We all experience a different sense of pleasure that riding brings. Some ride for the thrill of speed, others need a hill or two to make their ride interesting.
Today we are talking about the adventure rider. The riders that get back to nature and couldn’t care less whether the road is hilly or flat. They are in it for the dirt. They are the Gravel Grinders.
Words - Brendan Edwards Images - Jeff Curtes
SO WHAT IS GRAVEL GRINDING?
This is the riding for those that enjoy the adventure, and get a real pleasure from leaving the security of riding bitumen to travel off road. Gravel grinding can be done on any type of bike, whether it be a Road Bike or CX. The choice of weapon is up to you.
WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT?
The exciting thing about gravel grinding is that you can expect the unexpected. Gravel roads aren’t maintained nearly as well as Bitumen Roads, so the surface conditions can change over time depending on weather conditions & general wear and tear.
'Getting a dose of vitamin G' requires a higher level of concentration as there can be obstacles in the way that if you’re not careful will cause you some grief. Rutted tracks from cars driving in the rain, corrugations that shake you to the core, pot holes, cracks caused by water flow, sticks and very loose sections of gravel all mean that you have to concentrate on the road and find the smoothest line to ride.
It's a little more complex than just putting your head down and pushing down on your pedals. Those that have ridden gravel will know it’s harder than riding bitumen and you’re guaranteed a much harder workout.
To riders that don’t usually step outside of their comfort zones, these may all seem reasons to avoid riding off road, but how will you know if you never give it a go?
Gravel grinding is an escape and provides a great middle ground between Road and Mountain Biking. Let’s face it, it can be bumpy, dusty and doesn’t do any favours to your bike, but that is all part of the fun and enjoyment that gravel brings.
Riding on gravel takes you down the roads less travelled, and back to the grass roots of nature. You are much less likely to see a car on your travels, which allows you to choose a better path to ride, it’s just you, your bike and the road!
They also don't put gravel roads through the very centre of town anymore, so to ride on them, you are usually somewhere a little more remote. This means the views and scenery you experience are so much more likely to make the challenge worth while.
The 'style' of riding is different to that which you would be accustomed to on the road. Traction becomes a much bigger focus, so you may find that you need to stay seated on the climbs, and grind through the steeper sections, and there is always the risk that your rear wheel skid underneath you at the loss of grip.
Perhaps there are more dangers and difficulties to look out for, but trepidation and adventure go hand in hand. You can come away with a real sense of satisfaction to have gotten through your rides on gravel, with a feeling that you’ve achieved something.
When you’re travelling down a long and dusty road the last thing you will see is, well pretty much everything. You’re very unlikely to come across any shops, and less likely to see cars, so if you have a mechanical and have to get off and walk, it could be a very long walk.
Gravel grinding requires better preparation. How much food should I take? Should I fit a bigger cluster? What tyres should I run? Should I take a second tube, a chain breaker and a quick link?
Riders new to gravel should really route their rides through towns at regular intervals, and you’ll learn pretty quickly that just because there’s a town name on a map doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a shop or even anything there.
Be mindful that in some country areas you are less likely to get phone reception and it is always important to let someone know where you are going in the event of an emergency.
You should start small and perhaps ride on short, easy gravel rides before trying something big. It is much better to discover that a particular set of tyres is unsuitable for gravel on a short ride rather than on a long one.
Safety is really important on gravel rides in remote areas. Consider taking a PLB (personal locator beacon) if you are venturing off the grid. Pack a small first aid kit (we love the pack from the guys at Road Rash Kit) and preferably ride with others.
The great thing about gravel grinding is that it is a whole new challenge. Whilst its not everyone’s cup of tea, its popularity is certainly on the rise, and the great thing about gravel riding is that it opens up whole new areas to ride, and the best thing is it’s a whole different experience.