Feature: USA Cycling has its eye on Gravel

No rules, just right. Keep gravel grass roots.
No rules, just right. Keep gravel grass roots.

This round of news broke on December 5th, 2016, on the VeloNews.com website. Below is a direct quotation from that article, followed by some comments we have already received at the inbox of Gravel Cyclist HQ. The original VeloNews article can be seen here.

In an effort to grow its membership and offer elite perks to its membership holders, USA Cycling has created new license tiers to cater to both enthusiast cyclists and hardcore racers. The new licenses come with perks such as increased insurance coverage and roadside assistance.
According to Derek Bouchard-Hall, CEO of USA Cycling, the new products reflect a bigger trend that USAC is trying to tap: the growth of non-traditional cycling events such as charity rides, gravel races, and gran fondos.
“We don’t want to sit idly by and not be a part of that and influence it,” Bouchard-Hall said. “They don’t even know that we exist. We’d like to be a positive part of that community. That’s explicitly part of our mission to grow cycling.”
Amid a raft of policy changes for 2017, USAC announced another tier of its Ride membership, a product for enthusiasts, not hardcore racers. Those who opt for the Ride license can chose between $50 and $150 Ride+ options, the latter of which includes a USA Cycling racing kit. Changes are less severe for members who hold a traditional racing license. The $70 racing license is good for unlimited racing through the calendar year, with a $100 Podium license including supplemental insurance coverage as well as 24/7 roadside assistance.
According to its roadside assistance page, the upgrade plan offers assistance for flat tires, transportation in case of a crash, and extraction of a bicycle from a ditch or other inaccessible area. The roadside assistance crew will also free up a locked bicycle.
The governing body will also begin aggressively reaching out to gran fondo and charity ride events to offer sanctioning and USA Cycling racing insurance.
The push toward gran fondo and other nontraditional events represents a shift in focus for the governing body. Of the estimated 7 million cyclists in the U.S., only about one percent are part of USA Cycling, and thus far, USA Cycling has sold approximately 8,000 Ride memberships, according to Bouchard-Hall.
“That’s a lost opportunity for us,” Bouchard-Hall said. Pending a decision by the USAC board, riders could also use fondo results to upgrade from Cat. 5 to 4, which might further entice recreational riders.
Bouchard-Hall cited British cycling as a successful model with its enthusiast-class licenses. That organization’s enthusiast membership base is twice as large as its base of competitive members. “That’s the scale of our aspiration, ” Bouchard-Hall said.
The push into the gran fondo marketplace could put USA Cycling at odds with cyclists who purposefully gravitate toward non-sanctioned events such as gravel races and gran fondos. In recent years, critics have accused the governing body of sucking the fun out of some cycling events due to rules and regulations aimed at course safety, participant categories, and even course design.
Bouchard-Hall said he is cognizant of the criticism, and said that USAC is working toward a less-intrusive presence at these events. “There’s no reason why it needs to feel less grassroots,” he said. “It could be more expensive, but that’s only because the insurance product covers all eventualities. We’re trying to make it so the value proposition is better.

Can you imagine this fun being sanctioned?
Can you imagine this fun being sanctioned by USA Cycling? No thanks!
JOM, Founder of Gravel Cyclist
I spoke on the telephone at length with Mr Don Losole of USA Cycling in May of 2016, as I made my way to the Cedar Cross event in Missouri. Mr Losole is one of USA Cycling’s Event Services Regional Managers. During that phone conversation, he ensured me that USA Cycling’s only interest in gravel was to offer insurance to promoters of gravel events. Obviously, things have changed since that conversation.

Copy of an email Gravel Cyclist was bcc’d on, sent directly to Derek Bouchard, CEO of USA Cycling and Board of Directors

Mr. Bouchard and USAC BOD,

I read with dismay the recent article that appeared in VeloNews about USAC targeting gravel and gran fondo events.
I’m a lifelong cyclist. My first license was with the ABLA, then USCF, now USAC. I continue to maintain a license though I only race a small number of road events each year, and that number has dwindled to just 2 races in 2016. Instead I have participated in a large number of “gravel” events. Some are races, some are charity events, some are just fun. I continue to buy a license in a vain attempt to support the sport. Masters racers make up the plurality of USAC membership, and are the group that has the resources to support the sport. Yet, we do it out of our own altruism, because we are ignored by USAC which is designed to produce the next World Champ, or TdF winner. You have lost the masses who want to ride or compete for fun. You are now only interested because you sense there is money to be made. Return amateur cycling to true amateurism. No prize lists, no payout. Those who want to do it for a living can turn pro…and dope.

I desperately want USAC to stay out of gravel and gran fondo events. Though I am sure you cannot believe it, USAC is big part of the system that has tainted cycling. You are the organization that has driven the culture of “win at all cost”, “cat” up, support the elite, and yes, dope. You will no doubt tout your efforts to “clean up” cycling, but you are responsible for the culture that drove it and allowed it to happen. You killed amateur cycling. You professionalized cycling and its culture. You helped create the cut-throat culture of the American road racing scene. You can keep that. Leave the more supportive, competition for competition’s sake to the those of us who ride non USAC gravel and Gran Fondo events. If you can “cat” up from Cat 5 to Cat 4 based on Gran Fondo’s or gravel races, you will poison the waters.
Your thinly veiled threats about insurance are neither convincing, nor likely to endear us to USAC. We have found other sources of insurance for these events.
Mr. Bouchard is dead wrong when he states “They don’t even know we exist.” We most definitely know you, and we categorically reject USAC for gravel and Gran Fondo involvement. Your obfuscating membership tier system is to make money, not promote cycling. I know I will work hard to promote an independent Gravel scene, and I will work very hard to inform and educate those individuals who are having fun with about the dangers I perceive from USAC involvement in our events. Focus on fixing your problems with the traditions you have built. There is a lifetime of work to make road and track cycling what it should be, rather than what you have let it become. Please don’t ruin the grass roots, populist events that grew out of a direct rejection of the toxic USAC events.

Email sent directly to Gravel Cyclist, from a long time follower of the site.
Bastards! I guess it was only a matter of time. If you read their new fee schedule it is a masterpiece of marketing and obfuscation aimed at reaming innocent new racers who really just want to have fun on their bikes. I know USA Cycling just couldn’t wait to show their parasitic intent. Follow the money! I fart in their general direction as I drop them in sand their skinny tires can’t follow.

Email sent directly to Gravel Cyclist

Well done for sites like Gravel Cyclist supporting a new breath of life away from USA Cycling and its life sucking culture!

Choice comments spotted on Velonews Facebook Page related to the article
USAC is looking for a revenue stream, not to better gravel grinders and gran fondos.

“I want to be the first to sign up to one of these” – said exactly no one.

As a 20+ yr license holder I would not renew if they expand past sanctioned races where officials are needed. They need to stay out of regulating the fun events. They just want money and the chance to make needless rules. But money for themselves is their true goal. We’ve all done fine at charity events, gravel rides, and grand fondos without them for decades. They would just increase our and event coordinators costs. I have all the insurance I need. They need to stick to racing.

6 Points about Cycling Culture
  1. Eliminate cash prizes. Who would dope for a tire?

  2. Eliminate officials. They are expensive and are never where you need them to be anyway.

  3. Embrace the honor system for placing’s and behavior. Shun the jerks. It works.

  4. Utilize the “personal best” philosophy successfully utilized by running races and triathlons so everybody feels welcome and accepted. Nobody should be shouted out of a race and leave the event in shame because they are new.
  5. Promoters and organizers should personally welcome everybody to their event not hide behind rude announcers with zero people skills. Gravel promoters make it their duty to shake every hand and ask if they can do anything to make every racer’s experience better. It keeps me coming back.
  6. One dope and you are out… forever. Choose another sport if they will allow it.

We expect to receive more feedback soon. Readers, please chime in below with your thoughts on this important issue.


  1. Avatar Tim Fleming

    As a long time cyclist I must say that I am not surprised. This is purely fiscal and will certainly taint gravel and fondo events. The size and diversity of the crowds at these events is a clear statement that this is a format that works for them. USA Cycling needs to keep their hands out of it. If they don’t they will drive riders away. They should focus on developing their racing specific presence – look long and hard at what went wrong.

  2. Avatar paul nowicki

    agree with tim fleming, its all about the $; this kind of bureaucracy (usa cycling) will not be good for the events or the cyclists. they will take over and it will then turn into cash for them, nothing good for us cyclists.

  3. Avatar Heffe

    Ugh keep them far away from gravel racing; they’ll ruin it for sure.

  4. K-Dogg K-Dogg

    If gravel cycling ever needs to negotiate with USA Cycling we should use Pirate Cycling League who put on “Gravel Worlds.” They answer every complaint with “We don’t care ’cause we’re pirates…arg! At registration this year I asked why they didn’t check my age ID. “We don’t care…put down any age you want…”cause we’re Pirates!” I love those guys!

  5. I do agree with everything mentioned above. And when I look for a gravel event, I make sure there’s no USAC sign hanging. The last thing I want to hear at an event is an USAC Official chasing down a cyclist for some infraction an hour before the event starts. These events are laid back and super fun. And some of the fun would be indirect violation of some of the USAC’s rules. They are not big fans of the beer hand up at cyclecross races, I can only imagine the chaos that would arise from the shinanagins at one of the gravel events. No, best for the USAC to stay away. Look what they didn’t do for Fat Biking. Their FatBike World Championship with no prerequisites is a joke. If they show up, then it’s time to invent the next cool event for them to ruin.

    • Avatar Super Rookie

      Fat Bike World Championships?

      How can USA Cycling put on a World Championships? That would be the designation of the UCI. Get your facts straight.

      Perhaps you mean the USA Cycling National Championships?

  6. Avatar Bobk

    Amen — As a long time USA Cycling License holder I can’t tell you how much I despise USA Cycling and it’s cronyism, corporate mentality, and general incompetence. IMHO Gravel cycling doesn’t need USA Cycling — they need us. Let’s shun them.

  7. Avatar Steve F LAGG

    Sorry if this is an unqualified Aussie chime in….I used to road race,here in Oz, so did my uncles and grandfather and we all got burnt by officaldom, and I don’t have gravel races to do, BUT…. I’m thinking of you guys, keep up the fight!!

    • JOM JOM

      Steve, thanks mate! BTW, I arrive in Oz on the 26th of December. I am planning a little road trip that will include Bendigo… we will have to do a ride together. I’ll be in touch with my phone number once I get a sim arranged. See ya soon!

      • Avatar Steve F LAGG


        You ain’t gonna believe this, we’re away in Stanthorpe Queensland from 19th Dec-6th Jan ’17. D’OH!!
        Don’t know if this clashes with your plans, I hope not, as I’ve got a couple of courses in mind that I think you would love.

        1: 165km. First half is pretty flat in farmland with just a few rises, then the second 80kms kicks up the elevation gains to 1700m, it’s a slog. About 85% gravel

        2: 80+km Wombat forest/Mt Macedon Woodend. Starting in Woodend riding on amazing gravel roads through the forest, back to Woodend then onto Mt Macedon’s dirt road climb and the feared Alton Rd, 20+% climbs!!

        I really hope your plans work in for a visit, mate

  8. Avatar John Voss

    So back in Jan of 2014 I was doing miami fl cross and thought about doing a gravel grinder (60 miles- thanks Gary Mendenhall for helping!!!). I called my USAC rep and together we figured out how to do it. I don’t know, maybe the first ever USAC gravel-cross event. It wasn’t horrible. It cost me an extra $100 for the second day event, they had the fun/race distinctions and I got insurance and scoring. I was shorthanded with help and the USAC official worked her butt off actually.

    I didn’t see anything in USAC quotes that said they were going to forbid USAC members from doing non USAC events, so I prefer to think of it as option for those who want to do it the USAC way but certainly not obligatory.

    John Voss
    Miami FL

  9. From a Gravel Ride Promoters Perspective:

    Insurance for ride promoters is important because we live in a country that does not have universal free health care. (Countries that do include Austria, Belarus, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom). When someone goes to the hospital here he/she generally has to pay the bill unless they have health insurance.

    The ride promoter cannot depend on the waiver that people sign – unless you want to lose your house and have a massive legal judgement hanging over you… Therefore we ride promoters buy insurance for every rider. USAC licenses include insurance and also give the option to buy more if desired.

    I have been using USAC insurance for the past few years for the Camino205. We did have a rider severely injured in a crash two years ago – punctured lung, serious concussion, had to be taken to a regional Level II Trauma Center, etc. While the rider caused the crash himself, it is still necessary to cover all the medical expenses, of which there were many in this case.

    USAC offers ride promoters decent coverage at a fair price and allows us to cover sag drivers, volunteers and local entities who help the event (Chamber of Commerce etc.)

    Until there is either tort reform and/or universal free health care we are stuck with buying event insurance, which all the riders wind up paying.

    • K-Dogg K-Dogg

      Insurance is important but USAC is not the only source. I attended dozens of Gravel races over the years and only one or two used USAC. There are plenty of other’s out there
      who don’t come with a million pounds fun sucking rules.

      • Avatar Super Rookie


        What are the fun sucking rules of a “ride” that has insurance. USA Cycling was the insurance org behind the Gainesville-Atlantic and there weren’t any fun sucking rules.

        It isn’t the 1980s, 90s, and 00s of USA Cycling. It is a new dawn.

        If a promoter wants to promote with USAC they can. If they want to promote with out it they can. Nothing really changes and it will all be okay.

  10. Avatar Chris King

    Is the past is any indication, USAC has been pretty heavy-handed when they feel anyone intruding into their sphere of influence. A couple years ago there was a dust-up when Oregon cyclocross races were organized by Oregon’s Bike racing governing body. Since USAC didn’t “own” these events, they forbid Pros from racing in these events even if they held both USAC and Oregon racing licenses.

    What does this mean? If a fondo or a gravel grinder, or, I dunno, unicycle festival didn’t adhere to USAC’s standards, they’ll have leverage to discourage members from participating in these events. Sort of like when the mob shakes down businesses on a city block – “accept our protection – for a fee – or face the consequences”.

    • Avatar Super Rookie

      You mean the OBRA and USA Cycling that don’t get along because of “the past”?

      Hmmm, funny how things have recently changed and we are not looking at the facts here: https://www.velonews.com/2016/09/news/usac-obra-agree-category-reciprocity_421180

      It is a new dawn at USA Cycling and it is okay. If you want to promote a gravel ride and use another organizations insurance, rad! If you want to use USAC insurance, rad!

      The choice is yours in this free market.

      • Avatar Tim

        It is very easy to say it is a new dawn, but getting people to believe that is a much different story. To paraphrase the quote from the other post on DBH’s response to the open letter, “sometimes your behavior is so loud, I can’t hear what you are saying”, I’d say “Sometimes your previous behavior was so loud that I am still deaf and can’t hear what you are saying now.” Before you use the thawing of the relationship between OBRA and USAC and them beginning to “work to begin mending fences” as the example of everything being good now, lets wait for some feedback / follow up from how the first season after this thaw actually went.

  11. Avatar Sizwe

    This is great news, we need USAC to create new gravel events that all the roadies will go to, and leave grass roots gravel for the rest of us!

  12. Avatar Kenn Sanders

    The only way I can see USAC getting their hands on our gravel events is if the promoter of said event wants to incorporate USAC. So, with that being said if a promoter incorporates USAC to offer insurance and to also impose USAC rules simply don’t register for that event.

    USAC will NOT ever organize, promote or finance any gravel events, because that would cost USAC way too much money to do so. What will USAC do?…Go to each gravel event to police each and every participant just to see if they are a card holding member of USAC. Highly unlikely! Again, this would cost them money NOT make them money. As K-Dogg pointed out, there are many other firms that supply insurance to event organizers without the USAC being involved.

  13. Avatar Ryan R

    There are a lot of good points about USAC insurance even if we dislike the culture of the organization. Not to get off on a tangent, but I promote a hockey tournament, and because most of the players are not registered with USAHockey ($45/year) I have to get a liability policy to cover the arena and spectators, if players get injured, well I’m probably screwed as a waiver really means nothing. If players were registered, it would cover everyone; players, spectators, arena staff, and it wouldn’t cost me a dime. It would be interesting to know how the cost of insurance for non-sanctioned events would compare to that of USAC. Some friends and I have talked about promoting a few grassroots gravels event, but no way in hell would we risk the personal liability not having everyone covered. It would be nice to know actual costs and coverage for sanctioned vs non-sanctioned.

    • Avatar Kenn

      Hi Ryan,

      Insurance is based on participanrt numbers and then a small percentage of the entry fee from each. You may request additional coverage for volunteeers, Sponsors, vehicles, weather conditions, etc… There are several companies that provide insurance for events such as cycling, hockey, horsaback riding and so on. A good place to start inquiring about this is to ask your local parks and recreation district, youth football and or baseball leagues.

      Good luck and have a great time.

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