5 Great Gravel Grinder Rides

With events such as this August’s Overland Adventure Ride, the Irreverent Ride and Raspitusa, Vermont is attracting some of the world’s best off-road rides. 

Cyclocross, the sport of racing a bike over a course of trails, hills and obstacles, is officially the nation’s fastest-growing two-wheeled discipline: During the last five years, participation in cyclocross events has more than doubled, going from 32,000 to 72,000. It was only a matter of time before Vermont, with more miles of dirt roads than pavement, would jump on this bandwagon. In the past three years, dirt road events around the state have sprung up like mushrooms and grown, drawing racers and riders from as far as California and Alaska. No surprise, considering that Vermont has no shortage of scenery and a healthy population of hammer head road and cyclocross champions such as Ted King and Tim Johnson.

Some of these gravel grinders are all out races but most welcome riders of all abilities and are as much about the fun as they are competition. While cyclocross bikes with low gearing and heavy duty tires are made for this type of riding, some people use road bikes with 23 mmm heavier tires, and still others are on mountain bikes. As Peter Vollers says, “there’s no shame in walking your bike through the tough parts.” Here’s our guide to the best of Vermont’s gravel grinders, south to north.

Irreverent Road Ride, Waterbury, Vt. July 29, 2017

“If you make it through the Squirrel Catcher, you should be fine,” says bike builder Hubert Autremont, a co-founder with cyclocross racer Adam St. Germain of the fourth edition of what is probably the toughest “gravel” ride in Vermont. The duo dubbed the first, super steep climb on Irreverent the “Squirrel Catcher” to give folks who might be tempted to try the 110-125 mile route an option to bail (there’s also a 70-mile option). The shorter route might not be a bad idea if you’re not fully prepared to ride what St. Germain has called the “ridiculous” routes he trains on. “I had been linking what I considered ‘silly’ dirt roads and pieces of single track into my traditional road training rides. I was hopping logs, riding through ravines, checking out unsigned roads that appeared on maps, and getting lost–a lot. But what was sticking with me the most about these rides was how much fun I was having on them,” St. Germain says in the blog, Short Handed Shovel. It’s been a fun enough ride that it’s grown in the past four years and that includes everyone from tandem riders to mountain bikers.

Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee (D2R2), Deerfield, Mass. August 17, 2017

The mother of East Coast gravel rides, the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee has been taking riders on the back roads of western Massachusetts and southern Vermont since the 1990s. While it started out as an informal ride for a group of local hard core riders, since 2005 it’s been an organized event (supporting the Franklin Land Trust) that strives to take cyclists on the “narrowest, oldest, twistiest, most scenic roads available.” With no official start times or prizes, it’s a ride not a race with options of routes that range from 20 miles to 120 miles; plenty of covered bridges, farms and orchards; close to 6000 feet of climbing and an occasional live band along the course. www.franklinlandtrust.org

Vermont Overland Adventure Ride, Woodstock, Vt., August 27, 2017

Starting and finishing at Suicide Six, this race (and yes, world-class racers such as Ned Overend and Tim Johnson will be at the start) takes riders over 53 miles of Class IV roads and trails between Woodstock and Barnard. If nothing else, do it for the food (sponsored by Worthy Kitchen, Vermont Smoke and Cure and Woods Syrup) and bike kit: a stylish green jersey and brown bike shorts in a classic Carhartt pattern. www.vermontoverland.com


Raid Lamoille, Stowe, July, 2016

Some of the most beautiful dirt roads in the state can be found between Stowe and Craftsbury and form the 100K course that organizers of the Raid Lamoille, LOCO Cycling put together. Though it’s billed as a fun group ride, it’s 85 percent dirt or gravel and features some punishing climbs. In its third year, the 2015 event also provided a 50K loop, starting and finishing at Stowe’s Rusty Nail. You missed it this year, but it’s sure to be back next. www.raidlamoille.com

Rasputitsa, East Burke, 45 miles, April, 2016

How do you get 300 people to come to the Northeast Kingdom in mud season? Put on a bike race, of course. After the success of the 2013 Dirty 40 (see above), Myers and crew decided to put on a spring ride. In Russian, ‘Rasputitsa’ means mud season. When you host an event in April only 50 miles from the Canadian border, it can also mean “mud and snow season.” That’s the type of challenge that cyclocross racers can’t turn down. The first Rasputitsa held in April 2014 drew 271 riders and a stellar podium of pro riders: Ansel Dickey, riding for California Giant/Specialized, and Vermont’s Cannondale riders Ted King and Tim Johnson. The 2015 event drew 350, despite the fact that parts of the course (dubbed Cyberia) were so buried in snow cars doing recon the day before got stuck. Most racers walked their bikes through Cyberia, cheered by supporters dressed as dancing unicorns handing out donuts. Myers and crew keep the course secret each year so you never know what to expect. www.dirty40race.com