An Interview with Neil Shirley

Looking for a good listen, be sure to check out the latest episode of The Gravel Ride Podcast featuring Neil Shirley. An entertaining discussion where Neil drops some gravel knowledge on how the sport has evolved from an equipment and event perspective.

 Automated Transcript (forgive typos).  Neil, welcome to the podcast.  Thanks for. Thanks for having me on.  Absolutely. I always like to start off by finding out a little bit about how you discovered gravel, where you're coming more from the mountain or road side.  Well, I guess like going way, way back, you know, my, my background is I'm a pro mountain biker for three years before transitioning over to the road, but it was, I'd say honestly like my past and gravel came from, came from the skinny tires and it was just being out of my training rides like I grew up in San Louis Obispo where there's just some really killer dirt road to ride gravel roads, you know, in the midst of a road ride. And so I'd hit some of those than I lived in San Diego and you know, same, same idea again, you just like stuff like va Haas grade and Boulder Creek road. Some of those, you know, travel sections that did just complete a really cool road ride. So I'd say that was like the first kind of my entry into it, but then, you know, when I quit racing professionally is when I got head over heels into gravel.  And when was that?  So my last pro race was US Pro road race 2010 in September. So then I'm kind of hung it up, wasn't sure how much I was really going to ride a bike anymore and took a job as the editor of road bike action magazine. Um, and then it was literally like within a year that kind of did like the first Belgian waffle ride. And that really was like, whoa. That was, that would, I would say that was probably my path into grab walks. That would be the first event that I actually ran different equipment on a road bike than I normally would have to ride. And Yeah. And then it was like, it was all about gravel after that.  What kind of equipment changes could you make at that point? Back in 2010 if you can remember?  Yeah. So, you know, forget what bike I rode in for the first few are. So, so the first Bwr I guess would have been 20, 2012 maybe. And that was a, just go in with a road bike and putting, putting essentially just 20 ac tires on it. I'm lowering the pressure a little bit. Um, but even, even then you were only. No, you didn't even have a wide selection of really good tubeless tire, so you know, it was running like a Grand Prix, you know, continental Grand Prix, 3004 seasons. So just a really tough all around tire. Um, so yeah, it was really just is really just wider tires was about it. Um, and then my first real entry into, you know, what we'd really categorize gravel as now would have been crushed the [inaudible] I'm out in Utah and it's my good friend, teammate on the road, Birch swindlehurst put on that event and you know, it really worked out that, you know, while I was working I was at road bike action.  We wanted to do a project like, and there are some small, you know, independent builders that were just getting into gravel. I mean you couldn't go out and buy a gravel bike for mania that big brands like term didn't even really exist yet. So I went to Kathy and had them build a custom dragon fly road frame with um, what, what we call a just like adventure geometry. And that allowed me to run up to a 35 tire and disc brakes. And so I was like my first true gravel bike and it was seeing was pretty amazing when you think about it, like going back to 2012.  Yeah, that's, that's pretty amazing. You often hear a lot of people from the road side of the sport reference crusher and Natasha and Bwr and I think part of it, his crusher with Brent. It's brand right? Who organizes it?  A Burke Burke,  sorry. With Burke's road background. I think he naturally drew in a lot of his friends who were looking for an adventure. And that adventure then started to become known to other riders and athletes who were like, hell yeah, I want to give that a try.  Yeah, I'd say that's a good way to phrase it. Say both, like Bwr in crusher really pushed kind of that race and maybe crusher doesn't do it as much now, but early on it was. It was really about the race and it was one of the only gravel events that actually has a price person. They still do. And you know, the winter both male and female and get a thousand dollars for the win and, and Bwr very much same way even though there isn't a, you know, a cash purse. I'm Michael Marks, you know, the event founder like he, he really comes from that road scene and it's that kind of that so cal race mentality and that's, you know, that's really, I think what's built up the hype around event was kind of the roadside and coming in and pushing the limits of what you can do on a road bike.  Yeah. And I've heard Michael defend very aggressively against it being called the gravel grinder or gravel race. You really wanted to have, you know, that road orientation, like a Belgian classic, which I think is interesting because as we noted it's, it is exciting and the amount of dirt in that particular races small enough that in a roadies are coming out and riding it hard and just taken their lumps in the dirt and discovering that the dirt part was actually quite fun.  Yeah. No. And it's true. And I mean the first year of that event and the first couple of years like you just didn't, you know, there, there's still the range now, like if you went to the Bwr this year, like the range of equipment is, is mindblowing out there. You have someone you know from a road bike with 25 see tires all the way to the guy with, you know, a gravel bike, six wheels and two point one and mountain bike tires. But early on like those, those extra, you know, the extreme of the six slash 50 b and then all the gravel options and tire sizes, all that. Stuff like that really didn't exist. Then. Like that's really just been within the last handful of years that we have so much equipment available to us.  Yeah, it's true. I imagine, and I've heard others refer to this back in the early days of crusher that you'd see all kinds of bikes show up there from mountain bikes to modified cross bikes to straight up road bikes with the fattest tires they can handle on it.  Yeah, I mean I think, you know, my setup the first year I did it in 2012 on that calfee, like I, I went, I essentially had no budget because I could call up these companies and tell them what I was doing and this would be a big feature in the magazine. So getting the equipment was, was easy and so I had the best stuff I could, I could pick, but I was still very much limited. Like I ran, I envy the cross Pepsi Mountain bike wheels in tubular because clinchers at that time were, the wheels were support so heavy and the tire options were so limited as well. I mean you only had only had cyclocross tires and with the UCI limit of cyclocross tire being 33 cm in width, there just weren't high volume tires available. Um, so I was out there tubulars, now I look back and it's like kind of comedy, you know, because we have such a myriad of, of tire ranges, every brand basically in tubeless option or tubeless ready options. So you know, it's a good. Anyone getting into the segment of the sport now is like, you know, good for you because you have so much equipment available at prices that are, that are pretty economic now.  Yeah. The the riders who started out early on, we were more a controlled by constraints in the industry, so we were just picking things that were incrementally bigger or better than where we were able to ride previously and now to your point, there's just been an explosion and the gravel bike, it's such a broad definition and I think manufacturers are approaching it from so many different perspectives. You definitely see on the more road side manufacturers just allowing for larger tires to give a little bit more freedom and potentially make them accessible for light gravel use and then on the opposite end of the spectrum, you've got companies that are coming from more of a bike packing perspective that are building these burly monster cross off road machines with drop bars that are totally different ends of the spectrum and it's really fascinating. I think for a lot of my listeners who are just getting into the sport, try to figure out where in that spectrum does it make sense to place their ownership?  Yeah, I think that that's true. And it, you know, to your point, it's great that all these options exist, but also for the consumer, the person just getting into the scene, they know it can be a little bit overwhelming because there is such a range in bikes. All kind of categorized is gravel or adventure bikes. And so like if you're coming in and you know like where, what side you air on like extreme or kind of the, you know, the road bike with just a little more clearance that can take us 33 c or something like that. So, you know, I think with those options it's like consumer education is a big part of it. So podcasts like this are just a great, a great tool for people getting into it.  Yeah, I agree that it's, it's totally confusing for consumers getting in once they really peel the onion around gravel and try to grab a bunch of resources to try to figure out what does this brand manufacturer, what's the approach, what will this bike enable me to do is a ton of thought that goes into it. I know that was my personal journey. I ended up getting a commuter bike that was enabled me to have dyspraxia and you know, it's fairly wide, 700 see tires and the moment I started riding off road in Marine County I just started to think that fatter would be better and ultimately ended up with something that could take 6:50, b one nine tires and I pretty much ride big fat tires all the time at this point.  Yeah, I'm kind kinda right there with. I used to early on like I'd go out to Rebecca is private Idaho or something on the run, you know like the 33 see specialized trigger because I thought it would be so much faster than a 35 or something. And now, you know, as I've, as I've written more groundwater than more events, I've seen like some of the test data coming out from some of these companies, it's like air pressure's going down, tire volume is going up, rim volume is going up, all these things improve the rhymes so much. So now I'm like, I don't really have a reason to go smaller than like a 40 c with a 700 seat. We'll, um, unless I was doing like maybe grab a world and I was really looking for the most efficient setup possible. I could go narrower because I mean those, those roads, like I grabbed the world which is in Lincoln, Nebraska, they're there gravel. But it's such a hard pack. The link, you know, like the tire lane, um, might as well be pavement.  I know you've worked a lot with envy over your career and you mentioned that you see a trend for rims going lighter. Can you get into that a little bit more for us?  Yeah. So I, you know, there's, there's a number of, you know, head was one of the first ones really that got into the wide rim trend with some of their, um, road wheels and then envy has been right there with them kind of pushing that. And this year envy came out with their g 23, there are specific gravel we'll um, which as a 23 millimeter internal and it's easy to get caught up on just thinking like, okay, wider, wider is better. But, so the, like the [inaudible] three is, is kind of designed after the m five, two five, which is the cross country mountain bike rim, but the [inaudible] three is two millimeters narrower. And so that's really just to go with a 35 to 40, 40 to see tire, kind of that range that they're running. So it's not always just about wider is better at it, you know, how it works. And with the tire size,  what is the benefit of that width to the rider?  Um, it has, it has multiple benefits. One is just, again, overall overall volume is you're opening up. If you're increasing the volume, um, you know, you have more pinch flat protection, um, you can decrease the pressure, um, you know, without, if you decrease the pressure to have a nice ride on a narrower rim, the opportunity, it's easier to get a pinch flats. Um, so yeah, I would say that that's the biggest one of the biggest improvements.  And does that end up translating into something different with the tires you're running when you're running a little bit less pressure and you kind of get maybe a flatter footprint. Is it changing the way tire manufacturers are looking at what they're producing  and tire manufacturers are definitely looking at it, but I'd say more so on, on the road side. So you see some of these, um, with like say the new cannondale aerobic stitches came out, it comes with a 25 c tire, which you would think, you know, maybe it's not that wide, but you look at the rim that it's on. All of the sudden, like he measured, it's probably like a 28 or 29 millimeter wide tire on the super wider rims that are coming stock on the bike so that all that all comes into the play and that, um, it all counts as overall overall air volume. You have to factor in the rim and the tire it. I'm kind of an interesting thing that envy did on their website is they put together a tire tire pressure chart and it factors in right away rim width. So it's not just and be specific, you can figure out, you know, what your, your inner rim width is on brand x. we'll you can go in and look at, see what they suggest, like whoa. A highlight, high range and low range for tire pressure. It's a pretty handy guy. Um, that I think will surprise people on kind of how low they recommend on, on some of the setups.  Yeah. I think that's common with a lot of people I talked to you is that they've found that they've just gotten lower and lower on the pressure because they're not getting any negative consequences to that. I've been learning a little bit more about what you were talking about around tire width relative to rim width and how you know the measurement of the tires are. We can't just do chronically think of these millimeters anymore because with a wider rim it's going to fat now to a little bit and it's gonna feel like a bigger tire then maybe you think you've specked on your bike.  Yeah, exactly. You really have to kind of look at it as it as a system, right? Rather than just the individual than just a rim or the tire. It's like both combined because that's. That's what you're writing, right?  Yeah, absolutely.  In the right direction, that's for sure.  Yeah. Yeah, and it overwhelmingly seems like to a degree fatter and wider or better. Obviously we'll find the outer bound of that statement, but I always encourage everybody is listening to go to go fatter than they think they should go initially because I rarely hear of anybody complaining about that choice.  Yeah, for sure. And the the, you know, the only thing you have to keep in mind is as that air volume increases, you need to. You need to decrease the pressure. That's kind of the, you know, the fine point in at all. If you, if you're running a 35 see tire on on a rim and you put a 40 on the same rim and you run it at the same pressure, it's going to feel like the pressure is increased. So bring, bring that pressure down as you go bigger and you'll be very happy.  Right. Well, it's been interesting talking about the evolution of the equipment and with you. I know coming from a mountain bike background, you're maybe more open to a lot of the trends and innovations that have come into the gravel market. I'm particularly curious to talk to you about the dao fork as we've had benedict on the show. If you episodes ago, and it was really fascinating conversation, so I'd love to get your take on writing that Lao fork on your bike and what you see the advantages are and if you think more and more people are going to start going down that route.  Yeah. The amount of, uh, questions I get about that fork are, it's incredible. So three years ago at dirty Kanza, I used one of the, one of the Lao grit forks, I put it on an open and didn't really get to ride it much before the race, but then just absolutely loved it in the race itself. Um, and then I had an opportunity this year to ride the truth, the true grit, so the frame and fork that they build, um, and couldn't be happier. It's a to 30 millimeter, you know, amount of travel using just the carbon leaf springs and you know, it. I first went in and thinking like, okay, this is really going to just kill it on the washboard chatter stuff. And it does. If it improves that for sure. But where I was really surprised was when I'm getting into a little more extreme terrain and like big rain roads going sideways and you're hitting those things. Then normally with a rigid fork you kind of hit, you know, hit that, hit a ring, right, going sideways and your wheel front wheel wants to deflect and go sideways. But with that fork it's just enough to keep your front end pointed the right direction. And I feel that it actually gives me not only night ride a little bit faster, but I have more control. So I'll take, I'll take better control. Went on some sketchy, sketchy gravel road descent.  Yeah, absolutely. I mean, did you find that over the longer events that you were less fatigued using the fork?  Yeah, I, I, I would have to say so it's like all those, you know, the, the micro vibration that we deal with over the course of, even if it's, you know, a 100 mile ride, but especially as you start stretching out when you're on the bike all day long, like just reducing that in your shoulders, your neck. Um, all of that. It really, you know, I think in an event like dirty Kanza, you don't really find out your weak links until you're in something like that. It just really stretches you and this year at decay like I, you know, I should do upper body workouts and stuff like that, but I don't. I'm lazy and you know, it, it's pretty amazing. Like how well my upper body held up and I really do attribute it a lot too just to that front end.  Right now you and I were both down in big bear at the spandex stampede event, which had a decent amount of climbing for the mileage. Yeah. How do you feel about the fork when climbing, obviously it adds about a pound of weight to the bike. Do you feel like the advantages overall kind of outweigh that weight?  Yeah, I think so. Especially especially on gravel. I'm just, you know, the advantages I just was talking about, I mean my bike is still only like 17 and a half or 18 pounds and so that, that seems plenty of light to me. Um, and for, you know, I do most of my climbing, seated, climbing so I have no idea that that work is even, they're going up hill, you know, you're not getting any bobbing out of it if, you know, if you stand up a lot and maybe you don't have like really good form and you're kind of bouncing on the friend, like I could see that bothering you a little bit, but I think you've kind of work on your, if you felt that you kind of work on your form and you actually improve your climbing form, just by realizing if you're bouncing, you know, if you're bouncing around and wasting energy.  Yeah, that makes sense. What about for our listener who rides a little bit more on the road in their gravel bike journeys? How, how does the fork feel on the road and you know, is it, is it really for someone who is writing mostly off road?  I would say like if you're, if you're predominantly on the road, you know, there's just the benefits of it obviously diminish. Um, but you know, I raised it Belgian waffle ride this year and is a first time I'd ever actually written a bike other than a traditional road bike. And I on it, I really thought like I would give up, I'd really be given stuff up on some of the climbing, some of the rope climbing parts in the group and I was astonished. It was a great setup. I ran 30 see tires on it and the bike was so capable, like anytime we hit the dirt it was just like, I felt like I was at such an advantage.  That's really interesting. That's really good feedback. I think. I'm glad to hear that. I do think, and I've mentioned this before on the podcast that to a degree gravel sort of aligns itself with road biking than mountain biking. And as such we've got this sort of preconceived notion as to what the bike should look like and how we should dress, et cetera. And I think the leading edge companies are trying to blow that away and really make people think about, well, how does the bike perform? Let's forget about the heritage of maybe why this sector of the sport started to evolve and I think the law fork is a prime example of that, that it probably is faster and a lot of respects for a lot of the terrain that people are riding and definitely racing on, but there's a little bit of resistance to people grabbing hold of it and putting on their bikes.  Yeah, I agree. I mean the road, the road side, you know, traditional bunch for sure. Um, you know, you look at how long it's taken, you know, just for disc brake acceptance, um, that's kind of a shame because guess what, so many people can benefit greatly from disc brakes even if those people aren't. The pros like that shouldn't matter. Um, so yeah, I would say, you know, mountain bikers and even track athletes like triathletes or read their apt to try anything that they think is going to improve performance. Like they'll, they'll give anything a go. So it is cool to see like the gravel niche and like people not afraid to just, you know, try new things and even just like the spandex event like you were talking about in big bear, like I saw a number of labs out there and I, I think that there's going to be more and more, you know, they're gonna keep selling those bikes just as the word gets out. What, what an advantage it is.  Yeah, definitely. And I mean obviously we've seen a couple of other fork manufacturers dip their toe in the water and I think life is going to lead the way, but others will follow.  Yeah. Now, uh, now they just need a good proper post with suspension. It will be sad.  I was just going to move onto dropper posts because it's been something that's come up a few times on the podcast and I, I'm, I'm curious about it for sure. You're definitely gonna see one on my bike in the coming months as I test it out and try to understand its affects more.  Yeah. I have yet to use the dropper posts on and gravel bike. And, and to be honest, I probably only use the dropper post on a mountain bike a couple of times, so it's kind of new. It's new territory for me, but I, you know what, like I'm totally open for, for running one because I liked, I liked to do like some true mountain biking, all my gravel bike. I think it's, it's really fun. And you know, a dropper posts would be an advantage in situations. Like I tell people like I can get a rush, I can get an adrenaline rush, all my gravel bike in dirt going 15 miles an hour, 20 miles an hour. And if I wash out in a wreck, you know, doing something technical, I'm probably not going to get hurt to get an adrenaline rush on the road bike. I have to be going really fast when things go wrong. Like it really hurts if I can, if I can push the limits on the gravel bike, like that's, that's totally fine. I'm probably going to walk away if things go wrong.  Yeah, exactly. I keep keep messaging the guys over at thesis spike who are specking a bike with a dropper post or at least as an option and I'm always saying like, oh, I just wrote this really steep terrain on my bike and I could definitely use the dropper post and Randall, the designer over there. I will always come back to me saying, yeah, you'd love it there, but trust me, it wouldn't just be there. It'll be when you're descending on the road when you're doing lots of things that you wouldn't think of. When you finally have one on your bike. You'll discover that your speed and safety can both go up and it's. I'm really curious to test that hypothesis.  Yeah, that's. That's a good idea. Someone it afford dirty cans and kind of. When we already knew that the aero bars, we're going to be a big deal this year at some of these events and someone was trying to figure out how they could make a dropper post where there was just maybe a centimeter of difference so that when they're in the aero bars and up on the nose of the saddle, they could use the post to go off a centimeter and then when they're out of the, out of the aero bars and you know, just on the hoods are the top how they could use the dropper to go down to the centimeter. So I think we're gonna see there's gonna be a lot more kind of going on in this world, you know, tech advantages, some for just having fun like a dropper post. And then like still race geeks that are like looking to get every, you know, be able to get a little bit faster. It's, it's fun because, you know, it's like mountain biking in the early nineties, you know, we're just, everyone's just throwing stuff out there and we'll see what sticks.  Yeah. Yeah. It's great. And I want to transition a little bit away from equipment and just talk about racing and the community and the events. And that's a great segue because I think both you and I share this vision of gravel as it is now as being similar mountain biking back then where, you know, you still saw people camping before the race. It was always a festival atmosphere. So talk a little bit about that and maybe some of the events that you've done and how community is playing a role in, in gravel and how you're enjoying it personally.  Yeah. So I mean honestly it, it takes me back to when I first got into mountain biking when I was 14 and you know, I'd go to the races with my dad and we got an rv just to go to the races and camp out because all of our friends did that too. So we'd be at Keysville classic, you know, the night before the race at the bonfire and all the vehicles circled around. Same with camping out there for a week. And then, you know, when I transitioned into the road and did the pro racing thing, like there was, there was none of that like you had no, there just wasn't. There just wasn't really a community. You went out and you did your job, you know, that was great who hopefully you have a good race if not you move onto the next one. But with gravel now it really takes me back to when I first fell in love with bikes and you know, that was that community part of it and being out there and you make a full weekend out of it, then you're just hanging out with people like that's such a huge draw of it.  And I think that's something, you know, as mountain biking has declined and you know, people got into road racing. That's really been a, a big, you know, kind of big missing piece or cycling. Um, now we, now we have it again and there's so many. There's like events like grinder or where it isn't just a one day ride, it's a full weekend event and Grapes of Wrath which is put on by the guys that put on a rock cobbler. Again, a full weekend event where is not just encouraged, you know, for you to be there the whole weekend. It's kind of mandatory is what is what it's all about. So I, you know, I hope that there's more and more events like that and you know, Rebecca's prime died but which is coming up, you know, Labor Day weekend. That's, that's a perfect example again of being out there and Rebecca has created just like this community of people to go experience her favorite writing and guess what, it's turned out that like people want that because these events that have just been nothing but growth.  Yeah. I think today's gravel athletes are looking for new terrain. They're looking for all the community and you know, post race barbecues and camping that you're describing. And to me it is like my experience with mountain biking as well. I remember signing up for mountain bike events primarily because I knew someone had taken the time to create a course in a different part of the country that I could get to and I'd get to go experience some new terrain without overthinking the navigation piece of it.  Yeah, no, it's true. And I think even better with what's fun with gravel and you know, I hope we don't start seeing like a lot like mountain biking where you do like four laps or something like that. I, I see gravel is like this exploration and this adventure, so going out and doing one big ass flap, whether it's 80 miles or 200 miles, whatever it is, 50 miles, as long as you're seeing something really cool and you're getting to experience whatever this area is and what's special and unique to the area. I'm, that's, that's really, those are the events that really intrigued me and it turns out like you can be in Nebraska or Kansas or bakersfield and on the dirt bike there is so much cool stuff to see out there. Like on the road road, the road surface, you can ride through some great areas, but road surface never changes and I think with gravel, the gravel events, you know, one of the, one of the key things is that you really never know what you're getting in each area with the type of terrain you're gonna get. And that's just a whole different. Just a whole different element that makes you have to stay really checked in and engaged with what you're doing and very much in the moment.  Yeah, totally agree. And for the middle of the pack guys such as myself, just finding those different areas to ride in and the unique adventure of being all over the map. Like I was down at the old growth classic this weekend down by Santa Cruz and I hiked on some of that terrain and written some of the legal stuff, but I'd never kind of created this massive loop. So there was times I had no idea where I was, but it just kept plugging away and enjoy the fact that I was just discovering this terrain in a different way and give big props to that course designer because you just created a hard loop that, that tested the equipment across the board, depending on which end of the spectrum you are on. If you had the big fat tires or narrow tires, there are parts of the course that we're going to suit either or. But no one left that course thinking I had the right equipment for every single pedal stroke, which I think is the hallmark of great gravel course design.  Yeah, I agree. I think it's, it's, it's pretty fun to like be underbite not all the time but like be in situations where you're like, ah yeah, I, you know, yeah, a mountain bike would be good here. But as a whole, looking at it as the entire course as a whole course, like you know, often the gravel bike is, is the ideal setup and that, you know, the old growth classic like Dallas, like that looks like a special event that they put together and that area has like, you know, you have the grasshopper adventure series up there and like they're. So there's so many great, like Kinda grassroots style events to choose from.  Yeah, absolutely. I'm stoked to see how it's grown all over the country really. I keep hearing about new events thinking, oh I want to go down and do that. And I was stoked that I would just happen stance took me down to southern California and as able to do that big bear event because previously the only other one I'd done was gravel mob, which I totally love.  Yeah. Yeah. Gravel. Mom's a great one in. Oh, hi there. And unfortunately like all of that, all those mountains burned, you know, this past this past year. So hopefully they, hopefully they're still able to put on the event, you know, and it, it won't be maybe quite as beautiful, but that just, that whole area is, is really spectacular up above Ohio.  Yeah. I just actually got an email alert from the guys at Peloton magazine and it's definitely on.  Oh good. Then yeah, that's, that's great to hear. They do a good job with it. I've done it a couple times and it's so hard day in the saddle, that's for sure.  Yeah, it's another fun one. Soup to nuts I think.  Yeah. Yeah. And then like, you know, as, as you're talking about you finish up, give high fives, grab a beer, grab Tacos, everyone's hanging out for hours afterward, Sharon stories and no one is eager to get out of there. Um, so pretty special vibe.  Absolutely. So I'm curious as someone who's raced a lot of these events, at least kind of on the west coast, the events are going a couple of different directions. You Got Short, fast, punchy events and then you've got other events exploring kind of the ultra distance side of the sport. Like with the Dk xl this year, what's your reaction to, to what's going on in terms of the length of course race, the race is, etc.  I, I really liked that. There's so many optIons now. The basically, you know, lIke dirty kanza scares the crap out of me and so that makes me want to train and be able to like be as prepared as possible just to get through it, but I don't want, I don't want that feeling more than once or twice a year. So then to have opportunities for something like spandex stampede where it's 40 to 45 miles and you can be done in two and a half, three hours and then just kind of hanging out. I Think those are like, that's kind of how I like to do it. Like mixing stuff like spandex, um, rock cobbler. I think it's really cool that all of the sudden we have opportunity to kind of pick and choose. Whereas five years ago it was like, whoa, what do you know? There's a gravel event in California.  Cool, let's go do it. Now we have, you know, probably 20 good choices, you know, over the course of the summer. Um, so they, they all kind of, they all speak to me in different ways and you know, I probably am not going to be signing up for dk xl anytime soon. I think, you know, I've told jim come into the promoter like 200 and you know, the course is actually 207 miles for the, for the normal dk. That's more than enough for me. So I think I kind of tapped out at that 200 mile distance personally.  Yeah. I don't blame you at all. I think 200 is a monster effort, one of which full disclosure, I've never done an in any circumstances you're adding 200 miles. So anybody who crosses that finish line I think is amazing. I do think on the xcel side is going to be interesting because the quote unquote racers that you hear about it, it's a different type of character that's going to want to do those, that type of mileage. I mean you're kind of getting into tour divide territory more than kind of one day bike race territory.  Yeah, it's really interesting. And just to see like who is successful out there? Like Rebecca Rush, you know, she, I think ended up for overall out of men and women and you know, just dominated the women's field. Whereas she was up against a couple women that maybe in the 200 mile distance at this point could have eat rebecca. So it's just as, as you stretch the mile out, almost double the amount of miles, like the different types of athletes emerge that, you Know, seems crazy to say 200 miles is too short for them. But it's kinda kinda how it is.  Yeah, it's really interesting. I mean it goes back to my original arrival in gravel. I credit more towards the notion of bike packing, then gravel itself. I just sort of became fascinated in those overnight and multi day and month long races that people were doing and started following them and looking at the equipment. And that got me thinking just a lot more about adventure in my writing and something that was sorely needed in my life as a cyclist at that moment in time. And I kind of got drawn in and I'd never done any of those bike packing races. But that's what got my toe in the water and started becoming so passionate about gravel riding in general.  Yeah, that's, that's cool. So interestingly enough, I, like I would say I started on the other side of the spectrum. My, it was the racing side that brought me into it and you know, I wanted to go, I want to do, you know, when belgian waffle ride and, and when crusher and the tuscher and I wanted to win dirty kanza and it took me, took me a few years to, you know, of course I would still love to go when dirty kanza that's just not reality now. But I would say early on it was, that was kind of my main. That was my biggest goal and my first dirty kanza ever. I went into it and I was so incredibly fit. Just basically did pro mile leading up to it and really wanted to win it and had my rear derailleur break off 25 miles in. and it was like at that moment I was like, okay, well I'm not racing races over how can I finish?  And I was on the side of the road for an hour, rigging up a single speed and did the next 175 miles on a single speed and was able to finish. And the real kind of eyeopening experience was riding with the people I was around, which were mid to back of the pack typewriters. Um, because I was really limited on how fast I could go because of my, my gear ratio and the people out there were like. So I went into it thinking, okay, I just want to dominate. I want to win this thing. And these other people, it was such, such a different task for them. They were, they were literally just trying to survive to get through it. And really from then on really changed my thinking and going, you know, going to these events and look at the bigger picture. and it's not just about racing and trying to go fast, it's, it's such a marginal part of the day. And so I always try and remind myself and I, you know, I, I can't win many races anymore, but still like that, that's an experience that like just really remains with me and I'm really fortunate. I feel fortunate for having that happened to me because it, it really just opened my eyes to everything around me.  Yeah. I imagine it really shaped your professional perspective in working with brands at this point that just to have that visceral understanding of like, hey, these guys, they don't really care if someone passes them. They don't really care if they pass anybody else. They're just really. they're out there for the adventure. And the adventure includes everything between the start line and the finish line.  Yep. And, and they're the real, like they're the ones that need to be celebrated at 1:00 AM, you know, a dirty cans or any event like that. That's kind of, you know, the mid back, the people, they're working way harder. They have such such a harder day than the people that are finishing in the top three, top 10. They are what they go through out there just to will themselves to the finish of some of these big long events. It's really inspiring.  Yeah, I totally agree with you. totally agree wIth you and I think those sentiments are really wide. There's such a huge opportunity for the industry with the sport of gravel because we can really. the event organizers continue to create the community atmosphere and the great adventure courses. I think people come in and will continue to come into the sport and discover that it is really this gem that is right there at their fingertips and right outside a lot of people's doors are these back roads and dirt roads that can show them parts of their community that they never even imagined before.  Yeah. It's just. It's just fun. Like for me, It's brought to open the door. Even though I've lived in the same area for eight years. when I go out on the gravel bike, it's like I have all new rides available to me and I don't want to get like negative and talk about cars and drivers, but when I'm, when I'm on a dirt road or a trail somewhere, I don't have to worry about anything going on around me. I can just focus on my ride and enjoying and kind of let my, you know, a little bit of peace of mind and you know, if I'm going out in the middle of the day for a lunch ride, that kinda decompressor it's great. Just going in and hitting dirk. I don't have anything else to think about.  Yeah, absolutely. There's a lot of peace to be had out there on the gravel trails. So neil, this has been a great conversation. I really appreciate all the time and your perspective on the sport and your continued commitment to growing it.  Yeah, it's, as I told you before, I, I can talk about driving all day, so it's really fun. It's, you know, the scene is brought me, kind of renewed, my passion for writing, so it's great to be on the podcast. Thank you.  Yeah, you're welcome. ThankS for coming in. All right man. That was great. I think we've got some good material.  Good deal. Yeah. Well thanks again for thinking of me. I'm stoked to, uh, to be a part of this.