by Lauren Costantini, Sacred Rides Boulder
“Gravel” refers to essentially any non-paved road: jeep trails, utilitarian public or private country roads for farming, ranching, or oil/gas companies, and even roads that have been decommissioned. Surfaces can be gravel, mud, packed dirt, sand, and pebbles. Gravel bikes are ready for anything: washboards, singletrack, bikepacking, and pannier-loaded errand runs.
One of the biggest differences between road, mountain bike and gravel riding are that conditions can vary more on gravel rides. Due to weather, the different types of gravel roads, and the limitations of skinnier tires when compared with mountain bikes, gravel riders must be ready for any adventure. Several gravel events have required the participants to carry their bikes for miles due to mud and difficult terrain. This is all part of the “unknown” adventure that appeals to many gravel riders!
Below are 3 tips to know before diving into your own gravel adventure!
At first glance, a gravel bike looks like a road or cyclocross bike: classic drop bars, shifters, and the 700cc rims. But there are small tweaks and upgrades sprinkled throughout that help the bike handle rougher conditions.
The primary difference is the size of the tires. You can ride your road bike anywhere your skills will allow. However slick and skinny tires only have so much traction, and pinch flats from hitting larger rocks at high speed are a problem. Also, the thinner your tires, the more you sink into gravel and come to a screeching halt. The wider tires of gravel bikes allow for fewer flats, more traction, and ability to ride through deeper dirt and gravel.
The key to riding in gravel is smooth lines. Avoid sharp turns: the deeper the gravel, the more your front wheel digs in and accentuates any steering movement you make. This is what causes most falls by making the front wheel more prone to sliding on the gravel. Sharp and abrupt turns are not good in any form of cycling, but you especially want to be sure of stable turning when conquering gravel terrain. The best technique is to gradually shift your weight and direct your hips in the appropriate direction. The most important thing to keep in mind is smooth transitions and gentle leans.
GO FOR A RIDE!
Enthusiasm for gravel riding also comes from increased interest in gravel events. Beyond casual gravel riding, the gravel world is becoming increasingly rich with events and races. Although there is no shortage of epic gravel events, Dirty Kanza consistently proves to be the most anticipated gravel event of the year. Located in Flint Hills, the 200-mile race offers a great route and some of the most unique vistas around. The Belgian Waffle Ride, Crusher in the Tushar, Grinduro, and Farmer’s Daughter have also been attracting increasing crowds in the past few years. Enthusiasts of such events congregate on sites such as ridinggravel.com.