With the onset of the Great Pandemic Of 2020 something happened with my beloved running and biking trails. They got crowded. Like really crowded. On the one hand, this is great! People are getting outside, improving physical fitness, seeing some nature. But on the other hand, it kinda sucked for getting out for a long run or bike because you’re dodging kids just learning to ride, and people with strollers, dogs on leashes (or worse, off leashes) and of course that guy on his 10, 000 dollar TT bike going 30 mph in aero through the park. Seriously, don’t be that guy. So in a quest to find some peace and social distance it was time to get off the trails.
I live in the Houston metro area. We aren’t exactly known for our incredible scenery or beautiful vistas, like no one is coming here for that getaway vacation. That’s Colorado. However, we do have a lot of greenery and we are “blessed” with vast interconnected waterways, hence the nickname “Bayou City“. If you have an off road bicycle, or a pair of running shoes, and you’re not afraid of alligators, this opens a whole new world of running and cycling opportunities. If you are willing to drive for an hour or two there are actually beautiful hilly vistas and incredible scenery, but that isn’t very practical for an everyday weekday kind of ride. However, right out my back door we do have a gravel levee that encloses the reservoir (in which my house sits, but that’s a story for another day) and is great for gravel riding. I took my daughters mountain bike out for a spin on the gravel one Saturday morning and Coach Stacey asked me afterwards what I thought of it. My response, “Ehhhh….I don’t know if it’s for me.” My good friend Jenny has been riding almost exclusively on trails and gravel since the beginning of COVID and I asked her why she liked it. She said “It’s more relaxed than road riding and it’s like being a kid again.”
Since Jenny is very wise I figured I should give it another chance and juuuussst to make sure I did or didn’t like it I should probable get a gravel bike.
That is another side effect of the Great Pandemic of 2020, new bikes are impossible to find. So when one of my local bike shops put up on Facebook that they had a couple new gravel bikes in I jumped on the chance to get one. As a bonus it’s purple and looks really cool.
I was pretty nervous to take it out the first time. I have quite a bit of cycling experience but almost all of that experience is on a TT bike riding really fast in a straight line. Throw in hills or technical routes and my confidence wanes. Seriously, ask anyone who has gone to camp or on long hilly rides with me, I am the worlds biggest baby. I literally wore out my brake pads doing hill repeats on Sugarloaf Mountain. However, one ride on the new bike and I was sold. It was much faster than a mountain bike, felt more stable to me, handles like a dream and it’s SUPER comfortable. I love it. And it is so versatile. Great for gravel obviously, but can be ridden on the road if needed or on a trail if it isn’t too technical. I know this bike is going to be a lot of fun. It also can be used for bike packing which is something else new I would like to try in the future. A couple other great things about a gravel/mountain bike. It’s perfect for building aerobic fitness. It’s much more effort on these kinds of bikes so it doesn’t take a lot to get into that Zone 2 heart rate. It also will build leg strength more quickly than a road bike because of that extra effort. You also utilize your upper body more.
Now, all of this is not to say go buy a new bike! Although if that’s your jam then go for it. It is to say Don’t be afraid to try new things! You might even like them! And if you live in a place that is not south Texas I bet you even have some incredible landscapes to explore and enjoy. If you are in South Texas and you are afraid of alligators, vultures, feral hogs or bobcats just go in a group and don’t be the slowest one. (Kidding)
And for everyone reading who is saying to themselves “Uh gravel riding has been huge for years now and I’ve been doing it forever” I say “Awesome!” This is for the rest of us who are always late to the party.