Cyclists race through the Flint Hills in Wild West Gravel Fest

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(Alexander Hurla | Collegian Media Group)

On Saturday, cyclists raced on gravel roads through the Flint Hills in Abilene’s second annual Wild West Gravel Fest.

The event had multiple race lengths for riders to choose from, ranging from five kilometers to 200 kilometers. Each race began in Old Abilene Town with staggered start times in the morning so all riders finish around the same time in the early afternoon.

John Kollhoff, one of the event’s coordinators — and who prefers the title “Chief Instigator” — said he and some friends started the first race in 2020.

“This was actually created in response to all the races getting canceled during COVID,” Kollhoff said. “Me and a couple friends were in good cycling shape, and we wanted to race, and we decided that if we wanted to race, we might have to put it on ourselves.”

In addition to the races on Saturday, Wild West Gravel Fest includes concerts from local musicians on Friday and Saturday evenings, meals and beverages from local restaurants, and fun rides on Friday evening and Sunday morning.

Steve Stephens of Wichita said the event provides a change of scenery for many riders.

“It’s a time to get away from the big city, go into a small community, and just ride your bike — plain and simple,” Stephens said. “There’s a lot of professionals that come out just to do this over the weekend because it’s a getaway and it’s a big release of stress, and it’s also fun and competitive at the same time.”

In addition to seeing the landscape, Tiffiney Smith of Jackson, Missouri, said she likes riding on gravel roads.

“It’s a great way to see scenery out in the country that you wouldn’t normally see, and it’s a lot better than riding on the highway with yahoos driving 60 miles per hour,” Smith said.

She said she enjoyed the event and hopes more women get involved with it in the future.

“About 10 or 15 percent of the riders are women,” Smith said. “It means more competition for me, but we want more women to participate.”

Having people participate in the race and connect with others is something Kollhoff said he hopes the Wild West Gravel Fest provides for people.

“Some of the other races you go to, you do your race, you get your time, maybe you have a beverage at the end and it’s over,” Kollhoff said. “I guess that’s what I like most about bike riding is the sense of community. I enjoy riding my bike more when I’m riding with other people, so I guess I want to share that with other people.”

He also said having the event at Old Abilene Town helps make Wild West Gravel Fest unique.

“Every race kind of has its own feel,” Kollhoff said. “I really want this to be a fun environment. We definitely have an awesome venue down here.”

As the event looks ahead to its third year, Kollhoff said the next Wild West Gravel Fest will take place on the weekend of Oct. 8, 2022. He said he hopes the event keeps growing and attracting more participants.

“I would like to think people are going to have more fun here than other race in Kansas or anywhere,” Kollhoff said. “That’s the environment we’re trying to create.”

To learn more about the Wild West Gravel Fest, visit their website at wildwestgravelfest.com/.

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