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How to get started in gravel cycling


Gravel is in fashion. And if you didn’t know it yet, you live on another planet. On this, we will agree. Where there is not so much consensus is the answer to the question: What is gravel?

It is difficult to establish a clear definition. At the origin, it has to do with adventure. So riding a gravel route or signing up for a gravel Review can mean very different things depending on which rider you ask.

The discipline of gravel is used to describe those bicycle rides with a similar appearance to road bikes that run on unpaved tracks and paths, and that fall somewhere between road cycling and mountain biking. In this case, the key isn’t really in the name: gravel riding can cover all types of terrain, from real gravel to wooded trails and everything in between.

If you are curious to learn a little more about this discipline, here are some basic questions that will help you understand the success of gravel movement a little better.

The origin of gravel

There are many who place the origin of gravel in the United States. A country full of long, remote stretches of unpaved roads; no less than a third of its entire network.

In recent decades, mountain biking has become more extreme and specialized, which is why driving on gravel tracks and simple paths have been forging a discipline with its own entity, apart from MTB.

Enjoying these tours on bikes that are more reminiscent of road models helps to add some spice to these almost uninspiring tours for bikers and adrenaline seekers.

The term gravel (grevilla, in Spanish) can lead to confusion. In fact, off-road or adventure cycling might best describe it, as you’re more likely to find routes that combine paths, trails, tracks and even sections of tarmac and/or cement.

Getting lost on roads less traveled brings back our passion for exploration and adventure, without ruling out participation in tests and competitions. What is clear is that gravel represents a change from the usual approach associated with road cycling. All in all, a breath of fresh air for the cycling community and a new business beta in the bicycle industry.

Do I really need a gravel bike?

Image Michael Tabolsky Unsplash

You decide, but the reality is one. The geometry, transmission and even the wheelbase of gravel bikes are elements designed to meet the demands of off-road riding. Although it is not essential that you use a specific bike, it will make your experience much more comfortable and enjoyable.

Don’t expect your gravel bike to be as nimble and fast on asphalt as a road bike, or as capable as a trail mountain bike. A gravel bike is a tool that allows you to explore beyond the asphalt and even try out some trails.

You’ll enjoy the efficiency of bikes with road-like handlebars on asphalt and simple tracks. Likewise, you will be able to face more technical trails that you wouldn’t even dare to ride on with smooth and narrow tires.

Many riders with limited space or budget choose a gravel bike with two sets of wheels: one for the gravel mode itself and one for the road. In this case, you will gain in versatility, although it is more than likely that the transmission will not be optimized for both disciplines.

Is a gravel bike the same as a cyclocross bike?

Cyclist practicing gravel through the forestImage from Shutterstock

While gravel bikes and cyclocross bikes have a lot in common, there are some key differences when you take a closer look.

The best cyclocross bikes are designed exclusively for racing and are governed by UCI rules, which set a maximum of 33mm tires and 50cm handlebar width. The geometry is competition-oriented, with a tall bottom bracket, a more aggressive riding position and sharp steering for tight corners.

All of this fits the purpose of going all out for an hour at full power, but it won’t be the best fit, or comfortable, for much longer, less competition-focused gravel courses.

Do I need a specific gravel bike if you already have a MTB?

Gravel bike or rigid mountain bike? The line between the two options can be very thin.

There’s nothing wrong with riding a rigid, or semi-rigid, mountain bike to hit gravel tracks and trails. However, you’ll likely feel the benefits of a gravel-specific bike if you intend to ride a lot on this type of terrain.

The stiffness of a typical gravel bike frame combined with a low handlebar position will give you greater aerodynamic and pedaling efficiency on roads and gravel tracks. This still sacrifices some of the comfort offered by the fork of a front suspension MTB bike.

On longer rides and multi-day bike tours, a road bike-like handlebar offers more varied hand positions, which can be beneficial in minimizing upper extremity discomfort.

On the other hand, riding a gravel bike on more or less technical terrain forces you to play with your body weights, which results in an obvious technical improvement on the bike.

Why are tires so important on gravel?

A proper set of gravel tires can make the difference between enjoying your ride to the fullest or turning it into a real nightmare. As it is the point of contact between the bike and the ground, you will need to pay attention to the type of tire, the tread, the ball and the pressure. All this, without losing sight of the terrain and the conditions you expect to encounter.

Tubeless tires are highly recommended for off-road riding as you are likely to encounter sharp thorns and stones, and this will also allow you to use lower tire pressures with less risk of punctures.

That said, the risk of a puncture doesn’t go away with a tubeless setup, so it’s critical to maintain the correct pressure and go with a tubeless kit for potential repairs.

The equipment for your gravel escapades

Female cyclist with gravel bikeImage Coen Van De Broek

It is always better to sin by excess than by material defect. Especially, when we talk about off-road routes.

Make sure you carry all the tools and spare parts you may need. It includes a chain cutter and a quick chain link, a tubeless repair kit, spare tubes, a good pump… And if you really get lost in nature, some clamps, tape, and even spare brake pads, they can save you from more than one commitment.

If we add to all this spare clothes and some food, you will need saddlebags and/or travel bags to ride on the frame, on the handlebars or behind the saddle. These items will help you store your items safely without interfering with driving.

A little planning before you go for a ride, with a route uploaded to a GPS-enabled bike computer, a smartwatch or your phone, can go a long way. Apps like Wikiloc or Komoot are useful because they make suggestions based on user experiences, which means you can build a trip around the most interesting gravel routes, and even mark places to grab something or make a technical stop

Of course, nothing prevents you from combining your GPS track with the ever-useful paper map when planning longer nature trips.

It should also be noted that as your routes are likely to take you further away from towns and cities, and at a slower pace than on the road, you should bring enough water and food. There’s nothing worse than being stranded in the middle of nowhere without a fuel station miles around.

The difference between gravel and bikepacking

Cyclist doing bikepackingImage Marek Piwnicki

Bikepacking is a term used to describe multi-day bicycle tours tackling off-road routes, largely off-road.

Bikepacking involves spending one or several nights en route, sleeping in the ground or under cover, in hotels or shelters, for example. This activity, in addition to a suitable bicycle, requires carrying luggage in saddlebags or bags that are located at different points of the bicycle.

You can use your gravel bike to practice this type of cycling, or even a mountain bike, or a touring bike. The choice will depend on the terrain you plan to ride on and your personal preferences.

Skills needed to become a gravel rider

For those new to gravel from road cycling, the beginnings can be a bit daunting. The terrain makes the bike’s reactions more unpredictable than on asphalt and, like everything, you need a period of adaptation and learning.

When tackling climbs with loose gravel, it’s a good idea to stay seated rather than swinging around on the pedals. This will keep your weight on the rear wheel and prevent it from skidding.

Taking turns on tracks and roads is also different than on asphalt. The route must be smoother, avoiding sections where the coarsest gravel is deposited. Attacking corners on the inside will always give you more room to maneuver in case something goes wrong.

The more technical the terrain becomes, the more important the route choice becomes, just like in mountain biking. For a faster step, curve gently, avoiding large stones, roots, etc.

As you approach corners, stay calm and always look ahead to anticipate the terrain, rather than looking straight ahead at the handlebars. In this way, the body will adopt a natural posture that will help you trace the curve without difficulty. As you can imagine, having MTB experience can help you a lot in handling the bike on unstable terrain.

Gravel events and races

Gravel bikeImage Shutterstock

Exploring new corners and designing your own routes is great. However, taking part in an organized event is an ideal opportunity to meet other fans and take on new challenges. As much a meeting as a competition.

As a young discipline, the diversity of formats is enormous. From single-stage one-day races to enduro-style timed segments, multi-day bikepacking and fun social races.

Although competition gravel is making way, the recreational, touristic and social component of this cycling modality is still maintained.

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162 COMMENTS

    • Why complicate things? Well, my friend, gravel cycling brings a whole new level of adventure and challenge to riding. Its not just about dirt roads, its about exploring uncharted territories, testing your limits, and embracing the raw beauty of nature. So, yes, its worth the complication.

  1. Comment:
    Gravel biking is just a fancy way of saying lets ride on uneven terrain. Cant we just stick to regular bikes?

    • Why limit ourselves to just one type of biking? Gravel biking adds excitement and variety to the experience. Embrace the challenge and discover the thrill of conquering uneven terrain. Dont be afraid to step outside your comfort zone!

  2. Comment:
    Ive been riding my old rusty mountain bike on gravel roads and its been awesome! Who needs a fancy gravel bike anyway? #rebel

  3. Comment:
    Who needs a gravel bike when you can just ride your unicycle on gravel roads? #unicycleforlife

    • Gravel cycling offers a unique experience, allowing riders to explore off-road trails and escape the monotony of asphalt. Its about adventure, versatility, and pushing boundaries. Trends come and go, but the thrill of gravel riding will always be here. Give it a try before dismissing it.

  4. Comment:
    Hey guys, Ive been reading this article on how to get started in gravel cycling and now Im wondering, do I really need a gravel bike? I mean, cant I just use my old rusty mountain bike? What do you think?

    • Comment:
      Hey there! While you could technically use your old mountain bike for gravel cycling, a purpose-built gravel bike would provide a better experience. Theyre designed for the specific demands of gravel riding, ensuring smoother rides and better performance. Give it a try and feel the difference!

  5. Comment:

    Okay, but can we talk about the real issue here? Why are we calling it gravel cycling? I mean, isnt it just off-road biking? #justsayin

  6. Comment:
    Gravel cycling is just an excuse to get dirty and pretend were hardcore adventurers. But hey, its fun!

  7. Comment 1: I dont get the hype around gravel bikes, my old road bike does the job just fine!

    Comment 2: Gravel bikes, cyclocross bikes, mountain bikes… Cant we just ride whatever we want?

    Comment 3: Who cares about the origin of gravel? Lets just enjoy the ride!

    Comment 4: Im confused, do I really need a gravel bike or can I just ride my hybrid?

    Comment 5: Why not just use your fat bike for gravel? Its all about adventure, right?

    • Actually, gravel bikes have their own unique purpose and appeal. They allow riders to explore various terrains and enjoy a different biking experience. Its not all about marketing; its about expanding our horizons and embracing the diverse aspects of cycling. Keep an open mind! #CyclingCommunity

  8. Comment:

    Gravel cycling is just a fancy name for off-roading on a bike. Why not just call it mountain biking?

  9. Comment: Gravel bikes, cyclocross bikes, MTBs… Do we really need all these fancy bikes? Cant we just ride our old rusty bicycles and enjoy the adventure?

  10. Article: How to get started in gravel cycling

    Comment: Who needs paved roads when you can ride on gravel and feel like a badass?

    • Gravel bikes offer a unique experience and versatility that MTBs cant match. They excel on mixed terrain, allowing riders to explore new routes and enjoy a different kind of adventure. Dont knock it till you try it!

  11. Comment: Gravel biking is just a fancy name for off-road cycling. Save your money and stick to your trusty MTB!

  12. Comment:
    Hey guys, I just read this article about gravel cycling and it got me thinking. Do you really need a gravel bike? I mean, cant you just ride your old rusty mountain bike and call it a day? Whats the big fuss? #KeepingItSimple

  13. Comment: Gravel cycling sounds cool, but do we really need a separate bike? Cant we just ride our MTBs?

    • Comment: Thats your choice, but gravel cycling offers a thrilling adventure that smooth roads cant match. The dust and bumps add excitement and challenge, making it more than just a simple ride. Give it a try, you might surprise yourself.

  14. I dont get the hype around gravel bikes. I mean, cant I just use my old road bike and call it a day? #confused

    • While riding an old tricycle might sound fun, a gravel bike offers versatility and a smoother riding experience on different terrains. So, if youre looking for a thrilling off-road adventure or a faster commute, a gravel bike is definitely worth considering. #upgradeyourride

  15. Comment:
    Hmm, Im still not convinced about this whole gravel cycling thing. Is it just a fancy name for off-road biking?

  16. Comment: I mean, do we really need a whole new bike just to ride on gravel? Seems a bit excessive to me. #makeyourMTBwork

    • Sure, you can absolutely ride any bike you want on dirt roads. But if you want to maximize your performance, speed, and overall experience, then choosing a bike specifically designed for that terrain will make a world of difference. Its all about personal preference and what you prioritize in your ride.

  17. Comment:

    Hey folks, just read this article on How to get started in gravel cycling and I have to say, Im torn about the whole Do I really need a gravel bike? debate. On one hand, it seems like a cool investment, but on the other hand, cant I just use my trusty old MTB? What are your thoughts?

  18. I honestly think gravel biking is just a fancy term for mountain biking in disguise. #SameSameButDifferent

  19. Article: How to get started in gravel cycling

    Comment: Gravel bikes are just a marketing gimmick, my mountain bike does the job perfectly fine!

  20. Article: How to get started in gravel cycling

    Comment: Who needs a gravel bike when you can just ride your grandmas tricycle?

    Article: The origin of gravel

    Comment: I bet cavemen were the OG gravel riders, riding on rocks before it was cool.

    Article: Do I really need a gravel bike?

    Comment: Nah, just duct tape some tennis balls to your road bike tires. Same thing.

    Article: Is a gravel bike the same as a cyclocross bike?

    Comment: Its like asking if a hotdog is the same as a sausage. Who cares? Just eat!

    Article: Do I need a specific gravel bike if I already have an MTB?

    Comment: Why stop at one bike? Get both and confuse all your friends!

  21. Comment: Gravel bikes, cyclocross bikes, MTBs… Do we really need all these fancy bikes? Cant we just ride whatever weve got and have fun?

  22. Comment:
    I mean, do we really need a specific bike for every type of terrain? Cant we just ride whatever we have in our garage and have fun?

  23. Comment: Who needs a gravel bike when you can just ride your grandmas old tricycle? #unconventionalgravelriding

    • Vintage vibes, huh? Well, I guess if you enjoy the constant fear of toppling over and breaking your neck, go ahead. But Ill stick to the more practical and safer options, thanks. #ModernAdvancements

  24. Comment: I totally get the appeal of gravel cycling, but do we really need a whole new bike for it? Cant we just tweak our trusty old MTBs?

    • Comment:

      Hey, to each their own! Gravel cycling offers a thrilling off-road experience that cant be matched on the pavement. The challenge, the adrenaline, and the sense of adventure make it worth getting a little dirty. But hey, if you prefer the smooth speed of a road bike, thats cool too. Keep on pedaling!

  25. Comment: Gravel bikes, cyclocross bikes, MTBs… Do we really need all these specialized bikes? Cant we just ride anything with two wheels and have fun?

  26. I never understood the hype around gravel bikes. Cant we just ride our regular road bikes and be done with it? #justsaying

    • Gravel biking offers a unique experience that combines the thrill of road cycling with the versatility to explore off-road terrain. Its not about replacing mountain biking; its about enjoying a different type of adventure. Embrace the diversity and expand your horizons!

  27. Comment:

    Hey guys, so I read this article on getting started in gravel cycling and I gotta say, the whole origin of gravel thing sounds a bit random to me. I mean, who really cares where it came from? But hey, maybe Im missing something here.

    Now, the question of whether you really need a gravel bike got me thinking. I mean, cant you just use your regular old bike and hit the gravel roads? Or maybe Im just being cheap, who knows?

    And the whole confusion between gravel bikes and cyclocross bikes is making my head spin. Are they really the same or different? I guess it depends on who you ask, but seriously, does it really matter?

    Lastly, the article brings up the question of needing a specific gravel bike if you already have a mountain bike. I say, why not just use what youve got? I mean, a bike is a bike, right? But hey, maybe Im just being practical here.

    Anyway, thats my two cents for now. Keep on gravel cycling, folks!

  28. Comment:

    Hey everyone, I just read this article on getting started in gravel cycling and it got me thinking. So, who here thinks the whole idea of gravel biking is just a fancy way of saying riding on dirt roads? I mean, do we really need a whole new category for that? #JustRideOnDirtRoads

  29. Comment: Gravel biking is just a fancy term for getting dirty on your bike! Who needs a specific bike? Just ride!

    • Oh, come on! Gravel biking isnt just about getting dirty, its about exploring new terrains and challenges. Having a specific bike optimized for off-road riding enhances the experience. Dont knock it till youve tried it!

    • Gravel biking offers a different kind of thrill, with varied terrain and the freedom to explore. Its about embracing the adventure on less crowded paths. But hey, to each their own! Enjoy your singletrack, and Ill enjoy the open roads. Happy riding!

    • Comment:

      Sure, ride whatever you want! But lets not dismiss the joy of exploring different types of bikes. Gravel bikes offer versatility, cyclocross bikes provide thrill on muddy terrains, and MTBs tackle rough trails. Embrace the diversity and keep pedaling! #BikeAdventure

  30. Comment 1: I never thought about the origin of gravel. Mind-blowing stuff!

    Comment 2: Do I really need a gravel bike? Cant I just use my rollerblades?

    Comment 3: Is a gravel bike the same as a cyclocross bike? Can I use it for underwater cycling too?

    Comment 4: Do I need a specific gravel bike if I already have an MTB? Cant I just duct tape some gravel onto my tires?

    Comment 5: Im thinking of starting gravel cycling, but first, can someone explain what gravel actually is?

    • Sure, you can ride your rusty old beach cruiser if you want, but dont expect to keep up with us gravel cyclists. Well be having a blast exploring new terrains and pushing our limits while you struggle to keep your tires inflated. Enjoy your slow ride!

  31. Article: How to Get Started in Gravel Cycling

    Comment: Who needs a gravel bike when you can just ride your grandmas old tricycle? #vintagetravel

    • Actually, gravel biking is much more than off-roading on a road bike. It combines the thrill of mountain biking with the speed and efficiency of a road bike. So, its not just a fancy term, its a whole new experience. Give it a try!

    • Sorry, but I have to disagree. Gravel bikes offer a smoother ride and more versatility than an old rusty MTB. Plus, theyre specifically designed for off-road adventures. So why settle for less when you can have a bike that enhances the experience?

  32. Comment:
    Who needs a gravel bike when you can just ride your mountain bike through the mud and rocks? #savemoney

    • Well, its clear you havent experienced the thrill of gravel biking. Its not just about riding on dirt roads; its about pushing boundaries, exploring new terrains, and embracing the freedom of the open trails. Dont knock it until youve tried it.

  33. Comment:

    So, I read this article on how to get started in gravel cycling and it got me thinking. I mean, sure, the origin of gravel sounds fascinating, but do we really need a whole bike just for it? Cant we use our trusty old MTBs? And whats the deal with gravel bikes and cyclocross bikes? Are they the same thing or not? Im confused, man!

    • Actually, gravel riding is a distinct discipline that combines the thrill of mountain biking with the speed and endurance of road cycling. Its not about a trendy name, but rather about exploring new terrains and enjoying the freedom of riding off the beaten path. Give it a try!

    • Comment: While unicycles may be fun for some, gravel bikes offer versatility, comfort, and better stability on off-road terrains. They also allow for longer rides and can carry gear. So, if youre looking for adventure and practicality, a gravel bike is the way to go. #GravelBikesForTheWin

  34. Comment 1: Gravel biking is all about the adventure and exploring new terrains. Who needs roads anyway?

    Comment 2: You dont need a fancy gravel bike, just hop on your trusty mountain bike and hit the trails!

    Comment 3: Cyclocross or gravel bike? Who cares! As long as it gets you out there having fun!

    Comment 4: The origin of gravel? Who knew rocks could be so exciting?!

    Comment 5: Why limit yourself to just one bike? Mountain bike, road bike, gravel bike – collect them all!

    Comment 6: Gravel biking, the perfect excuse to get dirty and embrace the mud!

    Comment 7: Gravel biking: the ultimate escape from traffic and a chance to commune with nature!

    Comment 8: Gravel biking: because life is too short to stay on the paved path!

    Comment 9: Gravel biking: where your tires get as dirty as your mind!

    Comment 10: Forget the specific bike, just grab any two wheels and start discovering new gravel roads!

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