• Posted Nov 30, 2014

Gravel roads make up 60% of Iowa's public road system and connect almost every single community across Iowa's 99 counties. And YOU can ride them all!

Gravel - the attraction

There has been an explosion of gravel-centric rides in the last 10 years in Iowa and all over the United States. Don't believe us? Google "Iowa Gravel" and check out a few of the 848,000 results.

Iowa - (ahy-uh-wuh) - a state of the N central US, in the Midwest: consists of rolling plains crossed by many rivers, with the Missouri forming the western border and the Mississippi the eastern.
+ Gravel - (grav·el) - a loose aggregation of small water-worn or pounded stones.
= Iowa Gravel - (ahy-uh-wuh grav·el) - a wonderful place to ride your bicycle.

Riding gravel is like having a 20 foot wide trail (mostly) all to yourself. The scenery and Iowa landscape along the gravel roads is second to none. You get to see the fields, old barns and farmyards, livestock, groves of trees, sunrises and sunsets up an close when seen from a bicycle seat.

We didn't say riding gravel was easy. Adventure is another reason to ride gravel. The hills, the rocks, the ruts, the dust, the farm dogs, the farm equipment and sometimes the farm trucks can be challenging but rewarding. You can get to most places via the network of gravel roads in Iowa while experiencing the sites and smell of rural Iowa. Most gravel roads are often under-traveled by automobiles and you can hear traffic coming up behind you easily.

Iowa's grand-daddy gravel race is Trans-Iowa is a self-navigated, self-supported 300-plus mile gravel road event that takes place in late April on Iowa's gravel roads. The 2015 event will take place on April 25th in Grinnell. Racers come in from all over the USA and beyond to race Iowa gravel. Don't even think about getting a spot for 2015 as the race fills up in a matter of days. There may still be volunteer spots open though....

Riding gravel is an excellent workout. Not only do you get to ride more hills, but the balance factor on gravel is more difficult. Riding over rocks and ruts works all your fast-twitch firing muscles and makes your balance better.

How we roll... across the state

Just how many miles of gravel roads does Iowa have and how does Iowa compare against all the other states?

Paved and treated Highways

According to the Iowa Department of Transportation, Iowa's primary highway system makes up over 13,500 miles. That accounts for only 10% of the of the Iowa public road system. Tack on another 24,744 of secondary (farm to market) paved roads and another 2,379 miles for treated paved roads and you have roughly 40,623 miles of paved roads in Iowa. Still, paved roads make up only 36% of the of the Iowa public road system. To put things in perspective, the paved roads in Iowa account for only 1% of the 4 million miles of paved roads in the United States.

Gravel Roads

Gravel roads make up 60% of Iowa's public road system. A whopping 68,224 miles of gravel form a substantial grid-work of unpaved roads across Iowa! Iowa gravel makes up only 5% of the total mileage for Gravel roads in the USA which is estimated at 1.42 million miles according to the United States Department of Transporation (2012 stats)

According to a 2013 study by Federal Highway Administration, Iowa comes in at 6th place in terms of the most unpaved mileage per state. Only Texas, Kansas, Minnesota, Illinois and North Dakota have more unpaved miles of road.


While Iowa has an impressive number of trails across the state, the actual trail mileage is only 2000 miles. This number increases each year and Iowa is slowly becoming known as the "Trails Capital of the World". Bicycle trails are a HOT topic these days as small communities are capitalizing off the revenue made from cyclists to ride the trails from town to town similar to when the railroad brought visitors and commerce.

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Promoting Gravel

Bikes To You in Grinnell has been a long-time supporter and promoter of the gravel scene. Check out their page called "Iowa Gravel Riding" where they showcase "gravel" through several routes, bike rentals and lodging options around the Grinnell countryside.

Iowa Gravel Roads - Yes.. There is a website that showcases all the gravel roads in Iowa. The site was created by Marc Pfister, a guy from from Eastern Colorado who has a background in mapping and cartography. He created Colorado Gravel Roads first. He knows a lot of riders from Iowa who asked if he could create a site for Iowa... and he did. Behold the sea of RED. And YES! Level B Roads are marked in GREEN. Kudos to the Iowa Department of Transportation for their investment in mapping the roads and making the data public.

BIKEIOWA has long been a part of the gravel scene. Check out the 28 gravel events posted to the Event Calendar for 2014, and the 90 'Gravel' tags or the hundreds of posts about gravel over the years. Check out our review of the 382 mile trek across Iowa we made in June 2014.

You know a sport is becoming popular when the Iowa Games offers a "Gravel Grinder Race" as one of it's events.

Gravel Grinder News - ran by Guitar Ted, Trans-Iowa organizer, the site houses around a hundred gravel events from around the Midwest and other parts of the country. It also defines "Gravel Grinder", what makes up a "Gravel Grinder Bike" and inforamtion such as what tire and tire pressure to use on gravel.

Trans-Iowa, 24 hours of Cumming, CIRREM, Gent's Race, Iowa State Gravel Race, XgravelGanza III, Buffalo 105, and Pedal The Prairie 101 and just some of the premier Iowa Gravel Races happening in the state. There are many other trainign and leisure rides that happen all year round.

The allure of gravel - by Dave Mable for Iowa Momentum - Aug 2014

Defining the Genre: Gravel Racing - 'riding against the grain' blog post from Sept 15 2012.

#RideGravel is a common hashtag on Twitter and the Facebook group Gravel is growing in popularity.

Gravel Bikes and Gear

Most major manufactures these days make some sort of an Adventure bike. These gravel-specific bikes offer room for wider tires, wider handlebars, compact double cranks and most have disc brakes. All of which offer more stability and comfort. Salsa Cyclesycles have been on the forefront of adventure cycling for years. Some of their adventuire bicyucles are the Fargo. Vaya, Warbird and Mukluk and Beargrease. All are fine grave-worthly machines. The Salsa website also contains tons of inspiring video too.

Bike Packing has become extremely popular in the last few years and one of the benefits is lightweight luggage that straps to your bicycle versus the normal rack and pannier systems associated with bicycle touring, There are frame, handlebar, seat and top tube bags available. They are design to be lightweight and keep the center of gravity low retain a sleek profile. Our favorites are Revelate Designs, Becker Sewing and Designs, and Biker Bag Dude The online Bike Packing Magazine is also a great read.

GPS units just keep getting better thus easier to seek out new roads and routes and making it harder to get lost.

Gravel Road Bike Race

This is a video by Iowa Public Television, from June 5th 2013, that showcases a documentary for "300 Miles of Gravel" through a grueling 24 hour bike race on Iowa's back roads called "Trans-Iowa".

So ya wanna ride Gravel?

We've listed quite a few epic rides and races above, but all you really need to start out is a bicycle, a nearby gravel road and an adventurous spirit. Check out Iowa Gravel Roads site to see what gravel roads are near you.

Most gravel roads are rideable throughout the Winter months as they are not as slick as pavement and are (eventually) plowed.

Gravel getaways make perfect weekend Staycations. Travel to other parts of the state and check out their gravel roads, small communities and experience rural Iowa.








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