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Will SBT GRVL have to Cow Tail to Cattle Ranchers?

photo collage from 2023 SBT GRVL gravel racePhoto collage from SBT GRVL Instagram.
27 Comments

SBT GRVL has become one of the largest gravel races in the world, with a lottery-capped field of 3,000 taking part in four distances over four days in rural northern Colorado.

Now, The Colorado Sun reports that the ranchers in Routt County, home to Steamboat Springs and lots of cattle farms, say it’s too much. Their particular beefs include:

  • Trash left behind
  • Riders disrespecting private land
  • Crowding and disruption during their busy season

The upside to the event is the millions of tourism dollars it brings in, but the ranchers reportedly say they don’t see any of that. And now they’re asking the county to reconsider the event’s permitting.

It’s a bit like the show Yellowstone, where entrenched interests aren’t happy about new developments. As more states look to boost revenue from tourism, and ski towns in particular seek summer revenue to boost flagging snow seasons, gravel races and cycling events are popping up in more and more rural areas.

What’s SBT GRVL’s Response?

SBT GRVL racers riding on a dirt road in 2023
For 2024 and beyond, racers will need to keep to the right. (Photo: SBT GRVL. Top photo from @SBTGRVL on Instagram)

Founder Amy Charity has published the events 2024 Action Plan on their website, which includes several course safety improvements and increased local messaging.

One big one is course modifications that eliminate two-way traffic, which creates congestion for both cars and bikes, plus better signage and pre-event information for locals. Another is enforcing rules like “riders must obey traffic laws”, which includes keeping to the right side of the road, and “riders must use provided Portalets to relieve themselves”. Because, yeah…people pooped in places they shouldn’t have.

SBT Gravel 2023 racers on course heading into the trees
(Photo: SBT GRVL)

They’re also dramatically increasing pre-event education and scheduling information for residents, plus more information for participants and their guests about the area, its agricultural industry, and what their impact is. Knowledge is power.

Another solution could be simply changing dates to a less busy time of year, but that would be a solution for 2025 or beyond. Late August coincides with the Routt County Fair, and likely sees folks getting out for one more family trip before school resumes.

Charity is quoted as saying each year the event’s permitting doesn’t come through until early summer, but has always been approved, so we’ll have to wait to see if the proactive efforts and course reroutes are enough. Until then, keep training…Steamboat Springs tops out over 10,000 feet above sea level.

SBTGRVL.com

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NoahDeuce
NoahDeuce
1 month ago

Hey, just curious, did they change the course so that it tops out on Mt. Warner, which is over 10,000 feet? Because I’m pretty sure you can’t ride a bike up there, so there’s no need to train for that sort of elevation.

Dick W
Dick W
1 month ago

All legit issues

Rob
Rob
1 month ago

I’d have to side with the ranchers here. Bikes are fun but when events become large the detrimental effects become more apparent.

syborg
syborg
1 month ago

Leaving trash and trespassing is just plain disrespectful. If SBT GRVL can’t get their act together then they deserve to lose their permit.

Sarah M
Sarah M
1 month ago
Reply to  syborg

SBT aren’t the ones leaving thrash behind! They are the ones left picking it up after RIDERS do…

Oliver
Oliver
1 month ago
Reply to  Sarah M

The issue is that they aren’t picking it up …

Exodux
1 month ago

“Riders must obey traffic laws”…Living in a town which hosted the Tour of California, the Redlands Classic and other cycling events, this seems to be something riders won’t do, especially the pro riders which some think they are above the law. I’ve seen several times where they are riders riding 2-3 abreast totally slowing traffic with no cares in the world. The part of this that angers me, and I’m sure it does to lots of riders that live in towns with lots of cycling activity, is that drivers take out their frustrations on every cyclist, because they think every cyclist doesn’t care, even if we obey the laws.

Jeffie
Jeffie
1 month ago

Ive done that race every year it has been in existence, have watched for equivalent of weeks now how the riders behave on the course and even more in town.
I know the players and have talked with some of the ranchers and I can assure you the problems cited are mainly not serious issues. What you’re dealing with is 1-2 percent legit beef and 98 percent the culture war “us vs. them” stuff that now permeates every aspect of society.
The ranch owners and other people people living out on the course don’t see any plus for them, and don’t want people on roads that are county owned and maintained but in practice are almost private driveways. It’s understandable and it’s human. But it’s not an unruly mob of of wealthy, misbehaving thoughtless cyclists vs salt of the earth folks just trying to raise their cows and get to the fair, as portrayed. The reality is more complex and every one of these big races has to deal with it and put around a person or teams of folks to do PR with the people who live out on the course as opposed to the start/finish town where merchants want and often badly need the income.
If the people on the course can’t be kept happy, the races will struggle and get things like the gun shop owner in the Tennessee road race who pulled a tractor with a giant, two-lane tiller rig in front of a peloton and kept it there for miles.
So it’s gonna take work, and in most cases work the organizers were already doing but are have to increase because of the uptick in culture wars and the fact that the races are no longer a novelty but something that can and is a regular point of discussion in their communities now

Billyshoo
Billyshoo
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeffie

You said this is a “98%…culture war” issue and that “the reality is more complex” without providing any evidence, even anecdotal to this particular event, that the ranchers/farmers are motivated by anything other than the legit complaints mentioned in the article. That’s suspect. But I did give you a thumbs-up to your ‘kowtow’ comment.

Jeffie
Jeffie
1 month ago
Reply to  Billyshoo

The evidence is that I have been there for the 142-mile long course all four years. That’s a full work week of time out on that course observing what happens and what doesn’t. That’s ground truth. I don’t know what else I can offer.
Did I see everything that happened? No, not at all. But I saw a lot closer to the full sweep of it than any rancher in that meeting. People were not blocked in their driveways. Vehicles were able to move at a reasonable pace — many of them speeding, BTW — on every road. In no case was a farm vehicle prevented from getting to or from a hayfield. There was not serious garbage strewn on the course. People were not crapping in plain view or pissing in yards, that I saw.

Ghostship Matt
Ghostship Matt
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeffie

People were not crapping in plain view or pissing in yards, that I saw.”

There is literally a photo of a cyclist who appears to be pulling their shorts/bibs up or down, behind a large hay bale, on what appears to be private property, with a group of riders going by on the road. It’s about a quarter of the way down the page on the linked article from The CO Sun. Not sure if the link will work but here’s a short-cut to said image:

comment image?resize=1024%2C682&ssl=1

Not a good look for cyclists.

Billyshoo
Billyshoo
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeffie

Thank you for clarifying; I respect your opinion and appreciate your viewpoint.  But – and you did acknowledge this – that’s a LOT of territory for just one person to keep tabs on everything that transpires. I’m still inclined to think the ranchers/farmers probably aren’t blowing this out of proportion, that they have very real gripes. We’re counting on them (the property owners) to be gracious and accommodating and they’re expecting the competitors and spectators to be respectful and abide by the rules. And if there’s even one chucklehead defecating on just one person’s private property, whether “in plain view” or otherwise, that alone is a huge problem. To your comment about the 2% (and this gets to Exodux’s point above): Sometimes, just a few bad apples can ruin it for the rest of us. And unfortunately, that could be what’s happening here.

Robin
Robin
1 month ago
Reply to  Billyshoo

^This, and Jeffie is not privy to everything the ranchers see, namely the cumulative effects. He’s tried to use his assumption about what everyone unobserved by him is doing, and he did that to minimize the concerns of ranchers and, worse, essentially accuse them of being part of a “culture war”. Kind a of slimy approach, very political, and lacking in objectivity.

Jeffie
Jeffie
1 month ago
Reply to  Robin

They complained about the cowbells. Cowbells were rare and not really near houses. They complained about trash, which wasn’t a serious issue either… exactly what it is at every other bike event which is so minor most people would never notice. I was there on the route. I saw — or didn’t see — it.
Some of the things they talked about were probably real albeit not super serious. But blowing the other things out of proportion undermines their credibility and makes it clear that something else is at work here. And it’s perceptions about people who aren’t like you. That cuts both ways for sure.

Robin
Robin
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeffie

How do you know what wasn’t issue or not? You did not observe all riders at all times. It’s that simple. You’re assuming your sample set is representative of all.

You are minimizing the concerns of others to suit your bias. You don’t get to speak for everyone.

Jeffie
Jeffie
1 month ago
Reply to  Billyshoo

Don’t get me wrong. I believe there were bad actors, albeit very few. But yes it only takes a view. what Im saying I think mainly is both sides are coming at this without enough generosity and understanding, and there is work to be done. These problems aren’t so serious they can’t be fixed. Not sure the perceptions and stances can be.
There is also very little if anything for the ranchers and others on the route to gain from the race. They get to use the town’s shops and restaurants and parks which all are made healthier by the race. But that’s pretty indirect and won’t really be seen by most of them as a tangible plus. The riders in that race behave exactly as riders do in just about any major event, it’s not magically different from the groups at Unbound or BWR or grasshopper.
if SBT gets shut down, its entirely possible the 20 or 30 people deeply unhappy about unbound will take note and go after that. dunno what the answer is, but more flexibility and understanding on both sides would be a good thing. Outdoor recreation is every bit as important as farming and ranching. It just has to be done right. And even when it is, not everyone is going to be happy about it.

syborg
syborg
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeffie

That you saw is key. There may have been, and probably were, rude cyclists that you didn’t see. As in everything in life a few bad actors ruin it for everyone else.

Jeffie
Jeffie
1 month ago
Reply to  syborg

yep, fair enough.

JKK
JKK
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeffie

If not mistaken, SBT has tripled (or more?) the race entries from the first year. Seems a reasonable place to start: reduce the number of entries. I spend a little time in north Routt and these are legit issues. A lower race entry count would surely help.

Jeffie
Jeffie
1 month ago

And Tyler, that headline. It’s “kowtow.” Not sure what “cow tail” means.

Matt
Matt
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeffie

I saw the headline, skipped the entire article, and went straight to the comments to make sure somebody had said this.

Jeffie
Jeffie
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt

they clearly meant it as a pun, but it’s just too much of a reach to work.

Sam
Sam
1 month ago

Shocking that conservatives would cry about a bike race.

Tom Wenzel
1 month ago

Moots Routt, named after a soon-to-be unfriendly-to-bikes county.

I own a Marin mountain bike.

I sense a pattern, and it’s why we can’t have nice things.

Mooo
Mooo
1 month ago

Eat less beef – cattle farming screws the planet and it’s bad for you.

SoCo rider
SoCo rider
1 month ago
Reply to  Mooo

The following post is not directed at the a SBT Grav promoters, they’re very good at what they do, know what they’re doing and know what needs to be done for continued success. Although I’ve never attending nor put in “a full work week” on the SBT coarse I do live out in Colorado Rocky Mtn cattle country, therefore, these are just the thoughts and opinions of a rural CO resident and rider.

From my home there are three paved roads, one of which transitions to gravel 3 miles in another 6 miles in the other a 20 mile paved road to town everything else is gravel cattle country roads. I ride 6 days a week and have never had a negative interaction with a rancher. We even have a mid level gravel event that roles withen a 1/4 mile of my house, never heard a complaint. However, if this event brought in 3,000 riders, went both directions on some of the roads and was scheduled during a busy time of the ranchers calendar I bet that would change their opinion. Especially, if like the SBS area, they held three gravel events a year. As an example, a number of years ago I was a member of a local Midwest cycling club that put on a rural, mid summer, road race. Never had an issue with local farmers, until…..we were encouraged to move our race to the opening spring race on the calendar which coincided with spring planting. Suddenly a calendar conflict with farmers trying to make a living and cyclist trying to enjoy their hobby clashed. What’s my point? I’m not really sure to be honest but think about this. How many of you or your neighbors would be a annoyed if once or twice a year ranchers drove 3,000 head of cattle thru your neighborhood disrupting your daily life for a day and although your community would see $$$$$ gains you receive nothing but the privilege of sharing your area with outsiders.

On the topic of culture wars, concerning a comment making lite about upsetting conservatives, have you ever been to a downtown crit in progressive neighborhoods without upsetting/annoying some of the locals. I doubt it. Anytime you put on a cycling event wherever the location your gonna inconvenience someone that doesn’t give a rats fart about people riding around on their Huffy’s in their pajamas.

Eat less beef it’s bad for you and cattle ranching wrecks the planet? Yea, let’s shut down cattle ranching, destroy the small communities that support it and lose most of the gravel roads you ride and race on. Good plan. Bad for the environment? Compared to what? Is the Denver metro area more environmentally friendly then the surrounding cattle ranch’s? Beef is unhealthy? Maybe eatin in an entirely fast food prepped scenario. For most people I would put a well balanced beef diet up against a vegan diet anytime.

Rusty Shackleford
Rusty Shackleford
1 month ago
Reply to  SoCo rider

Cattle ranching could be shut down today and the average American consumer would never even notice.Your beef dinner comes from massive corporate farms, not tiny sub-hundred-head ranches. Small-time family farms haven’t been the ones feeding America for at least a half century.

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