Western PA’s baddest and boldest gravel rides are back for 2018!

Western PA’s baddest and boldest gravel rides are back! Challenge yourself with the SweetWater Whiskey Rebellion Gravel Rides, an adventurous tour through historic and rural PA landscapes of Washington County on Sunday, May 20. The rides transverse some of the trails of the pivotal Whiskey Rebellion of 1791.

Challenge yourself with the SweetWater Whiskey Rebellion Gravel Rides, an adventurous tour through historic and rural PA landscapes of Washington County on Sunday, May 20. The rides transverse some of the trails of the pivotal Whiskey Rebellion of 1791.

“The Whiskey Rebellion is an off-road adventure ride for mountain bikers, cyclocross racers,

off-road cyclists, and other bicyclists looking for a challenge and something different,” says Don McKee, co-owner of SweetWater Bikes, sponsors of the rides. “Gravel cycling has attracted a lot of attention, and we’ve put together some great rides on gravel trails in a scenic and historic setting.”

Men’s Journal recently wrote that gravel rides “are the current rock stars of the amateur cycling world. These grueling, mostly off-road, but not quite mountain bike races, challenge man and machine against ruthless terrain, leg-searing elevation, and nearly every form of weather Mother Nature can dish out. Judging from their rapid rise in popularity — currently the fastest growing event in the sport — cyclists can’t get enough of them.”

Participants have the choice of four distances: 25K (16.5 miles), 50K (32.4 mi), 75K (53.7) and 100K (69.6 mi). Registration for any of the four rides is $40 and includes a post-ride catered lunch, beverages and some high-energy Appalachian bluegrass music from one of the region’s top bands, Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers.

Registration for the Whiskey Rebellion is available at BikeReg: www.bikereg.com/whiskyrebellion-gravel-50100k.

The 75K and 100K rides are set to begin at 8 am, while the 50K ride will start at 9 am and the 25K ride at 10 am. The event, to be limited to 200 riders, begins and ends at Morris Township Community Park, 4780 Prosperity Pike, Prosperity, PA.

SweetWater Bikes of Ambridge inaugurated the Whiskey Rebellion gravel rides last year and for 2018 there will be some new routes and new challenges. The routes vary from a little gravel to big, fresh new gravel and from hilly to rolling terrain with more than 7,000 feet of climbing in the 100K option.

The rides are:

*The Bourbon 25K (16.5 miles) is the shortest route though it will not be easy as cyclists gain 1,925 feet in elevation. Covered bridges pepper the route and riders will be able to sample real gravel roads, including beautiful Bradbury Hill. In other words, perfect for the new to gravel rider.

*In The Rye 50K (32.4 mi), riders will be traveling last year’s favorite route, Boulder Road, with some coarse loose rocks and potholes than any other roads on the course. Cyclists will be rewarded at the end of many of the climbs with scenic vistas from the ridges. Total elevation: 3,526 feet.

*For the hearty riders, The Single Malt 75K (53.7 mi) contains several very fast gravel descents. Cyclists face a challenging route with mixed gravel and crumbling asphalt with off-grid homesteads and off-the-beaten path covered bridges. The route passes through PA game lands and follows several streams.

*The ultimate Double Malt 100K (69.6 mi), like the Single Malt 75K, follows the western loop of 37.2mi. The full course includes favorites like Bradbury Hill, Boulder Road, Walker Road and Auld Hill and a couple of new roads that were added to the course this year. Long climbs with fast descents, state game lands, covered bridges, homesteads and lots of wildlife. This course has it all.

There will be four rest stops during the Double Malt 100K, as the course loops through the starting point to finish off the first 50K and continue on with the 100K, which will also be looping back to finish at the start.

McKee suggests that participants consider riding a gravel, cyclocross, touring or mountain bike with at least 32 mm tires. All riders will end up back at Morris Township Community Park and celebrate with locally-sourced food, beverages, great bluegrass music, and, of course, stories.

Local bike shop owner encourages ‘travel by gravel’

Article written by Bob Batz Jr. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on May 13, 2017 at 12:00 AM. More and more cyclists enjoy “travel by gravel.” Gravel riding, as it’s called, takes them off the pavement and onto unpaved back roads and other byways.

May 13, 2017 12:00 AM By Bob Batz Jr. / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

More and more cyclists enjoy “travel by gravel.” 

Gravel riding, as it’s called, takes them off the pavement and onto unpaved back roads and other byways. 

You can try it next weekend when SweetWater Bicycles in Ambridge puts on the first Whiskey Rebellion Gravel 50K and 100K rides in Washington County on May 21. The routes cover the literal ground where Colonial farmers grew rye and turned it into whiskey that the federal government taxed, leading to protests and the Whiskey Rebellion in 1791. 

“Our ride traverses many of the original roads and three covered bridges that link the farms to the colonies’ spirit markets,” says shop co-owner Don McKee, who wants to make this new ride -— not a race — an annual adventure. 

Gravel riding is off-road but “not too far,” he says, challenging but not as technical as some mountain-biking trails and with much less car and truck traffic than riding on smooth paved roads. It’s one of the fastest-growing styles of cycling. You can find organized gravel and other “adventure” rides on websites such as gravelcyclist.com and ridinggravel.com.

There are races and rides in West Virginia, but most “grinder” action is out West. “We wanted to bring it closer to home,” says Laura McKee, who bought the shop with her husband early last year. He chose Washington County for this event after consulting a Pennsylvania State University map of the state’s unpaved roads. 

Their shop sells gravel/adventure bikes made by several brands — Jamis, Felt, Salsa, Fuji and Masi — that start at $579. The bikes are built to handle rougher terrain, with wider wheels and tires and wider, more upright handlebars.

“They tend to be very comfortable, sturdy bikes,” says Ms. McKee, who rides a carbon-fiber one that weighs less than 20 pounds. (There’s also an international series of Eroica rides — eroica.cc — that are old-school and encourage riders to grind it out over gravel on vintage steel racing bikes while poking fun at today’s hyper-specialized gear.) 

Up to 100 riders can register for the ride -— motto: “Be a rebel, ride gravel.” The deadline is May 17 and the cost is $35, which includes post-ride food and drinks. And yes, there will be whiskey and other spirits from Rebellion-themed Liberty Pole Spirits in Washington, Pa., plus bluegrass music from Washington County’s Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers. (If you don’t want to ride, you can just come to the after-party for $10.) Riders also get a T-shirt and a coupon for $10 off a bike tune-up at SweetWater, which you might need after the ride, if not before.

Mr. McKee describes the course as back country roads with surfaces ranging from relatively fine gravel to large gnarly stuff with a few paved stretches, too. The route is “peppered with old and new farms connected by established and new roads with outstanding views.” It’s up and down and up again, with the 100K (62-mile) ride including 7,000 feet of climbing.

There will be three rest stops on that ride, as riders loop back to the 9 a.m. starting point at Krenzelak Orchards near Prosperity to finish off the first 50K (31 miles) and continue on with the 100K, which will also loop back to finish at the same spot. 

“The terrain will be challenging, and we will have a few differently paced groups so that everyone has a ride group,” Mr. McKee says. There will be a “sag wagon” for support and a repair station at the start/finish. 

You don’t need a gravel bike, but whatever bike you ride — cyclocross, touring or mountain — you should have at least 32-millimeter-wide tires. And spare inner tubes and patches for flats. 

To register, visit bikereg.com/whiskey-rebellion-gravel-50100k or e-mail ride@sweetwaterbicycles.com

Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.