Lost and Found, The Dirty Kanza, Grinduro – all some of the most heralded gravel events on the calendar, offering riders glorious adventure into the depths of the country’s most remote areas. Whenever we have a client come in wanting to build up a new gravel machine, be it an Open or Mosaic, it’s almost always with the anticipation of gearing up for one of these all-terrain events. But what if you don’t live in the Sierra mountains or midwestern farmlands? What if you’re a city dweller with a 9-5 and want to to get dirty on more than just weekend getaways?
Don’t fret, some of the most fun you can have can be found just out your front door, no matter where that door is.
I grew up a BMX kid. Every day after school, I’d meet up with my friends and we’d pedal around town seeking new spots and lines to ride. With enough imagination, anywhere could be the best new spot. From the handrail behind the library to the bank up to a wall behind the hardware store. The dirt jumps someone built in the empty lot by the sports complex to The ledges at the middle school. The more I rode, the more I’d see new things to ride. Even when sitting in the car with my family to go on a trip or run errands, I’d stare out the window, imagining how I could come up with a line to ride any location we passed by.
Fast forward twenty years and not much has changed. I got into different kinds of riding and started living in a big urban city, but the things I learned riding those little 20″ wheeled bikes around every day, is that you can find an awesome line to ride anywhere you look. Having gotten into bigger bikes and longer rides, I’ve since learned to put all those little gems together, linking neighborhood to neighborhood, turning a quick inner city jaunt into its own epic ride.
Every metropolitan has city parks. Some big, some small, but you can be sure those will be the key places to search. Chances are, there are little trails and single tracks already cut. Maybe you’ll find a grove of redwoods to weave through. Maybe even a sand pit to test your best efforts through. Here in San Francisco, there’s enough to be found in Golden Gate Park alone to ride for a couple hours without touching the same trail twice.
“If there is a tree, it must have roots, those of which make a platform to BOOST” – yes, I wrote a poem just for this blog.
You don’t need to get to Downieville to send it, you can find a spot behind your neighbor’s backyard.
Connecting the dots expands the fun. Fire up google maps and look between the streets. You’d be surprised how many hidden connections there can be to keep you out of traffic and get you to the next pocket of shred. Often times the connectors can be tight and technical enough to put your fatty tires and disc brakes to the test.
Dealing with some traffic is inevitable. While not for the faint of heart, I’ve come to embrace it, and weaving at speed through downtown streets adds to the adventure to me. It can suck and be dangerous for sure, but chances are if you’re a cyclist who’s chosen to live in a city you’ve already gotten used to it by now anyway.
But once you get to the next spot, it’s amazing how quickly it can feel like you’ve disappeared from it all.
For me, this is what a typical mid-week ride looks like. Around two hours or less, more than 2/3s on dirt, all without leaving San Francisco’s city limits. While there’s no replacement for an all-day epic out in the middle of nowhere, it’s amazing how much of a gravel adventure you can find in the confines of a big city. The only limit is your own imagination and will to explore.
We’d love to hear from people in metro areas elsewhere what kind of rides they’re able to get in. Let us know in the comments or send us an email if you’ve got a great ride to share with us. Email us