About 6 years ago, I started a healthy and lively group conversation with many elite racers and event directors in gravel. I was concerned with the cheating and bad karma that was oozing into the sport as more elite athletes came to the stage. I felt compelled to protect what I had come to love. I didn’t and don’t want to see gravel become a cookie cutter template of traditional road racing. I’m not bagging on road racing, but that style of riding and racing already exists. If that’s your jam, then keep road racing. Our gravel racing discussion included many emails and various opinions on things like drafting, prize money and water bottle hand ups. It was unanimously clear that each event was unique and we all wanted to maintain the unstructured character. We didn’t want rules or sanctions, but we did want ethics. We wanted fair play, fun and freedom. Based on these conversations, I took everyone’s input and wrote up a 10 Commandments of Gravel. I also had 2nd name called The Rough Road Code. Ultimately, I did not publish these because “commandments” felt heavy handed and who was I to say what the code of ethics should be for all gravel events? We all agreed we didn’t want standardized rules for this genre of riding. So I let the conversation drop.
A couple of years later, a first grader friend of mine, Anna, provided the answer for Private Idaho and for my own racing ethic on gravel. Anna told me about their SHARK rules at her school and what the letters stood for. How we should behave as athletes in gravel races is what we learned, and perhaps forgot from first grade. It really is quite simple. Here are my gravel SHARK ethics (adapted from Anna’s SHARK rules) and this is how I operate myself, for my event and share this with riders who are coming into this genre of riding. Oh…and feel free to apply this to your everyday life too. It’s kind of universal.
S: Safe. We race on open roads and sometimes in big groups. #1…be safe and live to ride another day. This includes staying in your lane, obeying rules of the road, having your ears and eyes open and maybe even slowing down if a cow happens to wander across the race course. It happens.
H: Honest. If you have to ask yourself “is this ok”? then it’s not. This includes course cutting, taking aid on course, doping or any other form of cheating.
A: Accountable. Your actions are a reflection of you and a community of cyclists. Own your behavior and behave as an honored guest, because you are.
R: Responsible. Take care of yourself…bring a tool, tube, water, food and a map. Courses are remote and rugged. Take responsibility for yourself…if you don’t end up needing that stuff, you can share it with someone who might.
K: Kind. We are all part of the same bike riding tribe. Let’s treat each other, the volunteers, the staff, the residents, everyone the same way we want to be treated.
Here’s the thing about the above ethics. The community is the judge and jury. It is up to all racers, event directors, participants and sponsors to shine a light on and enforce the ethic of gravel racing. Each event may have different rules for drafting, dropping bottles on course or where you can take aid. No matter what the rules of the specific event are, SHARK still applies and it’s up to us to call out bad behavior or an infraction if we witness it.