While gravel-specific bikes are becoming more and more common, the cool thing about gravel riding is that you don’t need a dedicated gravel bike to do it. You can use almost any kind of bike — whether it’s a mountain, hybrid, cyclo-cross or even a road bike.
If you’re thinking about an upcoming gravel race or simply want to ride on a local trail, use these tips to alter your riding style and modify a road bike you already own to stay safe, keep your bike working and have as much fun as possible.
TIPS FOR ALTERING YOUR RIDING STYLE
To ride safely on gravel, you’ll need to modify your riding style from what you may be used to on the road. Use these riding tips to stay safe and upright:
1. KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD
A road bike won’t be able to handle rough terrain the way a cyclo-cross or mountain bike would, so you’ll need to avoid potholes, larger rocks and the loosest gravel. The best way to do this is to keep your eyes scanning up the road for the safest line possible. Pro tip: The most commonly traveled tracks are usually your best bet.
2. STAY SEATED
Choosing when to stand up or stay seated on a road bike is generally left up to your personal preference. However, when the road turns to gravel, standing out of the saddle is a much riskier proposition. To maintain traction, keep most of your weight over your back wheel as much as possible by staying seated. This will help your bike handling and keep your wheels from spinning in loose sections of road.
3. BE CAUTIOUS IN CORNERS AND WHEN DESCENDING
To stay upright, you’ll need to take extra precautions when heading into corners and when you descend. Here are a few things you should always do:
- Always take the smoothest line.
- Don’t lean your bike into a corner like you would on the road.
- Avoid grabbing your front brake while in the corner.
- Slow as much as you need to before you enter a corner by feathering both the front and rear brakes.
- Give yourself more time to stop, and ride at a lower speed than you normally would.
4. LOWER YOUR CADENCE
While spinning at a high revolutions per minute is generally recommended for road riding, a lower cadence under 90 rpms can help your control and keep you from bouncing in the saddle when riding on gravel.
Though you may not be able to maintain a lower cadence for extended periods of time due to fatigue, try lower cadences in a larger gear over the loosest sections of gravel to improve your bike handling and maintain your momentum.
5. RELAX YOUR UPPER BODY
The natural reaction when you feel your wheels slide on a loose surface is to tighten your grip on the handlebars. This, however, will make you more likely to fall. Instead, keep a loose grip on the bars and relax the muscles of your arms, shoulders and face as much as possible. This will keep you from overcorrecting when something goes wrong as well as prevent fatigue as the ride progresses.
READ MORE > GRAVEL RIDING | CYCLING TRENDS
TIPS FOR MODIFYING YOUR BIKE
Like we said already, one of the great things about gravel riding is that you can do it on almost any kind of bike. Though a road bike presents some challenges, you can ride one safely. Here are a few modifications that can help make your experience more comfortable over longer distances:
1. USE WIDER TIRES
Skinny tires are considered to be more aerodynamic and lighter, which makes them the ideal choice on the road. On gravel, a larger tire will give you more traction and allow you use a lower level of pressure, which can reduce the risk of a puncture.
In general, try to use at least a 25 mm width. If your bike frame and brakes will allow for additional tire clearance, a 28 mm or even a 32 mm would be even better.
2. CHOOSE A LOWER GEAR RATIO
Riding rougher road surfaces mean your average speed will be lower. Because of this, large front chain rings and smaller rear cassette cogs used commonly with road riding may not be the best choice.
Instead, compact front chain rings and a larger rear cassette will give you more options when riding at slightly lower speeds. This will also keep you from fatiguing as quickly, particularly if you’re considering a gravel race or training ride longer than 30 miles.
3. CONSIDER A DIFFERENT SADDLE
Road saddles are generally thinner with less padding and allow for a more aggressive riding style supported by your sit bones. On rougher surfaces such as gravel, your body position will change to a more upright position, most likely with your hands on the bar tops.
This upright position will put more pressure on areas other than the sit bones, which can lead to numbness or discomfort. Choosing a saddle with a bit more cushion, like the Koobi PRS Alpha, could help resolve these common issues.
4. REDUCE FATIGUE WITH THICKER BAR TAPE
Mountain bikes and some cyclo-cross bikes with front shocks absorb the impact when riding over rocks and loose terrain. When you’re using a road bike, the lack of a front shock means your body will absorb most of effects from bouncing over rough terrain.
To make things easier on your hands and arms, go with a thicker bar tape to absorb some of the vibration. This one from Lizard Skins is an excellent option and is good on the road, too.
5. USE DISC BRAKES IF YOU HAVE THEM
While it isn’t essential, if you have a bike with disc brakes it could be a better choice than using standard rim brakes — especially if you’re expecting wet or muddy conditions. Rim brakes will often clog with mud and prevent your wheels from spinning, making it impossible to ride.
An additional benefit of disc brakes over rim brakes is the additional tire clearance. While some road bikes with rim brakes won’t allow a tire width greater than 25 mm, most road or cyclo-cross bikes will allow for a 28 mm tire width or greater, which improves comfort, bike handling and reduces the risk of a puncture.