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Top 10 Gravel Bike Races in the U.S.

Posted on August 17, 2022 by Tyler Tafelsky

Gravel bikes have become a common staple in the cycling world. Allowing cyclists to experience a wider range of riding – from forest roads, two-tracks, single track, and other forms of unpaved terrain – gravel bikes give ways to more freedom and more possibilities.

With the growing popularity of gravel bikes has come more gravel-centric races throughout the U.S. A unique cross between road cycling and mountain biking, these events provide participants with a greater sense of adventure. You don’t need a high-performance bike to get involved, either. Many cyclists, especially those who are beginners, find a budget gravel bike gets the job done.

If you’re keen to participate in a gravel event sometime in the near future, check out these top gravel bike races found all throughout the U.S.

1. Unbound Gravel

Formerly known as Dirty Kanza, Unbound Gravel is one of the most widely-known gravel bike races in the US offering a range of short-course options along with the coveted 200-mile course and XL version extending 350 miles. Navigation is key for this race, so it’s highly recommended to use a GPS-enabled multisport watch or bike computer to help guide your way.

Bringing amateur and professional cyclists from around the world, Unbound Gravel transforms the small town of Emporia, Kansas in early June. The long courses meander the rugged and remote roads of east-central Kansas’ Flint Hills region, which hosts the only remaining expanse of natural tallgrass prairie in North America.

Unbound Gravel attracts several thousand gravel cyclists every year, yet not all participants finish. The race is extremely challenging with considerable climbing, self-supported race dynamics, and hot conditions. Learn more about this world premiere gravel bike race at UnboundGravel.com.

2. Moran 166

A new gravel bike race starting in Moran, Michigan – just north of the Mackinac Bridge in the beautiful Upper Peninsula – the Moran 166 is a long-course event that’s fast, flat, and scenic.

Nestled in the Hiawatha National Forest, any development is few and far between, as the course takes athletes into the depths of nature-rich with wildlife and breathtaking sights.

The Moran 166 includes some of the finest U.P. gravel roads that are lined with evergreens, hardwoods, and wetlands. Expect very few intersections as athletes experience pristine gravel roads, deep forest two-tracks, and fast-paced racing. As a earn more about this Fall gravel bike race at Moran166.com.

3. UnPAved Susquehanna River Valley

With routes broken down by two unPAved courses at 120 or 90 miles and two SOMEpaved versions at 50 miles and 30 miles, UnPAved winds through the breathtaking forest roads and rolling farmland of central Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River Valley.

If you’re familiar with Pennsylvania, then you’re probably well aware of the hills that span across the beautiful state. UnPAved captures the scenery, and the elevation, with the long course including 9,700 feet of elevation gain. The dense woodlands, rocky slopes, and lush hillsides of the Susquehanna River Valley deliver a scenic race that captures everything you’d want in a gravel route.

UnPAved brings an authentic sense of community to its event, combining all the wonderful aspects of rural Pennsylvania, including awesome breweries, award-winning wineries, great restaurants, and outdoor recreation options for the whole family. Based in Lewisburg, UnPAved Susquehanna River Valley takes place in mid-October, making for one color event. For more information, visit www.unPAvedPennsylvania.com.

4. Big Sugar

Based in the bike-friendly town of Bentonville, Arkansas, Big Sugar is a 100-mile gravel race that spans Northwest Arkansas and Southeast Missouri. No easy feat, Big Sugar packs 9,954 feet of climbing but delivers stunning views of the Ozarks throughout. A shorter-distance option, Little Sugar is a picturesque 50-miler that’s designed to serve as a stepping stone toward the Big Sugar route.

For those familiar with the Arkansas High Country Race, Big Sugar is an abbreviated century that includes the more challenging yet beautiful aspects of this territory. The course features rarely maintained, canopy-covered gravel roads with loose gravel, a handful of paved sections, and even a few water crossings and bridges.

There’s a reason why Northwest Arkansas has cultivated a reputation for gravel biking. Not only does the area host some of the best gravel cycling in the U.S., but events like these draw well-deserved attention and participation in the scene. Learn more about this gravel bike race at BigSugarGravel.com.

5. The Heywood Ride

Locally known as the “Deep South Metro,” the Heywood takes place in the rolling countryside south of the Minneapolis/St. Paul, spanning through the farmland, prairies, and woodlands of Southwest Minnesota, Southwest Wisconsin, and Northeast Iowa.

This popular event that draws over 500 cyclists per year features three distances comprised of 100, 162, and 380-mile courses. The low trafficked roads are smooth gravel with extended, steady rollers and steep, punchy climbs.

Base in Northfield, Minnesota, a college town that offers a thriving downtown with cafés, bakeries, and shops with personality, this late May gravel bike race is an awesome adventure located in the heart of the Midwest. Learn more by visiting TheHeywoodRide.com.

6. Crusher in the Tushar

If tons of climbing in rocky mountain territory tickles your fancy, then the Crusher in the Tushar is a must-try all-road/gravel race tucked in Beaver, Utah. Comprised of 60% gravel, 40% tarmac, the Crusher in the Tushar provides the opportunity to see the stunning backcountry of Utah’s little-known Tushar Mountains and Fishlake National Forest.

The 70-mile course is a tough one that accumulates over 10,000 feet of total elevation gain, with some of the fastest finisher times coming in between 4 and 5 hours. Athletes start at 6,000 feet in elevation, pedal up a couple of massive mountain climbs that exceed 4,000 feet, and finish above 10,000 in elevation.

An epic gravel bike race that takes place in mid-July, the Crusher in the Tushar attracts competitive athletes from all over the US and North America, including professional cyclists. To learn more, visit TusharCrusher.com.

7. The Belgian Waffle Ride California

As one of the most groundbreaking gravel bike events in the US, the Belgian Waffle Ride (succinctly known as the BWR) has grown to become a series of races that take part across the country. Of the most iconic in the BWR line-up is the 131-mile event in San Marcos, just outside San Diego.

What makes the BWR California race so special is the community and course. The race has grown immensely over the years, becoming a huge draw among competitive cyclists from all over the world. As part of the course, athletes are challenged by 10 categorized climbs that together total 11,000 feet of elevation gain for the day.

Considered to be the only European-style Spring Classic bike race on American soil, the BWR brings Belgian flavor in many ways. Hosted by the Lost Abbey Brewery, the BWR is a proper cyclist party that delivers unique entertainment features and a range of food and beverage options. Get more information about this mid-Summer race at BelgianWaffleRide.bike.

8. Barry-Roubaix

Touted as the world’s largest gravel road bicycle race, the Barry-Roubaix brings over 3,800 athletes to Hastings, Michigan. This iconic gravel bike race typically occurs in early Spring, making for an inviting early-season event that brings a healthy dose of community and competition.

Drawing athletes from all over the Midwest, the Barry-Roubaix has four different race distances: an 18-miler (approx. 1,000 feet of climbing), a 36-miler (approx. 2,200 feet of climbing), a 62-miler (approx. 3,800 feet of climbing), and the century 100-miler (about 6,800 feet of climbing).

The Barry-Roubaix is a great season opener for cyclists of all levels who want to start their racing season with a proper challenge. Not only is the race a stunning experience that exposes athletes to the rolling scenery of Barry County, but the sheer popularity and interest make for a community gathering worth every minute. For more information, visit Barry-Roubaix.com.

9. The Badlands Gravel Battle

A proper gravel grinder based in western North Dakota, the Badlands Gravel Battle is a fast-rolling but tough climbing gravel bike race that offers 60, 80, and 120-mile distances. 

Nestled in the stunning gravel trail systems of the beautiful Badlands territory of the western frontier, the Badlands Gravel Battle is largely comprised of illuminating red scoria roads and the Maah Daah Hey trail.

As part of the Badlands Race Series, the Badlands Gravel Battle is one of the first races in the series, typically taking place in May. The 120-mile course has over 10K feet of climbing, making for a tough ratio of distance to elevation gain. Learn more at ExperienceLand.org.

 

10. Hell of Hunterdon

The Hell of Hunterdon is a scenic, mixed-terrain bike race that takes athletes through the beautiful farmlands and country towns of New Jersey’s Sourland Region. The event is considered the Mid-Atlantic’s Premier Spring Classic & Mixed Surface Ride and a fantastic early season event for those on the east coast.

The long course is the traditional race of the Hell of Hunterdon, boasting 82 miles and 5,200 feet of elevation gain. Alternative distances include a 56-mile course with 3,900 feet of climbing and a 30-mile course with just under 2,000 feet of elevation gain.

Most of the ride is on paved roads; however, there are several gravel segments across all distances. While road bikes will suffice, slightly wider and more durable tires are encouraged. To learn more, visit HellofHunteron.com.

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