Inaugural Steamboat Gravel Festival blazes new trail for bike community |

Inaugural Steamboat Gravel Festival blazes new trail for bike community

The inaugural Steamboat Gravel Festival will be a celebration of dirt roads, friendships and all things "gravel grinding" this week.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Cyclists are often drawn to the roads or trails less travelled. But what about the road that’s only sort of a road, sort of a trail?

“I still remember the moment,” said J.R. Thompson, about riding up Routt County Road 52E, a route known as “Salt Creek,” a remote and unmaintained gravel road, in the fall of 1996. “It’s been forever stamped on my mind. I knew right then, this style of riding was my meditation, my recharge button, my mind-clearing friend I never wanted to lose.”

Back then, it was known as “riding county roads.” Today, it’s known as “gravel grinding” and will take over the cycling community this week with the inaugural Steamboat Gravel Festival, a celebration of all things gravel and bikes.

“With the wide open, rolling hills of Routt and Moffat counties, this is truly some of the best gravel grinding in the entire state,” said Thompson, founder of Veloscapes, a cycling travel company, and co-creator of the Steamboat Gravel Festival.

“Gravel and adventure bikes/gear are one of the biggest sectors of the global cycling industry,” he continued. “So, it’s not just a small niche or trend. It’s big business right now. And for good reason, it’s a game changer.”

An organic affair, the festival will feature free daily group rides, post-ride socials and story hours at locations including Storm Peak Brewery, Mountain Tap, Butcherknife Brewing Co. and The BARley Colorado Craft & Draft, as well as a “Ride on Your Own Time,” where participants can ride “The Dirty Roads” routes.

Routes, varying in mileage from 17 to 73 miles and climbing from 947 feet to 3,977 feet, will take riders to Hayden, Craig, Oak Creek, Maybell and more.

“It’s picking one of the best weeks to ride Steamboat’s and Northwest Colorado’s dirt roads, telling your best friends about it, crushing those dirt roads and then finishing with high-fives, stories and a beer,” Thompson said.

What started out as The Dirty Roads blog, founders Thompson and Doug Demusz created a variety of routes in a free, virtual format with the focus to map out Colorado’s “best” dirt and gravel road rides.

Riders have the ability to utilize The Dirty Roads ride library to explore what “gravel grinding” is all about during the festival as well on their own time after the festival.

“It’s 2018, it’s possible to do an event like this now,” Thompson said. “You couldn’t build The Dirty Roads library 20 years ago. It’s the best way to impact and build a community and event like this in an innovative format.”

Another component to the event he explained is the online riding challenge called “The Dirty Roads 500.” The challenge is to ride 500 kilometers, or 310 miles, in seven days and to track the progress via the Strava app. Participants can do this solo or with a two-person team.

“Many of the rides found here were created with a passion and just getting on the bike and exploring something new,” Thompson said. “That’s what this event is about and to promote areas that people haven’t seen.”

Next year, organizers hope to expand the Steamboat Gravel Festival through the local cycling community. Local businesses and organizations involved in the inaugural event include Moots, Kent Eriksen Cycles, Orange Peel, Steamboat Ski and Bike Kare, Trail Maintenance Endowment Fund, The Classic Crank, Bike Town USA and many more.

“You can’t hold this type of event in Vail, Telluride or Aspen,” Thompson said. “They have mountain biking and road biking but not the rolling dirt roads like this. It’s really unique what we have up here.”

Whether amateur racers, weekend warriors or those just out for a good time, bikes best suited for the Steamboat Gravel Festival vary from durable, wide-tired bikes to adventure bikes.

“We like the term ‘run what ya brung,’” Thompson said. “Meaning, ride whatever bicycle you have. Yes, gravel-grinder bikes are fun. Yes, gravel-grinder bikes are sweet. However, a good hardtail mountain bike (with narrow tires) and road bikes (with wider tires) will work for most rides depending on what style of rider you are.”

Steamboat Gravel Festival Schedule

Tuesday, May 15

Featured Ride: Emerald Circuit

  • Start time: 5:30 p.m.
  • Ride start location: Orange Peel Bicycle Service, 1136 Yampa St.
  • Ride pace: Really fast, moderate and easy groups
  • Distance: 27.6 miles
  • Climbing: 1,746 feet

Story Hour

Wednesday, May 16

Featured ride: The Darkside of Fly Gulch

  • Start time: 5:30 p.m.
  • Ride start location: Moots Cycles, 2545 Copper Ridge Drive
  • Ride pace: Moderate with multiple re-groupings
  • Distance: 31.3 miles
  • Climbing: 1,800 feet

Story Hour

Thursday, May 17  

Featured ride: Hot Springs Monster Cross

  • Start time: 5:30 p.m.
  • Ride start location: Wheels Bike Shop, 841 Yampa St.
  • Ride pace: Easy and moderate
  • Distance: 17.1 miles
  • Climbing: 1,555 feet

Story Hour

  • When: 7 to 9 p.m.
  • Where: TBA (visit for update)

Friday, May 18

Featured ride: Milner Time

  • Start time: 4:30 p.m.
  • Ride start location: Depot Art Center, 1001 13th St.
  • Ride pace: Easy and moderate
  • Distance: 41 miles
  • Climbing: 2,343 feet

Story Hour

Saturday, May 19

Featured ride: 5th annual Ride the Cog

  • Start time: 9 a.m.
  • Ride start location: Wild Goose Coffee, 198 E. Lincoln Ave., Hayden
  • Distance: 26 miles
  • Climbing: 2,406 feet

Featured Ride: Trout Creek Built

Story Hour

Sunday, May 20

Featured ride: Il Corso D’oro

  • Start time: 10 a.m.
  • Ride start location: The Classic Crank, 653 Lincoln Ave.
  • Ride pace: Easy and moderate
  • Distance: 46.5 miles
  • Climbing: 2,568 feet 

Story Hour

  • When: 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday, May 20
  • Where: The BARley Colorado Craft & Draft, 635 Lincoln Ave.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1.

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