A new category is fueling the world of cycling, and it has nothing to do with increased participation in the pandemic. This is the category of gravel riding, or cross, a mix between mountain biking and road riding that takes place on long winding dirt roads.
The reason behind the boom is that cyclists can ride without fear of the traffic that often accompanies driving on the road.
“We see driving on gravel as a natural evolution from driving on the road,” said Andrew Hammond, Global Brand Manager for Pearl Izumi. “On the one hand, you have adventures off the beaten track with fewer cars and on the other, an event scene that reaches a wide range of personal goals and motivations of the participants.”
According to data from The NPD Group, year-over-year cyclocross / gravel bike sales increased 96% through March 2021, with the category accounting for 35% of the overall road bike category, just behind high-performance road bikes.
“Gravel designs have been a rapidly growing class of the road bike category,” said Dirk Sorenson, executive director of NPD. “Consumers buy more utility models of bikes instead of bikes designed for more specific needs. Cyclists can imagine gravel biking on trails, fire roads, and paved roads. The utility is very convincing for the cyclist looking for an all-round option.
In a Retail Channel study recently conducted by Cycling Industry News, 21% of bike shops surveyed said they plan to carry more gravel bikes to the store to meet the increased interest. “You know something is here to stay when Shimano dedicates a groupset to it,” said Paul Errington of GrindEnduro.com, referring to Shimano’s recently launched gravel-specific GRX groupset.
The appeal of the category also brings consumers to the same retail stores. “The gravel category is booming everywhere,” said Jon Cariveau, marketing director of Moots, a Colorado-based gravel bike maker. “It is one of the fastest growing segments of the industry. Gravel bikes appeal to cyclists who come from the road and mountain bike side. It’s an excellent compromise to avoid traffic and go on an adventure, whatever the distance.
Which made Moots’ inventory stand out on its own. “Our growth in the category has been strong and steady over the past five years,” Cariveau continued, adding that Moots is nimble enough to respond to trends like the gravel category ahead of the big brands. He added that gravel sales currently represent about 50 percent of all its sales.
Like Moots, Italian bicycle maker Pinarello has also experienced robust growth in the category, internationally and nationally, and has added SKUs accordingly. “Over the past few years, we have experienced exponential growth in the gravel segment,” said Kim Rogers, senior director of marketing at Pinarello USA. “We have made significant investments to get our existing and new customers to embrace the gravel scene. As there are no signs of slowing down this segment for the foreseeable future, we will continue to innovate in the segment.
All of this has also led to an increase in sales of accessories.
Pearl Izumi’s Hammond said the brand has made significant changes to its product line to deal with the clothing boom to accommodate gravel runners. “We don’t see the trend slowing down and we have adapted by ensuring that our product line can cross goods between traditional disciplines so that runners can choose to tackle a gravel race in the tight equipment suit,” cowardly and relaxed they feel most comfortable, ”he said.
Add to that the general boom in cycling associated with the pandemic, and it has doubled its growth, spawning the rise of other product categories, ranging from apps to websites.
Gravel bike events are also seeing a boom in participation, including the 200 mile Dirty Kanza held in Emporia, KS; Garmin Unbound Gravel, founded in 2006 when grinding gravel was starting to spark interest in the endurance cycling community; the SBTGRVL, an event entering its second year in Steamboat Springs, CO, with runners competing for over $ 28,000; and the Roubaix Hell of the High Rockies, a pro-am race featuring 21 categories on 36, 53 and 70 mile gravel courses.
“Gravel riding is very conducive to races and other group rides, with a great community of cyclists making everyone feel welcome,” said Owen Gue of The Cycling House. “The gravel sections are great, the scenery is beautiful, and the community of runners, volunteers, business owners and residents make participants feel welcome and a part of something special.”
SBTGRVL co-organizer and former professional racing driver Amy Charity, whose event sold out on day one, adds, “I think this new market segment is going to exist for a while. It’s such a natural addition to the road biking scene.
Event planner Life Time echoes this, fueling his push for events like Garmin Unbound Gravel, which he produces, “Gravel has been booming around the world, but especially in North America, since its birth. across the Midwest to Front Range, Pacific Northwest, and even the South, “said Michelle Duffy, director of marketing.” The roads are safer than paved roads, the traffic is minimal and it takes you to places you you would never have seen it otherwise, on less intimidating terrain, and its culture is rooted around community ties.
Photos courtesy of Garmin Unbound Gravel, SBTGRVL