What is behind the bike industry’s trend toward gravel riding? Some of it is a response to consumer demand. Some of it comes down to simple economics — capitalizing on a growth sector. But the cycling industry is driven by passion, and that can dictate why bike companies do what they do. Emily Kachorek is co-owner of Squid Bikes, a small frame company in Sacramento, California. If you ask her, the advent of new gear is making it more accessible and exciting for people to ride dirt and gravel roads, rekindling their passion for cycling. We caught up with her earlier this year to get her take on where the bike industry is headed.
VeloNews: What sort or riding or technology gets you excited these days?
Emily Kachorek: Generally when the sun’s out and I have an opportunity to be on my bike no matter what, I’m pretty stoked. I spend most of my time on the dirt now and don’t spend a lot of time road riding or racing. To me, it’s going out and exploring new roads. If I have a free weekend and don’t have anything to do, it’s getting out Google Earth and kind of flying around and trying to open up more of the stuff in the Sierra Nevada because there is so much good riding out there and so much of it is unexplored. For me, it’s the Sierra Nevada. For other people, it’s their local mountain range or even farm roads. Just trying to plan new roads.
Another thing we’ve wanted to do forever and still haven’t, although we have a route planned, is to do is riding from the Sierra Nevada Brewery to Sacramento or vice-versa all on dirt. [The Squid crew did this ride later in the summer after we spoke.]
Just finding new ways to explore roads and connect new places and turn it into an adventure.
VN: Do you think the emergence of this technology is a response to that interest or is it provoking more?
EK: I think it’s probably a little bit of both, to be honest. People have always been out exploring the back roads. Certainly, technology that’s more reliable and makes it easier improves that and more accessible for more people. I think with a lot of the new gravel races and different-style events like Grinduro that are popping up and really catching on. Even technology like new computers, mapping technology is making that more accessible.
VN: On that note, what sort of organized events are gaining traction? Gravel races?
EK: I think so in terms of just stuff that’s new and different. At least speaking for myself and my friend groups, the idea of going out and doing a race every single weekend is a lot for people to take on.
If I can do just three or four events a year but they are big marquee events that still provide me some motivation to train every day, and you can go camping with your family and have it be an event and a full weekend rather than commuting back and forth or business park crits. To me, that’s what I see my friends getting excited about. Have it be built around a full weekend and a lot more about community, rather than winning and losing.
VN: Is there anything right now in the bike industry that seems like a fad?
EK: I’m not like super-into the geeky side of the technology stuff. I’ve got my tried-and-true one-by and my singlespeed, and I’m pretty good with that.
I think some of the new mapping tech is pretty cool. I’ve never been a big computer person either. It seems like it opens up some new ways to explore on bike.
VN: Mapping is not a fad …
EK: [Laughs] Maps are helpful!
It seems like the bikepacking thing — I have done touring a long time ago, 10-plus years ago. It seems like that is gaining in popularity. You see a lot of new bag companies out there. That’s stuff that makes it more accessible to people and that’s kind of cool.
There’s that big Baja ride that’s gained traction in the last three or four years. It’s basically San Diego down the coast of Baja. I have a number of friends that have done that. You definitely need to have a big chunk of time to go do those type of adventures. But I think they are inspiring for people to go and do mini adventures on the weekends.
I have friends that will pack up their shit and go 10 miles out past their normal long ride, but then they get to camp and hang out and again it’s a different experience than going home and showering, changing, and drinking your protein shake.
I think people mixing it up is what we’re seeing.