Unbound Gravel Brings 12,000 Visitors and $5 Million to Emporia This Summer

Unbound Gravel Brings 12,000 Visitors and $5 Million to Emporia This Summer Main Photo

12 Mar 2024

Every year, athletes from around the world travel to Emporia for Unbound Gravel, a multi-day gravel biking event that features races, training camps, and an exposition with more than 100 vendors covering All Things Gravel. This year, the event runs from May 30 to June 2 and more than 12,000 people are expected to attend. Biking enthusiasts from all 50 states and more than 40 countries will participate in this unparalleled race.

“Unbound Gravel lets thousands of visitors discover Emporia for the first time,” says Jim Witt, Interim President of the Regional Development Association of East Central Kansas (RDA). “I can’t think of a better first impression to make people fall in love with this community and want to return.”

Unbound Gravel is an unforgettable experience for tourists and an opportunity for the local community and business owners. Learn more about this race and how you can get involved. 

The Flint Hills and Emporia Residents Make This Course Unique 

Gravel biking is gaining popularity as a cross between road cycling and mountain biking. Cyclists travel on unpaved roads and trails through a variety of different terrains, allowing them to use different skills as they push through each course. The majority of the Unbound Gravel race occurs in the Flint Hills, providing cyclists with one of the most unique environments in the country.

“It's as remote and rugged a landscape as you can find,” says Lelan Dains, Director of Visit Emporia. “The rocky bed underneath the shallow soil prevents the land from being plowed. That rocky bed and the undulating hills present truly challenging conditions almost entirely devoid of vehicle interaction.”

Cyclists can focus on navigating the course without worrying about nearby traffic or crossing difficult roadways.

Of course, it takes more than a good course to make an amazing gravel race. Dains is quick to highlight the role Emporia residents play in this event. People from across the region cheer on the riders and participate in the various events and festivities.

“Emporians don't just welcome these riders, but truly treat them like the gravel rock stars they are,” he says. “We know how unforgiving this land can be and therefore we celebrate the journey these riders willingly undertake.”

Unbound Gravel Supports Local Businesses

Unbound Gravel brings in more than $5 million to the Emporia economy, making this an essential event for local business owners. Cycling enthusiasts stay in Emporia hotels, eat at local restaurants, and enjoy nearby shops. Even businesses unrelated to tourism and hospitality can benefit from this event.

“Many businesses along Commercial Street allow industry companies to take over their spaces,” says Dains. “This is a great partnership as it puts dollars in the hands of local business owners and gives brands prime real estate for the week of activities.”

All across Emporia, you will see sandwich boards and signs made by business owners who are welcoming people to our town.

Residents Can Get in on the Fun

Not only is Unbound Gravel a boon for the local economy, but it also improves the quality of life of residents. Many people look forward to the events annually and cheer on racers at the finish line, ringing cowbells and making up rhymes. Others hang up signs if they live along the course or sit outside and yell words of encouragement – some even use their garden hoses to cool off riders.  

There are also more direct ways to get involved. The race has more than 500 volunteer positions to help racers and more than 400 Emporians participate in the cycling events each year.

“Unbound Gravel offers a little something for everyone,” says Dains. “Beginner cyclists, or even current non-cyclists, can find an appropriate challenge in the 25 or 50-mile rides. There are even options for high school riders.” The beginner trails stay closer to the roadways and have less vertical gain.

This event brings together people in the community who want to celebrate Emporia, its beautiful landscape, and the wonderful people who live here. It is one of the best events of the summer. 

Attend Unbound Gravel and Learn Why People Love Emporia

Emporia is home to 24,000 people who love this part of the country. Not only can you enjoy an unparalleled landscape that’s ripe for adventure, but you can also connect with a welcoming community that wants to see you succeed. Discover what makes Emporia special and why people continue to move here. This is just one of many events throughout the year that bring neighbors together.