When did you learn about gravel riding?
What is the one word that is all over the bike world these days and has spawned a new style of riding and bikes? If you guessed GRAVEL you are correct. I don’t remember exactly when I heard this for the first time, but it must have been around 2016-17. It is right about the time I think that I started to explore bikepacking, bought my current Specialized Sequoia and really started engaging more with bikes again after a long hiatus.
My gravel roots, or lack thereof
I grew up in the Northwest region of Ohio, let me say there is NOT a lot of gravel to be found there. And to be honest, when I lived in Ohio, gravel was not something I even really knew about. There are plenty of straight flat roads that are perfect for a go-as-fast-as-you-can ride, or a leisurely 50 mile ride without much effort. In addition to mostly paved roads, It is a flat region. On one recent ride while visiting family I gained under 500 feet of elevation over 30 miles. When I visit go to see family like I am currently, I often forgot how flat it is. That is not to say riding is boring here. Because that is not the case altogether. I truly enjoy cycling from my home, south along the Maumee River, stopping for an ice cream cone in Grand Rapids and coming back. There is even a super quaint part of the former Towpath from the canal days!
Western Mass gravel grinding is fun!
Jump to 2019 and now, I call Massachusetts home. There are plenty of gravel and dirt roads. And who does not like a sometimes dirty, messy or just plain sludge covered ride? Finding a nice crunchy packed dirt, ie gravel, road is easy to find. While you may not be able to ride a gravel dirt route for all of a planned route, it would be easy to get a good 50% gravel/ paved ride planned and executed. Most of the routes I prefer or show clients include some stretch of gravel. It is easy to find nice riding routes in Western Massachusetts, so I don’t often drive too far to go out on an adventure.
Two great gravel routes
Some of the best that I have come across are in Franklin County. Did you know that there is a “Petit Switzerland” right in our own neck of the woods? That’s right, certain landscapes you can encounter while riding are reminiscent of Switzerland’s hills and valleys. Thus some people call this area Little Switzerland. The region centered around Conway, Ashfield and Hawley all have really nice gravel roads, stunning views and picturesque farms. It is how I envision Massachusetts looked at the start of the 20th century. They are fast, often well cared for and beautiful! Start in downtown Conway while you make your way up into Ashfield. I suggest going in front of Fields Memorial Library(named after Marshall Field-born in Conway) in order to get on Reeds Bridge. This will snake you around by Shelburne Falls Road. From there you have several choices to get you up higher. There are several off the beaten paths roads near Baptist Corner or Barnes road that pass by the golf course. Also, heading out of the Burkeville section of Conway, it is worth your time to ride down, or up, Main Poland road. Any trip to this beautiful corner of heaven requires a stop at Elmer’s store for a snack or post-ride refuel.
Enjoy a river view
Other routes will follow a river or stream, and others will take you through forests and farmland. One such scenic gravel road is Pine Meadow. This one is harder to get to, but as you can see in the photo is a peaceful place. I suggest starting in Montague then making your way north along Lake Pleasant road to East Mineral. This lovely smooth road stretches along the Connecticut River, takes you past right next to Northfield Mountain and Riverview Park, a local hop farm and eventually all the way to Northfield.
Additionally, there are some really nice gravel roads heading up to the town of Shutesbury and around Lake Wyola. After Le Petit Switzerland, I love getting off the beaten path up here. You can start in North Amherst right by Cushman Cafe(grab a good coffee before you leave). Head out and connect onto Pratt Corner, Sand Hill or Montague roads. You can make your way back after coming back through North Leverette and Leverett on Shutesbury or East Leverett Road. On early morning rides before there are many cars you can’t beat a ride on a gravel road. I am sure there are plenty of other roads to explore and I plan on finding some new ones this summer.
What is not to love about the sound and feel of gravel under your bike tire. If you are coming to this area, or want to put it on your calendar, I am here to help you plan a successful trip. Frontier Cycling can offer suggestions, help plan a route, or take you out on a gravel adventure. We will get dirty together and stop for a cold frosty craft beer.