Gravel on RUSA Permanents 

Rider and Submitter Guide + Questions & Answers

by Jake Kassen

NOTE: Here are the policies for riding Permanent routes that have unpaved distance. These are scheduled to take effect on February 1, 2024.  In the following, "default route" is the route associated with the Perm as approved (and defined by the RideWithGPS route associated with that Perm route). For an overview of the Permanents Program, how to register to ride a Permanent, and how to submit results for your ride, see the Permanents Overview page.

Overview: RUSA Permanents could always have gravel sections but until recently, unpaved distance wasn’t tracked and no additional completion time was allotted for these sections. That’s changing as of early 2024. 

The rules of a “gravel” Permanent are the same as for a paved route: Riders must pass through each checkpoint location, in sequential order, and complete the route within a designated time limit. Riders are free to modify the route to their liking provided the overall distance remains the same or longer and the checkpoints are not skipped. Riders may start at any location and ride the route in either direction. 

For routes submitted before late 2023, gravel distance – if any – was not recorded in the perm database. Many existing routes will need to be updated to reflect the gravel distance already in the route. If you’ve submitted a route before 2024 which contains unpaved sections, please submit the total gravel distance to the Perm committee so they can update the listing. See the section “Instructions for Submitters” for details on completing that process. 

Instructions for Riders on Routes with Unpaved Distance

Finding a Perm Route with Unpaved Sections 

The standard RUSA search interface will show the amount of gravel officially recorded as being on the route. The search can be limited to just routes with unpaved sections. Note that for routes submitted or updated before late 2023, there may be gravel distance which is not yet in the route listing. (Riders can and should submit updates, see the “Instructions for Submitters'' section below.) 

Using tools such as the member contributed “Geosearch” website, the amount of gravel automatically determined by RideWithGPS is shown in addition to the distance officially documented as being on the RUSA approved route. As RWGPS automatically calculates unpaved distance without local verification, that distance may be inaccurate and is not official but is a useful starting point for finding (or avoiding) routes not entirely paved.

Time Limits

The time limit to ride a Permanent route is based on the total distance of the default route. This is calculated using the same formula used for brevets. (For example, a 13.5h time limit for 200k, 20h for 300k, etc.) For routes with unpaved distance, the time limit is extended using the formula of 1 additional minute for every 1 km of non-paved surface, rounded down. 

For example: A 200k perm with 45.7km of gravel will give riders an extra 45 minutes to complete for a total of 14 hours, 15 minutes. (13h 30m for 200k + 45 min for 45km of gravel = 14h 15m)

Time limits are shown on the Permanents registration page and again when riders submit their results. Tip: Make a note of the total time limit when registering in a place you can reference during the ride; it won’t be listed in the cue sheet.

Important: If the rider rides less unpaved distance than on the default route, the additional time allotted to finish is reduced to correspond with that lesser distance. 

Example: A rider plans to ride an entirely unpaved out-and-back 100k which roughly tracks a paved road. If riding the route as designed, there would be a maximum time of 8h 20m (Standard 6h 40m + 100 min gravel “bonus”.) After reaching the turnaround checkpoint at 50km, the rider decides instead to take the paved road back to the start. The new time limit would be 7h 30m. (6h 40m for 100k + 50 min gravel bonus for the 50km of gravel actually ridden.) When submitting the result, the rider would enter the shorter gravel distance actually ridden (see below) but would still receive the full 100k in overall distance credit. 

► SR 600 Permanents - Extra time is currently not afforded for SR 600 Permanent routes with unpaved distance.

During the Ride

Some perms may go months or years without being ridden and conditions can change rapidly. Above all else, be smart and be safe. Do not ride on roads or trails which are closed or you do not feel comfortable using just to complete the perm route as designed. Find an alternate route and/or abandon the ride. It is possible that a route needs to be deactivated if it cannot be ridden as designed in the foreseeable future. (Please inform the Perms committee if this is the case.)

If you encounter an unpaved part of the default route that isn’t noted in the cue sheet (or vice versa), or the length of an unpaved segment doesn't match the cue sheet, stop and note your position and the changes that would be needed to those cues. It is appreciated if you use the Perm Update Form to communicate these changes back to the perm committee so the route can stay accurate and the correct unpaved distance is linked to the perm. 

After the Ride

When you submit your result: on the result submission page, unpaved distance is displayed in a text field. It will initially display the value from the default route. If you rode less unpaved distance than that, enter the amount you actually rode in that field.

Important: If the text field doesn’t reflect the correct amount of unpaved distance encountered on the default route, wait to submit your result. Instead, complete the Update Perm Form (see instructions in next section) to report the correct unpaved distance and wait to hear from the Permanents Committee confirming the distance has been updated. Do this before submitting results, as you will not retroactively receive adjusted gravel credit for routes once results are submitted.  

Commenting on the Route

On the lower left side of the RWGPS route page is a box for comments. This can be helpful for letting future riders know what you found. Be sure to note the date ridden. For example: “Rode on August 8th, 2023. Section through Assabet NWR was flooded and impassable; plan to go another way for the next few weeks. Other dirt sections are in good shape, easy to ride on any bike. Watch for sunbathing garter snakes.” 

Instructions for Permanent Route Submitters

RUSA has three separate forms related to Perm routes. All three forms allow you to enter the unpaved distance of the route.

New Route Submission Form: Use this when submitting a new route which has not previously been used by a RUSA Perm. This includes brevet routes which are not yet perms. See the special consideration for gravel perms below. 

Reactivated Route Submission Form: Use this to reactivate a perm which had been previously approved but was deactivated in 2020 when the perm program was overhauled to centralize the route library in RideWithGPS. Submitters need not be the original route “owner” if they are otherwise familiar with the route. See the special consideration for gravel perms below. 

Permanent Route Update Request Form: All riders can use this form to inform the perm committee of changes needed to routes. These changes can be as minor as updating the correct amount of total gravel on the route (bottom of form), corrections/additions to individual cues, or information added to the description. Also use this form along with a revised RWGPS link & cue if major changes are needed, such as a rerouting due to permanent bridge or trail closure, etc.

Zero Unpaved Distance Form: If no unpaved-distance info has been submitted for a route, it is marked as "unpaved distance unknown" in the database and when displayed. Use this form to report that one or more routes have no unpaved distance.

Special Consideration for Perms with Unpaved Distance

It’s important to remember that perm riders may not be familiar with the area, especially as it relates to unpaved surfaces. While locals might know what bike to ride and what time of year is ideal (or less-than-ideal), visitors may lack that info. What’s considered a good “Gravel Perm” varies widely across the US.

In the RWGPS cues, submitters should note changes to the road surface and additional details are useful. Example cue: “Left on Ware River Trail. Unpaved for next 5 miles. Can be rocky and overgrown in sections.” 

If long sections are unpaved, this can be noted once. Example: “Turn Right on Old Town Rd (unmarked; just before pasture). All roads unpaved for the next 28 miles.” 

The RWGPS “Description” section is a good place to give detailed information such as the weather conditions to avoid, suggested tire sizes & gearing, orange blaze requirement, etc. Think about what you might tell a visitor from a distant state who asked about the route. Note in the description if a route will be extremely difficult to follow without a GPS even if the cue is accurate.

Avoid specifying roads on the default route that would require permission or permits to ride (unless these segments are key to or thematic of the route (such as entry into a national park). These can be noted as alternatives in the RWGPS description.

Determining the Correct Unpaved Distance

RideWithGPS automatically calculates the amount of unpaved distance on a route based on its database, but the database info can be inaccurate and should NOT be assumed to be correct. Do not use this distance without first verifying!

The best way to determine the correct unpaved distance is to actually ride the route or speak with those who know the roads well. Sometimes using Google’s Street View imagery and/or satellite maps can be helpful, but remember, these can be out of date. Unpaved roads are often masked by trees or lack clarity in satellite view.

Before submitting the route, try to determine the unpaved distance as best you can. When riding a route, be sure to stop and note discrepancies in the cue so you can communicate those changes to the perm committee using the Permanent Update Form and have the total gravel distance changed accordingly. 

Questions & Answers


Q: I have a route with long, hilly, and rocky single-track segments. Hike-a-bike is guaranteed. Can additional time beyond the standard gravel bonus be provided to compensate? 

A: No, only the standard increase of 1 minute per 1km of non-paved surface applies. The quality of gravel is not taken into consideration although these details should be noted in the description.


Q: I’m designing a route which uses some well maintained dirt roads. We don’t consider these “gravel” and I don’t think riders need additional time. Do I need to document these on the cue sheet and/or note the gravel distance?

A: Yes, for all newly submitted, updated, and restored routes, any and all surfaces which aren’t paved should ideally be noted in the cue sheet, and included in the unpaved distance total. Some riders will be glad to claim the easy gravel distance in their RUSA records. 


Q: I hate gravel and have no desire to ride it! But I found a route which, apart from a few unpaved sections, seems great. Am I required to ride the dirt segments?

A: Nope! Provided you touch all the checkpoints in correct order, you can make your own route which bypasses the gravel. When submitting the results, make sure to enter “0” for the amount of gravel you rode. Keep in mind not all routes can be modified to remove gravel. The additional completion time only applies to unpaved distance ridden so you won’t receive this extension if cutting out the dirt. 


Q: I intended to ride all the gravel on a route but I’m falling behind on time. Can I switch to pavement to catch up? What if I use an alternative dirt road later in the ride which isn’t on the official route?

A: Yes, you can alter the route mid-course as you see fit. If the total gravel distance ridden remains the same as on the original route, you’ll receive the full gravel time extension and credit. If you remove gravel distance, input the shorter gravel distance ridden when submitting results. The time allotment and credit will decrease accordingly.


Q: I want to be sure everyone rides the gravel roads on my perm submission. Can I add a dozen checkpoints to be sure there’s no way to skip the gravel sections?

A: Yes, you can have additional checkpoints to ensure gravel is not skipped. But keep in mind, checkpoints can slow riders down, particularly if they need to stop and take photos, get receipts, etc. If a gravel road is impassable (mud, snow, trail closure, etc.) the rider might have no choice but to take a DNF if they can’t make it to the checkpoint. For this reason, it’s best to limit the checkpoints to only places needed to ensure riders can’t significantly shortcut the route. More than likely, riders aren’t going to want to skip the gravel even if possible to do so. 


Q: When riding the default perm route I encountered more/less gravel than the listing stated. What should I do?

A: Wait to submit your result. Determine the correct unpaved distance and complete the Perm Update Form to note the correct amount. Once you hear back from the perm committee confirming the changes, you can submit your results to receive the correct gravel credit. 


Q: I encountered construction on the route and 10 miles of pavement had been reduced to dirt. Do I receive distance and/or time credit for this abnormality? 

A: Yes, "gravel is gravel," so you get credit extra time allotment for all unpaved riding, up to the unpaved distance in the default route. You may wish to document the newly-unpaved segment in case your ride is audited. If the switch to dirt is permanent, use the Update Perm Form to note the increase before submitting your result to receive credit. 


Q: Last month I rode a perm which contained gravel sections but the route was never updated to reflect this distance. When I submitted my result, no gravel distance was listed. Can my results be changed to reflect the gravel ridden?

A: No, gravel distance can not be awarded retroactively so once the results are submitted, the gravel distance completed won’t be changed.  But you can submit changes to the listing now and you’ll receive gravel distance credit should you ride the route again. 


Q: One of my existing perms goes near some nice dirt roads. Can I change the perm to take these roads?

A: Yes, please. Revise the route/cue and send the changes to the perm committee. Riders who rode the route before the update won’t have their gravel distance credit changed. Alternatively, you can submit a dirt-heavy version of the route as a new perm. This may be preferable, as it leaves the route intact and easier to follow for riders who prefer pavement.


Q: What’s the point of accumulating gravel distance anyway? Are there cash prizes? Do I at least get a box of Clif bars for being the most gravelly person in my region this year? Will gravel perms impress my co-workers? 

A: Like all RUSA records, it’s all just for fun! These aren’t races and you win nothing. Don’t blame us if your co-workers tell you to stop talking about all the saddle sores you earned.

There are RUSA gravel awards and some come with fun trinkets you can buy. But the real reason to ride any RUSA offering is just to spend more time on your bike. 🙂