What do YOU look for in a gravel race?

I started thinking about this after reading comments in another thread about “the spirit of gravel.” And then again as I was looking for possible races for next year.

The entry costs of some of these races are wild. A stage races I had my eye on had registration costs that was ~$600 ($200/ stage) and a lot of the well known one-day races (BWR, Unbound) have feees north of $200

On the other side of things there are a couple smaller 3-stage races around me that are <$200 and most of the “local” one-day races are under $100.

The more expensive races have shiny websites with fancy videos shot with drones and lots of talk about atmosphere and post-ride beer, etc. Perhaps trying to build up and play to the whole “spirit” thing?

Anyway, this just had me curious what different people look for when picking out what gravel races they want to do. Atmosphere (or whatever that means)? A beer garden and post race food? Swag and finisher medals? A ridiculously hard course? A scenic course? A bunch of mud that will destroy you bike causing you to have to replace thousands of dollars worth of parts? Something else?

  1. I look for a course that gives 100% of the riders a >80% chance of riding the entire course. I don’t like the trend towards “trick” courses that have you always under-biked/over-biked. TL;DR I hate sand :wink:

  2. Good organization … a well run race with an accurately marked course and/or accurate GPS files.

I honestly don’t care about much else.


Strade bianche

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I do think it’s kind of ironic that people will make fun of road racing or crits for being too serious and gatekeeping and how the gravel scene is welcoming of everybody. Then charge $300 for a single race. So apparently welcoming of anybody that can afford it. Is the spirit of gravel a bottomless bank account?

Look I like riding gravel. I’d love to do a big gravel event. But when a single race costs as much as 4 or 5 of the local crits I can race, the choice is easy. I get that they have to charge to put the event on. But some of them are just ridiculous.


I look for a good hard day with mixed terrain, singletrack, rough gravel, smooth gravel and a little pavement.
I’ve spent some money on a couple bigger gravel events like bwr. I will say they are usually ran pretty well with lots of free goodies. You get to meet some pros and drink a beer with them after the ride/ race, if you want. I only do 1 or maybe 2 events like that a year because of the costs but it gets me out of my home state and enjoy a little bike vacation.
I do a lot of free gravel events that are down here in Florida, they have some really nice routes. The ride is supposed to be “ride at your own pace” but turns into a hammer fest/ race at some point. Those are always a good time and it’s free! You don’t get any free swag but it’s usually a fun day on the bike.

I agree with Batwood’s 1&2, but also look for
3. scenery
4. if I can drive to it in less than a day, and
5. if there are hotels nearby.

I have zero desire to sleep in a tent the night before a race. I like to spend a couple days in the town exploring the area, the food, and buying local stuff. Even better, getting to pre-ride parts of the course and/or riding in the area in the days after.


I like the big “bucket list” events as well as the small local stuff (and everything in between).

For my “B” races, I’m often looking at being close to home and also considering entry fees. If further away, looking for a place worth spending the night/camping/etc. For “A” races, it’s usually a big trip and it’s nice if there is camping and events/expo in the days leading up, make a trip out of it (we have a camper van).

I like races that have age group categories, but mass start by distance. I don’t really care if pros start separate or not. Chip timing with immediate online results is nice.

A little swag giveaway/raffle at the end is cool. Awards are nice if they are something local/unique to remember the race, but I don’t care about prize $ (I’ve never understood USA cycling amateur racing that pays out $'s).

On course selection, I like seeing multiple distance options so you get a good mix of abilities. I’m not a fan of extended steep climbing (especially early in the race where I’ll certainly get dropped). But I like other selective features like sand, water crossings, cross-winds, mud, technical sections, etc.

Having a good “community” start/finish area adds a lot to a race. Small town square, general store, city park, etc. Food at the end is nice, but I find that most events cheap out on the food and it’s often better to just do chips/snacks and drinks rather than serving a crappy meal.

Well planned start and finish. Safe and fair. A lot of events (even the big ones) struggle with this. With more gravel races ending with larger groups, a finish that worked a few years ago with 1’s and 2’s trickling in can be totally unsafe with a group of 20 sprinting for the win. Just as frustrating can be the “neutral starts” where it’s not clear where racing starts and it’s not well controlled by a lead vehicle.

Good execution - start on time, don’t run out of water at aid stations, have enough port-a-potties, etc.

Weather - not below freezing and not over 95F (sometimes waiting on forecast a few days out before committing to a race). Tree cover on the course and early start is good for spring/summer racing in Texas. Shade at finish as well.



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I only race local in the Southeast GA/TN/AL/SC. Thinking about all the events I did once and never again, and the events I’ve done several times.

Good course:

  • Minimal walking/hike-a-bike
  • Minimal/No paved rail trail or bike path
  • Try to avoid known problem dogs
  • Try to avoid rumble strip state highways
  • Safe finish (one event had the finish over a single lane covered bridge that was also the access back to the parking lot)
  • Not an out and back (an hour+ climb that has 200 riders passing each other climbing/descending)


  • Easy in/out even if wet, no mud parking lots (racers stuck in mud for hours after event getting towed by farm tractor)
  • Enough bathrooms (race at a school with no public bathrooms)
  • Enough parking (race at another school with 100 spots for 300 racers)

In general:

  • Within 3-3.5 hour drive so I can get there race morning
  • No promoter shenanigans (tell the truth about reg. numbers if doing block pricing)
  • Promoter has good record of starting on time, water at aid stations, general ability to host and run an event
  • Not during the crap weather season Dec-Feb - 30s-40s and rain common in the forecast I don’t bother

I don’t mind paying for photos, but a big bonus is free photos from a decent photographer. The Southeast Gravel events have a photographer on course and seeing the photos on Facebook always motivates me to register for the next event.

I don’t care much about the food, or atmosphere at the venue. Some of the best events were in quiet church parking lots with a small crew and medium size field of racers. Due to our location, I also don’t mind a lot of pavement. 50% pavement is ok, not my preference but people get so torn up about it sometimes. Just the way it is here.

We have great local promoters, most of the issues I’ve had have been with larger out of state promoters who don’t have the time and staff on the ground and fall apart in some areas.


One thing I’ll add - It’s nice when events have a charity or cause behind them. Even if it’s only a portion of the profit being given to charity, I think it helps add a good vibe to events (and should make people a little less critical when a promoter is trying to minimize costs).


There are so many great, local gravel races that don’t cost that much….and some are even free or simply ask for a donation to the local fire department.

Gravel racing is so much more than just the “marquee” events……


The spirit of gravel!

Tarmac and UCI rules.


Most important to me is:

Solid amount of racers-i want to race people, not do an itt
Good route, this includes thinking about the start and avoiding a super bottleneck in the beginning of the race
Camping, I got me a van and want the option to use it
Aid stations that have race food and water refills that are quick - once did a race where the water was a piped spring…that didnt work as you had to wait in line and it split up the group. Also, just candy at the aid is not great

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I don’t do (m)any of the “big” races because of the cost of attendance (travel + entry).

Organization is probably the top criteria. I have zero interest in a race that runs out of water, poorly marks the course, etc.

Course profile is next. I don’t mind small sections of being under-biked, but I want to know in advance. I do NOT want to show up with 40mm tires and drop-bars only to discover the course is mostly single-track. Or one massive mud pit. I can/will ride almost anything, just tell me up front so I bring the right equipment and mindset. Distance too - 50-100 miles is good - zero interest in doing more. I’ll race less, but there better be something really compelling to get me out (near & cheap, or spectacular views, or something else).

Location - lodging. Nice campground at the start/finish (or near-by) is a bonus. Or some other reason to go (my big spring race is Croatan Buck-Fifty - near the beach, and while the course is flat, it’s different than my usually Blue Ridge riding). There’s a semi-local race (GRUSK) I won’t do because neither the campground nor race finish allows pets. And my dog usually comes along to weekend events (this venue is very remote, not much in the way of rental homes nearby).

ummm…three things come to mind…

#1 No single track. If I want an MTB race I’ll register for an MTB race.
#2 Limited road miles. Less than 25% paved riding. Paved sections are connective, not decisive.
#3 No sand.

I’ll also give the course a once over if I can to identify b/c road prevalence. Those are usually hike-a-bike if weather is wet. I’m already paying a lot for gravel registration…I don’t want to spend an extra few hundred because mud wrecked my bike.


Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder ticked all the boxes for me.

  1. Excellent competition
  2. Ridiculously beautiful terrain
  3. Organization is superb. Fully catered meals (breakfast, dinner, snacks, well stocked aid stations) and the meals are DELICIOUS, carb-centered, and pretty much all you can eat. All your stuff is delivered to the next location before you arrive. Plenty of clean bathrooms. Bike wash stations. Vendor support. Coffee ready before you wake up. It is absolutely dialed. Incredibly well executed.
  4. Its a 5 day stage race.
  5. Worth the entry fee.
  6. Plenty of time to “spirit of gravel” after the races.
  7. If you finish the whole thing you get badass memorabilia reminiscent of the old Oregon Trail computer game…if you dont finish you get an even cooler t-shirt reserved only for non-finishers that says “died of dysentery”

Ok this just went on my cycling bucket list :joy:


Best experience I’ve ever had on a bike.


I have looked at this one previously as I’ve ridden in the area back when I lived in Portland. I was taken back at first by the high cost, but then I realized that it included everything so you are not spending extra to buy meals or stay in a hotel, etc. In the brief clicking around I couldn’t figure out what the overnight situation is like. Do you bring a tent and all your clothes and they haul it around for you each day? Or are there cabins or something?

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