Riding on gravel roads has become an increasingly popular way to enjoy time in the saddle, and for good reason—there’s a lot of terrain to explore, it can be a more engaging experience than riding paved roads, there’s not much traffic, and anyone can do it.
Gravel riders are widely accepted as people who know how to make every adventure a really good time. Want to join the fastest-growing segment of cycling today? Here’s everything you need to know about gravel bikes and gear so you can make your first gravel adventure a great one.
What is a gravel bike?
Gravel bikes are versatile, multi-surface bikes that make it easy to transition from paved roads to gravel paths. They’re the ideal choice on days when you’re not sure where your ride will take you.
Gravel bikes are sort of like the mullet of the cycling world—business on top, party on the bottom. Most have drop bars and the comfortable geometry of an endurance road bike with burlier tires that are closer in width to what you’d see on a mountain bike. Wider tires give you a more comfortable ride and more traction on loose terrain.
Bikes designed specifically for gravel also have extra mounts that make it easier to carry more gear and water, so you can explore farther and take everything you need.
At its core, gravel riding is like riding on the road: you can technically do it on anything. But you’ll be a lot more comfortable and efficient on an actual gravel bike because they’re built specifically to handle more demanding surfaces.
If adventure strikes and you don’t have access to a true gravel bike, we’d recommend heading out on a bike with disc brakes and wider tires. These things will give you more control, confidence, and stopping power on loose and muddy terrain.
What you wear when you’re riding gravel is all a matter of preference. You can get lycra’d up and ride fully kitted or go for a more casual look. At any given gravel event, you’ll see riders wearing everything from a chamois to cut-off shorts. What’s most important is that you opt for something comfortable.
Cycling-specific apparel is always best for longer rides. Bike shorts or bibs are built with a chamois that keeps your soft-tissue areas comfortable in the saddle, and cycling jerseys typically have rear pockets where you can carry and conveniently reach essentials, like tools and food.
Every great adventure starts with lots of lists, meticulous planning, and plenty of overpacking.
Okay, fine—usually the best adventures are spontaneous, but as long as you’re prepared with everything you need, you’ll be able to answer the call of the wild as soon as you hear it.
We recommend: -Lots of water -Front and rear daytime running lights -Gloves -Racks with bags, frame packs, or a lightweight backpack -A repair kit with spare tubes, a pump, and a multitool -Map and a GPS computer
Getting off the beaten path can take you to some beautiful (and distracting) places, but the terrain on gravel roads can change quickly, so make sure to keep your eyes on what’s ahead.
Bring lots of water
There’s a reason why gravel bikes have so many mounts. You’d be surprised by how much water you actually need when you head out on an off-road adventure, especially when you’re on remote roads where access to safe drinking water isn’t a sure thing.
This probably won’t come as a surprise, but gravel is not as smooth as the paved roads you’re used to. It’s natural for your arms and legs to get tense when you’re riding over rough terrain, but try to stay as loose as possible. You want to absorb the vibrations, not fight them.
Stay in the saddle, even when you come across a big climb
Looser terrain means less traction, and standing can cause your wheels to spin.
Register for a gravel event
Gravel races are whatever you want to make them. Sure, you can be competitive if you want. But you can also ride solely for the personal challenge. No matter why you ride a gravel race, be prepared for a party. The gravel scene is as much about having fun as crossing the finish line.
And most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy the ride.