The Gravel Evolution: Into The Oregon Outback

“Nothing new on Race Day.” We all know the rule. And we’ve all broken it.

Such was the case when Ira Ryan put the final touches on his race set-up the night before the inaugural Oregon Outback bike packing race. If the wheels in his custom B-Road Gravel Racer were just tubeless, his set up would be perfect!

Ten minutes later his hotel room was covered in sealant and echoed with profanity. One can only imagine the cleaning person’s thoughts the next morning as they cleaned up whatever remnants of the explosion remained. Sadly, tubeless-specific gravel setups were a few years away. They’re now just one of the ongoing evolutions which make this style of riding so appealing and exciting.    

Of course, by the time the housekeepers called, Ira was long gone. He was off on a brilliantly planned unsanctioned “non-race” covering 364 miles from the South-Central Oregon border to the edge of the Columbia River, where Oregon fades into Washington State.

The special thing about these sorts of events was, and is, their welcoming nature and the ranges in approach. Riders and bikes of diametric worlds converge on a starting line. Fully loaded beer-laden, fat bikes, intent on days on the road brush against drop bars with carbon wheels and skinny tires, the riders’ body-types mirroring the contrast in their chosen rides. These are events for humans that ride bikes. Whatever forms they take.  

Though he has a proven pedigree in racing, Ira’s real passion had always rested in big rides in interesting places on cool bikes. And by the time of that ride he’d made a name for himself as one of the country’s premium custom frame-builders, and he and fellow craftsman Tony Piera had joined forces to launch Breadwinner Cycles. This event would showcase their B-Road offering – a modified road bike, designed specifically to meet the demands of covering all types of roads, quickly. It was the perfect steed for the job. A “gravel bike” on offer years before mainstream manufactures gave the niche any heed.   

He set off (inner-tubes and all) in the dark to enjoy a long ride. He did just that. Pushing through the night he rode the length of the state on 75% dirt roads, and over 14,000 feet of elevation in just 28 hours, setting a record which still stands. His feet were up, and belly full of breakfast before most riders hit the half-way mark. But when you watch the video of his ride, take note: he finished with a grin, not a grimace.

This is the spirit of the gravel ride. Come one come all. Ride hard. Or don’t. But whatever your style, enjoy the trip. Life is for the living.

Since that time, the world of “gravel riding” has exploded, the gear evolving with it. While the Oregon Outback no longer exists as an event on the calendar, the roads lay awaiting the adventuresome spirit. In the place of those early unsanctioned events, 100 such official races have filled the void. And twice as many group rides. In the place of those sealant-spewing, bead-blowing, non-specific gravel wheels? Premium gravel hoops emerged.

The category continues to advance, and we all do along with it.  The divergent crowd of bike adventurers which share this love continue to refine their rides. Bikes like the B-Road helped usher in a category which continues to evolve, that bike along with it. With wider gravel-wheels now readily available, bikes like the Breadwinner have made room for increased tire clearance. In the name of versatility, it is also compatible with either 700 or 650b wheels and tires up to 57c. And since no rider – or adventure – is the same, premium custom builders can dial the ride exactly as needed.

Of course, our wheels too are changing with the times.  

If Ira were to line up on that start-line today, he would have his pick of a slew of wheels. With wide tubeless ready rims, our strong-yet-light and stiff hand built wheelsets check all the right boxes. For this reason the Wanderlust and Wanderlust Carbon, our best-selling all-road/gravel wheels have a well-earned place in the gravel rider and racer’s arsenal (and plenty of custom B-road builds). Its 22mm internal is a perfect companion for any epic mixed-surface ride. From winter road miles, ‘cross and gravel races and rides, or anything between. From 28-50 c tires, it’s a jack of all trades.

Now, for those XL epics that demand a little more, we introduce The Outback. For the rider that goes all-day (or night). Those for whom 32-35mm tires have become “road slicks” and 2.4 inch clearance sounds like an option they can’t pass up (in either 650 or 700). When “mixed-surface” rides mean all types of trails and dirt and pavement are just for cars

photo:Brian Kesselman

After all, these are wheels for adventure riding, and that means getting out there. It means leaving the traffic behind, picking a journey and riding through to the end – be that the pub downtown, a campsite at sunset or the finish line, days from now. The Great Divide Route. The Oregon Outback. Colorado Trail. Or that rugged road off your commute. Because single track looks enticing, even on drop bars, and rough roads lead to cool places and interesting characters.

Whatever it means to you, load up, and get into the outback. Adventure is waiting, the sport is evolving and good times await. 

Breadwinner B-Road and the Outback from Breadwinner Cycles on Vimeo.

Written by Loren Mason-Gere, Astral wheel image by Brian Kesselman