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Q&A: Country singer Dierks Bentley on bikes and the Spirit World 100 gravel race

The race in Patagonia, Arizona was Bentley's third gravel race of the season; the musician from Nashville hopes to put more on the calendar in 2022.

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PATAGONIA, Arizona (VN) – On Wednesday, Dierks Bentley will find out whether he’s the Country Music Awards’ male vocalist of the year.

On Saturday, he raced his gravel bike at the Spirit World 100.

I hope I don’t get Bentley fired from his day job for saying this, but he told me he was as excited to be featured in a bike magazine as he was to go to the awards ceremony. Shh, don’t tell the Country Music Association!

Bentley and VeloNews senior editor Betsy Welch, on the eve of the Spirit World 100. (Photo: Will Freihofer)

I met Bentley when we were both in line for tacos at the Spirit World 100’s family picnic the night before the race. He was down in Patagonia, Arizona solo after the friends he was supposed to do the race with couldn’t make it. The Spirit World 100 was Bentley’s third and final gravel race this season, which is impressive given that he’s been on his Beers on Me tour since May. But in the past year, riding bikes has become important to Bentley — after he and his family holed up in Telluride, Colorado during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 45-year-old fell hard for getting around on two wheels.

After the 100-mile race on Saturday, I asked Bentley if he’d officially caught the gravel bug.

“Next year,” he said, “I’m going to try and end the tour September 15 and put a few more on the calendar.”

Here’s an excerpt from Bentley and my conversations, before and after the Spirit World 100 bike race.

VeloNews: So, tell me how this bike thing came about for you. 

Dierks Bentley:  Well, I grew up in Arizona, loved bikes, mountain biked a bunch as a kid. Then, I lived in Colorado all last year and really took it up a level last year with Covid. I biked a lot for fun. At the end of last year, I knew I was going back to Nashville to start working again. I was trying to find a way to keep the dream alive of riding. I got my first drop bar bike back in December. One of my best friends is a bike shop guy there in Telluride, Max Cooper. Then I bought another bike off Craigslist in Tullahoma, Tennessee. I had signed up for Desert Gravel Co2uT, the 100. That was May 22, I think. I was just trying to set some goals to train for. If it’s not on the calendar, you’re never gonna do it. Then, I got invited to do this ride on the Natchez Trace, the Natchez 100 road bike race. That was the first time I ever put on the kit, that was actually more scary than the 100 miles, walking out the door without my clothes on. That was really fun though, I had a total blast. Then I did the Desert Gravel, which was really hard.

VN: Do people approach you at these races? You’re pretty out of your element.

DB: The people are great, it’s a nice change of pace from my usual gig. I’ve met a lot of great people.

That’s what I loved about living in Colorado, people don’t really care about what you do.

VN: Right, it’s more, ‘what do you do’ in terms of recreation.

DB: What you did. Yeah, ‘what you’d do today?’

I have a lot of friends I don’t know what they do for work I just know they do something cause there are some days they can’t go ride.

I love that part of Colorado. I love that part of being here.

VN: Is this your first time in Patagonia? 

DB: Yes. I’m from Phoenix and I have family nearby in Sierra Vista, that’s where I’m staying. But a friend, a country singer named Mark Wystrach from a band called Midland lives in Sonoita. He’s a great guy. I don’t think he rides bikes but he rides horses. 

Bentley has exactly one cycling jersey which he picked up at the Co2uT gravel race in Fruita, Colorado. (Photo: Will Freihofer)

VN: You’ve done two other gravel races before the Spirit World 100, how were they?  

DB: Well I did the Lil Sugar in Bentonville, and I had a show the night before the race and I had a show the day of the race so it was an exhausting experience. We played Bentonville the night before. I went to bed around 3, got up around 4:30, did the ride, flew to Dallas, played a show, flew home, got back to Nashville around 3 a.m. But it’s super fun. And I love the vibe.

VN: Do you follow the sport? 

DB: I have to admit I’m super green. I just watched my first Tour de France this year. I got way into it. My buddy Max got me the GFC app.

VN: GCN? 

DB: Yea, GCN! [shows me his phone] I got the app, I watched the three classics, too.

Part two, post-race. Bentley is back in Nashville, helping his kids with their homework and preparing for Wednesday’s Country Music Awards. 

VN: So, how was it? 

DB: It feels like it was a month ago. I was in no rush to leave.

I actually just went for a ride here, all the leaves are changing so it’s pretty. But that was a great time. 

My race started great, I jumped out in that lead group, was feeling really strong. 10 miles in, my rear derailleur got stuck on the smallest ring. I had no choice but to stop. I couldn’t get it out of there. This bluetooth shifting, you can’t outsmart it. I said ‘well, I guess let’s see how far I can get using the front two gears.’ I realized quickly I wasn’t going anywhere. 

So I kicked it with the heel of my foot and that it fixed it. The whole thing about this is you’re giving up a whole weekend away from your kids and your family. You really want the opportunity to suffer. To have a technical like that 10 miles in, I was super lucky that it got fixed. At that point, I’d lost the pack. I was all by myself. So I put on some tunes.

VN: Ooh, what did you listen to?

DB: Kacey Musgraves, the new one. It’s just a whole story, it flows really well. So I put it on, and it’s like, you know what, now the ride is really beginning. I just sunk into that. I was taking my phone out, taking pictures and videos cause it’s just so pretty. I passed a guy, and stopped for him, I think he broke some ribs past the 20-mile aid station. Me and another guy made sure he could walk back to the aid. I stopped at the 40-mile aid station, got some chips, and headed up the hill. Luckily, I met up with Dusty back at aid 60, and he and I finished it out together. I’d sometimes pass him on the ups, he’d come flying past on downhill. We worked together, and by worked together I feel like I let him pull as much as possible.

Bentley rolls into an aid station at mile 40 of the Spirit World 100. (Photo: Will Freihofer)

VN: Were you happy with your race? 

DB: I felt great. I have this strength program I’m doing, lost of deadlifts and squats. And it helps. Legs were never an issue. It was night and day from the 100-mile race in Fruita. My attitude was great. I probably could have spent less time at the aid stations, but I was having fun talking to people. It felt like all the training and time put into it paid off. The ultimate goal was to have a great experience and it was exactly that. I had to jump in the car and pick up my wife and kids at the airport after, but I really wanted to stay. The energy was just great. It starts with [race organizers] Heidi and Zander.

VN: Was the Spirit World 100 different than the other gravel races you’ve done? 

DB: They’re all so different. This was so down-home. Obviously, it was small in a small town. Very curated and very special. It reminds me a lot of this festival we do in Buena Vista, Colorado. It could grow into a big one, but you can put your stamp on it if you can. I’m sure they don’t want to lose the specialness of how small it is and how intimate.

Patagonia feels like the bottom of the earth, it’s a border town. I just thought it was really well done. The Spirit World is a perfect name for it. It felt like that before the race and during it.

At one point Dusty turned to me and said, ‘sorry man, I’m in the spirit world right now,’ and it was like, ‘me too!’ I felt like I was in the movie Young Guns or something.

VN: So what’s next on the bike?

DB: You know around mile 80, it’s like ‘I don’t wanna see my bike again for month.’ But then you get home, ride the kids to school in the morning. Hit every jump you can. Today I went mountain biking. Then I took my daughter for a lap. Then I rode the dogs to the park.

The bike’s not going away.