A new US gravel adventure is coming in 2023, and it’s unlike anything we’ve seen yet.
From the creators of Unbound, MidSouth Gravel, Gravel World, the Dakota Five-0 and the Badlands Series, comes a 4,000-mile challenge that will take 2-3 weeks to finish at race pace and months to finish for enjoyment.
Planned for completion in late 2023, the Great Plains Gravel Route is a route similar in length and ambition to routes like the Great Divide and the recently unveiled Eastern Divide trail. The route is not intended to be a race (at this time), but a way to experience the often-overlooked middle of America. A bikepacking route like this provides gravel enthusiasts a chance to ride some of the best backroads in the country. There will surely also be ambitious Fastest Known Time (FKT) attempts, which provide those looking for a challenge the opportunity to cross the heart of the country unsupported and in a race against the clock. This route will join popular FKTs routes such as the TransAmerica Trail, the Great Divide and the Arizona Trail.
It’s a collaborative effort by some of gravel’s most successful race organizers and adventurers across the Great Plains with the goal to showcase the lesser known beauty of the region as well as its people.
The route designers plan to put the routes through small towns for an experience that blends culture, history and superb gravel riding. The route developers want to change the narrative of the Plains being “flyover states”.
“Flyover country implies that the history, culture, and value of a place is diminished by a majority of our country’s population. We want people to come and explore and experience the plains, and find there’s something really great here,” says Dr. Jerod Foster, one of the route organizers.
“Gravel cycling makes you feel like a kid again. It’s more remote, and lets you really dwell in the land and learn about the place. Nobody expects this kind of beauty out of the great plains.”
Here is what we know so far:
The Great Plains Gravel Route is a monumental effort for a bikepacking route happening now. It spans nearly 4,000 miles and six states.
The route traverses Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South and North Dakota. It stretches about 3,800 miles at the current estimate, but Dr. Foster mentioned it could be extended into the plains of Canada as well.
It is meant to cross the entire United States north to south, similar to the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and the recently unveiled Eastern Divide trail. The intention behind it is to showcase the diversity and beauty of the Great Plains region for gravel riding. The region is already home to some of the biggest races in gravel cycling, such as the Unbound and Mid South Gravel races, as well as the unofficial Gravel Worlds held in Nebraska.
It begins in the Big Bend Region of Texas at the southern end, and ends at the Canadian border in the North. The intention is to be ridden from South to North. LeLan Dains, the man behind Unbound, mentioned that Kansas originally meant “people of the southern wind” in the Sioux language. Prevailing winds from the South will make the route more difficult to be ridden from the North.
A collaborative project, there is a different person creating the route for each state.
In Texas the route creator is Dr. Jerod Foster, a professor teaching adventure photography and filmmaking at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.
For Oklahoma, Bobby Wintle, organizer of Mid-South Gravel and owner of District Bicycles is laying out the way.
In Kansas, LeLan Dains, one of the founders of Unbound Gravelis expanding on his work creating bikepacking routes throughout the Flint Hills of Kansas.
In Nebraska, Corey Godfreya race organizer for Gravel Worlds is the route creator.
The South Dakota section is being put together by husband-wife duo Perry and Christy Jewett who organized the Dakota Five O race out of Spearfish, SD.
The final section in North Dakota is being scouted by Nick Ybarra, creator of the Badlandsseries of gravel races.
The nexus of the idea began over a decade ago in a meeting between Wintle and Dains. Real traction began in the summer of 2021, with all contributors meeting to discuss the route in its entirety. They wanted to create something more accessible than the Great Divide, and something with a different kind of beauty.
In the words of Wintle, “dirt roads have a different aura. They’re calmer, and they have way less climbing than mountains. The Great Plains Gravel Route is going to show you the true beauty that is the middle of America.”
How long will it take to ride?
Dains estimates the very fastest times will be 2-3 weeks. For most people wanting to ride in one shot, it will be over a month. It can be ridden in stages, and Dr. Foster plans to ride it in 2-3 months to soak it in fully. He estimated the daily mileage for most people to be between 65-100 miles.
What is the best bike for the route?
The best bike will probably be a drop bar mountain bike of some kind. Rigid forks seems to be the way to go with less singletrack, so tire selection will be key to comfort on the route. Dr. Foster rode a Chumba Yaupon with 2.2 inch tires for much of his route scouting, but Dains recommended a Salsa Cutthroat.
This ambitious undertaking will help to carve away misconceptions of Middle America. It will show the beauty of small towns, endless sunsets, and all-day gravel roads. The reveal date in late 2023 will no doubt create a scramble for elite gravel racers to find out just how fast it can be ridden.