel is the most exciting aspect of cycling, especially here in the U.S., because it’s so participatory.”

King’s sentiment is echoed throughout the cycling world as more and more novices and professionals turn to gravel biking. On top of the scenic rides and backcountry independence that gravel biking fosters, many devotees point to the spirit of camaraderie that’s possible on unpaved gravel roads. While cyclists often have to ride in isolated single file on paved roads to avoid traffic and stay on the shoulder, unpaved gravel roads allow cyclists to ride together, chat along the route, and enjoy one another’s company.

A Growing National and International Community

Gravel biking events are becoming more and more frequent across the United States and around the world. On top of the Dirty Kanza, which has grown into something of a Super Bowl for gravel biking, events are available for entry in almost all 50 states and across Europe.

These gravel biking events are less like traditional races and more like friendly gatherings of the sport’s growing number of aficionados. While some events do award prizes, many don’t — and others focus entirely on local food and beer as part of the fun, relaxed ethos that gravel biking is becoming known for.

Investing in Unpaved Gravel Roads

As gravel biking attracts an increasing number of participants to rural communities that boast scenic and accessible unpaved gravel roads, community stakeholders should consider what they can do to invest in this kind of infrastructure. By improving and then maintaining unpaved gravel roads, municipalities can tap into the gravel biking boom and support local businesses that would benefit from greater tourism.

To do so, key decision-makers should look into innovative soil stabilization products like those offered by Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc. Our suite of patented road stabilization and building products use environmentally safe, non-toxic binders that strengthen unpaved roads with pavement-like durability. 

Whether you’re looking for a turnkey soil stabilization solution for your unpaved roads or a managed service partner who can handle every step of the way, Midwest stands ready to pitch in. Our team of experts have spent decades helping communities and organizations improve and maintain their unpaved roads — and we’re ready to do the same for you.

Frank is the sales unit manager of Midwest's road construction and natural paving markets.