Gear up on November 6 for Outdoor Inc.’s fourth consecutive Grit and Grind — the biggest gravel race to hit Memphis. With three categories and distances to choose from, the event offers something for everyone, from beginners to athletes. Loop together alongside peers and professionals alike on Big River Park’s updated gravel road, set on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Joe Royer, President and co-owner of the local outdoor gear franchise, Outdoors Inc., is the event organizer. He’s inspired by his career of cycling competitively around the globe alongside his wife and fellow cyclist in Paris, Scotland, and Norway. In addition to 40-plus years of experience in event production, Joe brings a lot to the table.
“I want that for Memphis. Putting on professionally run events adds that level of acceptance to your city. That’s important to us because it puts a stamp of approval to local folks that people from other states come here to race their bikes.”
Grit and Grind’s attention to detail has every base covered, from their unique gravel composition replicated after Italy’s famous Strade Bianchi race, to looking at 100 years of weather data for picking the perfect race day.
Gravel riding covers everything from riding socially in the city on gravel trails to speeding through endurance rides on unpaved backcountry roads. The style’s less intimidating landscape and safer mechanics have led to an increase in popularity. It currently ranks highest in participation according to USA Cycling. In addition, all bike companies now produce gravel bikes, and efficient bike technologies mean faster transitions when building up mileage.
Memphis boasts a long and rich cycling history and was acknowledged in 2012 as the nation’s most improved city for cycling. It now embraces bike lanes, green belts, and trails. Its gently rolling, level terrain, and milder weather are perfect for the sport. Plus, the proximity of vibrant city life allows cyclists to explore downtown areas such as the South Main Arts District. On weekends, it is not uncommon to see rows of bikes stationed outside popular coffee shops, such as Hustle and Dough, after a 35-50-mile group ride.
Rebekah Askins, 38, is among the many local Memphians excited for race day. The mom to two teens fell in love with gravel in 2018 after joining a group ride. Today, she clocks in about 200-250 miles per week on her bike.
The registered dietician and consultant is constantly finding creative ways to squeeze in rides and is flexible with her workout schedule. For endurance rides as long as 300 miles, Rebekah draws on her background in dietetics, focusing on sufficient caloric intake for recovery and stamina support.
“I like gravel because on gravel roads you’re seeing things most people typically don’t get to see on paved roads. On endurance rides, I can go at a pace I enjoy or make stops while on back roads.”
Regarding terrain, she recommends Potts Camp, about an hour south.
“Grit and Grind is unique because it’s in the metro Memphis area, making it accessible to all our local riders. It’s really an inviting atmosphere.”
Rebekah is a Los Locos cycling group member which Outdoors Inc. sponsors. She plans on riding alongside her boyfriend and fellow gravel rider, Kevin.
While Joe continues to have big dreams for Memphis’ cycle scene, he wants people to remember what Grit and Grind is truly about.
“It’s an honor to see our local cyclists, whether elite pro-level, strong intermediates or beginners, do their best and have fun.”
By Shlomit Ovadia
Photos by Sam Sikes