There is a relatively new discipline of cycling called gravel riding that is growing in popularity. It’s generally defined as a challenging fusion of road cycling and mountain biking.
“It’s both new and old at the same time,” said LeLan Dains, event coordinator of the Dirty Kanza, a popular event in Emporia, Kan. In the cycling community, it is considered the premier gravel race in the world. “Gravel roads have existed for hundreds of years, and cyclists have been riding gravel roads since we had bikes.”
The Dirty Kanza started in 2006 with 34 participants and no registration fee. In 2020, Dirty Kanza will register roughly 3,800 riders. The demand is so high that event organizers use a lottery-based system to select the participants. They are offered a chance to ride four distances — 200, 100, 50 and 25 miles.
Dains and a handful of others are part of a team that operates the Dirty Kanza. They are also the team that will organize a new gravel race in Northwest Arkansas, called Big Sugar-NWA Gravel.
It’s scheduled for Oct. 24, 2020. The event begins and ends in downtown Bentonville and will navigate the gravel and dirt roads of Northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri.
Dains said within the cycling community, Northwest Arkansas’ reputation is growing across the country, particularly among mountain bikers, who have roughly 200 miles of trails to enjoy courtesy of the Oz Trails system.
Dirty Kanza organizers thought a gravel race in the region would be well-received. That thinking was validated, and then some.
Big Sugar was announced Oct. 26, followed by three weeks of cycling industry buzz and social media chatter. Online registration opened at 8 a.m. Nov. 15 — just under one full year before the event will occur.
It took just five minutes for a full field of 1,000 participants to register.
“It was basically instantaneous,” Dains said. “Five minutes was the time it took for our servers to process the requests. All of those people were logged in at 8 a.m. on (Nov. 15) to get one of those spots.”
Dains said detailed Big Sugar course maps will be available later next year. Coinciding with Outerbike Bentonville — an outdoor bike and gear demo event — Big Sugar weekend will host two signature distances: the marquee Big Sugar, a 107-mile course of challenging roads through the Ozarks with approximately 9,000 feet of elevation gain; and the Little Sugar, which complements the larger distance with a 50-mile course serving up a similarly challenging, but shorter distance.
“[Outerbike] is a mountain-bike focused event, and [Big Sugar] is a gravel race,” Dains said. “We saw a collaboration with Outerbike as a value add for participants coming in for our race that weekend, and they saw that opportunity, too.”