Gravel riding is huge right now and its popularity continues to grow. Whether you love mountain biking, cyclocross or road riding; gravel is the discipline that all but those most ardent road or mountain cyclists will love. Riding gravel keeps you off busy roads, boosts your riding skills, multiplies your route options and lets you ride with more friends.
CHOOSING YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
Riding on gravel roads is not new. Mountain bikers and road riders have found themselves on gravel roads in rides and races for as long as bikes have been made. While your average mountain biker would prefer to shred singletrack all day and your typical road rider dreams of the smoothest roads, there is an increased interest for the peaceful adventure of gravel.
Gravel riding is popular because of the variety of adventures you can do. It might involve a stream crossing, some hike-a-bike, even some light single-track; you choose. Whatever you choose to tackle on your ride, the thrill and satisfaction of putting together a loop you never thought possible — or seeing a view your road bike would never reach or your mountain bike would take days to pedal — is at the heart of gravel riding’s popularity.
CHOOSE YOUR GRAVEL WEAPON
You can ride gravel on any bike, so start with what you have. If you need to get a gravel bike there’s a range of options. Consider how far you want to ride, how rugged the terrain is and your ability to handle technical situations. Ultimately, it’s a question of how you plan to use the bike.
Many people use cyclocross bikes, which are generally more aggressive and lightweight for short-duration races, by adding bottle cages and bigger tires. A mountain bike with semi-slick tires and harder gearing can also work and allow for more rugged adventures. Even a road bike can explore gravel roads if you use bigger, flat-resistant tires (>25c), add a bigger cassette for steep climbs and elevate your stem or handlebar to increase comfort and control.
Many manufacturers (Trek, Cannondale, BMC, etc) are adding suspension, playing with different tire designs and adding disc brakes to make the perfect adventure machine. A gravel bike is part road and part mountain bike. This sounds like a cyclocross bike, but there is a difference: Cyclocross requires very light bikes, without bottle cages that can handle aggressive cornering. A gravel bike borrows big tires, slack geometry and disc brakes from mountain bikes; while drop handlebars and harder gearing for high-speed sections are taken from road bikes. The ultimate gravel bike generally provides more comfort and many options for carrying water and gear, including rack and fender mounts.
READ MORE > YOUR QUCK AND EASY GUIDE TO BIKING
PREPARING FOR ADVENTURE
To ride gravel you’ll want to start working on your technical skills like cornering and descending on loose, bumpy terrain. Road cyclists might find the loose corners and descents unnerving, so make sure to take it slow and include some practice in a field or parking lot on your gravel bike. Mountain bikers may find the extended pedaling challenging, but you’ll get a boost in fitness when you are back on the trail, so embrace the endurance training and put your skills to work when the gravel route turns more technical.
Aside from bike-handling skills, it’s worth practicing your navigation skills to plan routes using both an old-fashioned map, route markers and a GPS-enabled device that can load navigation files from MapMyRide. On MapMyRide, you can find or create gravel routes with the ‘Search for Routes‘ page. You can also search “gravel” to find new-to-you routes at home or on your travels.
If you’re going bike-camping or take overnight journeys, do a few practice rides with your larger saddlebags or panniers to ensure you are able to ride comfortably and without interference from the accessories.
The question isn’t whether you should do gravel rides this summer, but rather what bike you’ll choose and what gravel roads you’ll take.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RIDE