Aug 30, 2021 - Sports

Gravel biking's origins rooted in Iowa

Four gravel bikers navigate rough terrain.

Racers competing in TransIowa in 2018. Photo courtesy of Mark Stevenson

Iowans are trendsetters, didn't you know?

  • Gravel biking is the fastest-growing cycling sport right now, and you can thank some kooky Iowans for helping modernize it.

How it started: We all know about RAGBRAI. But what if you could ride across Iowa in just one day? And only on the state's plentiful gravel roads?

  • That's the challenge Jeff Kerkove and Mark Stevenson created while working at Europa Cycle and Ski in Cedar Falls.

In 2004, they created TransIowa — a 24-hour, self-supported race across Iowa's gravel roads.

  • Kerkove and Stevenson created the routes and rules — giving riders cue sheets to follow twists and turns in the dead of night.
  • Back then, there was no such thing as a gravel bike. People hauled out their old Schwinn's, mountain bikes and single speeds, Stevenson told Linh. The average mileage was 320-340 miles.

The intrigue: Because it was one of the first major gravel rides shared online, it went "viral."

  • Across the Midwest, people — including organizers from now-famous rides like Unbound in Kansas — took inspiration from TransIowa to run their own races.

What's next: While TransIowa is no more, you can test your perseverance at Iowa Wind and Rock — a 340-mile race starting in Winterset. Woof.

Go deeper: Global Cycling Network featured gravel biking (and Iowa!) in a YouTube video exploring its origins.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Des Moines.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Des Moines stories

No stories could be found

Des Moinespostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Des Moines.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more