Podcast – Ohio Gravel Grinders: Ray George, using Community Tools to Build Gravel Resources

ohio gravel grinder

Our partner in podcasting, The Gravel Ride Podcast, speaks this week with Ray George, one of the founders of the Ohio Gravel Grinders group. Using grassroots community-building tools, OGG has assembled an ever-growing resource for regional gravel athletes. These regional efforts are an incredibly useful tool and can be replicated by anyone to benefit their local communities.

Care to see one of OGG’s routes first-hand, as ridden in late August of 2020 by JOM of the Gravel Cyclist crew? Check out our ride experience video of the 7-Caves Dirty Road Route!

Ohio Gravel Grinders WebsiteOGG FacebookOGG Instagram

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Automatic Transcription by The Gravel Ride (please excuse all errors)

This week on the podcast, I’ve got Ray George from Ohio and the Ohio gravel grinders group on Facebook in Ohio, gravel, grinders.com. One of the reasons I’ve always been so stoked about gravel riding is that it’s so different in different parts of the country. And that’s why the community element of gravel riding has been so critically important to its growth. If it wasn’t like groups like the Ohio gravel grinders, people would have a hard time figuring out where to ride in their location. So I was stoked when Ray agreed to come on board because I think it’s a great template for how to use the community to drive a knowledge base forward about your local terrain. Ray started out with some friends with a simple Facebook group that grew to, I think over 3000 members, he later created a website, Ohio gravel, grinders.com to capture all the events and routes that they have going on.

And he’s really become an indispensable one stop shop for gravel cycling information for the state of Ohio, which I thought was really cool. And I’m hoping that by giving this a listen, if you haven’t seen one of these groups in your area, just go ahead and start it, throw up a Facebook group, takes a few minutes to get it started and you’ll see, and be amazed at how quickly it’ll grow and how much valuable information can be shared locally amongst your fellow gravel riders. So let’s just jump right in to my conversation with Ray Ray, welcome to the show. Hey Greg, thank you for having me on. I’m excited to talk to, you know, one of the reasons I’ve been so excited about gravel cycling for so many years is that it’s been fascinating to me, how so many people around the world experience gravel in so many different ways. So when you reached out and I saw that you were in Ohio, I thought, wow, this is a great way to get some insight as to what gravel is like in Ohio. So thanks for joining the podcast this week.

Yeah. Like I said, I, I appreciate you having me on, and it’s always fun to talk about the Ohio gravel grinders and the resources that we have.

Yeah. Let’s start off by learning a little bit more about you and your cycling background and specifically how you found yourself riding gravel.

So I grew up in the Ohio Valley. Um, I was born in West Virginia, went to college in West Virginia and then after college moved back to the Ohio Valley wheeling West Virginia area. And, um, I rode, rode for a years. I, my boss actually at the time at an ad agency, got me back into riding road. Um, and the bike shop, you know, is, was, is always a great place to go hang out. And, um, Andy Wallin at the bike shop that I would hang out. He, he has since retired. Uh, he said, Hey, this cool bikes coming out, you should take a look at it. Um, it gives you just more capabilities and it was a Lamont popper ad and it was a bright orange. I love orange bikes and it had disc brakes. I’d never had a bike with this breaks. It was a mechanical disc brakes.

And I, I bought one and we started riding with friends, uh, in Ohio County and just roads that were, you know, up the Ridge or, um, through the valleys that were gravel and it was fun. And we started doing those rides and at night, and I had purchased lights from Andy and I had actually bought light motion, some headlights that were super bright and it actually freaked out cars as we were riding around in the back country, they would pull over, um, for us as we passed. And, uh, it was a blast. So we would ride in the cold or ride, you know, whatever. And, and, um, then we moved to Columbus. My wife, uh, wanted to be a law librarian. So we quit our jobs and we sold our house and moved to the Columbus area. I live in a black Lake, which is out on out East of downtown.

And I, again, I kinda got back into road riding and there’s a lot, there’s a big road cycling community. And in Columbus, Columbus, outdoor pursuits puts on a, a classic, um, tour in the spring that would, uh, you ride from Columbus to Portsmouth and back over a weekend, it’s, uh, over 200 miles round trip and we would go down and camp and over time, you know, we’ve, we did all the road stuff. And, um, my friend, Tim came up with the route and said, Hey, would you want to go down into the Hocking Hills area, which is to the Southeast to Columbus. And he said, this is a different route. It’s got gravel on it. And I was intrigued and we all were. And so we went and wrote it and, uh, that was, uh, our first unofficial gravel ride. And, uh, that was, uh, in 2011 and 2012, we had our first organized gravel grinder, uh, in January of 2012, uh, in the Mohican area.

Amazing. So you’ve been doing this for quite a while, as far as the gravel cycling community has, um, you know, has been around in earnest. Although obviously people have been riding road bikes on gravels for decades and decades, but you went a step further to start organizing events and organizing groups and kind of just bringing the Ohio gravel community together. That takes a lot of, sort of additional motivation beyond just loving to ride the bike. Can you talk about what the process was of kind of wanting to put energy into bringing the community together?

So we were doing the, the rides, you know, our friends and, and the, the group was, I dunno, 10 to 20 people that would come in and out of the group and where I’d done the weekends. And, uh, on one particular ride, when we were, we were coming back, uh, to, um, ending the ride we had, I, I kinda like threw out, you know, Hey, we should create a Facebook group and get more people involved in this, you know, it’s fun. And we can, we’ve got some routes. Uh, Tim Christie, who, like I said, had done the first route for us. He was developing a library of routes. And so we had some, um, and I created a Facebook group and that was in January of 2013. And it was, it was, you know, it, it was a slow build of that. Um, over time the group has grown, um, you know, in the, in the seven years, we’re almost, I think at 3,300 members of the Facebook group. Now,

It’s really interesting. I mean, I have my misgivings about Facebook as a platform, but I definitely use it, but I have to say as far as sort of the ease of bringing people together and the ability tools Facebook provides for people to communicate and post things and share their knowledge, it really is a valuable platform.

I actually made it easy. I mean, the Facebook group, you know, at first, when we were smaller, you could create an event and hundreds of people could be invited to the, to the event. And then slowly they’ve changed the policies where you can’t really do that. Uh it’s now you can invite your friends. Um, I’ve even joked said, look, everybody can friend me, and then I’ll just invite everybody to the, to the events. But, um, that kind of, you know, led to later on, you know, the same misgivings that you have for Facebook. I also, as a platform, you know, I I’m in marketing. And if you don’t control though, the content, you kind of lose, you could lose that content. And my fear has always been that the Facebook group could just go away. You know, we see social media come and go. There’s been many platforms through the years.

And so that was, that actually kind of drove the, the process for developing the website through the years on the rides, I would take pictures of the stuff that we were doing. I like to take pictures of other people riding. I think people like to see themselves on a bike when you’re, you know, when you’re moving or it’s action shots, or, you know, a vistas is standing up on top of Ridge and, and, and so documenting that was pretty easy. And so when we launched the site, um, we had a whole library of photos and recaps. I would write up a little recap and post it. Uh, so we had that content. So it was very easy and logical

Valuable that Ohio gravel grinders.com site is a great effort for anybody listening. Who’s looking for rides and routes in that area. And just general information. I love that you’ve kind of thrown a gravel one Oh one up there for people to look at. And I love, I think it’s so important to see routes when you’re first getting into the sport, because there’s a lot of confusion when you’re on these farm roads, whether maybe it goes through or it doesn’t go through. And just to have those routes laid out for you, I think is a real, true benefits to Ohio cyclists.

We, it, it’s funny you say that, and we just we’re, we’re tweaking the routes constantly because we, we refining, you know, some routes that were done years ago, stuff changes and access changes, and we had somewhere there was questionable double track. And so we’ve adjusted around it recently. And, and the same goes for, you know, the gravel one Oh one, there’s a there’s, we’ve seen a lot of people look to gravel recently, uh, because of road riding and the, just the hazards of distracted drivers. And, and, and everybody knows a cyclist, a friend who cycles, who has been hit, he’s been in an accident. And it, and it does actually bring, you know, to it’s always in the back of your mind. And so, you know, we’re, we, we get those comments from people who want to, who are coming out the ride gravel. We don’t see very many automobiles or trucks on, on the routes that we’re doing.

And, you know, the, the group, the groups routes have evolved as well. We used to say, uh, you know, one of the beginner routes was in the sight of trail, state park, and slowly we learned that, you know, it was, it was, um, it was good for us to get out there and ride those. We wrote a number of times and we always considered it a beginning route because it was not a lot of traffic. And the gravel is pretty well crushed down. And, and it’s in some sections, it’s almost like writing on a paper, but so gravel, but the, we learned, you know, taking somebody out for beginner ride was a completely different experience. And over time, as more people have scouted routes, we’ve introduced a number of routes that are actually really even more beginner than the gravel grinding one at one route. And, and so I, I hope that, you know, as people are dabbling and gravel and they want to see it to try it out, that they look at the beginner friendly Ohio gravel routes. We have, um, six of them on the site. And I think there’s a couple more of them I need to add to it.

Yeah. That’s super important. I’m, I’m absolutely guilty of that, myself. Just kind of thinking that this is a more basic route than it actually is. And realizing after the fact that I’ve taken a beginner rider on something that’s just over their head, technically here in Marin County, where it’s so up and down, it’s very difficult if you’re not willing to climb a Hill to take someone out on a route. And a lot of times our routes get technical because of the steepness on the descents. So I tend to sort of take people up the dirt climbs and encourage them to go down on the road just as they’re getting their sea legs underneath them.

Yeah, we, so the, the, the, you know, the side of trail, state park routes, you know, would put somebody out in a, roughly a 30 mile, 33 mile loop that they could choose part parts of that too. They could cut off sections of it, but it was roughly our rule of thumb in Ohio. I don’t know what it is in California, but our rule of thumb is a hundred feet per mile of climbing. So, um, 10 miles, you’re going to get around a thousand feet. Uh, and that’s pretty consistent with many of our routes with the beginner routes. The, that we’ve, we’ve kind of pushed out, um, as really the beginning of routes before the side of trail, uh, one in particular, Homer gravel, it starts in the little town of Homer it’s, it’s 30 miles, and it’s only 1100 feet roughly of climbing. Um, we use ride with GPS, and I know that there’s a little, some discrepancies and in, um, the true accuracy of that reported per, uh, climbing that you get.

And we always tell people, plus it up around 20%, but that’s still pretty flat route compared to most of the other stuff that we do. Uh, but it’s easy and it’s fun. And we’ve been actually kind of pushing it lately because, uh, on that route, you ride past a farm that has a really friendly, uh, donkey named Penelope and Penelope loves cyclists because we bring carrots and, and, and, and, uh, other foods, and I’ll be, we’ll run out and Bray and he Hoff and kick, and because she’s super excited to see people. And it’s great. So she’s kind of become a celebrity,

Fantastic, you know, for our international listeners and maybe for some West coasters, just to put Ohio in perspective, you’re to the West of Pennsylvania and the North of West Virginia and Kentucky, and the East of Indianapolis Indiana, and just below Michigan in the United States. And I was fascinated actually, by what you said about how much elevation you’re gaining on kind of the typical rides you’d go out for. Cause it’s quite a bit more and quite a bit Hillier than I kind of had in my head that Ohio might be,

There’s a misconception that, that Ohio is flat. I think Indiana is flat. You know, we have, we have, we have glacial, um, created Hills. We have we’re in the foothills of the Appalachians or Appalachians as somebody has corrected me gone. And, um, you know, we’re not, as, we’re not gonna have as much elevation as you would have if you go to West Virginia, you know, we’ve, we’ve got some routes in West Virginia as well on our site. We, um, we travel. And so we add on multiple States when we get to do that. And we have a gravel, uh, a bike packing route in West Virginia, that’s 210 miles and it’s roughly 20,000 feet of climbing. And it goes through the best of, um, the sites in West Virginia and the center. And it goes through some, some serious climbing. Um, there’s a four mile, 2000 foot climb to, could jump to a plateau, um, in the Dolly sods area.

But now we’re, we’re not flat. Um, it actually is hilly all the way up to, to Lake Erie. Uh, the Cleveland area has small ski resorts in the Hills. So they, because of the like affects knows, they actually can have small ski areas. Um, but through, you know, the, most of the gravel in Ohio is going to be from Lake Erie, the Ashtabula area down the Eastern side of the state. And it kinda curves around past the Shawnee state park area and kind of Peters out around Cincinnati. And that’s kind of the joke. Uh, you’ll see that in our frequently asked questions, is, is there gravel in Cincinnati? And the E the resounding answer is no, there was not unfortunate and people were always bad. And we always get that question in the Facebook group. You know, so there’ll be the number one question is I live in Cincinnati, including Northern Kentucky and at winter I gravel, are there any gravel routes and it’s no,

Which, which direction would you, would you encourage them to go to, to find the best gravel if you’re living in Cincinnati?

So the closest is most likely going to be the Indiana Indiana routes that we have on, and I’m sure there’s some closer aside a trail state park actually is not too far of a drive because you can, you can take highway up there and in the Shawnee area, uh, which is really it’s on the higher river, it’s, it’s, uh, due South of Columbus and it’s, um, so there’s a lot of Hills there. And, um, and that’s going to be the closest gravel. It’s the same issue with Toledo, so that the whole Western half of the, of Ohio is paved. There’s very little gravel. And what we say is, you know, Michigan is, has a lot of gravel. There’s a lot of grapple up there,

Right? We touched on this a little bit, but you know, if we could characterize the Ohio gravel, the type of gravel road that you’re on, how would you describe what the routes typically entail? So

It, it varies. You’re going to see a mix of farm land. There’s a lot of Amish living in Ohio. So some of the routes are going to go through, you know, where they’re living and where you’re not going to see a lot of cars, a lot of state forest, but it’s, it is a mix. It is a wide range of side of trail. State park could be crushed down almost to like a smooth road to end the tar hollow area, which is another park. We have what we would call adventure routes, and those adventure routes are going to include a bike. We, so the beauty of having all these routes and ride in the recaps is we show photos and videos of it. And, and, you know, those, the tar hollow route has you’re riding in streams and you’re hiking, biking up. What would be, um, you know, ATV or, or Jeep trails that is definitely gonna be a hike, a bike, because, you know, we’ve seen some of the stronger writer try to write up that stuff and they can’t. Um, but people kinda know what they’re getting into. We, we kind of bucket those.

Right. That’s awesome that you do that. I also noted that there’s an Ohio gravel race series as well. I mean, I assume it’s been postponed or at least reconfigured this year, but does that bring you all over the state or is that more in that, um, Eastern and Southern part of the state as well?

It’s gonna, it’s gonna always be in where the areas of gravel or, but we, the, so I don’t organize the, uh, the OTRs or how to grab a rice series. We, um, J clips actually puts on the black fork, gravel grinder, and we had been in discussion about trying to incorporate, you know, and, and publicize that OTRs S series, um, on the Ohio gravel grinders website for more traffic, uh, for both, you know, so people would come and see, Hey, here’s a race series. Oh, Hey, here’s some routes that you could go and ride the train on and, and everything that’s in the race series, you can pretty much find, excuse me, um, it’s available to go ride it before. And, um, most of the races were postponed or canceled because of COVID the black fork actually got pushed to was canceled and pushed the next year.

Um, GPS one hundreds, a race that I’m kind of helping out with, uh, it’s that inside of trail, state park, that’s the kind of an adventure race. And the Roger right on Jeremy’s ride is actually coming up in actually this weekend, I think. And there was a ride last week. Um, so only a few, I think two or three actually have been put on, um, with obviously adjustments because of COVID, uh, there’s roughly eight races in this a year, they do shift, uh, and there may be more, you know, going forward, um, with the, you know, the popularity of grass.

Yeah. I feel like 2020 was just, you know, it was supposed to, we were all exposed to experiences, explosion of gravel events, and it was going to take it to the big time. So it’s been, it’ll be interesting to see what happens for next year. It’s so frustrating to be in the planning process of anything right now, given all the unknowns that are in front of us,

It is tough to predict. Um, even in my own job, you know, I, we, we have a major event, it went virtual this year and I believe we’re already in talks of making that virtual. It’s usually an in person 500 to 600 people event. And I think that we’re gonna end up having it as virtual as well. So it’s, it is influx and it’s, you know, we’ll have to see as, as everything unfolds, um, you know, over winter,

That’s what I love about efforts like yours with the Ohio, gravel grinders, just putting all this information out there. So writers can find their own adventures, um, and make sure they’re having a sort of fulfilling season, even in the absence of these events.

Yeah. So we, we actually made one of our events, the, we do a fall kind of like a leaf peeping ride down in the Shawnee state park area. And it’s actually sponsored by Kenda, Kenda tires is located here in Columbus and we ride with those guys and, and they support a lot of people across the country and they’ve focused on Ohio. And so they, they actually underwrite our website and, um, they, we, we do a couple of events. Um, you know, we call it powered by them. And so the, the Shawnee ride, which is the, we usually do it in like the second or third weekend in October. Um, we had 50 to 60 people come down and ride at their pay, whatever pace they want. Um, I ride slow. There’s other people who ride really fast and, um, we stopped for lunch or make coffee sometimes and, and goof off. But, um, that ride is virtual for the entire month of October. We put the routes out there and said, you know, what have at it go and ride whenever you want to and have fun.

Yeah. I think that’s awesome. I’ve participated in a number of virtual events this year. My biggest challenge is finding the time. If there’s not a specific day that something needs to happen, then I tend to struggle a little bit. Cause I don’t have it on my calendar. I’m like, I need to squeeze in this big ride, but I can’t seem to find the time. So I’ve kind of liked the ones that are on a set date.

Yeah. We had talked about it, but I think that, you know, giving somebody a whole month, uh, which we’ve had other ones do that other events in Ohio actually say, look, you know, at some point, uh, in that month, go out there and do it and, and have fun and be safe. And, you know, I think it’s still, we’re still getting a lot of people riding the traffic to the website has increased exponentially. Uh, we launched it in late 2018, 2019 was obviously the first full year of data. And, um, I think we’re like 60% year over year and page view increase, uh, so that we’re getting tons and tons of traffic.

That’s awesome. Well, as you said, early on, it’s just more and more people are discovering this type of riding and how liberating it can be to get off the roads. I mean, even in those easy rides, you know, you can get a, um, a basic gravel bike with a little bit of tire clearance and get out there and just enjoy some peace and quiet.

Yeah. We, I mean, we, you say, you know, you get a basic, uh, gravel bike and we, that’s always a debate too, you know, as what is a gravel bike. And we, it’s why I, we basically say ravage abroad. I mean, we have a lot of people with mountain bikes. I ride a Fargo with big tires. We’ve got people who show up on skinny tire bikes, and if they feel comfortable on that, um, I say more power to them. The, um, you know, the, in addition to the website, we, we actually really rely on the ride with GPS platform that actually has given us the ability to consolidate everything into one platform that has an app for, for both, you know, Android and Apple. And, um, that’s kind of been a godsend to managing a vast group of, of routes in one spot. We had, uh, a group for now we have a club account and one of the local bike shops supports us by under writing that as well. So paradise garage in Columbus actually picks up the tab for the year for the, for that club account. And, uh, we’re looking to actually expand that as well. There’s some nice tools that are available in the account to aggregate data like the maps on the, or all the, all the routes on the one map, which I’m hoping to expand to that soon in the next month.

I agree with you ride with GPS. It’s been this, it’s just sort of a really refreshing effort by the people involved in that business, the way they can represent groups of rides. So you can get an overview of sort of everything going on in Ohio. I’ve got a few of, I’ve got a few collections of my favorite Marin rides that I’ve put together. And it’s really cool seeing that I’ve got close to 500 miles of routes mapped right from my doorstep.

That’s, that’s one of the complaints too, is, you know, you live in a Metro area like Columbus and somebody will say, I need gravel within 30 minute drive and it’s, and it’s like 30 minutes. Could you get to the suburbs? And you know, and it’s, it’s 45 minutes maybe to an hour, we’ll get you to gravel. So there’s no, we don’t have, you know, the, the gravel right out the door experience like you may have out West in Colorado and other States. So most of our stuff, unless you’re living out East of Columbus, most of us are driving to that to get to that route, um, to, you know, the start point,

Which I think underscores the importance of GPS technology and having routes that you can load into your computer. So you can get there and not have a hundred questions at every corner that really slow you down and just be able to ride and have those adventures that are a couple miles away from your home and, and be confident. Yeah. So that,

That actually is one of the nice things of the club account that, um, I can’t underscore this. I can’t say it enough is when you, when you joined the club account, and this is any club account with the ride with GPS does basically it’s underwritten so that whoever the club is paying for anybody who joins that club gets access to the routes with advanced features for free. So they don’t actually have to be a paid ride with GPS member. They just have to download the app and create an account, join the club, whatever club that is any of the routes that they download from that particular club. It gives advanced turn round turn notice if you use the app, it actually does the term by term, which you normally would have to pay for. And you can do cue sheets and print them as PDFs. And there’s, there’s a number of free features. And that’s, that was one of the reasons why I pursued, you know, the, the club account for us because of that. It basically makes it free for anybody who wants to use ODG routes to get those nice features and go out and actually have that adventure on their own.

Yeah, that’s awesome. I’ve been meaning to do an episode with the team at ride with GPS, because I just think it’s so interesting and it’s something that frankly, like, I didn’t start looking at it until maybe the end of last year. So it might be sort of an under marketed resource in our community. We’ve, I’ve had an account with

Them, I think for eight years. And I was probably an early adopter for those, for them, Tim who did the routes was even earlier than me. And it’s cool because this is a club account. We get to see the ID numbers. And I think there were people who were like literally early adopters who are a part of our club account that they show you the member IDs they’re there in the, you know, really low numbers, which was kind of cool to see, but super cool to see those guys I’ve talked to them. Cause you know, when you’re setting up these accounts, you get to talk to, I talked to Alex Gay over there and he walked me through everything on it. And I’m still in talks with them about doing the tourism account. But now those guys, I think that, uh, there’s somewhat grassroots, but they, you know, they’re not corporate. They want to, they want to create a product that really is driven by user input. And, and I, I like it.

Yeah. I agree with that. I think every interaction I’ve had, it’s clear that they a hundred percent put the user first, which is amazing. Well, Ray, I appreciate you joining us on the podcast. And I encourage the listeners to check out the Ohio gravel grinders, Facebook page, and the Ohio gravel grinders.com website and use it as a template for your community. I can’t, it always starts with one person. Who’s just sort of puts a flag up there and you’d be surprised as Ray has kind of described to us that people just flock to it. And with a little bit of energy harnessed in the right direction, all of a sudden you have this amazing resource for an entire state. So Ray hats off for all the work you do, it’s super important in our community that people like you are out there mapping rides for others to get other people involved in the sport.

Thanks. I will, I will say this is a group effort. I’m not going to take all the credit. We have a lot of people who reach out to us because of this resource has been created. So people will say, Hey, I’ve got these routes in this certain area that you don’t normally ride in, which we really do appreciate eight. And there are on the website and hire gravel, grinders.com. If you’re in Ohio and you’ve got some routes that you don’t see on there, shoot us a message. Do the, do the form that’s on the site, uh, or, or posted into the group. Uh, the group course on Facebook is free. Just Google or search out, go search on Facebook for how gravel grinders you’ll find us. We’re also on Instagram. We’re also, um, on Twitter occasionally. Um, but yeah, we’re out there and we’re always looking for new routes. I think we have about 200 Ohio routes now that are documented. I think there’s gotta be another couple of hundred more that we haven’t touched upon cause we’re not riding in every area. Um, that has graveled

Right on. Thanks again, Ray. Thank you. So a big, thanks to Ray and the rest of the team at Ohio gravel grinders, that community has really proven that social media can be a great tool in generating trail knowledge and just sharing information about local riding scenes. And thanks so much to you guys for joining me this week and thanks to everybody who’s visited. Buy me a coffee.com/the gravel ride to check out some of the membership program options that I’m throwing out there. Your support means the world to me, and I’m trying to get this podcast to a level that’s just sustainable in the longterm. So it can continue to invest in it and not come so far out of pocket each week and each month. So thank you for all the effort going over there to buy me a coffee.com/the gravel ride. And thank you also to anybody who’s taken the moment to give me a rating or review it’s surprising, but those ratings or reviews really help in finding new listeners to the podcast. So a little bit of effort at no cost to you really goes a long way in finding new listeners around the world. So that’s it for this week until next time here’s to finding some dirt under your wheels.

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