Even if you’re just a casual road cyclist, you’ve probably noticed the boom in gravel as a discipline. It gets you away from cars, allows you to explore your local area more and can be an excuse for another new bike, but how do you actually get started with gravel? Here are 8 top tips to help you out.
While one of the best gravel bikes will, as the name suggests, be ideal for gravel riding, we’d really encourage you to get going on any bike that you have. Buying a bike for a discipline that you've not even tried yet is a bit of a risk, so if you've got a bike that can just about manage some light gravel duties, we'd suggest getting going on that.
That can be a road bike with big tyres, such as an endurance bike, a tourer, or if you're careful, you could get away with taking most modern road bikes onto well-graded gravel trails, thanks to their clearance for 30mm tyres and above.
We'd also say that a cyclocross bike or even a cross country mountain bike would be suitable for giving gravel a go, especially when you consider the price of a new gravel bike.
Loads of us roadies are rather performance focussed and everything gets competitive with Strava segments being chased and sprints for town signs on group rides. We'd suggest that you forget the data when you jump onto a gravel bike and just aim to have a nice ride.
The point of gravel, in the beginning, was adventure and fun. Roadies wanted to get away from road traffic and when they headed off-road, they found a load of those good vibes.
So embrace the freedom of gravel and give the data a rest.
While Instagram might make gravel riding look like a perfect day on the bike, the reality of rough ground and no suspension means a harsh ride, and that can leave you with slightly sore hands.
Thankfully though, there are some things that you can do to make your bike more comfortable. The easiest way to up the comfort is to try lower tyres pressures. It has the benefit of increasing grip in the corners and it could even make you faster. If you're running low pressures then you might want to try tyre inserts to protect the rim and tyre from bottoming out.
Away from tyre pressure, you can fit thicker bar tape and wear gloves as these will both help to reduce buzz.
If you’ve gone out and bought a gravel bike, the first upgrade that we'd suggest making is to the tyres. You're looking for something with a supple casing if you want more comfort, tubeless for fewer punctures, and the appropriate tread for your riding requirements.
Many gravel bikes will come with tyres that do not take advantage of the space built into the frame by the manufacturer, so if you're looking to increase the capability of a bike, you could upgrade to wider tyres from the off.
Plotting a route can be tricky in some parts of the UK, while other areas are a gravelly dream. Our advice would be to aim for byways as these should be the clearest, offering you uninterrupted riding with the fewest number of stiles and gates.
But just watch out for horses as we have to share this space.
When it comes to gravel riding, there are no rules on footwear, so start out in what you have. For instance, you might already have road shoes and these can be ideal for gravel riding, especially if you're riding on mostly open and well-surfaced gravel roads.
Mountain bike shoes and pedals offer easier entry and walking, so if you're going to be doing more exploring, or riding on trails that aren't maintained, you might be better off with these.
Taking your time is one of the nicest things about gravel riding and is an extension of our point from earlier about focusing less on the data. Stop to see new views as you may well be able to see an area from a completely new perspective.
The only way to discover is to get out there and try. For us, being based in Bath means that a lot of trial and error is needed to find good gravel riding places, but this is part of the fun and just adds to the sense of adventure.
Apps, such as Komoot, can be used to find new routes and with the system constantly being updated, you can contribute to the community with pictures of local trails that you've explored and tips of where to ride.
All in, gravel riding is really good fun and we’d really recommend that you at least give it a go. If you have any top tips for getting started with gravel riding, leave them in the comments below.