Pick up a current cycling magazine or visit a bike company website these days and riders can’t help but be overwhelmed by the buzz surrounding gravel cycling. The array of gravel bikes, tires, handlebars and shoes is dizzying. Throughout North America and in pockets of Europe, riders are venturing out to places that were traditionally thought to be off-limits for road bikes. Riders are going farther and exploring more while pushing their skills and endurance farther than ever before. Quite simply, the discovery that riding gravel roads can bring more adventure and joy to the already deeply satisfying experience of cycling has rejuvenated the sport of road cycling.
Although the gravel cycling experience is regionally varied the essence is the same the world over; cyclists are questing for new adventures while keeping a healthy distance from car traffic. These peaceful country roads and byways are finally being discovered by a new generation of riders.
Interestingly, cyclists here in Peterborough are already deeply experienced when it comes to riding road bikes on gravel roads. We have been taking advantage of these quiet back-roads for generations while most people in the great world of cyclists have traditionally steered clear of the dirt. Now, as the global cycling community is abuzz with chatter about this “new” style of riding the experience of communities like Peterborough, communities that are grounded in gravel have evolved their own currency of experience.
Here in Ontario there is growing recognition that Peterborough is a bit of a hotbed of cycling’s gravel revolution and farther afield our knowledge and experience is being recognized as well. As manufacturers struggle to keep up with the evolving needs of riders they are looking to cycling communities like ours as much as they are relying on their engineers.
#SHIMANOGRAVEL – THE SHIMANO GRAVEL ALLIANCE COMES CALLING
A lifetime cyclist with a love of exploring, Kieran was recently asked to join the Shimano Gravel Alliance. This diverse group of riders from across North America joins up 3-4 times a year with Shimano engineering and marketing staff. Together, the Shimano Gravel Alliance is working to develop components, shoes and clothing that will make riding over the toughest terrain better than ever. Concepts are being developed for and tested at some of the toughest gravel events around North America while right here at home Kieran’s bike seems to always have some new piece of equipment mounted for testing.
With a view toward truly understanding gravel cycling as well as gravel cyclists, the Shimano Gravel Alliance is as much about bikes as it is about events and the riders themselves. At the end of this 2 year project the most powerful brand in all of cycling will have a great idea of what drives people like us to ride where we ride and how we ride. It is kind of fun to think that Kieran and the Peterborough community has had a little part to play, isn’t it?
SO, LET’S TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT KIERAN
This is a guy who really likes riding bikes. An early childhood recognition that a bicycle could take Kieran away from the constraints of the rural family property led to a slow burning growth of passion for cycling in all its forms. Touring then racing in his early years followed by building both retail and travel businesses with cycling at their very core, Kieran has never strayed far from his early love of riding bikes. Kieran can be found at recreational master’s races, gravel events around North America, guiding clients in Europe or, most often, rolling along the quietest roads in Peterborough County. Regularly riding 12,000 – 15,000km per year, much of it on surfaces formerly deemed “unrideable” on a road bike, made him an ideal candidate for the Shimano Gravel Alliance.
5 QUESTIONS FOR KIERAN
This is easy! For the past couple of seasons I have been riding a Trek Boone, which is technically a cyclocross bike although I have made a few modifications to make it an ideal gravel bike. The great people of the Shimano Gravel Alliance helped me piece together a bike that is ideal for the hard-packed, fast-rolling kind of gravel roads we have around here. A carbon frame helps to dampen vibration while disc brakes allow more clearance for large tires so this bike is really comfortable over long, long distances. I was also lucky to be one of the first people to get to use Shimano’s Ultegra RX rear derailleur which has a clutch system that virtually eliminates chain noise when riding rough roads. At the end of the day though, it is not so much the actually bike that I love but the places that a bike like this allows me to confidently ride that I get so excited about.
TALKING OF LONG RIDES… JUST HOW LONG?
Don’t get me wrong, I like all rides! Long, short… whatever I can squeeze into a day. That said, I do like the odd epic and last summer I chose a 280km route to Almonte that took in tiny gravel roads, some skidoo trail, road allowances, all of it north of Hwy 7. It was a long day!
ANY ADVICE FOR AN ASPIRING GRAVEL CYCLIST?
Well, the first thing is to stop being afraid that you will damage your bike, because you won’t. Okay, with normal road tires you might be more likely to puncture but I personally believe that getting onto the quiet roads is well worth it. If you love the experience then kitting your bike up with more suitable tires is an easy thing to do. Here is a ride that I often suggest to riders as it is not too far and not too rough but is beautiful and not far off the beaten path. What I hope riders would learn from doing this route is that all those little crossroads that you normally pass by, all the ones you have never considered riding all of a sudden become intriguing. Just start exploring! Your life will be better for it, I promise!
DO YOU HAVE A PERSONAL FAVOURITE PLACE IN PETERBOROUGH COUNTY?
Absolutely! Just west of Hutchison Drive on Zion Line is an old, old cemetery. Although close to Millbrook the views look all the way back to Peterborough. Because my season starts early and I will ride right until it snows in I really enjoy truly watching each season unfold as I ride. Almost every time I ride past this place I will stop and drink it all in for a moment or two. Stunningly beautiful, the sense of history unfolding over the ages is palpable.
IS THERE ONE PRODUCT, STORY OR PERSON THAT CHANGED YOU AS A PERSON OR CYCLIST?
Great products might modify or improve our experience but it is other people that make us who we are, isn’t it? …sounds funny coming from a retailer… Seriously, I have had a number of very influential people find their way into my life but oddly it is one sentence that has stuck with me for years. When I was an early teen and aspiring racer I was on a ride that was far too hard/long for me. An older Brit who could see that I was suffering rolled up to me in the group and said something like, ”if you keep pushing down on those pedals it is amazing how far a bike will take you”. I don’t even remember this person’s name but his voice has always stuck with me. Most of the people I know I ride bikes with and most of the countries I have visited I have experienced on a bike. My life, my love, my business, they are all tied in some way to cycling… mostly because I never really stopped pushing down on the pedals.
Follow Kieran Andrews on Strava for more inspiration and route ideas.
If you like photos of people riding bikes in unlikely places, check out Kieran on Instagram.