How one woman continues to use the bicycle to make the world a better place

The problem with saying anything about Rebecca Rusch is that there really aren’t enough salutary words in the dictionary to accurately address all that she has accomplished both on and off the bike. In the world of cycling, sure, she’s won numerous world and national championships on a mountain bike. In the drops, she’s also been victorious at Dirty Kanza (four times).

But it’s been off the bike where she’s garnered the most international respect and recognition in her role as a cycling ambassador. Most notable was her participation in the 2017 award-winning film Blood Road, which documented her being the first person to pedal the entire 1200-mile length of the Ho Chi Minh trail through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia as she searched for the crash site of her father’s plane that was lost during the Vietnam War. 


In what little time she’s had off the bike, eight years ago Rebecca created her namesake race as a way to not only promote the local fire roads around Sun Valley, Idaho, but also raise money for a variety of charities that she supports. 

When it came time to sit down and talk to Rebecca about her upcoming gravel race, she was unavailable because, as we should have expected, she was currently somewhere out on the sub-freezing course of the Iditabike race in Alaska. Standing in for Rebecca is RPI’s manager Ally Davis, who gave us the lowdown on what to expect
in September. 

When did RPI first get started? How many entries were there?  

The race was launched in 2013, and we are heading into year eight, making Rebecca’s Private Idaho one of the longest-running gravel events out there.  RPI started as a one-day event and is now a four-day festival. This is more than a gravel race. RPI is a cycling community movement where we celebrate open space and community. 

As much a gravel ride, from inception, RPI was intended to also act as a fundraising event. While people are out pushing themselves, every pedal stroke is a pedal with purpose for the Be Good Foundation, raising money for cycling-related causes from Idaho to Africa: Wood River Trail Coalition, Idaho High School Cycling League (NICA chapter), PeopleForBikes and World Bicycle Relief.  

Each year Rebecca pays attention to what the participants say and want, which is how the Queen’s stage race came about. People wanted more days of riding, so we now have gravel’s first stage race. When they said they wanted different course options, she included 100-, 56- and 20-mile ride variations.  When riders asked for more parties, group rides and expos, those were added. This is a fun and inspiring event. 

What kind of participant growth did the ride get last time?

RPI enjoyed 16.6-percent growth from 2018 to 2019. This year we will cap the event at 1,500 participants to keep the intimate experience that RPI has become famous for.

What does the breakdown of the course look like this year? 

Our goal is to offer something for everyone. The Queen’s stage race is comprised of three stages with 196 miles and 12,646 feet of elevation gain, the Baked Potato is 102 miles with 5,295 feet elevation gain, the French Fry is 56 miles with 4,386 feet elevation gain, and at just 18.76 miles long with 1,295 feet of elevation gain, the Tater Tot ride is for beginners. 

How would you describe the gravel roads, conditions and scenery of the RPI course?  

Simply world-class gravel roads with breathtaking and magnificent, scenery, along with a great hometown vibe.  

Are there any specific equipment standards you would recommend in terms of tire size and gearing? 

Rebecca rides all three stages on her 40 or 45mm Maxxis Ramblers with a SRAM eTap AXS “mullet build,” with a 46-tooth chainring in front and SRAM Eagle cassette 10-50 in the rear. Just as gravel is the beautiful marriage of mountain biking and road biking, so is this gearing setup. It takes her favorite Eagle drivetrain and put it on a gravel bike. If you’re coming from flatter terrain, it’s easy to change the front chainring to a 44, or a 48 if you’re a monster masher!

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