gravel worlds

Gravel Worlds 2012; a few images

In Blog by Eric Benjamin Comments

Gravel Worlds in Lincoln, Nebraska is quite a race. It is a 150 mile gravel road race put on by the Pirate Cycling League (PCL). It is complete with SAG stops, some with beer and food, secret checkpoints, lottery ticket proof of riding the course (pipe cleaners too at the checkpoints) and hills, lots and lots of hills. Oh and as kick ass as this race is, it is also free. Donations are accepted of course, but it is free. That is quite impressive and the PCL does a great job of hosting this race.

When I successfully finished Gravel Worlds last year I understood why the PCL is always represented in the top 10 of the DK200. They have built in interval training in the miles and miles of gravel roads that are nothing but non-stop rollers all around Lincoln. Some are quite steep and they never stop. They are relentless. I am a little jealous.

This year had a much different feel than last year. As I got ready to head north I had a serious lack of nervous energy. My dog wasn’t following me around the house and garage while I double and triple checked gear, food and clothing. I wouldn’t be riding and I was pretty relaxed. All my camera gear was packed and making that happen is a lot less stressful than packing for a 150 mile bicycle race. Forgetting something necessary for a race could be huge. Same thing goes for a photo shoot, but I have been doing photography for a long time and had all my gear packed up and ready to go with no worries. Time to pack up the Rav Sport.

rav 4 cycling

The bicycle fit in the Rav nicely along with all the camera gear too.

I left town around noon and headed north on the winding and hilly Highway 99. As I went up and down the hills north of Emporia my mind wandered to next year’s DK200 route and how we could make it even more punishing to riders next year. I don’t mean that in a mean way, to me punishing hills are to a gravel grinder as soft caresses are to a lover.

I made it through all the dead corn fields to Nebraska and found my way through Lincoln to Matt Gersib’s house. Matt would provide me with a place to stay and would be my guide along the gravel roads on race day. That would prove to be a good thing. I could imagine getting lost on unknown gravel, missing the whole race. Matt made sure to keep me on course. Plus we got to hang out all day and watch a bicycle race. It was a long and quite enjoyable day. Thanks again Matt!

Chad Quigley was racing and also would be crashing at Matt’s place for the weekend. We all met up at Matt’s and after a few adult beverages got on our bikes and rode to the check in at Cycle Works.

lincoln nebraska bike shop

It was weird not riding this year, but the lack of nervousness and dedicating my time to shooting was pretty cool.

tim and kristy mohn

I soon found my Emporia friends, Tim and Kristy Mohn.

kevin collings

Kevin Collings from Wichita and his offspring were ready to go.

gravel worlds beer

My fried chicken and beer loving friend Malcolm was manning the beer and root beer stand.

check in

Check in table

bike tatoo

That’s what you call an amazing tatoo my friends.

After much hanging out and talking to gravel grinding friends we left to find something to eat in downtown Lincoln. Just like last year, I enjoyed cycling through Lincoln and partaking in their restaurants. I ended up having a delicious salad from Yiayia’s before staying up too late for a 3:30 am wake up call.

Race Day

The morning started out cold. Cold in August? Yes it was cold. We had a beautiful sunrise and then the clouds moved over and gave us some rain all morning and into the afternoon. If I was racing, I know I would have been unprepared for the cold weather and would have froze my toes off. As a photographer, the changing light conditions and keeping my gear out of the rain made for a challenging day. Because of the rain I didn’t shoot as much as I wanted to but I was still able to get a few good images.

Here’s a look at a few of my favorites to give you a feel for the running of Gravel Worlds 2012.

gravel worlds check in

 race day check in

adventure monkey

Adventure Monkey team (minus Jeff Young)

night cycling

And they are off in the cold, dark morning

Matt took me to a hilly road to get the riders as the sun rose.

sunrise over gravel

sunrise above Nebraska gravel

multiple flash setup

checking the flash setup

matt gersib

double checking with model, Matt Gersib

As you can see, without shooting multiple exposures and combining them, which I don’t want to do, shooting the riders against a sunrise includes some compromise. With the riders exposed correctly, the sunrise would be completely over exposed and washed out. With the sunrise exposed correctly the riders would be under exposed silhouettes. The flash could fill in the rider if I exposed for the sky, but then the road would be under exposed behind the rider. So I shot using different settings to get different feelings in the images.

My multi-flash setup would be better suited with the sun high in the sky lighting the world evenly. I could then slightly under expose the world and use the flash to brighten the rider. This is easier to do with a model doing multiple takes, but at a race it is a little more difficult.

matt gersib

 Gersib, profile


beans and the sunrise

gravel rollers

 Here come the leaders!

leaders in the dust

love the feel of the above shot

bike race

 Is that a Trek Madone (2nd bike)? He’ll never finish on that. The gravel will punish him – or so we thought

gravel grinder

Mike Marchand – the baddest Librarian in the land

 cycling photography

Different looks with different settings and off camera flash (learn more here)

multiple flash cycling photography


off camera flash cycling


gravel worlds

Shooting with the rented 70-200 2.8 AFS lens was a joy. There is a reason it costs around $2500. The reason is fast focus and super sharp images down to 2.8. I will go on to say, the lenses you choose are more important than the camera. (learn more here.)

gravel worlds

Exposing for the cyclist and the road gives a different feeling than exposing for the sky. I like seeing the road and the cyclists and exposed properly for them in these shots.

gravel rollers


sports photography off camera flash

 Hey we’re not shooting for Bicycling magazine here. Look a little more hard core!

I kid, but loved this shot because it gives you the feeling of this terrible race. The hills are relentless and punishing yet the cyclists have a great time even to the end. That says a lot for the PCL crew and how they handle this race. And yes, gravel loving folks are a bit masochistic.

off camera flash action shot

 grinding it out on a Salsa Vaya

gravel worlds

 Joel is all business

gravel worlds

 That hill was fun, may I have another?

adventure monkey mohns

 Tim and Kristy, the Ken and Barbie of gravel grinders

malcolm nebraska

 Checkpoint 1 in Malcolm, Nebraska

sag stop

 SAG stop with homemade pickles!

gravel grinder

 Remember that Trek Madone with skinny tires? It is now in first place.

road closed gravel grinder

 Bridge closed

gravel worlds mike marchand

 The man, the legend – Mike Marchand

gravel worlds

 Getting over the closed bridge

low water gravel

 low water crossing and finally some sunshine!

low water crossing gravel worlds

 You can see how the added fill flash at a high speed sync really helped these images

low water crossing gravel worlds


low water crossing gravel worlds


gravel worlds


tim mohn gravel worlds


pirate cycling league

 The last “oasis” of the day complete with lots of food and beer. Did I mention this race is free and run by volunteers? Bravo PCL, bravo.

 tim mohn, gravel worlds

 Tim Mohn looks good even when he looks like sh*t.
So there you have it – Gravel Worlds 2012 is in the books. I will publish ALL the pics this week  for you to be able to print and download yourselves. Oh and btw, Jay Thomas on the Trek Madone won the race. Pretty impressive.
Seriously, I do have a lot of room at this year’s tour. Sign up now to learn how to shoot images like these and landscapes in the Flint Hills.
Feed Your Monkey!