20-02-05 gravel - from Evelyn Phillips.jpg

“Travels on Gravel” is available in sporting goods stores around Hailey.

It’s no secret that gravel-bike culture has a stronghold in Ketchum, where hundreds of cyclists gather every year on Labor Day Weekend for the Rebecca’s Private Idaho race.

Now—thanks to the release of a map last month—the south valley could become the next mecca for gravel-grinder rides and events.

According to cartographer Evelyn Phillips, a communitywide effort to mark out gravel routes through the high-desert canyons of Hailey and Bellevue began last fall.

“There are more gravel and dirt roads in the south valley, and roads with little elevation gain, perfect for gravel riding,” Phillips said.

The idea for the map originally came from former Hailey Mayor and avid cyclist Fritz Haemmerle, who had long held that gravel-grinding events could revitalize his community.

On Jan. 10—at an outgoing party for Haemmerle and former council members Pat Cooley and Jeff Engelhardt—Hailey Community Development Director Lisa Horowitz surprised Haemmerle with the new “Travels on Gravel” map.

“Lisa said to Fritz, ‘I’ve got something for you,’” Phillips recalled. “He had no idea.”

Around Thanksgiving, Horowitz recruited Billy Olson of Power House pub and bicycle shop and Eric Rector of the Blaine County Recreation District to provide input on the best county and BLM roads for gravel travel.

Club Ride Apparel Content Manager Cameron Lloyd was also brought on board to refine the list, along with other gravel experts from local sporting goods stores. Lloyd said in a Monday interview that the project highlighted gravel paths that locals have been traveling for years.

“Before gravel bikes became mainstream, a lot of us would ride our cyclocross bikes on these routes,” he said.

Lloyd added that gravel biking offers a safer alternative to road biking, which is lacking in the Wood River Valley.

“Most of our paved roads dead-end east and west, and with the increased traffic in and out of the valley, riding on paved roads isn’t all that safe anymore,” he said. “We are lucky to have side canyon roads and gravel roads south of Bellevue that keep a rider off busier paved roads.”

Phillips, the founder of Quigley Map Studio—and the designer of several interpretive signs in the Sawtooth National Forest, including Billy’s Bridge—took the bikers’ suggestions and used Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to create the final product.

“It’s always a learning experience, a labor of love,” Phillips said.

Horowitz and BLM Outdoor Recreational Planner John Kurtz also helped with technical editing.

“We all worked diligently to refine the background text and check we had the correct road names,” Horowitz said.

The map, which features over a dozen routes from easy to strenuous, was designed to repel rain and fold into bikers’ pockets. Phillips said a map for gravel riders in Ketchum—featuring more elevation gain—could be produced later.

“People might wonder why the map doesn’t cover Ketchum, but we’ve left open that possibility,” she said.

Lloyd said he hoped enthusiasm for the sport in the valley could help gravel riding become a claim to fame for Hailey.

“I think there’s a great opportunity for gravel riding to become something that Hailey can plant a flag in,” he said. “We’re lucky to have Rebecca Rusch and Rebecca’s Private Idaho [race] just up the road to help with getting people excited about it.”

For those new to the sport, Lloyd said, the Bellevue Triangle route between state Highway 75, U.S. Highway 20 and Gannet Road is a good place to start, as most roads in that zone are flat and can be ridden down to Silver Creek Preserve. For a more experienced rider, the Townsend Gulch to Rock Creek Loop route is a must-do.

“Big climbs and amazing views of the Rinker Rock Creek Ranch are not to be missed,” he said.

Gravel biking, according to Lloyd, began trending four or five years ago. The bikes—which resemble a traditional drop-handlebar road bike but with thicker tires—typically have a more comfortable feel, he said.

“Gravel bikes have a more relaxed geometry than a typical road bike, and have more clearance for bigger tires that can run lower pressure to make the ride more comfortable,” he said.

The “Travels on Gravel” map is expected to be featured during NAMI’s Biking for Mental Wellness promotion event in May, part of Mental Health Awareness Month. Currently, maps can be found in the Visit Sun Valley visitor center in Ketchum and sporting goods stores around Hailey.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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