Bighorn Gravel is a unique gravel race in the heart of the Rockies, starting and ending in the rugged western town of Gypsum, Colorado. In June 2023, gravel riders, families, friends, and spectators descended on Eagle County for a gravel experience like no other, riding one of the incredible 85, 50, or 20-mile courses through the Holy Cross Wilderness. As the marketing and media team for Bighorn, Coyote was there from start to finish, promoting, designing, and documenting this unique gravel adventure in the heart of the Rockies.
Amongst the many offerings in the gravel space, Bighorn offers a truly standout experience: the combination of a world class course with a community-first approach. With big cash prizes to the top racers, prizes and swag to all, and a one-of-a-kind cash prize to the last riders to complete the course, Bighorn’s commitment to being an event for everybody is clear.
For the inaugural 2022 race, we helped drive last-minute registrations and rode the course ourselves. We were so impressed with the event that we sat down with founders Mike Brumbaugh, owner of Venture Sports, and Jake Wells, professional cyclocross and endurance racer, to put together a multi-year plan for Bighorn’s growth.
Coyote’s role is simple: document and showcase the incredible offerings at Bighorn Gravel, while marketing the race with an eye towards long term, sustainable growth. For 2023, our offerings included social media management and paid ad construction, alongside the grassroots side of pro athlete and influencer outreach for lineup depth. We also wanted to take advantage of the full scope of the Forest Service Permit by driving maximum registrations. Lastly, our future-facing focus has been to provide real, measurable value to sponsors for long term relationships with partner brands both in and out of the cycling industry. The final piece of our 2023 push was a full-scope race day content package, featuring photo, video/reels, rider interviews, finish line documentation, and more.
While race day content is exciting, getting the word out and encouraging folks to register is more than half the battle! Our marketing strategy hinged on a few key points:
- Positioning Bighorn as the first high altitude race of the season. It is similar in profile to Crusher in the Tushar (just a few weeks later), and a perfect tuneup for the lung-searing Leadville 100, which is a month later. This slot allowed us to attract top pros, especially Lifetime riders looking for the elevation edge.
- Honing the community experience of Bighorn. High-end riders attract sponsors and dollars, but the midpack and pleasure riders are the real community we serve, and make up a vast majority of registered riders.
- Highlighting the world-class courses. Bighorn’s 3 courses are absolutely incredible, blending long gravel climbs with nasty, twisting singletrack descents, and covering environments from 11,000-ft. high alpine forest to sandy, scrubby rolling hills with forest service doubletrack and red earth.
- Crafting unique merchandise, like a Bighorn x LeadOut! handlebar bag and custom drop-shipped Cuore gravel kits.
To kick things off, we shot photos and drone video of the entire course, with a focus on the unique offerings from Colorado’s high country. These assets allowed us to create posters, outline a curated social grid, and update the website and sponsors with high end imagery and exciting reels.
We experimented with paid ads, organic traffic, and new audiences to test the bike world’s tolerance for yet another gravel race. Alongside that, we promoted grassroots-level activations, with shakeout and group rides that allowed people to check out the course before committing.
Leading up to registration close and race day, we brought in the big guns, working with gravel stars like Leadville 100 winner Howard Grotts and multi discipline champion Sarah Sturm, alongside content creator and endurance monster Tyler Pearce, AKA The Vegan Cyclist, to drive traffic and hype surrounding Bighorn.
All these efforts together led to us selling out the race and closing registration with time to spare!
With the race sold out and gravel riders descending on Gypsum, it was time for part two: documenting the race and enjoying the fruits of the year of labor! Our race weekend strategy was simple, yet flexible:
- Document the expo and pre race activities, with a special focus on sponsor events like the Kids Balance Bike Race and high-visibility branding.
- Follow the front of the race and capture exciting, engaging content of the riders and terrain.
- Interview riders from podium finishers to the last-place Ibex Winners, capturing the full spectrum of the Bighorn experience.
- Be on hand to quickly pivot and document/support the race directors and volunteers in a fast-paced environment.
On expo day, we led two different course recon shakeouts, in partnership with Pinarello and Vegan Cyclist. We partnered up with Pinarello to document their new budget gravel bikes on some of Bighorn’s most scenic course sections, and helped riders get onto demo bikes for maximum sponsor impact. The Vegan Cyclist ride was a bit more party pace and fun oriented, and we were able to connect with a family that drove all the way up from New Mexico to meet Tyler and ride with us!
After helping with some last minute prep and shooting photos for the sponsors and events, we called it an early night, charging up batteries and grabbing extra gas for our course-ready UTV. It was time for race day!
Unlike 2022, race day dawned clear and perfect in 2023, and rider stoke was high as lined up in the start pen. Mike and Jake, cofounders of Bighorn, called up the dozen Lifetime pros and privateers that we had brought out, and the starting gun went off, sending the 85 milers on their way, followed shortly after by the 50 and 20-mile riders. We sped alongside and then in front of the peloton, sticking with the lead pack as the pros made early moves to gain separation. After a long stretch at the top of Red Hill, where we captured images of both the men’s and women’s lead 30, we jetted ahead, shooting video of the 50-milers on Gypsum Creek and beating the crowd to Aid 1, where we set up our signature cable cam to get some insane action video on the rowdy singletrack descent.
Most riders made it through the rock gardens unscathed, and we pulled the cable cam to zip around and follow the action, repeating the leapfrogging all the way through the final climb and then zooming ahead to the finish line, where we waited for the likely sprint finish from a shattered field of pros. To our surprise, Howard Grotts came in solo, having shaken off the contenders and proving why he is the king of high altitude. In another surprise twist, women’s winner Michaela Thompson, a last-minute addition, skipped the final aid station, passing Olympian Erin Huck, and dropped 2022 champion Alexis Skarda to come in for the grand prize! We spent the rest of the afternoon interviewing riders, shooting finish line photos, and celebrating the winners, while also raffling off prizes like wheels and GPS computers.
Race day deliverables included comprehensive photos, a recap reel, sponsor followup reports, and curated feedback to improve the race heading into 2024. Additionally, our sponsored and partner riders contributed incredible content, from Vegan Cyclist’s double header of the 85 and 50 mile courses, to Dylan Johnson’s highly technical breakdown of his 3rd-place finish, to Ben Delaney’s equipment-focused video.
“World class course, and world class community. Add Bighorn to your 2024 calendar!”
Tyler Pearce – The Vegan Cyclist
“Way harder than the Leadville 100, and the most money I've ever won at a race!”
Dylan Johnson – Third Place Finisher
2022 registered riders: 289
2023 registered riders: 497
Percent growth: (+70% YOY)
Visits: 23,000 (+47% YOY)
Bounce Rate: 56% (+7% YOY)
Unique Visitors: 14000 (+41% YOY)
Page Views: 46000 (+40% YOY)
Newsletter subscribers: 749
2022 IG: 619 followers
2023 IG: 1773 followers
Percent Growth: (+186% YOY)
2022 Total Impressions: 31,792
2023 Total Impressions: 129,165
Percent Growth: (+306% YOY)
The Vegan Cyclist: 👀 131K 👍 4.5K 💬 293
Dylan Johnson: 👀 88K 👍 4.6K 💬 279
Ben Delaney: 👀16K 👍 710 💬 79
2023 Pros and VIPs:
Lauren De Crescenzo
Heading into 2024, Bighorn isn’t slowing down. With a scaled-up Forest Service Permit in hand, we’ll be marketing the race to attract more out of state and super-regional traffic. Historically, the registrants have been largely Colorado-based, but we want everyone to experience the high altitude excellence found in Gypsum on the last weekend in June. Interested in riding? Register for the 2024 race below!