Gravel Growler riders beat flat tires and shoulder injuries in season finale

Cyclists prepare to start the Gravel Growler outside Winterlong Brewing on Sept. 19. The event ended with a socially distant beer garden. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Emily Macht starts the Gravel Growler event outside of Winterlong Brewing on Saturday morning. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Gravel Growler rider Reid Sandiford, 11, starts the race on Copper Haul Road. He was named the “Belgian Hard Kid” in the 2019 event. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Pete Sandiford and Amy McClintock lead a pack of riders down Copper Haul Road. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)

Yukon cyclists of all stripes hit the road on Sept. 19 for the annual Gravel Growler — a social ride with a little bit of course for every type of bike.

Weather for the Saturday morning event was cool and bright, sparing riders extra trouble on a course that already combines gravel and dirt.

“Obviously there’s not a lot going on in terms of real-life events this year, and it was great. Weather was awesome and everyone finished,” said organizer Joel Macht.

The event is less a race than a biking challenge and social event that rewards effort, grit and good times. All levels, tires and frames are welcome.

Shelly McKee and Travis Flath were named the Real McKenzies of 2020, an award formerly known as the Belgian Hardwo/man. The award isn’t necessarily for best times, but for the best effort.

Flath encountered three flat tires prior to finishing 10 kilometres of the race. Despite the setback, he managed to walk back, obtain a new tire, and set out on the course just as some riders were finishing for the day.

“It was such a nice day and he didn’t want to miss out. And before he went out to do his ride, we were all in the beer garden and we let him know there’d be a growler waiting for when he got back,” Macht said.

The second Real McKenzie was awarded to McKee for riding the course on her fat bike despite a shoulder injury that forced her off her bike earlier in the season.

The fastest riders were Dave Gonda, who took the win in the long course in 2:18:43, just five minutes and 36 seconds ahead of Ian Parker. Phil Hoffman took first in the short course in just under 1:59:30 and Bill Curtis following 10 minutes behind.

The 65-km long track began at Winterlong Brewing, starting on the gravel Copper Haul Road followed by a steep elevation gain up to Fish Lake. From there, cyclists descended to the highway and transitioned to Mount McIntrye singletrack before winding back to the start.

The event concluded with a socially-distant beer garden at Winterlong Brewing, the start and finish area for each track.

The event also included a 40-km short course that skips the 500-metre elevation up to Fish Lake.

The inclusive event invites road bikes, mountain bikes, fat bikes or touring bikes to take on the challenge, but warns that “whatever you ride, know that at some point on the day, it will be a great choice, and at another point it’ll be a terrible choice. Ponder this. Accept it. Embrace it.”

“The idea is that everyone is welcome. The bike industry is always wanting to sell more bikes, which is just fine, but you don’t need a special bike for the gravel scene,” Macht said.

“So when we first started doing this, the idea was that you take whatever kind of the bike you have, whether it’s a mountain bike or a road bike, and you equip it with whatever tire you think are going to get you through pavement, gravel, roads, dirt roads, single track and everything in between. Just go for it. So the idea behind it is not really a race. It’s kind of a ride-hard-if-you-want-to — or not,” Macht said.

In total, between 40 and 50 riders registered for the event, a cap that was necessary due to COVID-19 restrictions. It was the first time the Gravel Grower registration was combined with the Royalty of the Canyon race to form a “series.”

The two events were collaborations by Velonorth and the Contagious Mountain Bike Club.

“Road riding has gone through some ups and downs over the years. It’s been popular for a while and then mountain biking has been definitely on the up and up for the past few years, particularly in Whitehorse. It’s great riding up here. But it’s nice to have something for everyone,” Macht said.

Contact Haley Ritchie at