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Head Toward the Light: Inside the Mind of Waffle Ride Boss Michael Marckx

Interview: Brad Roe; Images: Courtesy, BWR | From Issue 106

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The Belgian Waffle Ride series is quickly becoming a bucket-list item for people who have gone crazy for gravel. The courses induce unnecessary suffering, the after-parties are legendary and series organizer Michael Marckx and his team treat the races like weekendlong festivals—promoting revelry and community and inciting survival instincts for even the most trained riders. So, we decided to go deep into his mind to find more clues.

head toward the light

Michael, what’s the best thing that happened at BWR San Diego? 

We produced the BWR TV Documentary for Outside TV, which is called “This Is not a Gravel Race,” and in it we got to capture all the zaniness of our largest race ever and just why they call it “the most unique cycling event in the country.” And we did so by not only capturing the experience through the prism of the lead women and men but also through following interesting mid-pack riders—who have their own special motivations for taking on such a grueling event in 100-degree heat over 135 miles and 12,000 feet of elevation gain (across 20 off-road sectors). It will premiere in November!

If you could name three songs that define the San Diego, Cedar City and Lawrence, Kansas, events what would they be? 

For BWR CA it is “Welcome to the Jungle” from Guns n’ Roses because it juxtaposes the touchy-feely gravel scene with the harsh, insane and lawless environment of a 10-hour cyclocross race. For BWR Utah it would be U2’s “In God’s Country.” Utah, with its conservative politics, history of a robust environmental movement and world-famous national parks and monuments, is often referred to as God’s Country for myriad reasons. Edge’s guitar on the track is lively, open and filled with the same promise the initial 13 miles of the race offer.

For BWR KS, a race that hasn’t been run yet and thus without historical reference, the track would be Foo Fighter’s “Times Like These,” because this new race for Kansas offers something exciting and different than what gravel riding has been for them to date. It symbolizes a bright future for someone seeking a better day. And the chorus of the song basically states that when you’re having to negotiate adversity in life, you’ll be a stronger person after overcoming it. During that time, you will learn to love, live and give. For us, this race is about overcoming the recent challenges and using creativity to fashion a new reality. We think BWR KS is going to become something really special.

gender parity inspiring new riders

You didn’t’ ask about BWR NC, but I am going to share its song, which is “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” by Daft Punk.

new riders and general post race mayhem

You have quickly become the event series that leads the way with gender parity, inspiring new riders and general post-race mayhem. Why is it then that all media outlets including us only seem to focus on the pro winners? 

What’s been important to us is being a melting pot of cycling’s most glorious elements, male and female. We’ve been proud to offer the women more prize money than the men, but we also offer them their own wave and their own support crews and their own media contingency. Our races are the only ones where you will find BMX stars, triathletes, WorldTour riders, cyclocrossers, mountain bikers and even gravel grinders all in one happy place. It isn’t for one group, it’s for everyone and anyone who wants to reach, aspire and grow to new heights through challenges that transcend one day on a bike.

As a former publisher of Surfing Magazine in a past life, I always found our readers wanted to know more about the surfers and how they lived than what their score was on their third wave of the heat. With just a little rock-turning, editors can find the kind of stories that change people’s lives. I want to see more of those inspiring stories and less about who drafted who to win.The media tends to want to focus on either just the top-level story of who won or bring up and exploit the negative. In between those things are the real stories of inspiration… the CEOs of corporations mixing it up on the trails with aspiring high-school mountain bikers. And what about the mother of three who is also a CEO and a badass out there showing the men what is possible. Or what about the former U.S. national road champion who flats out of the race early and then spends his day doing nothing but helping others get to the finish line. That’s what Alex Howes did this year at BWR CA. Underneath the surface are stories that deserve the spotlight. And when we shine a light on those people, we can attract more people to what we do and what we believe.

jentacular and adumbral
jentacular and adumbraljentacular and adumbraljentacular and adumbral
jentacular and adumbral
jentacular and adumbral

Can you give us 50 words on why all our readers should sign up for one of your BWR events? The kicker is you have to include the words “jentacular” and “adumbral.

The Belgian Waffle Ride is a unique celebration of life. It’s a jentacular Belgian waffle feast that precedes an insane day that takes riders to adumbral places before delivering them back to the light of an all-out Belgian ale bender amongst survivors and revelers of the greatest one-day bike race in the country.

interview brad roe

Any teasers about new locations for 2022? And where do we send our readers to grab registration slots for your upcoming events? 

We have new venues in the works in Canada, Nor Cal, Austin and Japan. To learn more about the BWR or simply register, go to belgianwaffleride.bike. We have also created a cycling, music and food festival, Blazing Saddles, which will include 6-, 12- and 24-hour MTB and gravel racing, plus many other events. Of course, there will be rad music and food on offer, all of which will be supported by our favorite breweries and distilleries. monumentsofcycling.com