Gravel riding has been the ‘in thing’ for a while now and it’s easy to see why, as it combines everything that’s great about road, cyclocross and mountain biking. Born in the USA, it is a discipline that has ventured over the pond and has begun to make a splash in the UK. Here’s why now is a better time than ever to join the gravel revolution:
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A bike for all seasons
We tend to feel that we need a different bike for all conditions and although we can’t deny the benefits of having more than one bike, a gravel bike can be used all year round and for all types of riding. Most come with mudguard and rack mounts so are perfectly suited to commuting, and who says you can’t have fun on your commute? Take your morning ride off-road and inject some of those weekend vibes into your day-to-day.
One of the biggest reasons to switch to a gravel bike is the variety of riding that it opens up. You can use gravel routes to link road sections together, avoid difficult obstacles or busy thoroughfares, or even dodge the asphalt altogether on your own off-road routes. In England and Wales, you have the right to ride on bridleways and byways and of course in the US, there are miles upon miles of dusty roads to explore. The possibilities with a gravel bike are endless!
Go on an adventure
Gravel bikes have created a new way to tour; thanks to disc brakes and the ability to fit wider tyres, one of these machines will be your perfect companion for a weekend adventure up in the hills. Most gravel bikes are capable of taking lightweight racks and frame bags so grab your map, load up on gear and food, and take in the scenery. Scotland is the place to be for exploring – the Land Reform Act means that as long as you are responsible you have the right to travel on almost every scrap of land you can find.
Not just for the countryside
The benefits of a gravel bike also extend to city dwellers. The riding options within a city increase tenfold when you’re on a gravel bike. Towpaths, dis-used railway lines and parks are your playground.
Most gravel tracks and routes prohibit motor vehicles and there is something truly liberating about riding for hours on end without encountering a single car. You can leave the hassle of the roads behind and enjoy nature to its fullest. The chirping of birds, the trees swaying in the wind and the gravel crunching underneath your tyres, truly idyllic!
Improve as a rider
Although there is barely any traffic to encounter that doesn’t mean you can switch off entirely. Having to keep upright on tricky trails and loose surfaces will help you improve your bike handling, make your pedal strokes more even and improve your awareness to the track’s obstacles. What’s more, the consistent bumping and vibration, while at first uncomfortable, will do you the world of good in the long run.
When your handling has improved and you’ve well and truly caught the bug, the natural order of things is of course to pit yourself against other gravel fanatics. Events such as the Dirty Kanza and the Grinduro series put an emphasis on not only racing but fun too. If you catch the EF Education Pro Cycling series on this year’s Dirty Kanza you can see for yourself that gravel racing is creating a new and exciting subculture within the sport. You’ll see plenty of gravel bikes at early season cyclocross races too where the dryer conditions suit a gravel bike perfectly.
Just because you’re off-road, on narrow winding forest paths and sketchy gravel tracks, it doesn’t mean you can’t ride in a group. A gravel group ride will transform your Sunday socials. Riding off-road still has all the benefits of a club run just with a little less traffic. You’ll still be able to socialise side by side on the wider trails, and of course push each other on the technical sections and climbs.
A new cycling culture
Although in its infancy, gravel riding has started to cultivate its own culture, one that’s defined by a desire to explore and have fun along the way. This new group, wittily named “groadies”, are a welcoming bunch. There is no set dress code here either – wear lycra if you want, but the fashion of choice tends to be baggy shorts and floral shirts.
Finally, gravel riding is arguably one of the most accessible ways to ride your bike. Without the pressures of other road users, gravel riding is not only an ideal starting platform for beginners, it is also a new discipline that the seasoned rider can go out and boss.
What are you waiting for? There’s a whole world of gravel riding to discover!