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​A few months ago we took old race/club team kits and gave them to Berhane. He is an Ethiopian national who works at the Hilton in Charlotte NC. We have become friends over the years as he has watched the Dornier Racing and Unknown Racing p/b Sunbelt Rentals juniors team get ready for race trips - when they meet at the hotel. We, since then, speak a common language of cycling together.

A few months ago, before his annual trip home, we took old team clothing and gave it to him to bring to Ethiopia where they are just not able to afford $150 club kits. They also struggle to afford bikes and, obviously, helmets. But they are smiling and now riding bikes in cycling clothing. According to Berhane, on his last trip there these old kits brought so much joy to the town of Gondar that we are already planning the same thing again for next year as well as some money for bikes/helmets. He gets new photos every few weeks thanking him. This, practically speaking, is one of the easier things we have done as a club to help - but it is becoming a favorite since it is so straightforward and directly impactful and helps our new friend. 
Debre Berhan Selassie church: ceiling paintings of 80 cherubic faces
Berhane is from Gondar - a city in northern Ethiopia founded In 1636 by King Fasiladas, which became the country′s permanent capital for two centuries. It's now known for the walled Fasil Ghebbi fortress and palace compound, once the seat of Ethiopian emperors and the 17th-century castle of Emperor Fasilides. Another famous structure is the Debre Berhan Selassie church, with an interior of elaborate murals, including a ceiling of faces shown above. The church also houses wall murals like the one below. I could not help but draw a parallel between the wall mural of people on horses and the modern smiling faces of the cycling group on bikes loosely formed around the love of cycling and the newly acquired cycling gear.​
Berhane will be going home again in December 2019 and again we will assemble some cycling clothing, and other items, to make his trip just a little more fulfilling and bring a smile to his and other faces in Gondar. Maybe someday there will be a wall mural painted for the faces of the cycling group formed around this effort. Until then we can enjoy this small project and appreciate how much we have and how even small gestures can go a long way in helping others.
Debre Berhan Selassie church: wall painting of people riding horses - stanford.edu
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GRAVEL! - usually a loud verbal warning about adverse road conditions on a road group ride, but the perfectly normal condition on a gravel ride. Introducing UNKNOWN Gravel! Road riding is still a blast but some folks are looking for new challenges - and gravel bikes can provide just that taking you to new scenic places with less traffic. At the start, common questions are "Where do I ride?", "What are the roads like?" or "What equipment do I need?" - well at the UNKNOWN Gravel! website we are going to help answer those questions - at least in the Charlotte area. For now, there are a few tested routes within an hour or two of Charlotte with info on the ride itself, parking, and GPX/TCX files to follow in your Garmin or Wahoo. Also, info on how to load a route to your Garmin. Know a great route? Let us know we'll check it out.

Some basic info: Modern gravel bikes tend to have road geometries and rider fit but the frames and wheels are wider and handle bigger tires, run tubeless, and have disc brakes. To contrast, a Cyclocross bike will have a higher bottom bracket and shorter wheelbase for better handling on the demanding tight courses seen in most CX events. However, these CX bikes can ride gravel just fine and certainly get you started until you are ready to make a bigger investment. Some custom gravel bikes are getting 1X11 or 1X12, referred to as "One By" shifting to simplify the design, decrease weight, and improve reliability. In a One By design there is no front derailleur and the rear derailleur is generally a mountain pedigree, has a longer cage, and what is known as a clutch to prevent chain slack when riding on bumpy surfaces although some road derailleurs are now available with a clutch. One By solutions tend to have the same gear range as a 22 or 24 speed but with fewer gears in between gears... If that matters a Two By allows for complete gear range as well as the in between gears. 

For the cockpit, people prefer road shifters and standard drop bars with a little flair as an option. Wheels like the Boyd Pinnacle 700c disc can be paired with tires that have just a little tread like the Specialized Sawtooth in a size of over 30mm can cover most packed gravel in the area and roll nicely when the surface is paved. As the conditions get muddy or more technical so will your choice on tire, wheels and related equipment. Some frames support both 700c and 650b wheelsets. For 650b tires can hold more volume and be 2.5 inches or more making for a more confortable ride and support more technical trails (more roots and rocks). Generally, roadies also switch to mountain or SPD pedals and shoes as they tend to stay cleaner and handle abuse when debris is encountered and dismounting is needed. Who wants to get a $300 Sidi shoe stuck in the mud/gravel anyway? SPD is also easier to walk in at the pub after the ride or wear to a spin class when no outside riding is possible at all.

As for roads - there are an increasing number of resources for identifying good gravel routes. One is on the UNKNOWN Gravel! website. But those are just for the Charlotte area. There is also a Google map of the US with some gravel roads identified. The problem with this map is it is not complete, shows hybrid routes as gravel roads, does not have GPX/TCX files or route info, and will likely take a long time to get right. When building your own route or looking for roads - think old fire roads and rural areas. These tend to have the most gravel sections. Gravel roads also tend to drain very well after rain making this a better cycling sport than mountain biking after heavy rain. Also, Strava if you know someone who said "Hey that was the best gravel ride ever" - you may want to look at the route and then export the TCX/GPX for yourself.

In summary, there are a few things to consider when setting up a gravel bike. Some of this has already been thought through by the manufacturers and so you can buy one ready to go with some of these things in mind and at a range of prices. Regardless, if you build your own or buy one - get out and ride and have fun on the gravel surface.

Thanks to First Flight Bicycles and Boyd Cycling for the help on the current routes. Find gravel events on WeeklyRides.com and join Boyd Cycling 2/9/19 for their gravel event at Sumter National Forest. Check BikeSource, Bicycle Sport, First Flight, Cycle Haus, or favorite local bike shop for equipment if you don't have a bike configured for gravel just yet - or if you have questions about equipment.

​Comments, feedback? Let us know.
More info at https://www.unknowncycling.org/gravel.html

Sample wheels, tires, shoes and pedals:
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