Gravel. One word. Six letters. Synonymous with fun. Growing in popularity among cycling adventure seekers.
Gravel is more than a surface that adds friction to your ride. It's a new sensation. Navigating an uneven surface adds another dimension to a routine endeavor. It forces you to pay closer attention to where and how you are riding. Heightened senses help you feel "in the moment." You tend to appreciate your surroundings more.
For urban and suburban riders, gravel roads are like original programs on Showtime; we've heard about them, but we've never actually seen them. There is a definite buzz going on about "gravel grinders" - long-distance endurance races on unpaved rural roads - but the backwoods charm has not yet reached Duck Dynasty acceptability levels.
We simply don't have any gravel roads in the six-county area. We are hard-pressed to find any within an easy commute and certainly not accessible by public transportation. Gravel roads exist out in the country. Places where farmland still produces crops and isn't in the process of being developed into residential estate subdivisions and regional shopping centers. How does one even get to DeKalb County to sample the sensation of gravel grinding?
For starters, one can sample gravel right here in Chicagoland.
Many of our regional bike trails are made of crushed limestone - gravel's kinder, gentler cousin. The Illinois Prairie Path, the Robert McClory (North Shore) Path, the Des Plaines River Trail, and countless forest preserve paths consist of this chalky white powder laid over hard-packed dirt. Visit RTC's Trail Link or click the bicycle icon in Google Maps to see all our great, unpaved trails hidden in plain sight.
Crushed limestone is too tame, you say? Not exactly challenging enough? Ok, I'll give you that.
Your idea of gravel grinding may involve bigger chunks of rock. Rougher surfaces. Loose stone patches of indeterminate depth. Twisty curves. Hills. Wash-outs. Mangy dogs nipping at your heels. You may even fantasize about fording streams and portaging your bike while wading waist-deep in murky river water.
I have good news and bad news for you.
The bad news is that you just missed Minnesota's premier gravel race - the Almanzo 100. It went off last weekend and by all accounts, a great time was had by all.
The good news is that you can experience many Almanzo-like challenges right here in Chicago. You just need to know where to ride and how to locate a gravel road ride on The Chainlink's calendar. Trust me when I say, you will be pleasantly surprised at the off-road challenges you can find within the city limits when you take the time to actually explore.
If you're unsure as to whether your bike can handle a little off-road action, refer to my post Anatomy of an Adventure Bike - Key features to look for.
It's adventure season. Expand your horizons. Try something new. Make the most of our warm weather.
Keep riding and be safe!
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