Neil Shirley has planted himself as a staple in the growing #Gravel community. From racing around the world professionally on the road to transitioning into the industry he still has his love for riding which has paralleled the rise of the #Gravel movement. We sat down with him to get his thoughts on the recent growing trend.
What first sparked your interest to start getting into more Gravel?
I would say that when I quit racing I started getting more into doing the Gran Fondo’s because it still gave me the experience where I could be out there around other cyclists but in a much more relaxed atmosphere. I really liked that and I wanted to still be out riding my bike and the fondo’s really filled that void for me and after a couple years of doing those I wanted a bit more and I went out to the first Crusher in the Tusher in 2012 and that was still very early but it’s when I would say my interest first sparked with Gravel. Going out there we did a really cool gravel bike through Calfee because there weren’t really any options for Gravel bikes. Doing that really got me into the scene and I had such a great time. The scene was super killer and a completely new experience for me. You have the racing in it and also the adventure side and the overall atmosphere is different then the atmosphere at the road races which was a big appeal to me.
You were one of the first early adopters in the Southern California scene to attach yourself as a Gravel rider, how much have you seen it grow in the years since then?
We’ve seen a number of new events since then such as Rock Cobbler, Belgian Waffle Ride, SPNDX Stampede events and Grinduro as well. There are a lot of new events here in California but there are so many new riders around as well. When I first started to really get into it 4 years ago I was the only one around my area with a Gravel bike but now there are groups of riders who have full Gravel bikes up here and we can go do a big ride with everyone who has a proper Gravel bike.
You just returned from Dirty Kanza 200, what are the big differences you’ve seen in that event from the first year you participated up till the most recent?
Well they’ve opened up registration to a larger amount of people now and I think the first year I did it maybe 1,500 riders did it and now it’s grown to 2,200 riders. At the same time though the vibe of the event is still the same, it still feels like a small event as you see the promoter walking around talking with people. That intimate feel is still there. Outside of it though you can see the impact it has had on riders and events because everyone now knows what Dirty Kanza is even if they’ve never done a gravel event. Everybody knows of DK200.
Where do you see Gravel going in the coming years?
I think your going to see more mixed surface events where its not just straight up gravel. Events such as The Belgian Waffle ride where it’s really much like a road race style but on a really challenging course with big miles and the addition of dirt. I think that will continue attracting more of the road crowd over to this new category. But also the pure Gravel events will keep growing where it’s more of an adventure of getting out on those dirt/gravel roads and really testing your handling skills and bike equipment.