The Ochoco National Forest, northeast of Prineville, is a diversely magical place, chock full of towering old growth trees, rough-cut canyons, and sprawling hard-scrabbled dirt and desert. Next weekend it will also host the Ochoco Gravel Roubaix, Central Oregon's first gravel bicycle race. Its European namesake, the ultra classic Paris-Roubaix, is known for rough terrain, cobblestones, poor weather, and otherwise difficult conditions. Although Central Oregon's chances for inclement weather are typically low in August, the likelihood for dust, dirt, and other grueling conditions is pretty good-to-great-to- absolutely certain.
Gravel racing is a niche activity, sleeker than mountain biking but more burly than road cycling, and with a group of riders drawn to marathon races that can stretch upward of 100 miles or more. The Ochoco National Forest is an ideal location, providing a blend of paved and unpaved roads and surfaces that vary from hard-packed dirt to little maintained, rocky forest roads.
The "gravel bikes" themselves can vary depending on the terrain in which they will be used, but generally blend an agile road bike frame with mountain biking components; like, drop bars for dealing with stern headwinds, higher clearance, and rugged tires that can survive rough roads. For some, this sounds like a cross-bike. However, regular gravel riders, who are covering many more miles than a typical cross-race, seek a bike designed for stability and endurance; often a longer wheelbase and a slacker tube set for endurance comfort rather than the cross-bike's stiffer design for power transfer.
As more and more cyclists in North America are venturing off-road to explore remote and little-traveled backroads, this type of racing is gaining traction, so to speak. Gravel races designed to test endurance and strength are popping up across the United States. The Ochoco Gravel Roubaix bicycle race boasts a 120-mile course with almost 9,000 feet of climbing, a 45-mile loop with over 2,000 feet uphill, and a more modest, 10-mile road ride for those who prefer a smoother and quicker journey to the beer garden.
The 120-mile single-day bicycle race begins in Prineville and ascends through the Ochoco National Forest, topping out at the Ochoco Divide and the Big Summit Prairie, before descending back to town for the finish. The course is about 50 percent gravel, though gravel or cross-bikes with 32 mm–44 mm tread is recommended. The rest of the ride is on the road, and there is a 13-hour time cutoff.
Support will be provided by four aid stations along the course, about every 20 or 30 miles. Each station will have water and electrolytes for refilling water bottles, snacks with carbohydrates and protein, drop bags, and volunteers. There will also be medically trained volunteers stationed throughout the forest and a medical team at the finish line. The 45-mile loop is about 30 percent gravel, with access to one aid station.
The 10-mile road ride is intended to be a fun, casual ride for families, first-time racers and anyone who wants to enjoy a beautiful ride with friends. The course is supported by one aid station.
A free beer from Ochoco Brewing Company is included with registration in any of the races (for participants 21 and older), along with a recovery massage, an Ochoco Gravel Roubaix T-shirt, goodie bag, raffle prizes, and other games and activities at the finish. The top male and female racers will also receive a hand-painted belt buckle.
All races begin and end at Crooked River Park in Prineville, and the finish line party will include live music, bicycle demos, a beer garden, and proximity to the Annual Pioneer Summer Fest & Highland Games. It will be open and free of charge to the public.
Tent camping for the race is available at the fairgrounds across from Crooked River Park ($5/person) and at the start/finish area. Showers and restrooms will be available. Race proceeds will go to the Crook County High School athletic training program.
Ochoco Gravel Roubaix
6 am – 9 pm, Saturday, August 29
Ochoco National Forest
Register at goodbikeco.com
$20 - $65 registration fees