Like it is for many gravel cyclists, all it took was one taste of the discipline for Boulder’s Nick Legan to fall in love with gravel cycling. Legan grew up racing bikes and worked as a professional bike mechanic in Europe for a time, but perhaps nothing in the sport impacted him as much as his first trip to the Dirty Kanza 200 in 2011.
When he is not riding and working on bikes, Legan in a journalist. He is currently the editor of Adventure Cyclist and a freelance contributor to other publications. In 2011, he was the tech editor at VeloNews and looking for a good story/adventure.
“I had been riding dirt roads for a while, and when I worked at VeloNews, we had this edit meeting where we were throwing around crazy ideas of things we could do editorially,” Legan said. “I said, ‘Hey I heard about this 200-mile gravel race in Kansas. What if I go do that?’ The editor-in-chief at the time said, ‘That’s insane, but if you want to give it a go, have at it. Please write about it.'”
He continued, “I had a great time and finished in like 17 hours. It was my first gravel race, and it was my first gravel century, but I had such a great time. Ever since then, I just want to go back. I want to check out more and more of these gravel races. “That was 2011, so I’m like 7 years in. I haven’t had a bad time at a gravel event. It keeps getting better.”
“I haven’t had a bad time at a gravel event. It keeps getting better.”
The Book on Gravel Cycling
In addition to his reporting, Legan had long been looking to write a book. As the years and gravel miles ticked by, he finally realized that what better topic than gravel cycling? Legan wrote, and last year, released Gravel Cycling: The Complete Guide to Gravel Racing and Adventure Bikepacking. Interestingly, the motivation for his book did not come while riding gravel roads on his bicycle.
“I was on a motorcycle trip through the Midwest, visiting friends and family,” he said. “I was a riding close to the exit for Emporia, Kansas. And I was like, Man, I really love Dirty Kanza. It really was kind of a lightbulb moment. I was like, I should really write a book on gravel, I think that would be really cool.”
If you are wondering about Legan’s bona fides as the person to write about gravel cycling and bikepacking, his ride resume from just this year is impressive. I met Legan at the Almanzo 100 race in Minnesota. Prior to Almanzo, he did the Land Run 100 and finished the last edition of Trans Iowa. Legan started the 350-mile DKXL race in Emporia this year (he had to bail mid-way through) but then went on to start and finish the 2,745-mile Tour Divide.
Legan’s book covers the ins and outs of gravel racing and bikepacking in Gravel Cycling. The book provides a look at some big gravel events—many of which we have covered this year—memorable multi-day trails, unique bike setups (“bike porn,” as Legan puts it), tips and tricks and guides on how to do your first gravel event or bikepacking trip.
“The idea is it serves as a resource,” Legan said about his bike. “It’s not the kind of book that’s a story-driven book, so it’s not something you necessarily read cover-to-cover, although that’s a great way to do it as well. It’s very much a resource. The idea is if you’re taking on your first gravel event, whether that’s a race or a non-competitive event, this gives you some insight into how to approach that.”
Gravel Cycling is the first comprehensive resource on the growing gravel discipline, and as a frequent purveyor of dad jokes, I had to ask if he lets people know he literally wrote the book on gravel cycling.
“No,” Legan responded. “Plenty people have said exactly what you just said, and I’m honored to have people talk about my book that way. But mostly it was a passion project. I love gravel cycling, I love the community, and I wanted to celebrate it.”
I tried, what can I say.
“I love gravel cycling, I love the community, and I wanted to celebrate it.”
Pack It Up, Pack It In
Half of Gravel Cycling is devoted to bikepacking, which is a bit foreign to the pages of Cyclocross Magazine. Legan said the addition of bikepacking to his book on gravel cycling seemed like a natural fit.
“I frequently joke that gravel is a gateway drug to bikepacking, especially when you get into these longer events,” he said.
“I think when you get into longer events, or even ones that aren’t super-long, we as human beings are curious and want to know what’s over that next hill or around the bend,” he continued. “Bikepacking then lets you do that. Once you come to appreciate those beautiful back roads, you just want more of them, and bikepacking lets you see more of them.”
I personally enjoy camping, biking and even putting in big miles, but I have not yet given bikepacking a try. I asked Legan for some advice for newbs like myself.
“I don’t mean to just point to my book, but I do think there are some good tips in there for people who just want to try an overnighter,” he said. “I would say approach it as an overnighter first and do those from home. They don’t have to be these all-day epics. You could go on a Friday evening to the nearest state park and turn around and come home the next morning.”
“Once you come to appreciate those beautiful back roads, you just want more of them, and bikepacking lets you see more of them.”
He continued, “The thing I would say is bikepacking doesn’t necessarily require a special bike either, just like gravel doesn’t. Use what you have. Cycling itself can be very expensive if you choose to let it be, but if you have a bike hanging in the garage collecting dust, it can probably get you much farther afield than you ever imagined. If you yourself want to go bikepacking, there are some specialty bags you would need that I think are useful. But typically you need shelter, some clothes if the weather turns, food and water. That’s it. Just try to silo it. Instead of making it a huge undertaking, take it one step at a time.”
Interview with Nick Legan, Author of Gravel Cycling
My interview with Legan includes more on his book, bikepacking, Dirty Kanza and much much more. You can listen to our conversation via the link at the top of this post or our Soundcloud page. For past interviews, see our audio file archives.
You can also read more from Legan and order his book at his website rambleur.com.