Gravel is the new coolest thing in cycling, and spring is a great time to give it a go!
Mixed-terrain adventure riding offers the long rides and high speeds of road cycling with the skills and escape into nature you can achieve on a mountain bike.
Gravel cycling is an awesome way to explore new territory and take on a new type of challenge. A typical ride could see you take on tarmac, bridleways, dirt roads, grassy fields and stoney trails – the world’s your oyster!
If you’re looking to dab a toe into the wild world of gravel, spring is the time to do it. The tracks are dry and hard and this time of year, and so if you’re used to riding road, it will make an easier introductory experience than the mud and slippery leaves of winter.
Here’s PRO BIKE TOOL’s key things to consider before you GO GRAVEL!
Do I need a special bicycle to ride on gravel?
It’s a little yes and no here. You can get by on some beginner rides with a bike you may already own, but if you’re going to go all-in you may want to invest in a dedicated bike… and it’s a perfect excuse to indulge in that N+1.
Riding gravel tends to need a bike with the geometry and dropped bars of a relaxed road bike with the big tires and wide clearances of a mountain or ‘cross bike.
Nearly all major manufacturers now sell a specific ‘gravel’ or ‘adventure’ bike. They typical allow you to maintain the sense of speed and agility of a road bike, but give a relaxed geometry for all-day riding and provide large clearances, beefy tires and disc brakes like most off-road cycles.
Before you invest in a specific bike, using a cyclocross bike to ride off-road can be a good option if you or a friend has one. The high bottom bracket of a ‘cross bike may make it a little uncomfortable for an all-day gravel adventure, but for a short blast, it’s a great stand-in!
Gravel is all about adventure, exploration and finding new tracks and trails. However, until you’ve figured out a few local paths to base your rides from, it can be tricky to know where to start.
The best option of course, is to take advice from an experienced graveller. If you don’t know anyone to ride with or seek advice from, apps such as Ride With GPS, Komoot and Strava have mapping tools that are coming to include more and more off-road sections. Strava also has a ‘heatmap’ feature that shows you the most-commonly used paths, so you can follow in the tracks of those in the know!
A gravel ride could see you traveling far away from towns, villages and gas stations – so remember, you need to be self-sufficient!
Make sure you carry enough food and water if you’re planning on riding far. There’s never a better excuse to eat cake than on a bike ride, so load up your jersey pockets with sweet treats and get stuck in. For fluids, we recommend you drink at least 18oz per hour, and more if it’s hot. For a full 101 on hydration, check out our blog all about it here.
The need to be self-sufficient is equally important when it comes to mechanical fixes. Just like you would on a road ride, make sure you have couple of spare tubes, a CO2 Inflator and Mini Bike Pump, and either an 8-in-1 or 17-in-1 Multi Tool. Of course, if you’re riding tubeless, you also want to add a Tubeless Tire Repair kit in as well.
AND SOME FINAL TIPS FOR A FIRST-TIMER!
If you’re a roadie, don’t be over-ambitious in your first rides! Stick to harder-packed, drier trails while you get your technique right.
Don’t wear your best shorts and jersey on your first rides…. Because you never know when you may fall off!
Don’t take it too seriously! The ethos behind gravel is about embracing the unknown and exploring new places. Enjoy it and forget about ‘training’ and speed.