Saddle up, riders!

Kalona backroads to host new cycling race in Iowa Gravel Series

By Cheryl Allen
Posted 2/7/24


67,585 miles of Iowa’s public roads are gravel, making up 60% of the state’s road system. And cyclists love them.

Caleb Wilson is one of those cyclists. And because he lives in …

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Saddle up, riders!

Kalona backroads to host new cycling race in Iowa Gravel Series



67,585 miles of Iowa’s public roads are gravel, making up 60% of the state’s road system. And cyclists love them.

Caleb Wilson is one of those cyclists. And because he lives in Kalona, he knows and loves Kalona gravel. And Kalona gravel, he felt, was perfect for a cycling race.

“We are lucky. The roads are beautiful. It’s a really fun but challenging area,” he says from the perspective of having ridden gravel roads all over the state of Iowa.

Thanks to Wilson’s ambition to share the gravel roads of our area with others, on Saturday, May 11, 2024, Kalona will host the first Kalona Horseshoe cycling race, one of seven races in the Iowa Gravel Series. The event offers 50 km and 100 km distances, as well as a 10K run the night before. The bicycle races are open to both adult and junior (ages 6-17) divisions.

Chris McQueen, the series director, started the Iowa Gravel Series in 2021 with five races across the state in places such as Silver City, Waukon, and Albia. Adding in Kalona and Fairfield this year will push the number of races to seven.

“Gravel bike racing is the fastest growing kind of cycling, kind of bike racing, in the world, and the U.S. is like the epicenter of it,” Wilson says. “It’s one of the only types of bike racing that has found its roots, its focus, in the U.S., where mostly Europe kind of dominates everything else. And Iowa has like 70,000 miles of gravel, which a lot of people don’t know, and some of the best gravel roads in the world.”

Wilson himself was bitten by the cycling bug as an adult who felt his vitality fading as he spent day after day trapped in an office. His coworkers introduced him to cycling, and then racing, and it renewed his zest for life.

“The culture in the cycling community is just incredible,” he says. “People are so welcoming. They’re just fun. Even people who are really good are still pretty nice, and you don’t see that across a lot of sports.”

In addition to finding a community of kindred spirits, Wilson found that having an event to train for helped him stay focused and motivated. In a world of complexity and challenges, the straightforward task of training, racing, and achieving a goal had a lot of appeal.

“To have something really concrete to work toward and try to push yourself and achieve goals has been really, really life-giving to me. It’s changed my life in a lot of ways,” he says.


“I think you’ll find in cycling there are folks who just love the challenge,” McQueen says. “They start off small, they start off somewhere, and then they find a way to say, ‘OK, I did that. Now, what’s next?’”

There are “endless possibilities” for what a cyclist can take on next, and thus we have the Kalona Horseshoe, which Wilson calculates will have almost 5000 feet of climb. The route he’s devised is by no means the Iowa-flat stereotype; it’s filled with rolling hills.

It’s also kind of horseshoe -shaped, if you look at it drawn on a map, although that is not how the race got its name.

“I’ve ridden every road within a 20-mile radius of my house,” Wilson explains, “We primarily ride in Amish country for a lot of reasons, but one of them is the Amish [buggy] wheels grind that gravel up, and it’s so fine and the roads are smoother. It’s better to ride on.”

And when he and his 14-year-old son go riding, they often come across horseshoes.

“You see footprints from the horses everywhere, all over these roads,” he says. “And we’re passing buggies like crazy, and sometimes getting passed by them, depending on the day. And it’s really, really cool.”

Wilson notes that one of the things that McQueen is great at is finding unique communities to host races and identifying what makes them unique. For Kalona, the Amish community, that horse-and-buggy iconography, is part of the draw.

There will be about two or three aid stations on the course, places where cyclists can refill their water bottles and grab a snack. One of them will be at Golden Delight Bakery, the Amish bakery out on the gravel roads that locals adore for their sweet rolls and soft donuts.

“It’s just such a feature of the area that a lot of people from out of town don’t even know about,” Wilson said, “So we thought that [including it on the route] was pretty cool.”

Golden Delight isn’t the only area organization involved with the race. The Kalona Historical Village will play host to the athletes before and after the ride, and CIVCO Medical Solutions is sponsoring the junior races, which makes them more affordable for youth.

In fact, getting local kids to participate in the Kalona Horseshoe is one of the things that excites Wilson most about directing the race. He and McQueen have been actively promoting it by getting the word out, and they even started a youth mountain bike club – the Iowa City MTB Club – last year that attracted more than a dozen kids from Kalona.

“We have more juniors signed up for the Kalona race than any that the Iowa Gravel Series has ever had,” Wilson says. “That’s super exciting to me because you’re getting kids in at a young age who are going to go out and experience something that pushes them, challenges them, but gives them a really good feeling of accomplishment.”


The Iowa Gravel Series aims to “show the best and most unique places of Iowa,” McQueen says, noting that the series is “about adventure and exploring and going in and being part of these Iowa communities” that are off the beaten path, but have so much to offer.

Because McQueen has created such a fantastic experience for cyclists through the series, Wilson eagerly approached him about adding Kalona to the race circuit. In May that will become reality, something Wilson looks forward to.

“I’m just really excited to be able to share Kalona with more people,” he says. “I think it’s a really special community. The countryside, its beautiful out there. It really is a special place.”

As he talks to The News, snowflakes obscure the view outside his window, and he gazes out, his mind on the future.

“Think about how great that will be out on the country roads in May, that green grass and the flowers coming out,” he says.

“Sounds like paradise.”

The Kalona Horseshoe 50 km and 100 km cycling races take place on May 11, 2024, in Kalona. Learn more and register to race or volunteer at

Kalona Horseshoe, Iowa Gravel Series, cycling race, Iowa, 2024