By Sal Ruibal
November is one of the best times for riding gravel roads here in Virginia. The nearby Horse Country has a long history of unpaved roads that are great for riding a nice horse with a comfortable trot or a comfortable bike with a smooth grind over pea gravel. The bike has an advantage because it doesn't eat expensive winter hay and grain.
The mid-day temps are usually in the low 50s and while mornings can be a little frosty, you'll soon find knickers, a long-sleeved jersey and a wind vest is all you need. I'm a big fan of those Buff under-helmet head and neck warmers. Full-finger gloves and thicker socks and you're good to go over hill and dale.
My gravel grinder bike is sturdier than my carbon road bike and lighter than my steel 29-er single-speed steed. I like the disc brakes instead of rim-burners because the road dust has a tendency to etch the expensive Salsa hoops I used to have. Challenge Paris-Roubaix tires are the cat's pajamas when the mud sections are firm as fudge.
We do have some low-key gravel grinder club races out here in the Virginia Appalachians but the real monster is the Iron Cross in Pennsylvania. I have to give a shout out to Jeremiah Bishop's Gran Fondo for including the gritty Alpine Loop to Reddish Knob. A couple of years ago the through-route back to Harrisonburg got paved, so having a sick gravel ascent is sweet misery.
The Alpine Loop is a grinder, for sure. There's a time-trial version in the summer months.
I'm going to ride the Loop soon, but at my own pace. I do pretty much everything at my own pace these days. But to tell the truth, there's no reason to speed by beautiful rolling hills and covered bridges and creeks bordered by brilliant red and gold curtains of leaves. You might even meet a few Amish horse buggies on your route.
My reward for a long morning of grinding gravel is grinding some Dave's Blend coffee beans from Shenandoah Joe Coffee Roasters in Charlottesville. Instead of tasting dust, I'm slurping some French Roast with a touch of Estate Java. It may be ground, but it ain't gravel.
Give gravel a try, but be sure to pack some extra tubes and CO2 bombs or a high-volume porta-pump. Gravel is great for riding, but it sure makes for a long walk home.