With gravel biking growing and growing, many people are looking to jump right in and enjoy hitting the trails. Anyone who has done other forms of biking has a general idea of how things go, but this specific type has some uniqueness to it. Understanding what to expect before jumping right in is essential in getting to the next level.
Below is a look at some general tips on how to jump into gravel biking and enjoy the activity. It is generally pretty easy to figure things out without tips, but some people need a little bit of extra assistance along the way.
1. Don’t Get Caught Up With Expensive Bike Specs
When people are shopping for road or mountain bikes, they tend to look for a top-of-the-line option once they get into it. This is to not only perform at high speeds but have a very comfortable ride while doing it.
While everyone would like to have a very comfortable ride with a gravel bike, it is more about exploring than anything else.
Most people are not going to be riding for time with a gravel bike (except for me sometimes), so there is not as big of a need to get the best of the best.
Try to find something that fits into a budget, and upgrade that bike at times if it seems like it is lagging. Do not break the bank on a bike, especially if it is the very first one.
2. Pack Extra Clothes, Food, Water, And Other Supplies
Most people do not quite understand just how long gravel rides can become if a person is really going out there and exploring. With a long ride comes a lot of unpredictability, and it is never a bad thing to be over-prepared.
Gravel bike manufacturers know this, which is why they have so many opportunities for people to put on bags and packages if they need to.
This always comes in handy for people who do not want to run the risk of feeling too weighed down. As long as a person evenly distributes everything, they should be good to go.
Weather changes can also be very unpredictable, and what starts as a dry and warm day can evolve into something cold and rainy.
Having some layers can help a lot, and just having a dry change of clothes is beneficial as well. A person can do some severe damage to their overall health if they do not adequately take care of everything while on the ride.
3. Take Time To Build Up The Legs
The majority of gravel bike rides are going to be very long, and even if they are not at a super-fast pace, it still makes sense to protect the legs at all costs. That means not only correctly stretching and getting them loose for a long ride, but focusing on recovery as well.
Some people will go the icing method to keep certain parts of the legs from swelling too much, while others will take time off and allow for a proper amount of rest.
A common trap that a lot of beginners fall into is trying to do too much in the beginning. They are acting like they can put in a ton of miles in one day, and then try to do the same thing the very next.
Eventually, people are going to burn themselves out, and they end up losing their passion for riding in general. Ease into the workload, and do not try to do too much in the beginning. The legs will be very thankful.
4. Try Different Tires
A gravel bike can work with many different types of tires. If it seems like the initial set up is not getting the job done, go with some other option and see how it feels.
Tires are pretty inexpensive when compared to upgrading a bike completely, and most people are going to find some solution that works for them.
Some people are even willing to invest in a different set of tires to use during certain times of the year. They also may decide to change up the tires if the weather is particularly bad.
Not everyone is going to have this luxury, but it is worth looking into if the stock tires are just not getting the job done.
Make sure to take measurements and understand what type of tires can go into the bike itself. Not everyone has the same tire clearance, so that could put a bit of a damper on certain tire options.
Generally speaking, a person should go with a skinnier tire if they want to increase speed and maneuverability. If they want additional comfort and the ability to handle more challenging terrain, a thicker tire might be the way to go.
5. Don’t Worry About Speed
Too many people think of all types of riding a bike as a speed contest. Gravel bike riding in a lot of ways can be viewed the same way as hiking. It is not so much about the speed, but the adventure and the distance covered.
Many people will go out on long bike rides with a gravel bike, and figure out that they are not going as fast as they would on a road bike or even a mountain bike. That is perfectly fine, as the terrain is usually not built for speed anyway.
A person still gets a great work out as long as they are going at a decent speed, and they get to see different parts of the world along the way.
For people who are really into going as fast as possible, cyclocross might be the better option. It is very similar to gravel bike riding, but the courses are usually a little bit smaller, and the tires on the bike are a little skinnier for performance.
It is a fun alternative if a person ends up missing a little bit of competitiveness when riding a gravel bike.
6. Keep Tire Pressure Low
A lot of bike riders have always followed the rules to keep their tires inflated properly. With a gravel bike, it makes more sense to go with lower tire pressure.
This allows the tire to get just a little bit of additional contact with the ground. It might slow down a person a little bit, but not to the point that they are really going to notice that much of a difference.
An overinflated tire is not going to have the same give on a ride when the terrain is a bit unpredictable, which causes bumps and general discomfort.
Look at the tire and see what the recommended PSI is, and start at the lower end of that recommendation. Some people even drop below their recommended PSI once they try a few different setups out.
7. Learn How To Stay In Control
There are a lot of different elevations and tricky spots in any gravel bike ride, but one of the most important things is to stay in control of the bike as much as possible. Sometimes it is easier said than done when people are initially starting now, but people can get a pretty good feel on what works for them as time goes on.
Start slowly by working on some descending skills to get a better hang of how to handle a bike. Try to stay in control by not pedaling at all, only coasting and checking out the obstacles ahead.
It is fine to apply the break softly, but do not slam on the brakes under any circumstances. Instead, try to point the bike in the direction that you want to go, and the bike will start to go that way. Any sudden movements on a descending ride could lead to disaster.
When a person can stay in control of their bike, they will find gravel bike riding so much easier. On descending opportunities, this is a great way to get a little bit of rest without having to stop. People who become proficient at gravel bike riding are going to be able to do exactly that.
8. Keep The Weight As Evenly Distributed As Possible
Whether it is climbing or descending, riders should learn how to take the sit and spin approach. Nobody wants to be in a situation where their rear wheel is sliding out and losing traction because the weight is unevenly distributed.
The same goes for not putting any weight on the handlebars, as a front-wheel can pop up from time to time.
It might be tempting to get out of the saddle when doing some climbs like in other types of bike riding, but that is not always necessarily the case with gravel bikes. Since there is so much climbing and descending involved, having that weight on the bike can help out quite a bit.
9. Plan Out A Route
There is a certain amount of joy to go out on a gravel bike and explore everything out there, but planning out routes makes sense for the beginner.
Not only will a person have a good idea of how much mileage they are going to put in, but they can learn some other things along the way as well. It just makes for a smarter ride for those who are just starting now.
Once a person gets a little more comfortable, they can start to try out different opportunities as well. That means going out on rides and not paying attention to a route, but making stuff up as it goes along. It might seem like a stress-free ride and something that a lot of people will enjoy when it is all said and done.
10. Enjoy The Ride
Ultimately, gravel bike riding is supposed to be one of the most laid-back opportunities for people to get some exercise and see the rest of the world. It might seem not very easy at first, but a lot of the stuff along the way is pretty easy for people to understand or figure out on their own.
Nobody wants to be in a situation where they are getting a new bike, and then they are completely overwhelmed with all of the different tips and strategies.
Gravel bike riders are usually not doing it for time, and it can be a very social activity as well. Enjoy the ride over everything else, and it might become a hobby that people are into for years to come.