This new wave of off-road cycling may be the biggest yet. The first wave rolled in slowly during the fifties, sixties and early seventies. The Rough Stuff Fellowship met weekly for explorations throughout the British Isles from 1950 well into the 70's. Stateside, explorers like John Finley Scott and unheralded others were adapting bicycles for the exploration of abandoned railroad grades and forgotten roads throughout the West. I was riding "bombproof" ten-speeds up rugged lookout tower roads in the southern Sierra Nevada.
In the late seventies an entrepreneurial group of young suburban men had the wherewithal to weld up a new kind of bicycle for accomplishing off-road explorations and expeditions into the unpaved tracks beyond American neighborhoods.. After a handful of years of experimentation with steel tubes, the money changers entered the temple and promoted "Mountain Biking" into a monster bigger than all other types of cycling combined. Here began the Second Wave Of Off-road Cycling.
Through the subsequent decades the machine became much more specialized and complicated, therefore exceedingly expensive, (incorporating sophisticated suspension hardware, hydraulics and electrification)....again putting the cost out of the reach for the common person interested in cycling.
It wasn't until the second decade of the 21st Century that folks remembered that almost any bicycle can be ridden on the seldom-motored backroads of North America.
In what I'm calling The Third Wave, "Gravel Grinding" has become a "thing" and is getting a remarkable amount of press. Hundreds of young outdoor enthusiasts are signing-up for organized events that feature trails, double-tracks and dirt or gravel roads. The real attraction, I think, besides the lack of motor traffic, is the space to use individual creativity in designing and constructing the "perfect ride" by using the entire pallet of cycling components and designs developed over the last several decades.
In our local new event...the "Grinduro"...cyclocross, fitness hybrids and mountain bikes ride side by side without obvious criticism or judgements that were common during previous events structured around specific competitions. A festive and all-inclusive vibe brings a whole new contingent together for nothing more than... "fun on a bicycle".