Gravel fondo bike races are all the rage this cycling season

BC home to some of the country's oldest gravel grinders

Gran fondos are all the rage these days with events such as the Gran Fondo Whistler and the Epic Tour in Ontario garnering thousands of participants each year. Now, the gravel version of the gran fondo is closing the gap and quickly becoming one of the most popular new activities for the two-wheeled set. Once a niche event dubbed gravel grinders, the gravel fondos are an increasingly attractive choice for those with an interest in a more adventurous race.

British Columbia happens to be home to some of the original gravel fondo races.

Dean Stanton has been at the forefront of the gravel fondo scene in Canada, with races dating back to 2014 when the Kettle Mettle Dirty Fondo was held seeing cyclists race from Penticton, BC to Kelowna, BC over a distance of roughly 100 kilometres showcasing the amazing scenery of the Okanagan.

“In 2013 gravel fondos were starting in the U.S.` and thought this would be a good event to put on up here in Western Canada,” says Stanton. “They were usually referred to as gravel grinders back then but we dislike this term as it might be off-putting to many people as it sounds very difficult,” says Stanton.”

Stanton is now heading into his sixth Kettle Mettle race and has added two other events to his race roster to make what has been dubbed the triple crown of gravel: Golden Ears Fondo in the Pitt Meadows, Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam area and the Cowichan Crusher with the start and finish in Lake Cowichan.

“Each course and locations is designed to spotlight the terrain and scenery specific to that region so although the distances are similar for all three events the courses and scenery are quite different,” says Stanton.

Currently the events get between 200 and 300 people, but Stanton is expecting a large increase this season as the gravel fondo movement continues to grow.

“It seems that many Gran Fondos are becoming very road race focused and although we have timed sections the focus for our event is to get off the paved roads and enjoy the ride,” he says. “After the ride we really focus on a welcoming friendly atmosphere to all who participated.”

In 2019, Stanton says they will be timing some sections, what he is calling gravel funderos, a nod to mountain biking enduro races.

“But even more important is fundoros should really be about the joy of riding like capturing the essence of riding on a gravel road as a kid,” he says.

In addition to the full gravel fondo, each event has a full fondo and medio fondo distance of approximately 55 km.

“While there are definitely some hard courses and those can be challenging we feel our events are open to everyone,” says Stanton. “The medios are definitely for all participants regardless of fitness with the full fonds and full fondo plus version being much harder in terms of grades and distance.”

To participate in the medios fondos, some adjustments are required for bikes, such as wider tires, and could be done with a road bike, but for full fondos participants should consider moving away from road bikes to a specific gravel bike or perhaps a cyclocross bike.

According to Stanton, gravel bikes such as the Cannondale Topstone are quite different from a Cyclocross or Road Bike in many areas.

  • More tire clearance for wider tires
  • Much more relaxed angles (head tube add seat tube) for comfort
  • Usually there is more pliability built into the frame to give comfort over the longer rides
  • There is usually lots of hardpoints on the frame for many water bottles, fenders and racks.  

But, Stanton says there is something for everyone.

“We have a distance for all levels of fitness and it is all about coming out and enjoying the ride regardless of the bike you have,” he says. “We have participants on mountain bikes, road bikes, cyclocross bikes, hybrids, touring bikes, fat tire bikes and of course gravel bikes. We have also had a few tandems as well.”

“It is much more grassroots and fun and about the race than a Gran Fondo.”


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