From Road to Gravel Biking

From Road to Gravel Biking

by Lex Albrecht on May 29, 2024

Venturing from the pavement to gravel is exciting. Not only does it offer a whole new network of routes (some that truly are off the beaten path), gravel biking brings a different ride sensation. When you start gravel cycling, you'll learn how to carry speed over new surfaces and navigate the variety of traction types that paved roads just don't offer. Half of the fun of riding a bike is "driving" it, and gravel biking offers plenty of interesting and exciting bike handling opportunities. There's no one type of gravel either. In cycling, the term "gravel" can refer to single track paths, deep layers of chunky stones, hardpacked tiny rocks or wide dirt roads that range from washboard surfaces to sandy patches to freshly slicked down earth.

When transitioning to gravel biking from road cycling, keep a few of these pointers in mind:

1. A wider gear range than what you might have on your road bike will come in handy. When your gravel bike takes you off-road, you'll come across steep pitches that just aren't found in roads designed for cars - having tiny gear to get up them will help you keep the momentum through these tracks, and make your ride more fun. Smaller gears can also keep you from getting bogged down in terrain that scrubs your speed and would otherwise require you to grind at a low RPM.

2. Weight back! The most stable wheel of the bike is the rear wheel. When riding on unstable or bumpy surfaces, focusing your weight towards the rear wheel will help you keep traction. If your front wheel hits a rough spot, you won't veer off track if you're letting your rear wheel do most of the work(If putting weight on your rear wheel seems confusing - think of this: keep the grip on your handlebars loose and most of all, don't lean onto them excessively. If the weight isn't going into your handlebars and front wheel, it means it's automatically going to the rear wheel!)

3. Come prepared! Gravel riding can lead you to some adventurous places, but sometimes the nearest gas station convenience store for filling bottles and getting snacks is far. Use a hydration pack and choose cycling apparel with extra pockets (like Craft’s gravel bib shorts which have no shortage of pockets) that you can put your favorite ride foods in. Make the most of your pockets by filling them with a variety of foods too. Long rides mean it's likely that you'll get tired of eating your favorites (believe it or not) so pack different flavors (sweet and savory) and include a variety of macro nutrients in what you bring (like some protein and a bit of fat, instead of just sugars).

4. Tires matter. Noticing the difference between tire models can be tough on a road bike and that's okay. Tires are less significant on the road. But you'll find a real difference how your bike handles on gravel roads depending on which bike tire you choose. Heavier tread and wider widths can provide great grip in extra-loose sections, but they can also bog you down on fast rolling parts. Slicker and more narrow tires can be faster on smooth, hard-packed gravel, but can spin out or slip out on loose, rocky or muddy surfaces. A middle-of-the-road tire that should do well in a variety of conditions could have a file tread rolling area and lateral knobs: The low-profile file tread will provide a bit of grip but not too much resistance, while the lateral side knobs will come into contact with the ground only when you're leaning the bike into a turn and are likely to need that extra grip.

Looking for more cycling adventure tips? Check out Lex’s last post on adventure hacks for cyclists, everything from simple snacks to pants in a jar, take a look a few may come in handy.