A group of gravel bicyclists will compete in this weekend’s cyclocross event

Andrea Cohen started The Gravel Scouts in hopes of building a network for gravel road bikers.


Joseph Cress

A cyclocross rider runs up Mt. Krumpit before the first day of Jinglecross at the Johnson County fairgrounds on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017.

Kate Pixley, News Reporter

Andrea Cohen began biking because her car died.

Cohen was living in Coralville at the time and needed a way to get to class at the University of Iowa, so she started riding her bike. What started as a commute became both a passion and a career.

“My family has always been into riding bikes, so I’ve always had bikes around me,” she said. “So when my car died, I had a bike that always sat in my room.”

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Cohen, a World of Bikes salesperson, began riding regularly and got into the gravel biking scene around seven years ago.

Cohen is both the creator and head scout of the Gravel Scouts, a group that meets weekly to ride bikes on gravel roads and trails around the state.

“I started the Monday night ride, because I needed a Monday night ride,” Cohen said.

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Members of the Gravel Scouts will participate in events at this weekend’s Jingle Cross and Cyclo-Cross World Cup in Iowa City.

The Scouts will also host the Jingle Cross Gravel Group Ride at 7 a.m. Saturday.

The group garners around 20 riders a week, Cohen said. The members recently started holding monthly sit-down meetings that attract around 15 people.

The group ranges in ability from beginners to competitive bikers. Cohen noted that some people wind up riding a $5,000 bike, while others ride the bike that they use to commute to work.

Drew Boss, a bike mechanic and Scout member, said he got into gravel riding because of how the trails evolve from week to week and the sense of solitude he gets from riding more isolated routes.

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“Gravel is a little more different every week, more of an adventure, more of a challenge, also less traffic,” he said.

The gravel-riding community isn’t limited to the Iowa City area. Next weekend, Cohen and two other riders plan to compete in the Winterset Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra, a long-distance gravel biking race in Winterset, Iowa. Cohen plans to ride 200 miles, but riders have a choice to ride a shorter route of 150 miles.

“What I do on my bike is gravel ultras, like ultra-distance,” Cohen said. “That’s my main goal, to become a stronger ultra-distance gravel rider.”

Jason Mattock, a biker, Scout member, and member of the service department at World of Bikes, said he enjoys the challenge of gravel riding. He was born into a biking family, and for him, the journey to gravel riding was a natural progression.

“I just like riding my bike a lot, and gravel riding has a little more of a technical ability, because you’ve got to be kind of skilled because gravel’s loose, and there’s always a chance you could wipe out,” he said.

Mattock plans on participating in Jingle Cross racing today and Sept. 30.

Cohen hopes to take the Gravel Scouts nationwide and create a community of gravel bikers across the country. The riders would share routes with each other, meet up for rides, and make friends.

“This group showcases every version of a cyclist,” Cohen said.