The largest gravel race in the world is not in Kansas or Oklahoma. It isn’t owned by a fitness gym mega-chain and its name isn’t part of a complete breakfast. Rather, every spring, thousands of cyclists from enthusiast to professional descend upon the small town of Hastings, Michigan to celebrate the rolling dirt hills and seasonal roads of Barry County. For 13 years, Barry-Roubaix has been offering the cycling community a unique, challenging, and enjoyable gravel experience that rivals any other. I've raced Barry four times now, the 62 and 100 mile versions, each providing unique challenges. But this year, 2022, proved to be the biggest challenge yet (more on that later).
Starting and finishing in downtown Hastings, Barry-Roubaix offers four distances - 18, 36, 62, and 100 - each showcasing all or parts of the infamous segments that Barry County has to offer. If you opt for the 18, 36, or 62 you will be met instantly with the "3 Sisters", a punchy gravel climb around a mile in length that serves as a bit of an hors d'oeurve for the rest of the day. While the average grade of 3.5% won’t sound that bad to most, stretches of the climb top 15% and will certainly warm-up the legs and get your heart-rate close or over threshold.
The 36 and 62 take you through Sager Road - maybe the most well known segment of Barry-Roubaix. An un-maintained “seasonal road”, Sager is a narrow two track segment that can range from sandy, to rocky, to muddy depending on the year and, while only just over a mile in length, is often where separation occurs in the front of the race. The 100 milers are met with their own version of Sager, but rather Sager “Canyon” (which is basically always sandy or muddy depending on the year).
If you have ridden the 36, 62, or 100 additions of Barry-Roubaix in the past you will certainly also remember “The Wall”. Short and brutal, the Wall boasts a 12% average for just under a quarter of a mile. When you think you’ve crested the top, you take a sharp left and continue climbing - consider it the cherry on top, or rather, the “Barry” on top (so sorry). Connecting all these famous segments are some of the best gravel and paved roads you will find in the Midwest lined with enthusiastic locals and volunteers making sure your ride is enjoyable and safe.
The brilliance of Barry-Roubaix is that it has something for everyone. Whether you are looking to get your feet wet with the 18 “chiller” event or a full day adventure ride with the 100 mile “Psycho Killer”, you can be sure that your choice will be a top-notch event you won’t easily forget. And whether you chose to race or to cheer on 4000 of your friends, EVERYONE gets to experience the after party where the beer flows steady and the stoke is incredibly high. If you haven’t attended Barry-Roubaix, I can’t recommend it enough. It is definitely worth a drive or plane ride to experience one of the premier gravel events of the season. The event does tend to sell out every year, but chances are if you sign up in a reasonable time you will easily get a registration - no need to worry about waitlists and a lottery like some other popular races.
2022's edition of the Barry-Roubaix was a stark contrast to last year's beautiful weather - racers were met with freezing temps, snow, and high winds to make one of the most challenging but truly memorable experiences. Hear more about Barry-Roubaix on Episodes 71 and Episode 60 of the Dirty Chain Podcast.