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Gravel Rousel Classic allows cyclists to explore Athens.

Gravel Rouser Classic will kick off the riding season

A full weekend of biking will occur this weekend with the 13th annual Gravel Rouser Classic, which will focus on riders hanging out together rather than racing.

Eric Hamann is traveling almost 500 miles to come back to Athens for one weekend.

Hamann will be joining dozens of people in the 13th annual Gravel Rouser Classic, a four-day weekend of cycling in which participants can explore Athens on their bikes while also acquainting themselves with fellow cyclists, Meredith Erlewine, a co-owner of Athens Bicycle, which sponsors the event, said.

“As far as bike racing goes, it’s really one of the best events that I’ve ever done just because it’s so casual and there’s just a big focus on putting together a fun weekend,” Hamann, a 2014 Ohio University graduate, said.

The event name, she added, is a play on the term “rabble rouser,” which means a person who causes trouble, and that the event was originally planned to celebrate all of the gravel backroads in Athens County.

“As an avid cyclist, it’s one of the events that represents my college years in my mind and the memories with all of that,” Derek Bissett, a four-year participant in the Gravel Rouser, said.

Bissett, who graduated from OU in 2012, currently lives in State College, Pennsylvania and is returning to Athens this year for the Gravel Rouser. He participated in the event three times while still attending OU, he said.

Hamann has participated in the Gravel Rouser five times. The first year he participated in the Gravel Rouser was his senior year of high school, he said, adding that The Gravel Rouser Classic is a great way to connect with people in Athens and to find “riding friends” in the town.

“Anyone who is a mountain biker in Athens should take the opportunity to experience (it) at least one while they live there,” Hamann said.

Most of the events are riding-oriented, but even during the race events, Erlewine said, participants may choose to ride their bikes along the race trails without actually competing.

“It’s a very socially-inclusive cycling event,” Erlewine said. “We try not to take things super seriously at it.”

Erlewine said usually a handful of students attend the Gravel Rouser, but not many. If the weather is nice, Erlewine said the Thursday, Friday and Sunday crowds draw about 30 people per day while the event Saturday draws the biggest crowd of roughly 120 people.

Originally starting out as a Saturday event, the Gravel Rouser Classic has evolved into its most recent four-day structure.

“It’s definitely grown (by) word of mouth because I certainly don’t promote it very much,” Erlewine said. “I think people around town … look at it as a fun thing to look forward to as winter time is coming to an end, and (they’re) finally going to get out on the bike.”

Even though the Gravel Rouser isn’t the most “polished” event, Erlewine said she begins receiving messages around January every year from patrons asking when the event is so they can call off work.

“I like to know that there’s people out there thinking about planning around the Gravel Rouser because they know it’s coming," Erlewine said.

It’s fun for the group to do the events and “suffer” together as they get worn out from all the biking, she said.

“It’s sort of a moving party,” Erlewine said. “After each event, we usually have a party at somebody’s house or in somebody’s yard … it’s not only about the racing.”

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