Minnesota Gravel Rides Q&A

May 7, 2021Gravel Biking

I’m approaching 700 miles ridden on my new gravel bike, but it still puts a big grin on my face when I know I get to go for a ride. The gravel roads around the secret Minnesota Trails Headquarters are lightly traveled by cars and the only white-knuckling I do is when the shoulder suddenly has a soft spot or a dog starts chasing me I love crunching down the road. My thoughts wander to childhood summers spent walking barefoot to the local swimming hole in the hot dust and staying out until hunger or sunset drove me back home, usually sunburned, decidedly filthy and slightly salty. That’s what does it for me.

I wanted to know what’s going on with some of the gravel rides around the state and I was able to connect with a few organizers of these events and ask them some questions.

Scenic Overlook at Great River Bluffs State Park

Freedhem 76 presented by Panaracer: Don Griggs

 

Give a little background on your ride:

Four years ago, a few of my friends turned me on to gravel riding. They invited me to a group ride, around Independence Day, that started and concluded in Freedhem. They coined it the Freedhem 76. Two years ago, with my friends’ blessing, I decided to organize it as an actual event. In 2019, the first year of Freedhem 76 being an organized event, we had 106 registered riders, and 85 that showed and completed the ride on the day of the event.

What made you decide to organize this event?

Having ridden in dozens of other gravel races around Minnesota, I really loved the unpretentious feel of gravel events. Cyclist of all backgrounds and abilities are welcome. You see all varieties and styles of bikes, new and old. It doesn’t matter if you’re racing for first place, or just to finish, there is a comradeship that hooked me on the gravel scene. It always feels like a big party! Because there were no other organized events in this area of Minnesota, I saw this as an opportunity to share our part of the state with our fellow gravel-riding friends.

What makes your area special for gravel riding?

North Central Minnesota has some wonderfully nice gravel roads that are well maintained year round. From farmland, to forests, with a nice mix of minimum maintenance roads thrown in. They definitely call for exploring!

What does gravel riding mean to you?

Gravel riding takes me back to my childhood and teen years, as a farm kid, riding on the backcountry gravel roads of Southeast Iowa. The scenery and vistas on gravel roads are something you just don’t see on highways. You can ride 100 miles of gravel and only meet a handful of motor vehicles.

How has COVID affected your ride?

Last year, with COVID, we had no choice but to make it a solo and socially distanced event. So riders had the opportunity to ride the course, starting and ending in Freedhem, over a period of three separate weekends, in June and July.

Any changes for 2021?

We’re moving ahead with plans to hold a one-day event and taking extra precautions to ensure health and wellness protocols, contactless check-in, and requiring masks prior to and after the ride. We will use a staggered starting process, so riders are not congested at the beginning of the ride.

How does the Minnesota gravel scene compare to other states?

From what I’ve seen the grassroots events all seem to be similar across the US.

What do you see happening in gravel riding in the future?

I think there is still a nice amount of growth in this type of cycling, as more and more cyclists from other disciplines discover what gravel cycling is all about.

Your advice to someone who wants to try gravel riding:

You really don’t have to do anything special to get out and try gravel road cycling. I see riders on old hard-tail mountain bikes, fat bikes, single speeds, fitness bikes, and road bikes. Get out and try it!

 

Freedhem 76 presented by Panaracer


June 27, 2021

Freedhem, MN

Find out more 

 

Scenic Overlook at Great River Bluffs State Park

The Dirt Bag: Greg Knoll

 

Give a little background on your ride:

The Dirt Bag was founded by Ben Doom and Brian Imholte, then John Egbers took it over. John wanted the Dirt Bag to remain grassroots and approachable and added shorter distances for people new to gravel rides.  He also wanted it to be free and ensure people eat well

What made you decide to organize this event?

After John was killed by being hit from behind in Kansas during the Trans Am Bike Race, I took it over. I made a few route changes but am trying to keep the legacy of John alive. 

What makes your area special for gravel riding?

There are rolling hills, lakes and pretty landscape south of Clearwater with very little traffic. I also think the gravel south of Clearwater is some of the best in the state. 

What does gravel riding mean to you?

I like that it’s self-supported yet everyone out there is willing to help anyone riding.  I have met many new friends and I like the social aspect of it. 

How has COVID affected your ride?

The Dirt Bag as known was canceled in 2020.   There were spring and fall virtual versions. 

Any changes for 2021? 

I have not set the date yet but will probably shoot for early October again and settle on a date later this year.  I don’t foresee major changes to the ride as it’s outside and people are respecting social distancing.  It’s important to have it and in general gravel riders are very respectful of each other and don’t want to do anything that makes it unsafe.

How does the Minnesota gravel scene compare to other states?

The only event I have done out of state was Gravel Worlds about eight years ago.  That was a lot of fun.  I have ridden a number of rides in Minnesota and they all have their own special character. 

What do you see happening in gravel riding in the future?

I am hopeful it becomes more approachable to the casual rider with shorter options.  I’d like to see rides remain free.  When there are fees people expect more and the free ones feel more like they are the community’s event.

Your advice to someone who wants to try gravel riding:

Do some training rides with the bike and equipment you are going to use to ensure it works properly.  Bring tubes, a pump and tools and practice changing a tire.  Make sure you have enough food and water. Talk to people on the ride and be ready to help others.  Focus on enjoying the ride and help others have a good time, too. 

 

 Dirt Bag


Early October

Clearwater, MN

Find out more 

 

Scenic Overlook at Great River Bluffs State Park

The Filthy 50: Trenton Raygor

 

Give a little background on your ride:

The Filthy 50 began in 2014 as a would-be- BBQ in my parents’ backyard. That first year, 300 riders signed up and we immediately had to change our plans. This year, we expect over 1000 as the event has been growing steadily every year since.

What made you decide to organize this event?

My father and I decided to put this event together to give back to the gravel cycling community, introduce people to roads we really love, and to provide a fun race or ride. The Filthy evolved into a character builder for riders through a couple of tough weather years, and has also reached a point where we’ve been able to give back to Lanesboro and the surrounding Bluff Country community, who has taken us in.

What makes your area special for gravel riding?

Minnesota’s share of The Driftless Region is blessed with beautiful hills and valleys, scenic vistas, a low population density, picturesque villages, and gravel for days. The gravel roads there are truly the roads less traveled. It’s very likely that when out for a ride, you’ll see more horse drawn Amish buggies than automobiles. Also, I’ve experienced gravel from all over the United States, and none can compare to the gravel roads of The Driftless.

What does gravel riding mean to you?

Gravel riding, for me, has always been about adventure, peace, and camaraderie. Every gravel ride I embark on is either about experiencing something new, finding solace, or spending time in the saddle with family and friends.

How has COVID affected your ride?

We canceled the event in 2020, but plan to return in 2021.

Any changes for 2021?

We’re planning to offer the 25 and classic 50-mile routes as in previous years, however, this year there’ll be 100 mile option as well.

How does the Minnesota gravel scene compare to other states?

From what I’ve seen the grassroots events all seem to be similar across the US.

What do you see happening in gravel riding in the future?

I truly hope that it continues to grow. No other corner of cycling is more inclusive, laid back, and fun.

Your advice to someone who wants to try gravel riding:

Do it! Find a bike that you enjoy riding that has a little wider tire let a little bit of air out of the tires and go find a gravel road. Start playing with air pressure and even different style tires until you are comfortable. Ride somewhere you’ve never been before and maybe wouldn’t have thought to go.

 

The Filthy 50


October 9, 2021

Lanesboro, MN

Find out more 

 

Bluenose Gopher 50 logo

Bluenose Gopher 50 (Inaugural): Luwaina Al-Otiabi

 

Give a little background on your ride:

There’s a history of bike races in our area with this race possibly following some of the old 1896 route. According to the history of Granite Falls, in the late 1880s there was a Granite Falls bicycle club that participated in a century ride through Marshall, Redwood Falls, Renville and then back to Granite Falls.  

What made you decide to organize this event?

Bluenose Gopher Public House is a Cooperative in downtown Granite Falls. We wanted to put on the Bluenose Gopher 50 to bring something different and challenging to our small, rural town. It’s a free event and there’ll be live music in our beer garden after the ride.

What makes your area special for gravel riding?

We have an abundance of scenic gravel roads to explore out here and this race brings the opportunity to share this unique area with others who may otherwise not explore it. The massive glacial River Warren carved out the Minnesota River Valley thousands of years ago exposing billion year old rock outcrops.  The different elevations of the river valley makes it a great route for a gravel road bike race compared to the more common flat prairie land expected in Southwest Minnesota.

 

Inaugural Bluenose Gopher 50


July 24, 2021

Granite Falls, MN

Find out more 

 

Visit these trail-friendly sponsors:

Visit our trail-friendly sponsor!
Minnesota's Paul Bunyan Trail is one of the state's best bike rides
Walker, MN is connected to more than 150 miles of paved trails!
The Mesabi Trail connects Minnesota's Iron Range with the Boundary Waters
Turning Waters Bed, Breakfast and Brewery
Fergus Falls is the gateway to the scenic Central Lakes State Trail

Keep up with the latest MN Trails news and events in our newsletter

About me

I’m Jan, the publisher of Minnesota Trails Magazine. I’m looking for that one trail, the next ride, a new discovery and other reasons never to sit still in Minnesota.

Save

More stories:

Trail Pairings: Bank Brewing in Hendricks, MN

This is the first entry in my new series called Trail Pairings, where I visit a place, explore their roads and trails and visit the local taproom so I can recommend a beer to go with it. Someone’s gotta do it.

Trail Pairings: North Shore Double

We visited two state parks, two ski trails and two breweries on Minnesota’s North Shore. It was epic.

Adventure Report: Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge

It was time to recharge the batteries with a hike on a sunny winter day.

Adventure Report: La Salle Lake State Rec Area

Hiking here means planning ahead. Challenge accepted.

Trail Pairings: Drastic Measures Brewing

A visit to Wadena’s Black’s Grove Park pairs well with an après pint at Drastic Measures Brewing.

Diving the Madeira

There’s a place at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park very few will ever see.

7 Must-Do Things on the Historic Bluff Country Scenic Byway

Take a fall drive and discover what’s waiting in the hills of southeastern Minnesota. 

Trail Pairings: Beaver Island Brewing Co

A canoe trip on the Mississippi deserves a pint at Saint Cloud’s Beaver Island Brewing Company.

Trail Pairings: Brau Brothers Brewing Co

There’s a beer-dispensing fire truck at Brau Brothers in Marshall, MN. Just what I needed after hitting the Camden Trail.

Trail Pairings: A Visit to Lakeville

Miles and miles of trails in Lakeville pair well with pints at two local breweries.

Visit our trail-friendly sponsor!
Fergus Falls is the gateway to the scenic Central Lakes State Trail

Please join our newsletter mailing list!

It’s your source for sneak previews of the next print issue, new trails to explore, upcoming events and the latest blog posts. We promise to keep it brief, entertaining and relevant and you can unsubscribe anytime. We will not share your info with anyone.

* indicates required