Gravel biking is growing in popularity across the Midwest — and Iowa is destined to be one of cyclists' top destinations.
- Just look at RAGBRAI. Tuesday marks the ride's Gravel Day, and this year, planners expanded the route to include roughly 50 miles of unpaved roads.
Why it matters: Cementing the state's superiority in the growing sport can draw tourism, more races and big names in the future.
But, what is it exactly? Cyclists use bikes with larger frames and tire widths to handle unpaved terrain.
State of play: Local shops can barely keep gravel bikes in stock. And there are a few reasons why Iowa is poised to be a hot spot for the fastest-growing sector in cycling, according to Cole Ledbetter, founder of online gravel cycling community Iowa Gravel Project.
- More than 50% of Iowa roads (roughly 67,000 miles) are made up of gravel, and they're better maintained than other states because farmers use them year-round.
- Iowa has every type of terrain. Go to the southwest corner of the state and conquer monster hills, or head north of Ankeny and it's as flat as the eye can see.
- Plus: How can you get lost when it's all a grid?
What to watch: Iowa's scene is growing and you can find a race every weekend during competition season.
- Although most of the events are homegrown, expect to see big races someday like The Mid South or Unbound, Ledbetter said.
The bottom line: People feel passionate about gravel.
- Ledbetter and his fiancee, Kelsi Jurik, are tying the knot in Alden Tuesday at the end of RAGBRAI's Gravel Day.
- They're mixing together gravel from the roads they grew up next to into a beer stein. And that, my friends, is romance.
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