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Three reasons why the Rule of Three is not your typical gravel race

A new event in Bentonville, Arkansas on May 22 promises a unique course, quirky categories, and a sponsorship model not pinned to cash.

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Andy Chasteen and Sam Pickman were out testing bikes one day when they realized that their test-ride loop was actually hallowed ground.

Chasteen, a self-professed raconteur who “mainly tells stories and take photos for brands in the bike industry,” and Pickman, Allied Cycle Works’ director of product and engineering, happened to be riding what would become the Able, Allied’s go-anywhere, do-anything gravel bike. 

As they bopped around in Allied’s Bentonville, Arkansas backyard, Chasteen says that the two realized they had more than a quiver-killing new bike on their hands; the pavement, dirt roads, and singletrack where they were testing the Able had the potential to be linked up in one killer ride.

Northwest Arkansas is slowly being “paved” with an interstate singletrack system. Photo: Andy Chasteen

“We were riding singletrack on these prototype Able’s, testing, stopping every 10 minutes, talking about what we liked and didn’t,” Chasteen said. “And, we came up with a crazy idea – on this bike we could ride singletrack, gravel, and road all day long. Somehow we came up with a name – Rule of Three — and it stuck.”

“I mulled it over for the past few years, wrote a blog post called ‘Rule of Three,’ basically about going on rides that incorporated all the disciplines. Just kept saying, ‘We’re gonna put an event on one day and it’s gonna be really, really cool.’”

If you’ve never been to Bentonville, Arkansas it’s important to note: Although mountain biking tends to get all the buzz, the road and gravel in the northwestern corner of the state also offer up hundreds of miles of excellent cycling. The possibilities expand exponentially if you have the adventurous spirit to connect all three.

Enter, May 22’s Rule of Three.

The Rule of Three route

As Chasteen and Pickman realized when they were testing the prototype Able, Bentonville has all the terrain. So, why not challenge people to figure out how to best ride it all? In designing Rule of Three’s route, Chasteen wanted to connect the dots. The course takes in about 30 miles of rolling, hilly pavement, 50 miles of gravel, and — Chasteen’s favorite bit — 20 full miles of singletrack.

“The singletrack is not easy,” he said. “It’s not super techy, it’s pretty smooth, fast, and flowy, but very climby. You find a lot of the singletrack on the course is the kind that you ride and you’re done with the ride and your mouth hurts because you’ve been smiling the whole time.”

Like other gravel events that force participants to select their bike and tire choices with a variety of road surfaces in mind, Rule of Three is likely to make the most competitive racers carefully consider their gear. However, in the same vein, the race also very much caters to the ‘rung what you brung’ crowd.

Flat or curly, the choice will be yours. Photo: Andy Chasteen

Chasteen is excited to see what people show up with.

“A hardtail rigid mountain bike on 2.0 tires might win this,” he said. “Or an Able with 650b wheels and 50mm tires. There’s gonna be a lot of strategy involved, especially with equipment choices, which is a cool thing. The rock is sharp, too, so you’re gonna have to run durable tires or you’re gonna slash a sidewall.”

The event will begin and end at the Coler Mountain Bike Preserve, land designated specifically as a mountain bike preserve about a mile west of downtown Bentonville (thankyou, Walton Family Foundation). The preserve is known for flowy jump lines and techy rock sections.  When I asked Chasteen if the race will end with a spectacular gap jump, he says I’m not far off.

“We are considering finishing on the dual slalom course.”

The quirkiness of the Rule of Three

Whether or not the Rule of Three ends with some sick jumps or not, fun is baked into the ethos of the event. For the past 15 years, Chasteen has been running a rock climbing festival, the 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell, and for Rule of Three, he’s taking cues from the beloved climbing event.

“It’s very Burning Man-esque with costumes and quirky weirdness, and I wanted to play off of that,” Chasteen said. “So we’re going to have weird quirky categories. If you have a bike that weighs over 30 pounds, you’ll be in your own category. Say you’ve got a rigid steel Crust that’s 30 pounds. You have a chance to win that category. So everyone will be competing for something. The most selfies with roadkill?  You might finish in 10 hours, but maybe you win a set of Enve wheels.”

Disclaimer: it was Colin Strickland who suggested the 30-pound bike category. Shouldn’t he have to ride one, too?

Another twist to Rule of Three is the option to race in teams of three. After solo racers leave the start line, teams of three will take off in one to two-minute increments, time trial style. The teams will have to stay together and check-in at checkpoints along the course. Chasteen says that he hopes the team option will encourage more participation. 

“My first year of bike riding I was too intimidated to do a 100-mile event by myself but if I could get friends together — it creates a lower barrier of intimidation.”

The Rule of Three design

When Chasteen had to decide whether or not to cancel 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell last summer, he didn’t want to make the decision alone. The event is held 100 percent outdoors and the landowner had invited the five-day climbing fiesta back to the property. However, after 15 years, Chasteen felt like the event had grown from his baby into something with its own frontal lobe.

“I went to our private Facebook page, said, ‘Listen, I don’t want to make the decision on whether we have or don’t have the event. Let’s vote on it,’” Chasteen said. “80/20 were in favor of canceling, so we canceled. We refunded or deferred all fees. That, in my opinion, creates buy-in for people who come to your event. That’s playing the long game.”

In Rule of Three, Chasteen hopes for similar allegiance from participants. He wants to keep entry fees low (i.e., $60-65), and most importantly, he will not have sponsors calling the shots.

While the Allied banner will be flying at Rule of Three, Chasteen says that this does not mean money will be trading hands.

“We’re not charging cash for that,” he said. “We just ask that brands come and do something that creates value for the people at the event. For example, if you come and put up an expo booth maybe do something cool while you’re there like an after-party, or put up a disco ball in your tent and serve Moscow Mules.

Although many race promoters dream of quitting their day jobs to be able to focus on the event that tends to consume most of their days, Chasteen says this isn’t his intention at all.

“This event will never be about making a living, it will always about making a cool event.”