Here’s a podcast with Kevin English, the Director of Routes & Technologies for Dirty Freehub, discussing what is and is not a 5-Star route and the two other types of day routes that we post: Development and Alts & Options.
5 Star Routes
5 Star routes are our premier routes. They are the kind of route that you think, “Wow! That was cool.” So we invest a heck of a lot of time and energy to provide you with all the nitty-gritty details of the route: Pictures, micro-videos, history, cool facts, and a detailed route description. We want you to be just as excited about this route as we are … but more importantly, we want you to have a good idea of what you are getting into before you go. What is super fun for one person is dullsville for another. Or what is easy for you might be really hard for someone else.
Two really important points to remember:
- All Five Star routes have been ridden by a Dirty Freehub Team member and are verified to meet 5 Star route quality standards. In short, they offer a kick-ass experience!
- A route is not always 5-Star all year round. The “When to Ride” block suggests the best time to ride the route and get that 5-Star experience.
Our criteria for 5 Star Routes …
- Beauty / High visual value (i.e., rivers, streams, mountains, etc.)
- Unique features (i.e. a ghost town, a cemetery, a fish hatchery, etc.)
- History (i.e. Meeks wagon cutoff, Old railways from the railway wars)
- Texture. Winding, curvy roads. We don’t like long and straight!
- Ideally, multiple climbs and descents versus one long climb and one long descent.
- Builds to a climax, like a good story.
- Take me places that I would not normally go. Places where there are no mountain bike trails or where a road bike cannot get to.
- Sector breaks—a mix of pavement, gravel / dirt, double track, single track, bike path.
- Ideally, uphill on gravel and downhill on pavement (or good gravel with gradients less than 6%).
- Little traffic
- No, or little, overlap with other routes.
- If it is an out & back, it must have a great payoff at the turnaround point (a viewpoint, a cultural / historical site, etc.).
Not in our criteria …
- Road conditions! Road conditions are ever changing with seasonality, weather, maintenance and use. Thus, we encourage you to review the Comments for the latest road conditions and make a comment after you ride a route. This is super-duper helpful.
Alts & Options Routes
We also document a handful of routes called “Alts & Options” Routes. These are routes that are a combination, a shortening or lengthening of existing 5 Star routes. They are still of 5 Star quality; however, these route guides have less detail. We do not include information on terrain and riding, points of interest or ride notes. We refer you back to the original routes for this information. We highly encourage you to look at the original routes before embarking on an Alts & Options route.
Development routes have one of two origins: (a) They are routes forwarded to us by other riders using the “Share Your Route” page, or (b) they are routes that a member of the Dirty Freehub Team worked a bit but never got the chance to vet fully. (Captain ‘O’ is famous for this. When he works an area for a month or so, he normally goes away with 10 to 15 routes that he researched but never got to ride!)
The Route Guides for Development routes vary from a fully detailed guide to a guide with maybe a picture or two, a brief description, and a map. What we know, we try to include in the guide. When we post a Development Route, we are 75% sure that it “goes”. But … just in case, bring a sense of adventure. Sometimes it really doesn’t work out …
A route will stay as a Development Route until we either get sufficient community feedback (this is super important, make sure you comment!) that the route is of 5 Star quality; in that case, the route quality is verified by a member of the Dirty Freehub team with bike tires on terra, or in such a case that the route is not worthy of 5 Star status, it is dropped from the catalog.
Our Bikepacking Routes are a natural extension of 5 Star Routes – we create them with the same passion and criteria. What’s different? Mixing the thrill of gravel biking with the freedom of backpacking one gets bikepacking, also known as multi-day, mixed-surface touring. One gets to enjoy a sequence of great routes.
Our routes are generally adventure oriented and explore places less traveled. Where do we extend the rules of the Five Star Routes? To make a memorable loop in the backcountry, one often has to expand beyond one’s comfort zone:
- Risk and Difficulty. Sometimes to create an amazing loop, a short segment of road with a high traffic density is incorporated. Sometimes to connect to that most incredible spot, we end up cycling a steep grade. And sometimes, that connection involves rough stuff.
- Remoteness. A PLB is recommended on almost all of our bikepacking routes. It’s a safety measure. It is also a reminder of the need for experience and risk assessment. Risk assessment for all conditions, including your own abilities.
- Steep Grades. Devising compelling loops in remote areas with low traffic density can involve undeveloped and unimproved roads. These are often not engineered but evolved historically just to get somewhere.
- Rough Stuff. Sometimes pavement, sometimes a National Forest Road, sometimes market-road quality gravel, and then there are the stretches of #4 gravel or rock. What tire width to select? Generally speaking this becomes a tradeoff that depends on your goals.
- Weather. One of the best parts of traveling a sequence of days with declining forecast accuracy is an exercise in preparedness. Rain, heat, wind, and cold are typical challenges.
- Resources. Finding water along a route can be a great challenge – sometimes, to make a great loop, we need to bring water for a full day.
- Revitalization. After an epic day on the bike, we want to incorporate freshening up. Sometimes that’s a shower, sometimes, it’s a river or lake.
How You Can Help Us
We really appreciate your feedback when you ride a route — 5 Star, Alts & Options, or Development. Please leave a comment at the bottom of the Route Guide page. It helps to make gravel riding better for all. Something we call “For the community, by the community”. Thanks!