Gravel Riding in Idaho

Rebecca’s Private Idaho gravel/pavement mountain bike race turned out to be a very public suffer fest. I loved every minute of it.

Mountain biking goddess and champ Rebecca Rusch bid adieu to 500 of her closest friends, including me, as we sent the gravel flying the day before Labor Day in the gorgeous central Idaho mountains – otherwise known as her playground for endurance riding.

“I want you to get out of your comfort zone,” she told the pre-race crowd. “I want you to curse me along the way and celebrate me at the end. But please be safe out there.”

I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by “safe” until descending on washboard gravel at mach-looney speeds had me hanging on for dear life.

Rolling through the streets of downtown Ketchum during Wagon Days on a 40-degree morning would be the easy part of the 50-mile “Small Fry” distance and the 90-mile “Big Potato”. The rest of the race was a tire-eating gravel grinder of a good time as we climbed up Trail Creek and down the other side into the Pioneer Mountains and Copper Basin.


Most people picked gravel bikes or cyclocross bikes as their steed of choice, while some were on hardtail mountain bikes. It was an easy decision for me. I only have a hardtail: a nice, shock-absorbing front fork was my friend. It was also a wise decision considering all the carnage of flats on the side of the road. Three-time Olympic time trial champion Kristin Armstrong was one of the flat tire victims that day.

Now in its fourth year, Rebecca’s Private Idaho keeps drawing a larger, more famous crowd, similar to Sun Valley, Idaho itself. A smart and savvy business woman, Rusch knows the use of social media has certainly helped spread the word on this event. The event went from a few hundred in the first year to well over 550 entries this year.

Sponsored by big names such as Red Bull, Maxxis Tires, Niner Bikes, Rusch is a business and marketing wiz who knows how to use location and relationships to market events like a pro. Sun Valley doesn’t just market itself.

But more importantly, as race organizer and founder, she is committed to personally showing everyone a good time. The entire Labor Day weekend was one big party, packed full of festivities and she was there to host all of it.

Rusch also wants people to see how special Idaho is. “I’m bringing you here to show you my home,” she told the crowd.

More women are participating in these types of events as well. She said 30% of RPI participants were female this year. This is a big deal for endurance events which typically see about 10% participation from women.

One of the highlights was the food at the aid stations consisting of salty roasted Idaho potatoes (of course), Nutella sandwiches, pretzels and bananas, to name a few. The food vendors at the finish line were fantastic as well. One meal ticket allowed racers to choose the vendor of their choice. Street tacos for this girl. Here’s the really cool part: Unlimited drinks of Patron and orange Red Bull mixers, cleverly called the Head Rusch.

Next year, I might try stepping up my game by racing on a gravel bike. A shop I ride for in Idaho carries Niners. Hmmm. And I need to remember to bring my cowboy hat and boots!

About the author

Melissa Davidson is the proud owner of 5 bicycles. She is also a full-time freelance writer and social media marketer based in Boise, Idaho. She has a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Montana and is a former newspaper reporter. When she’s not hovering over a keyboard, or weekend warrior-ing, or competing in endurance races, she can be found napping with her dog, Romeo.