Ozark Gravel Cyclists | Introduction
There is an emerging gravel riding group in Northwest Arkansas. Join us as we check in with Andrew Onermaa to find out more about the Ozark Gravel Cyclists.
OCA: How did you get started riding bikes?
OGC: I was reintroduced to bikes my freshman year of college at the University of Arkansas. My car broke down and I needed a way to commute and get around. I saw someone bombing down a hill on campus on a brakeless fixed gear bike and immediately thought “wow, I need to get in on that.” The riding style was so clean and bold; I immediately felt drawn to the skate/punk culture it embodied. I saved up that summer afterwards and got one of the cheapest fixed gear bike builds I could find online.
Fast forward to sophomore year, I was commuting on a regular basis and even started delivering for Jimmy John’s on Dickson Street during their crazy graveyard shift of roughly 8pm – 3am. I was hooked on riding my bike fast through the hills of Fayetteville with no brakes and cash tips on the line.
I shuffled through hobbies over the years like rock climbing, skiing, trail running, peak bagging, etc. but the fixed gear bike was always a part of my life. I upgraded through bikes a few times and found myself falling in love with cycling more & more. I rode my bike in Salt Lake City, Alaska, California, Las Vegas, Denver, the Utah Desert, etc. and found my other passions losing momentum to the thrills I was getting from exploring on my bike.
Eventually, I got to the point of wanting to race others and see how I stacked up. My first race ever was Red Bull Last Stand in 2019. This was a fixed gear only criterium that took place at Tulsa Tough. I didn’t perform particularly well but seeing a whole weekend event of bike racing teams and professional athletes sealed the deal for me. I was in. This was what I was looking for.
I’m incredibly lucky and my mother helped me purchase my first road bike at the age of 27 when she could tell how important it was for me to chase passion in life. Cost was always a big barrier for me to attempt stepping into the scene. Once I had an entry level road bike with brakes and multiple gears I went absolutely nuts exploring as much as I could via two wheels. I never could have dreamed of doing the mountain passes near Salt Lake City where I was living at the time on my fixed gear bike but this finally gave me the chance. All day rides become the norm and often got in over my head concerning my abilities.
I eventually got connected with a team to race for in 2020 and then we all know how the world changed in 2020…
Racing wasn’t happening, the ski resort I was working at shut down, and I moved back to Arkansas.
OCA: Tell us about Ozark Gravel Cyclists. How did it get started? Is it a club, team?
OGC: Since I was on such an emotional high from bikes and excited to race with a team/ride with friends in Salt Lake City, I decided to apply that enthusiasm to the cycling community in Arkansas.
One major change – I was falling in love with gravel and wanted that to be the focus.
Once the initial pandemic scare eased off I met up with Jesse Turner, a local gravel and bikepacking guru, and we rode a 120 mile gravel loop in the Ozarks. By the end of that ride, Ozark Gravel Cyclists was born.
It was the end of April and our initial goal was simple: find more people that like riding gravel and ride with them – capture content along the way and show “hey, this is what’s happening in the local gravel scene.”
Jesse and I are competitive and driven individuals at the core and want to push our personal limits. We like having fun and staying light-hearted, but we want goals on the calendar. We figured if we found some like-minded individuals we could try some badass new routes and perhaps even travel to some events together.
Our crew of two grew over time. Some riders consistently joining, some just meeting up once or twice. We continued to capture content and ride. An audience grew and tuned into what we were doing; messages started flowing in often asking questions about gear and routes. In June we launched our first group ride and have been doing one big route a month for the most part. This was dubbed “Seriously Sendy Sundays” and entails a big day (4+ hours) in classic Ozark terrain.
We also started a weekly series called “Thirsty Thursdays” which is a fast-paced gravel ride starting and ending at Puritan on Dickson. This one has quickly become more of a race-pace ride with rippin’ pacelines, sprints, rowdy descents etc.
To summarize: Ozark Gravel Cyclists is a Community. People are drawn to it for various reasons but it all revolves around riding bikes on gravel. We’ve found some people that are motivated to race so we’ve formed a race team. We’ve also found people that want a club/community to relate with and we’ve formed that too. One isn’t more important than the other – we’re bringing people together.
OCA: Do you have any events or rides planned for 2021?
OGC: We will continue our weekly Thirsty Thursdays series and our monthly Seriously Sendy Sundays Series. However, with our growing audience and community we are looking into starting more group rides of varying abilities and distances. Part of this will come down to some additional riders willing to step up and take on roles of organizing.
Events… absolutely. TBD but stay tuned.
OCA: What is your favorite gravel route?
OGC: The Arkansas High Country Route takes the cake. We’ll continue to see visitors from all over the country coming to do this route. We’re so lucky to live in this state.
OCA: How can someone get involved with Ozark Gravel Cyclists?
OGC: Follow us on Instagram, STRAVA and Facebook for more information and don’t hesitate to send messages! Admittedly not the quickest to reply but will be happy to respond to any questions or take feedback.