Richard Beattie, an avid longtime cyclist and the organizer and one of the founders of Mississippi’s largest bike-riding event, Bikes, Blues & Bayous, says it was only a couple of years ago when he discovered gravel riding.
“A guy named Frank Jarman, who is the brother of George Jarman here in town, said to me about two years ago, ‘You need to have a gravel ride in Greenwood.’ And I said, ‘A what?’” Beattie said. “I didn’t even know what a gravel ride was. I had never heard of such.”
Beattie’s interest was piqued, and he decided to research gravel riding, which led to him contacting Jason and Wendi Shearer of Ordinary Epics.
“Jason and Wendi were having this gravel cup series, and the culmination of it was Delta Epic — a 296-mile bike ride through the Delta that started at midnight in September of last year,” he said.
Ordinary Epics organizes a race series called the Mississippi Gravel Cup that includes four events in Oxford, Hattiesburg, Bentonia and Starkville. The series is capped with a non-competitive ride, the Delta Epic, where cyclists travel from Arkabutla to Bentonia.
Beattie decided to travel in the middle of the night to Arkabutla to find out more about gravel riding.
“I didn’t ride in it, but I was just so curious about the whole deal,” he said.
While there, Beattie met with the Jackson cycling couple.
“We just started talking about bringing gravel to Greenwood,” said Wendi Shearer. “There’s a very successful road ride here, BBB, and he wanted to bring something different to the city of Greenwood, and we thought it was a great idea.”
The first Greenwood Gravel Grind will be presented by the Greenwood-Leflore County Chamber of Commerce and the Shearers’ Ordinary Epics on April 27.
“Outside of local rides we’ve done in Jackson, we haven’t done a community ride, so we were excited for the opportunity to work with Richard and the chamber to put on a community ride here in Greenwood,” said Shearer.
This new gravel ride will build on the strengths of Bikes, Blues & Bayous and will pair the gravel roads of the neighboring Carroll County hills with the fast and flat Delta terrain.
“We have more potential routes on gravel than we do on paved road,” said Beattie, who is a special adviser for chamber’s sporting events.
Greenwood Gravel Grind, a non-competitive ride, offers two routes — 100 kilometers (62 miles) and 50 kilometers (31 miles).
The event will include two rest stops with food and drinks provided by sponsors and staffed with volunteers.
“It’s been a new dynamic for us not to have the competitive aspect to it and to have a community ride, which for me it warms my heart,” said Shearer. “I love it, because what I fell in love with about gravel was the community.”
There are some differences between riding on gravel than on a paved road, and the sport combines mountain bikers and road cyclists.
Road bikes with skinny tires and little tread are discouraged for gravel riding.
“You could ride a gravel road one day and it might be buff and smooth and beautiful, and you could ride it another day and they have just come out and dumped a whole bunch of gravel — and you have to toil your way through it,” said Shearer. “You have to have the tires that are able to do that.”
The event’s guidebook says given the changing conditions of these minimally maintained roads, there is never the perfect bike. A bike with slightly knobby tires size 32c or larger is recommended. Shearer added that mountain bikes also work well with gravel riding.
For those who are interested in participating but only have a road bike or even no bike at all or for those who may feel like the physical challenge is a bit too much for their fitness level or because of a disability, there’s an option on the entry form.
“We partnered with Indian Cycle in Jackson, and they are going to have a fleet of gravel bikes and e-bikes,” said Shearer.
Indian Cycle will provide 12 gravel bikes and six e-bikes. The e-bikes have a small motor that will assist with pedaling.
The bikes are free of charge for those who pay the entry fee to participate in the event. The bikes are available on a first come, first served basis. About half of the gravel bikes have been reserved, and all of the e-bikes are still available.
“If there’s something hindering you from riding a bike, we hope to have taken that barrier away,” said Shearer. “The goal is to get people outside, around each other, meet people within your community and enjoy the good weather. ... Hopefully with something like this, people will realize you can put on shorts and a T-shirt, and you just get on a bike and ride it just like when you were a kid.”
Greenwood Gravel Grind is partnering with the Davis Phinney Foundation For Parkinson’s, an organization close to Beattie.
“It’s a very important foundation and cause for me, because I have Parkinson’s,” Beattie said. “I attended one of the foundation’s conferences several years ago when I was first diagnosed and realized how important their work was. ... Their sole mission is to help people with Parkinson’s to live well today. They teach people about nutrition and exercise and how that can help as much, or more, as medication.”
For every person who registers for Greenwood Gravel Grind, $5 will be donated to the foundation.
About 60 have already signed up for the event, and Beattie expects 100 or more on the day of the ride. That number of participants for a first-time gravel ride, Shearer said, would be “amazing” since gravel is just now catching on in the South.
“Not everybody is familiar with gravel,” said Beattie. “Two years ago I didn’t know, so we’re still educating people from that standpoint.”
Shearer said gravel rides are not a only fun way to get outdoors and challenge yourself, but also a way to connect with community.
“It’s a bunch of people who get together at a common place, go ride their bikes for a while, and then they come back and grab a bite to eat or they grab a beer and they hang out,” she said. “You meet a whole new community of people to enjoy, and it’s really great how it builds everybody up together.”
Registration is open until the day of the event.
The entry fee is $65 and will increase to $80 for registrations on Friday and April 27.
Both routes will start at the Downtown Greenwood Farmers Market Pavilion.
A post-ride party will be held at Tallahatchie Flats and will include live blues music by Ben Wiley Payton, food provided by Greenwood MarketPlace and cooked by the Cotton Row Que Team and beverages from Mitchell Distributing.
To reserve a free gravel bike or e-bike, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To register or for more information, visit greenwoodgravelgrind.com.
To volunteer, call the chamber at 453-4152.
• Contact Ruthie Robison at 581-7233 or email@example.com.
An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of brothers Frank and George Jarman.