If you’re looking for adventure, changing terrain, beautiful landscape, and an exhilarating experience; gravel cycling might intrigue you! One of the great things about gravel cycling is it creates a non-competitive and competitive environment which is welcoming to all skill levels. And, in case you’re not sure about the terminology, any unpaved surface can be considered “gravel,” including, well maintained dirt roads, pea or limestone rock trails, and can include potholes, washboards, ruts, and single track.
Gravel cycling can be very intimating but once you experience the adventure, and learn some handling skills, you will be grinning from cheek to cheek about the experience. Below I expand on a few tips I learned from not only experienced riders, but after completing a handful of rides and two races.
1. Type of bike
There are specific gravel bikes. They look similar to road bikes but are designed with a dropped handlebar and longer wheelbases so they’re stable on the road or when riding over an unpredictable surface, when extra stability is key. Additionally, the frame geometry is more relaxed than that of a road bike and has a higher and wider tire clearance for mud and debris. Cross bikes, mountain bikes, fat bikes, and some hybrid bikes can also safely be used on gravel.
2. Don’t fight the bike, stay loose and relaxed but focused
Sliding, slipping, and drifting often occur when riding on gravel surfaces so, I learned very quickly not to be tense. If you keep your shoulders relaxed, and no white-knuckle gripping on the handlebars, you can react faster to obstacles and easily maneuver the bike, preventing mishaps. In loose, chunky gravel it’s best to be in an easy gear and spin at a high cadence with your weight shifted back over the saddle than trying to muscle through it in a big gear. The momentum will help you push on and keep up right. Finally, to avoid a wipe-out, remember to pump the brakes instead of immediately clenching them to a complete stop.
3. What to carry
As with any type of cycling, you should always carry a multifunctional tool with metric allen wrenches, in case something comes loose on your bumpy adventure, and the items you need to change a flat tire. For your flat kit you should include at least 1 tube, a Co2 inflator, 2 x co2 cartridges, tire levels, and a small mini pump if you have one. Be sure to check the bolts on your bike periodically and always before an event. It is also recommended to use a front white light and a rear, red flashing light to signal cars of your presence.
Out on rural roads nutrition stops can be far and few between. Make sure you have plenty of water, carbohydrate/electrolyte fuel to get you through your workout or to your next refueling stop. I recommend carrying a hydration pack. Nathan Sports and Camelback have great products that will carry 2-3L of fluid. The hydration packs make it easier to consume fluids rather than reaching down to grab a water bottle.
Of course, always wear your helmet, carry your phone, and stay to the proper side of the road when riding! Now let the adventure begin!
A special thank you to our professional triathelete, Morgan Chaffin, for the information in this blog.