March 9th, 2020

Cycling: Grinding ‘Luxury Gravel’ in Yamhill County

A new adventure beyond every bend in the road. Photo credit: Phillip Higgins

Yamhill County has something Brad Wiltfong calls “luxury gravel.”

Luxury gravel?

“It really is, it’s phenomenal,” he explains. “It is smooth and packed and fast. These roads are so smooth they almost feel like pavement.”

As event manager of the upcoming Yamhill Gravel Fondo, Brad knows what he’s talking about. “We’re very aware that gravel cycling is a big deal right now. We have amazing access to great (gravel) roads in Yamhill County. We thought it would be great to (stage the fondo) there.”

“Fondo” is an Italian word with a variety of meanings. For cyclists, it means “big ride.” Think of an organized fun run for joggers.

There are many organized fondo events across the Pacific Northwest. Gravel fondos are growing in popularity as more cyclists look for an alternative to riding with vehicle traffic on country roads. More than 200 people took part last year during Zone 5 Promotions’ first-ever Yamhill County gravel event. Brad anticipates as many as 350 riders April 18.

Cyclists will pedal along quiet wine country and forest roads, Brad says. Beginners may prefer the shorter 18-mile “piccolo” course (piccolo in Italian means small) while experienced riders can pursue the 37-mile “medio” (medium) route that is sprinkled with some uphills. Serious gravel grinders crank through 60 “grande” (large) miles marked by six challenging climbs.

There are water stops along each route and someone at each station can help with flat tires and other minor bicycle repairs. Four points along the way also offer food, snacks and more extensive support. Riders are encouraged to download course maps from Ride with GPS.

Brad emphasizes this is not a race, but everyone’s times will be recorded. “Those who want to race will do it on their own,” he says. “We’re trying to tailor this for the cycling community. This is an event not a race.”

All rides begin and end at Rebers Riverside event venue on Flying M Ranch Road northwest of Yamhill. The fondo is designed as a family affair, Brad says, where everyone can enjoy their rides and then get together for food, drinks and recollections of the day.

“We had such good responses from our riders last year. We’re hopeful that it will continue to grow,” he says. “We want to emphasize that with three distances there is something for everyone. This is a great chance for people who are curious about what gravel riding is all about.”

The stars of this event, however, are not the cyclists, Brad says. It’s the countryside.

“There’s a lot of potential for exploration, discovery and adventure (in Yamhill County),” he says. “That’s what gravel cycling is seeking to capture. The romance of cycling exists on gravel. It’s hard to beat McMinnville and Yamhill County for opportunities to access gravel.

Photo credit: Phillip Higgins

“In my mind, McMinnville and Yamhill County represent all those things cyclists want – beautiful vistas and wonderful forested roads,” he adds. “And then what’s blowing me away about the area is the food scene, the number of wineries and beautiful places to stay (overnight).”

And don’t forget the luxury gravel.

Dan Shryock

Dan Shryock writes each month about McMinnville and Yamhill County. He has a goal of riding more gravel routes in 2020.