Winter Alt Riding: Gravel Grinders

Editors Note: This piece was written before Missouri decided to give us the best winter present ever so far – little precipitation and mild weather. But all good things must end and when they do this little piece will come in handy…

As you know, winter can be tough in the Midwest. Whereas, if you are currently living in Crested Butte you pretty much figure it out in about a week that you aren’t going to be mountain biking as the snow gets deeper and deeper, here in the middle (North/South) middle (East/West) midwest the weather can play tricks on the outdoor-oriented adventurers. It can be wet and sunny or dry and cold but never dry and wet…

Well, that’s not true either. With Missouri’s typical freeze/thaw cycle there are days when you can ride the trails and days when they are best left alone. Sometimes you can’t seem to figure it out… How can it be 40 degrees and the tread is firm at Greensfelder but at freezing temperature and slimy over at Broemmelsiek?

Since I don’t have a degree in metro-astrology I’ll pass on the explanation and simply give you a web link to a trail riding workaround that:

A – keeps you in shape and actively riding while at the same time;
B – sparing our treasured local singletrack from getting squished, mashed, and otherwise smeared up by rutting mountain bike tires getting their groove on.

These links offer a training tier that will lead your mind to gravel enlightenment:
a riding series which will prepare you for the
which prepares your soul for the final gravel atonement while your dying corpse is in a ditch hiding from a tornado and your dehydrated brain is contemplating why you thought the
was a good idea…….


Image courtesy cedarcross100

I guess I should back up a moment and mention the gravel concept. A few years back some of the locals and rural-locals started putting together gravel road rides – hence the name gravel grinders. Many people use these rides to prepare for life-altering events like the DirtyKanza200, the Leadville Trail 100 or the inaugural CedarCross100 taking place just outside Jefferson City, Missouri.

The bigger picture here is that you can make your own gravel grinder. No, the whole route doesn’t have to be gravel. Yes, some gravel or dirt that’s not a dedicated singletrack trail must be included or it’s a /gasp/ road ride.

Image courtesy cedarcross100

With online services such as mapmyride or everytrail you can pretty much zoom in on an area and layout a tentative gravel route – usually the roads show up super white in color. For instance, out where I live, I could ride some road to get out towards Gray Summit and hit up Grand Army road from Spring Valley road which are both gravel routes.

Out in St. Charles, you can grind gravel all day on the KATY or through Busch Wildlife, the Hamburg or parts of Lost Valley. I ask everyone to steer clear of true gravel ‘trails’ like the Hamburg or KATY if the conditions are mush – stick to the gravel roads because if a car can drive on them then you can’t mess them up! Pretty sure it’s physically impossible to wreck an 8 foot wide vehicular road with a non-motorized bike.

The best steed for this type of adventure is a cyclocross bike. If you don’t own one but have a 29er, buy some narrow mtb or burly hybrid tires and you have the start of your very own franken-monstercross. Put some dirt drop bars, switch the triggers out for bar end shifters, maybe go 1×9 or single, maybe even hook up some Jones H-Bars and you’ll be a true-blue tourer type.


Image courtesy cedarcross100


There’s nothing like exploring little used gravel roads at a medium pace and checking out the scenery. Usually these gravel roads come with low-tech water crossings, chase dogs, free-range chickens and the occasional ATV convoy. These are not bad moments unless you are dragging the dog with your ankle.

And logging roads count. And fire roads. Heck, you can ride for days around the Ozark National Forest just on fire roads and old logging roads without even being on a signed piece of singletrack. The secret is out; if you open your mind up beyond singletrack you can epic real easy, real fast. There are other states that would beg to have what we have just 1-2 hours outside of urban St. Louis.


Image courtesy cedarcross100

I understand it’s not really mountain biking on a piece of singletrack. But sometimes, you just have to give the local trails some time to dry up and ready themselves for the upcoming year.

I hope I have many of you thinking about the possibilities.  I’ll see you out in the backcountry.