Exploring unpaved Florida, bicycles are taking to the gravel roads.
Gravel riding is the fastest growing segment in cycling and if you haven’t tried it you really should. It’s gets you away from traffic and into some off the beaten path areas. I spent a couple years listening to people rave about gravel riding and I’d occasionally use my mountain bike for gravel events. That was fine but eventually I wanted something with drop bars for gravel and once I pulled the trigger on a Felt Breed there was no going back.
My gravel bike is now my most ridden bike and the main place I ride it is Webb Wildlife Management Area. It’s a 30 drive mile from my house but it’s well worth it. I can ride for 50 miles and barely see a vehicle. Mostly I see birds, deer, and gators. Lots of gators!
The surface in the wildlife management area varies from smooth gravel to barely-there double track but the park area has a paved scenic road with little traffic that winds along the shore of Webb Lake for 10 miles. Others have caught onto the joy of riding at Webb and now there’s even a couple of events that utilize the roads there but on most days you’ll be lucky to see another rider. Riding in the WMA requires a little bit of local knowledge but maps are available and Bike Bistro employees can give you all the information you need. (PC Carlin)
The Babcock Webb Wildlife Preserve is a great place to ride. This is one way to hone those “off-road” bike handling skills, and enjoy the wilderness of SW Florida. Located off I-75 at Exit 156, it is a short drive from Ft. Myers. Parking, provided by the county, is $1 an hour or $5 for the day.
Along with the excellent bike riding areas, Babcock/Webb provides recreational opportunities.
These vary from hunting and fishing to hiking and wildlife viewing. There is a ranger station , pavilions, rest rooms, firearms and archery range, and other amenities.
With more than 65,000 acres of the finest intermixed pine flatwoods and freshwater marsh in the state (sprinkled with hardwood hammocks and dry prairie), this Wildlife Management Area will keep you busy all day long. Bike the roads, walk the trails, or take your canoe out onto Webb Lake. 194 species of birds have been recorded on this property and two of the most-sought-after are singing Bachman’s Sparrows in the spring and easily-accessed Red-cockaded Woodpecker clusters. Some of the other highlights for this property include American Bitterns and Sedge Wrens in winter and Northern Bobwhite, Least Bitterns, King Rail, Sandhill Crane, Wild Turkey, and Brown-headed Nuthatches throughout the year. Other species to look for include Sherman’s Fox Squirrel and Florida Bonneted Bats. (Thanks www.Floridabirdingtrail.com )
The Dirty Kanza was a first of its kind of gravel race for drop bar bikes.
That event, which, since its inception in 2006 with just 34 riders, has become the bellwether for the gravel industry. More than double the number of riders were on the start line in 2018 compared to 2014, and demand has become so high that this year the race instituted a lottery system for admission. Organizers also added a concurrent race in 2018, a 350-mile self-supported ride called the DKXL, and they have expanded the brand to several other fun rides, training camps, and bikepacking tours throughout the year.
A convergence of factors has fueled gravel’s growing popularity. Thanks to its grassroots heritage, the gravel scene also serves as an antidote to the high-tech, super-competitive mentality of road riding. Most of today’s popular gravel grinders, including the Dirty Kanza, started out as small-scale events with no entry fees. And despite their growth, they’ve tried to maintain their low-key attitude. (www.outsideonline.com)
No specific bike is needed to ride at Babcock / Webb, however a wider tire is recommended. Since no specific bike is needed, get out there and ride!