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gravel biking

Gravel Biking: Everything You Need to Know

What is gravel biking? Gravel biking is simply cycling on a surface other than asphalt or concrete. This can include mixed surfaces of dirt, sand, and gravel.

Why do it? Gravel biking is a great way to explore trails and roads less traveled. You’ll also find that gravel cycling is a lot more challenging and fun than riding on paved surfaces!

If you’re new to the sport, here’s everything you need to know to get started.

What is a gravel bike?

A gravel bike, also called adventure bike, is a bike designed for riding on gravel roads and trails. These bikes are often similar to road bikes, but with wider tires and different gearing. 

Frame

Gravel bikes are also similar to mountain bikes, but with smoother tires and geometry that’s more suited for gravel riding.

The frame geometry of gravel bikes is designed to provide a balance of comfort and stability. They tend to have a longer wheelbase, lower bottom bracket, more relaxed head angle.

A longer wheelbase provides stability and traction, while a lower bottom bracket gives you more control on loose gravel. A slacker head angle gives a more upright riding position, which is more comfortable on long rides than a road bike.

This means that you’ll be able to ride for long periods of time without getting tired, and you’ll be able to handle the bike on rough terrain.

Wheels and tires

Gravel bikes have wider tires than road bikes, but not as wide as mountain bikes. Tires are usually wider than those on a road bike, ranging from 30-45 mm. This wider width helps to provide more stability and traction on gravel surfaces.

650b and 700c are the two most common wheel sizes for gravel bikes. 650b wheels are smaller and lighter, which makes them easier to handle on rough terrain. 700c wheels are larger and roll faster on smooth surfaces.

Gears

Gravel bikes also have a different gearing than road bikes. They often have a lower gear ratio, which makes it easier to pedal on gravel roads and trails.

Brakes

Gravel bikes usually have disc brakes, which provide more stopping power than rim brakes. Disc brakes are also less affected by gravel and dirt, so they’ll work better on long gravel rides.

Suspension

Some gravel bikes have suspension forks, which can help to smooth out the ride on rough terrain. However, gravel bikes with suspension forks are usually more expensive and heavier than those without.

Where did gravel riding come from?

The gravel riding movement began in the early 2010s for gravel racing. Minnesota-based Salsa Cycles is often credited with gravel biking’s popularity after they released a gravel-specific bike called the Warbird in 2012. Soon, gravel biking became popular among cyclists who were looking for a more challenging and adventurous ride than what they could find on paved roads.

Where can you ride gravel?

Gravel bikes are designed to handle a variety of terrain, so you can gravel ride almost anywhere! This includes fire roads, doubletrack trails, gravel paths, and even some singletrack trails.

Geographically, the American mountain west is a great place for gravel riding. With its limitless options, you’ll never get bored!

Do you need a gravel bike?

If you are looking more for capability and stability over technical terrain, then gravel bikes are a great investment.  Not only will they serve you well on gravel and dirt roads, but they can also take on singletrack trails with ease.

With a gravel bike, comfort comes first so long days in the saddle are no problem. So, gravel bikes are great for anyone who wants to explore beyond the paved roads!

cyclocross vs gravel bike
Cyclocross Bike Vs. Gravel Bike

Gravel Bike Vs. Cyclocross Bike

While gravel bikes and cyclocross bikes share some similarities, they are designed for different purposes.

Cyclocross bikes were originally designed for racing on a mix of surfaces, including grass, mud, gravel, and pavement. These bikes usually have narrower tires than gravel bikes and are geared for speed, rather than comfort.

In recent years, cyclocross bikes have become popular among gravel riders who are looking for a bike that can handle both gravel and singletrack trails.

So, while you can use a cyclocross bike for gravel riding, it may not be as comfortable or capable as a gravel bike.

gravel bike vs road bike
Gravel Bike Vs. Road Bike

Gravel Bike Vs. Road Bike

The biggest difference between gravel bikes and road bikes is the tires. Gravel bikes have wider tires that are designed for stability and traction on gravel surfaces. Road bikes have narrower tires that are designed for speed on paved roads.

Another difference between gravel bikes and road bikes is the gearing. Gravel bikes often have a lower gear ratio, which makes it easier to pedal on gravel roads and trails. Road bikes have a higher gear ratio, which makes them more efficient on paved surfaces.

Finally, gravel bikes usually have disc brakes, while road bikes typically have rim brakes. Disc brakes provide more stopping power and are less affected by gravel and dirt than rim brakes.

So, while you can use a road bike for gravel riding, it may not be as comfortable or capable as a gravel bike.

gravel bike vs mountain bike
Gravel Bike Vs. Mountain Bike

Gravel Bike Vs. Mountain Bike

Since mountain bikes are designed for off-road riding, you might think they would be the best choice for gravel biking. However, gravel bikes are actually a better choice for gravel riding.

Mountain bikes are designed for technical off-road trails, which means they have features that gravel bikes don’t, such as rear suspension. This makes mountain bikes heavier and less efficient on gravel roads.

Mountain bikes also have wider and grippier tires than gravel bikes, which can make them more difficult to pedal on gravel surfaces.

Why are tires so important for gravel riding?

Tires are one of the most important aspects of gravel riding. They provide traction and stability on gravel surfaces, which is essential for safe riding.

Gravel tires are usually wider than those on a road bike, ranging from 30-45 mm. This wider width helps to provide more stability and traction on gravel surfaces.

In terms of tread, gravel tires often have a mix of smooth and knobby tread. This helps to provide traction on both gravel and dirt surfaces.

What kit do you need to take for gravel riding?

When gravel riding, it’s important to be prepared for anything. This means carrying a few essential items with you, such as:

  • spare tube or two
  • pump, repair kit
  • multi-tool
  • phone
  • snacks and  water
  • first-aid kit
  • GPS device

What’s the difference between gravel and bikepacking?

Bikepacking is similar to gravel riding in that it involves riding on a variety of surfaces, including gravel roads, fire roads, and singletrack trails.

However, bikepacking is more focused on self-sufficiency and adventure. Bikepackers typically camp overnight and carry all of their gear with them on their bikes. 

Gravel riding, on the other hand, can be done as a day trip or an overnight trip. And while gravel riders do carry some gear with them, they are not typically self-sufficient like bikepackers.

So, gravel riding is a great way to explore beyond the pavement and challenge yourself on a variety of surfaces. But if you’re looking for a more adventurous experience, then bikepacking is the way to go!

What different skills do you need to ride gravel?

Riding gravel requires a few different skills than riding on pavement. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Gravel is more unpredictable than pavement. There can be loose gravel, potholes, and other obstacles that you need to be aware of.

You’ll need to be able to control your bike at lower speeds. This means being comfortable with braking and turning on gravel surfaces.

You’ll also need to be able to maintain traction on gravel. This can be a challenge, especially if you’re riding in wet conditions.

Finally, gravel riding requires a bit more endurance than road riding. This is because gravel rides are typically longer and more challenging than road rides.

What about gravel events and races?

If you’re looking for a gravel riding challenge, then consider signing up for a gravel event or race. A gravel race, known also as gravel grinder,  is a type of off-road bicycle race. These races typically take place on gravel roads and dirt trails, and they can range in distance from 50 to 150 miles.

Gravel events are a great way to test your skills and endurance on a variety of surfaces.

However, there are no Olympics gravel events.

Benefits of Gravel Biking

Here are a few benefits of gravel biking:

1. Off-road capability

Gravel riding is a great way to explore beyond the pavement. You can challenge yourself on a variety of surfaces, including gravel roads, fire roads, and singletrack trails.

2. Great workout.

It’s a full-body workout that will test your endurance and strength.

3. Bikepacking-friendly

The best gravel bikes will offer a comfortable and efficient ride whether you’re riding on gravel roads, fire roads, or singletrack trails. This makes gravel bikes a great option for bikepacking.

Conclusion

Gravel biking is a great way to explore beyond the pavement. Adaptability and comfort are the perks of gravel biking. Gravel riding requires a bit more endurance than road riding.

Whether you’re looking for a gravel riding challenge or just want to explore beyond the pavement, gravel biking is a great option!


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