Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few months, you’ll have noticed that the small stones of gravel are the new biggest bike trend!
More and more riders are taking to mixed-terrain riding in search of traffic-free exploring and a whole new type of fun. Gravel cycling offers the relative speed of riding on the road with the sense of adventure and the unknown you achieve on the mountain bike as you explore routes mixing tarmac, bridleways, dirt roads and stoney trails.
With summer in full swing, now is a great time to give gravel a go while the paths and trails are dry and hard. If you’re a roadie with little mountain bike experience, starting out on gravel in autumn or winter could make for a muddy and challenging introduction!
So, here are some of the basics you want to know before you take the path less travelled and hit the bridleways, tracks and trails criss-crossing the roads you know so well!
Do I need a special bike?
It’s a case of yes and no for this unfortunately. Riding safely and enjoyably on gravel requires the geometry and drop handlebars of a more relaxed road bike with the fatter, knobbly tyres of a ‘cross bike or mountain bike.
Of course, with gravel now the new biggest thing, nearly every major bike manufacturer has released a range of ‘gravel’ or adventure’ bikes. They provide the speed and handling of a road bike, but opt for a relaxed geometry for all-day riding, and pack the large clearances, beefier tyres and disc brakes most commonly seen in off-road bicycles.
However, if you’re simply wanting to dip a toe into the mixed-terrain scene, you can make do with a bike you may already own.
If you have a mountain bike, of course, this is an obvious option for if you’re getting started – however, you might as well just head to a full-on MTB trail if you take this option.
An ideal solution if you want to give gravel a go without committing money is to use a cyclocross bike if you or your friends have one. The main reason that people don’t use a ‘cross bike if they fully commit to riding gravel is that their high bottom bracket and racey-geometry don’t make for the most comfortable all-day adventure. A cyclocross bike is a great introductory way to do it though!
It’s not advised to take a road bike on a gravel ride unless you know there will be very little off-road sections, or if you’re going to be staying on more hard-packed stones that are easy to ride. The skinny tyres and aggressive handling of a road bike are certainly not suited to the slipply-slidey surfaces of some gravel paths!
How do I know where to ride?
Perhaps the hardest thing about getting into gravel a few years ago was how to find the best tracks, bridleways and paths to ride on. While making a route on a road is straightforward, and mountain bike trails are well known, piecing together a gravel loop used to come down to guesswork and good luck.
Fortunately, in the past year, apps such as Ride With GPS, Komoot and Strava have enhanced their mapping tools to include more off-road sections, and with added ‘heatmap’ features that show you the most-commonly used paths, you can easily piece together an off-road adventure.
However, nothing beats personal knowledge and a bit of adventuring, so sometimes it’s best to just find any bridleway or path near you that looks inviting and head down it – you never know what you may discover at the other end!
What do I need when I ride gravel?
The key aim of the game when going gravel is self-sufficiency. The more you get to know your local tracks and trails, the more remote the locations you can explore, just like when you go mountain biking. So if you’re a roadie and are accustomed to stopping for food and drink after a few hours, this may not be an option – make sure your bottles are full and your jersey pockets are stacked with snacks!
Likewise, be sure to carry everything you need for all mechanical eventualities. A couple of spare tubes, a CO2 inflator, back up bike pump and quality multi-tool are a must, and if you’re riding tubeless, a tubeless tyre repair kit is also a good addition.
And a couple of final tips for a first-timer!
If you’re a roadie, be prepared to fall over on your first rides! Don’t be over-confident and try to hold the speed you would on the road, and maybe don’t wear your best jersey and shorts, just in case….
Stay seated on any loose gravelly climbs. Keeping your weight through the back wheel will give you better traction and control.
Don’t do it solo! Riding is always more fun with friends, but when you’re starting out, going gravel with someone who’s taken the path less ridden before means you can learn routes and get tips.
Can I wear the same cycling socks for gravel?
Yes you can, in fact we're bringing out a range of gravel inspired colours to ensure that you can transition from road to trial without forgoing the the quality of our socks.