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Gravel Triathlon: The Next Wave of Off-Road Triathlon

gravel triathlon aero position

As more novelty is being introduced to the world of multisport, gravel triathlon is one of the newest and most exciting renditions to take shape.

No doubt, gravel cycling has become immensely popular in recent years. Compared to traditional road cycling, gravel is generally considered safer (less automobile traffic), more adventurous (fewer terrain limitations), and arguably more fun. 

What is a gravel triathlon?

At the heels of major gravel events like Unbound Gravel, The Mid South, and Big Sugar are more evolved iterations of endurance events centered around triathlon and multisport. 

That is, gravel triathlon, a traditional swim-bike-run event, but with an emphasis on gravel bikes and gravel roads instead of conventional time trial bikes and road bikes.

Less pavement, different bikes, and dare we say, a less pretentious down-to-earth vibe that comes with the gravel scene as we know it.

The concept of gravel triathlon is exploding as event organizations and race promoters continue to innovate the endurance community. Next to XTERRA events, we think it’s the new wave of off-road triathlon. So much so that even USA Triathlon has unveiled a new gravel tri series.

What do you need for a gravel tri?

Crusher in the Tushar Utah Gravel Bike Race

The gear you need for a gravel triathlon isn’t much different than a traditional triathlon on paved roads, with the exception of the type of bike and tires it accommodates. 

In general, a gravel bike – which is essentially a drop-bar road bike that fits larger tires – is the preferred choice for gravel triathlons. But depending on the course, a gravel bike may not be a requirement and some road bike setups can work just fine.

As experienced gravel cyclists and triathletes, we would recommend a bike that fits at least 30c wide tires, perhaps larger if the course has rugged terrain involved. Some road bikes can fit tires close to the size. However, an actual gravel bike may be preferred for added clearance.

In addition to having gravel-friendly tires on your bike, you’ll also want to have:

  • Swimwear: Consider using a tri wetsuit if legal or a swimskin suit as an alternative. Both of these are optional but can help improve your swim performance.
  • Goggles: A good pair of swim goggles is essential for any triathlon, including a gravel tri.
  • Tri suit: Also an optional piece of triathlon gear, a tri suit is a triathlon-specific garment that works for all three disciplines (instead of changing in and out of swim, bike, or run gear at each transition).
  • Race belt: Having a race belt makes it easy to have your race number bid easily attached after the swim/bike.
  • Running shoes: Most gravel triathlons involve an off-road trail run, so consider using proper trail running shoes with added tread.
  • Aero bars: A lot of experience triathletes will add clip-on aero bars to their bike setup to improve aerodynamics and overall speed.

Additionally, consider accessories like sun protection, your race nutrition, eyewear, a helmet, and other essentials that are important not to overlook.

Where can you race a gravel triathlon?

gravel triathlon course

While gravel triathlons are relatively new, there are several events cropping up, especially in the Midwest. Our friends at Tri4Health (who also run the Grand Rapids Triathlon, among many other multisport events) currently have two gravel triathlons planned for 2023.

Here’s a rundown on where you can race a gravel triathlon this year:

The Dirty Mitten Gravel Triathlon

Based in Middleville, Michigan at Camp Manitou-Lin, The Dirty Mitten is a scenic Gravel Triathlon that involves a lake swim, gravel bike, and a trail run. There are multiple distances available, ranging from sprint to half-Ironman distances, along with a duathlon, aquabike, and relay options.

The Dirty Mitten Gravel Triathlon is a two-day event that takes place September 23 and 24,  2023. To learn more about the event or to sign-up, visit TheDirtyMitten.com.

Ugly Dog Gravel Tri

What started as a grassroots event in 2018, the Ugly Dog Gravel Tri is a proper off-road triathlon that starts with a swim in the beautiful Portage Lake, based in Grass Lake, Michigan. Options include a sprint, Olympic, duathlon, aquabike, and relay. The gravel roads are some of the best in the region, but tire choice is a critical consideration that shouldn’t go overlooked!

The Ugly Dog Gravel Tri is set for July 22, 2023. Learn more or register at UglyDogGravelTri.com.

Stagecoach Gravel Triathlon

Based in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, the Stagecoach Gravel Triathlon is a modified sprint-distance event (along with aquabike and stand-up paddle-board options) that commences August 6th, 2023. Starting in the Stagecoach Reservoir, this 100% gravel road triathlon is fast with a 750-meter swim, 16-mile ride, and 4-mile run. 

Learn more about the Stagecoach Gravel Triathlon by visiting WithoutLimits.co.

What gravel triathlons will you race this 2023?

The three off-road triathlon events are just a few of our favorites. For a complete list of gravel triathlons throughout the U.S., here are the featured events as part of the USA Gravel Tri Series:

Do you have a gravel tri event you’d like to share? Let us know.

Head of Content at Better Triathlete | Website

Endurance athlete, professional off-road cyclist, and avid blogger, Tyler Tafelsky participates in long-course multisport and cycling events. Today, Tyler competes in ultra-distance cycling races at the professional level. Since starting Better Triathlete in 2014, he has been the head of content for the site's editorial team. Learn more about Tyler