Shaun McNally
I thought I'd start this to see thoughts on how races/events are run and set up. I was recently looking at some different events to possibly sign up for (in MN), and a couple of things caught my eye, and a few things kind of turned me off to certain events. Now for the sake of this discussion I'm talking your typical gravel events between 50-100 miles.

1. Entrance fees: I know there is other discussions about this topic, but for me I don't mind paying an entrance fee......IF either the money is being raised for some local charity or organization, OR the money is being used to pay for things like refreshments, awards, aid stations and generally a better set up event (this also includes gas for the volunteer vehicles too.) If I'm going to pay some money, I'm going to expect a little more.

2. Aid stations: Now most races tout the "self supported" nature of gravel riding, but honestly, I don't want to have to carry 100 miles worth of food and drink. I think at the minimum, there needs to be at least something around the half way mark. If the organizer decides not to include any aid stations, at the minimum the course should be routed through a town that has a C-store or something to have the opportunity to restock yourself. I just noped out of an event for this very reason. There was no aid stations and the course was very remote and passed through no towns. This was the "shtick" of the organizer, but for me, I wasn't interested.... 60 degrees, cloudy and light winds and 2 bottles and a camel back can get me almost 100 miles.  80 degrees, sun, and a good headwind  and it can get me about 50......I don't want to take the chance on the later.

3. Course design: I'm gravel rider, I ride gravel roads......I'm not a mountain biker. I understand how weather can affect the course, but I don't want deliberate "big tests of rider skills" Don't route the course through single track mountain bike trails,rock gardens or known gigantic mud pits. We all heard about DK 200 a couple of years ago where a good number of riders were done for the day by mile 12 because of all the mud. I don't want to mechanical out of a race because for that 1 mile out of 100 I really needed 2.5" knobby tires instead of 38c gravel kings. Conversely, I think there should be less than 10% tarmac miles too.

4. Misc little things: Enough toilet facilities and the start/finish, ample parking, ample lighting at the start/sign in area if the event begins around sunrise. 

This is just me thinking and writing. What do you think?
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JBarney
Good points above. I especially agree with no 3.  I like to RIDE my bike, not push or carry...
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HollyBoni
Surprise slopestyle jumps. 
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oldguybiker
Laying out a good course can be tough. I'm OK with 20-30% paved connector roads, but balk at 40% or more.  
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davidm
Disagree with #3. Learn to underbike! The muddy or technical sections are always my favorite and add flavor to what would otherwise just be a (gravel) road ride.
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Zurichman
Well I am from Pa and have yet to do unPAved because of the high entry fees. Anything in the Mid West I would ride anytime. Iowa/Kansas/Nebraska/Missouri. Here is what I luv in a gravel ride/race.

1. @least 80% gravel pretty hard here on the East Coast. Ride the Ridges in Vt and Bootlegger in NC are the only 2 that has meet my expectations on the East Coast.
2. I know the big races can't do this but I love drop bags.
3. Until I get use to my Garmin I like a marked course. On the longer rides over 100 miles I know that is impossible. 
4. This is a big one and I guess it depends on how much the entry fee was/is. I want good finish line food drinks. I am not a beer drinker so just having beer at the finish line doesn't work for me. I want a Coke or Pepsi. A few rides have had buy your own food at the end. I have been at at least 3-5 rides where the planning hasn't been good and the late riders had slim pickins. I am kind of a mid pack rider or a tail end rider if I had a bad day. Since I haven't done the 100+ mile rides yet I always wondered what they felt like if they came in and there was no food or drinks.

Zman
If it was easy it wouldn't be a memory. You just hope you don't have all your memories in the same ride. been there dun that Zman
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GHC
SM, 

Opinions will vary, and I assume the things I personally like best aren't necessarily relevant to anyone else.  

That typed ... what I like the best, particularly on events I am travelling to or don't know, are events where the organizer has some experience and the event has been run at least a few years.....have had a chance to get any kinks worked out.  

I like good communication via website (or social site) with relevant information posted so you can decide if its an event that you want to sign up and pay for, combined with social and/or emailed communication after you sign up.    Good communication goes a long way, across the board, on all the very common questions all of us have and then some.   Communication important information (like the specific rules for that event, and organized check point mileage (accuracy within 5 miles) and what to expect at those, and answers to forcasted common questions ahead of time.     The #1 thing that makes a great event .... is no surprises that could have been easily communicated or avoided.    

As to the type of course .... 6 inch mud, no drop bags, no outside help, 75 miles between water stops, absolutely no refunds, absolutely no transfers, you are responsible for any pick up .... I say it's all fair game .... As Long As It Is Communicated before they take my money.    If it's communicated, and I sign up and pay .... I have absolutely no reason to whine about it.   If I don't like the set up, I can avoid it.  Same goes for entry fee .... nobody forcing me to pay and there are plenty of other options for free or next to free ..... if I decide to pay whatever, I have no excuse to whine about it. 

I like to see the courses posted online for download at least 3 days before the event .... that way you aren't scrambling trying to make sure the download worked while on the road.

I like to see cue cards posted online for download at least 3 days before the event.   Ideally in a format that can easily be printed on regular paper or viewable/screen printed on a common modern phone.

I like posted/recorded/on demand "online" rider's meetings ... that way if you cant get there in time the day before, you are partially covered.   Organizers typically announce any last minute need to knows via blow horn or other at the start anyway.    

There are so many things that go into a well run event, too many to mention.....and the "feel" of the event is so much dependent upon who is running it and if they generated good local involvement.    

If you want to experience an example of what an exceptional (in my opinion) large event runs like, go to Gravel Worlds.    The organizers and the volunteers they have run a top notch event and communicate via social media, email, and other throughout the lead up to the event....while developing surrounding community buy in / while still maintaining a friendly grass roots feel.    You will have to go out of your way not to meet one of the organizers, and you will likely not run into any volunteers that aren't welcoming.  There are many other examples of other great events out there,....I am not affiliated with Gravel Worlds.....I am just suggesting that the best way to learn what a good one looks like, is to experience one. 

Honestly, once you experience a well run event you will know what you want.    Conversely, once you experience a poorly run event, you will know what to try to avoid.
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Shaun McNally
Thanks for all the responses..... 
Course marking: it would be nice not having to worry about finding your own way, but I don't see it being feasible for most races. Trust me, my first 100 mile gravel race turned into a 114 mile gravel race because I missed a turn. Plus I can just see the organizers put in all the time the day before putting out turn arrows and such only to have some kids come and turn them all around that night. 

Fees again: I also do a lot of running races and some tri's and duathalons. Gravel bike races are the only events that I've seen that tend to be "free", I don't know why this is. I've never signed up for my local 10 K and not expected to pay at least $20. Again, I don't mind this and even tend to expect it. Hell the Fargo marathon is like $75, but then again you usually get a pretty decent shirt and some swag.

On the subject of shirts, I'm a big fan of them. My 2017 Filthy 50 shirt is one of the coolest shirts I own. I like how they do it too, If you sign up for the race, they send you a link to a site where you can order the shirt. That way they don't have to buy and have a bunch of shirts printed up before hand.

Communication: didn't even really think of this one, but recently with all the stuff going on with the changes to the Almanzo for next year, and all the complaints about websites being shut down and what not, yes very important.
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Zurichman
One thing I might touch on that I don't see or don't think I have seen mentioned. This I have seen on the roadie end and a little bit on gravel end so far. If you have a ride that the organizer is only caring about making money and not helping out the riders it probably isn't going to be a well run event. If you also have an event where the event is run by non riders or they don't have a clue how to run an event it probably won't run too smooth. Somebody did post that they like to go to an event that has been run a couple of years so they have the bugs worked out. I did the Humphrey's Gravel Grinder @Smithville MO. Gravel grinder this year and although it was there first year out it was run very smooth. They did do a fall ride last year though an they are also gravel riders that set up the event. With the mayor of the town setting it up and the town getting behind it.

Zman
If it was easy it wouldn't be a memory. You just hope you don't have all your memories in the same ride. been there dun that Zman
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thumper88
If there's more than 150 or so entered, they really really need to split the start in some fashion, typically by having those on the shorter distance courses for the day start later, at 5 minute intervals.
Then usual pack melee with people going ape to get to the front during neutral adds nothing to the racing and in races with 400 or 1000 or 2000 is super dangerous in a way that is just stupid. It's bad enough in big road races when you know everyone around you has had at least some pack experience to get to cat 1 or 3 or whatever. But in big pack gravel you can have absolute assurance that there are newbies to racing scattered all around you.
No one wants to crash in the starting miles for no good reason.
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Lefty52
I'd like to see more age specific groups. I just did a race and the "senior" category was 40+. At 67, I'm never going to comtetitive with that group. 
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reubenc
But not too many age groups. I think the Gravel Grinders National Championships usually splits every 5? That's too much resolution when you get only 5 people in some of the age groups.

Also, don't call it "self supported" if you're going to have food and energy drinks on the course every 25 miles.
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nellborg
I expect and am happy to pay 20 to 60 bucks for an event with minimal support - like an aid station somewhere on the course.  Higher entry fees need more stuff to be included - though I much prefer the former.  

Signage is mostly useless because signs blow down or get moved.  Gps's and cue sheets work.

Trophies, awards, prizes don't interest me in the least even though I'm older and will finish in the top quartile overall.  Virtually every ribbon and trophy I have won over the years gets tossed into a bin when I get home.  I like to see an overall results list and that's it.  If an event director is going to call it a race and a have prize on the line, then they had better be certain that the finishing chute, or even the last mile, can safely accommodate a field sprint to the line, right?

Instead, event organizers could do things that encourage both the competitive and cooperative nature of the cyclists by having a challenge within the event.  For example, in the Michigan Coast to Coast gravel ride, the challenge is to finish before sunset - which is something like 15 hrs for a 210 mile ride.  For that, you get a mug.  I think that's great.
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Shaun McNally
One other thing I was thinking about.....I did a smaller race last fall. At the check in the organizer gave you a card with a phone number and said if you ran in to trouble out there call and someone would come out to get you. I really appreciated that. 
Most races I travel to by myself and they are usually hours away from my house. If I have a major mechanical way out there and it's one of those hard core "you are responsible for you" races, I'm screwed. Who am I going to call to get a ride? I know no one local and my wife is at home hours away. So I guess what I'm saying is a little piece of mind that there will be someone who can get me if I have to drop out is big. I'm not saying to come out and fix my bike, I'm talking my bike is broke, there is no fixing it, or I crashed and can't keep riding, but not hurt enough to need to call an ambulance, just get me back to my car so I can get myself to the hospital.
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jruhlen1980
A f***ing GPS route. This is a bike race, not an orienteering course.

I am perfectly capable of navigating by paper maps or cue sheets or by charting the North Star (ok maybe not that last one) -- hell I was in charge of navigation for my squad in Iraq.

But I don't see how that has f*** all to do with bikes, and the surly pretentious attitude of some promoters who stubbornly insist on nO ComPUtErs because it's somehow more "real" (whatever the hell that means) (and also when there is no way in hell they could actually finish their own course) is just a lot of retrogrouch Luddite nonsense. 

Henri Desgrange was an insane person and completely out of touch when he refused to let people use gears at the Tour and modern-day promoters who refuse to provide electronic versions of their routes are no better.

And I won't give them my money.
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weiwentg
jruhlen1980 wrote:
A f***ing GPS route. This is a bike race, not an orienteering course.

I am perfectly capable of navigating by paper maps or cue sheets or by charting the North Star (ok maybe not that last one) -- hell I was in charge of navigation for my squad in Iraq.

But I don't see how that has f*** all to do with bikes, and the surly pretentious attitude of some promoters who stubbornly insist on nO ComPUtErs because it's somehow more "real" (whatever the hell that means) (and also when there is no way in hell they could actually finish their own course) is just a lot of retrogrouch Luddite nonsense. 

Henri Desgrange was an insane person and completely out of touch when he refused to let people use gears at the Tour and modern-day promoters who refuse to provide electronic versions of their routes are no better.

And I won't give them my money.


Any examples of gravel rides that had too much manual navigation? I mean, the Desgrange-era TDF is an example, but it's not exactly a very relevant one for most of us, since Desgrange died in 1940.

I don't disagree, btw! I'm not totally dead set against requiring some basic manual navigation, but I'm wondering how many rides actually go too far. I agree that too much insistence on manual navigation would keep some people out, and we don't necessarily want that in a bike race.

Side note, I actually flunked out of officer school in the Singapore army due to inability to navigate! I love me my GPS, thanks.
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oldguybiker
What I DON'T want to see are f---ing e-bikes. I realize some promoters want all the entry fees they can, but those things are a joke, and frankly it pisses me off when one comes cruising by me while hardly working when I'm working my ass off and trying to stay within lactic acid threshold HR.  IF a promoter just has to allow e-bikes, then put them in a separate category; don't lump their results in with the rest of us who rode an honest race.  
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nellborg
I get the quasi-competitive, retro, treasure hunt method of using cue cards to navigate and I think it's kind of a cool way to do an event.  But, I also think that there is a type of course and event where it's a good idea and another where I think it's a really bad idea.  

On wide open smooth gravel roads where the event is more of a longer and lower key adventure, cue cards can work and be sort of a cool thing.  And, cue cards might be fun for cyclists who aren't really in much of a hurry to finish an event and like stopping and smelling the daisies along the way.

But, in events where riders are pretty much road-racing in pacelines and groups, over bumpy, potholed, fast gravel and two track, trying to read cue cards accurately is kind of an accident waiting to happen.  It takes far less sight time and fewer neurons to navigate by gps.  
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RexBeard
If you're looking for a good one, check out The Badlands Gravel Battle in Medora, ND.  It's well run with a grass-roots feel and beautiful scenery.  Well marked route but also with .gpx files for the course, neutral roll out on pavement through the Teddy Roosevelt National Park and then it's all gravel until the last 5 miles or so.  Aid stations every 25-ish miles with awesome volunteers and you can send drop bags to all 3.  You have to wade the river but that's as "technical" it gets really.  I've done it twice and it was one of the best races I've ever done.
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Koyote
I did a race ten days ago, and the beer table was about twenty feet past the finish line...I rolled across, went straight up to the beer, and unclipped. Oh, and the beer was free.

That's what I want in a gravel race. 
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DerekJ_MI
I agree with the original post points.

I want reasonable entry fees with meaningful swag.  I understand that you get what you pay for but you also pay what they can get from you too.  Unfortunately many events are only interested in making profit, and a big one at that.

I want frequent aid stations in case I need aid.  If I don't need it I won't use it.

Sag support, just incase something happens.  I'll take care of me just fine but some of the rides are located in areas where there is no ability to communicate (DK).  So provide some type of sag support.

A fair course design.  I don't like to hike-my-bike.  I enter an event to ride my bike on gravel roads.  Not in sand or miles of flooded roads or whatever.  If the ride is intended to be an "adventure" road event then advertise it as such.  The fact that conditions change the night before the event and the course wasn't adjusted to account for that condition tells me that the promoters don't know what they are doing (didn't do their homework) or they don't care.

I have no problem with an event being a race.  But 98% of all participants are there to just ride and finish, not race.  And it they do race it's against themselves and their past times.  And even grand fondo events should be timed.  Provide nice meaningful prizes to podium winners and if its an endurance event then nice meaningful prizes to the finishers.  Have lots of categories too.  Making a 60 year old compete against a 50 year old is not fair. 
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sidewinder
I want to have fun, no I expect to have fun.  May have to suffer a bit on the way, DK heat or DK mud, repair a flat, or whatever but cross the finish line I will - with a grin.
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Koyote
DerekJ_MI wrote:
Unfortunately many events are only interested in making profit, and a big one at that.


I have no problem with race organizers making money for their time, energy, and talent. If they charge registration fees that are "too high" (in quotes because it is subjective), then few people will sign up for their races and they will not thrive. If they charge fees that are "too low," then the race will sell out and a savvy race organizer will charge a higher fee the next year....And why shouldn't they?  Most of them are not doing it for charity.

I get the biggest laugh from people who complain about the fees for the big popular races like Dirty Kanza. Think about it: DK is so popular that they actually run a lottery for registration spots at $240 each for the 200-mile race. If they were really interested in making as much money as possible, they would skip the lottery and simply raise the fee until the number of interested riders was equal to the number of riders they could safely accommodate. 
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daustin
1) Doesn't need to be free but you should get what you pay for.  Swag is nice but I wouldn't prioritize it over stocking aid stations, having enough bathrooms, and parking.

2) Aid stations.  I'm not a fan of how far some events take the self-supported notion.  If I'm paying for an event I'd like at least a couple aid stations depending on the distance.

3) course design.  80% gravel.  I know all places that isn't always feasible but I've done some gravel events where there were significant stretches of paved road where you were riding with traffic.  I don't mind some short single track or short sections of hike a bike.  

I think there's some big advantages to some of the smaller gravel events I've done.  With fewer racers, let's say a couple of hundred people, the organizer can more easily provide some level of on course support.  At minimum, just picking you up if you have an issue.  Many races I've done the organizer just says get to the next aid station or here's my number and call or text and we can come get you.  It may be a long wait but it's still a nice security blanket.   
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