Gravel biking is quickly becoming one of the most popular outdoor activities, and it’s no wonder why! From its extreme versatility to its relative affordability, this sport has something to offer everyone, regardless of their riding experience. Whether you’re new to the sport or an experienced veteran, you can find something to enjoy about gravel biking.
With its unique blend of mountain biking and road riding, gravel biking gives you access to a wide variety of terrain, from smooth, easy trails to challenging off-road routes. Plus, it’s relatively easy and inexpensive to get started, as most of the gear needed is fairly affordable and easy to find.
So, if you’re looking for an exciting new way to explore the outdoors, gravel biking might be the perfect option for you! In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about gravel biking, including its benefits, tips, and more.
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What is gravel biking?
Gravel biking is a cycling activity that involves riding on unpaved trails and gravel surfaces, including dirt roads and Byways (regional roads). While it can possibly be traced back to the ‘80s, it didn’t get its official title until 2012, when the term was introduced as a new category in the Adventure Cycling Association’s Bike Route Classification System.
Today, gravel biking has become incredibly popular, with riders of varying experience levels enjoying the sport across the globe. Gravel biking is a great option for outdoor enthusiasts who want to enjoy a wide variety of terrain types and settings, from scenic, smooth paths to challenging, rugged routes.
While the activity is similar to mountain biking, with the difference being the type of surface being ridden on, gravel biking is equally as good on road rides and more.
Benefits of gravel biking
Gravel biking offers a wide range of benefits, perfect for anyone looking to get more out of their outdoor adventures. Here are some of the biggest benefits to consider:
Improved fitness and health - Cycling adventures on unpaved trails often involve climbing hills and pedaling up steep inclines, which are great for improving your cardiovascular health, stamina, and leg strength. Whether you’re tackling a short, easy trail or a long, challenging route, you’ll be able to improve your fitness and overall health, which can improve your quality of life.
Mental health benefits - Riding gravel trails also has mental health benefits, providing an opportunity to relax and unwind from a busy, stressful life. Whether you decide to take a short, easy ride or a long, challenging route, you’ll be able to clear your head and think more clearly.
Variety of terrain types - Riding gravel trails gives you access to a wide variety of terrain types and settings, including smooth paths, winding dirt roads, and challenging, rugged routes. This allows you to explore different terrain types and settings, giving you access to a wide range of outdoor experiences.
Access to diverse communities - Another benefit of riding gravel trails is that they give you access to a diverse range of communities, including nearby cities and towns. By combining two of the most popular outdoor activities, you’ll be able to access a wide variety of communities.
Gear and equipment needed for gravel biking
It’s important to have the right gear and equipment for any type of cycling adventure, including gravel biking. To ensure you’re well-equipped for any gravel biking adventure, check out the following gear and equipment:
Gravel Bike - You’ll need a bike that’s built for off-road riding, with wider tires for better traction and durability. If you don’t have a specific gravel bike, you can still ride on unpaved trails, just be sure to adjust your tire pressure to suit the terrain.
Helmet - You should always wear a helmet when cycling, especially on off-road routes. It’s important to wear a helmet to protect your head in the event of a fall or collision.
Gloves - You’ll also want to wear gloves to protect your hands, especially when riding on rough, rocky surfaces.
Shoes - You should also wear protective shoes to help shield your feet from rocks and other debris found on gravel trails, while affording all day long cycling comfort and support.
First-aid kit - Always bring a first-aid kit on any cycling adventure, including gravel riding. It’s important to have the necessary tools on hand in the event of an injury.
Hydration and nutrition - You should also bring plenty of hydration and nutrition, especially if you plan on going on a long trail. Bring plenty of water and food to fuel your ride.
Getting started with gravel biking
If you’re interested in getting started with gravel biking, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you’ll want to decide what type of riding you’re most interested in.
Are you looking for smooth, paved paths or extreme, challenging off-road routes? Next, you’ll want to decide what type of bike suits your riding style.
Do you prefer a drop bar bike, or a straight bar bike? You’ll also want to decide what type of gear and equipment will work best for you. Are you interested in going with a carbon fiber bike frame, alloy or a steel frame?
You may well have the perfect gravel bike at home gathering dust in your garage: a simple hardtail mountainbike or a hybrid trekking bike make perfect gravel bikes, without having to spend a fortune on an all-new dedicated gravel machine. Once you’ve made your choice and got your perfect bike, you’re ready to hit the trails!
Gravel biking tips for beginners
If you’re new to the sport of gravel biking and aren’t sure where to start, don’t worry! We’ve got you covered. Follow these tips to help you get started with the sport:
Start with an easy trail - When you’re first getting started with gravel biking, it’s important to start with an easy trail or route. This will allow you to get used to the sport and feel comfortable riding.
Build up your endurance - Cycling is a challenging sport, and it can help you improve your fitness, but only if you put in the work. To build up your endurance, try riding more often or increasing your ride distance.
Invest in good gear - When it comes to riding gravel, you never know what type of terrain you’ll have to ride on. Be prepared for anything by investing in good gear, including a durable, reliable bike and protective gear, such as gloves, helmets, and shoes.
Gravel biking safety tips
While gravel biking is an exciting, fun sport, it’s important to follow safety precautions to help keep you out of harm’s way. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind if you’re participating in the sport:
Stay hydrated - Cycling can be challenging and exhausting, which makes hydration incredibly important. Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout your ride to help keep you hydrated and energized.
Wear protective gear - Cycling is a challenging sport, and it’s important to wear protective gear at all times. Always wear a helmet and gloves to protect your head and hands in the event of a fall or collision.
Know your limits - It’s important to know your limits when it comes to riding gravel. Stay away from challenging terrain, and always follow the 10% rule when deciding whether or not a trail is right for you.
Ride with a partner - It’s important to ride with a partner, especially if you’re new to the sport. Riding with a partner can help keep you safe and encourage you to push yourself.
Gravel biking routes and maps
When riding gravel trails, you’ll likely come across many different routes. Some routes are short, easy paths, while others are long, challenging routes.
While you can choose the route you want to take, it’s important to take note of the distance so you know how long your ride will be. Another helpful tool to have on hand when riding gravel trails is a map, be it printed or digital.
A map is helpful when riding with a group or with friends, helping you all stay on track and reach your destination. If you’re interested in riding gravel trails near you, you can use sites like Trailforks, Routzz or Ride with GPS, which allow you to search nearby trails and review different routes.
Gravel biking events
As you become more involved with the gravel biking community, you’ll likely come across various events, such as local rides and races. Participation in these events is a fun and exciting way to get to know other gravel bikers, as well as to challenge yourself and improve your riding skills.
Plus, you’ll often have the opportunity to ride unique routes and visit new places. When you’re planning to attend a gravel biking event for the first time, make sure to do your research so you know what to expect.
This includes knowing the route ahead of time, what gear you need, and anything else you should keep in mind. Additionally, make sure to ride safely and follow any rules and guidelines set by the event organizers.
Gravel biking community
Gravel biking is a fairly new sport, but you'll find a ton of information and gear online. You’ll likely come across small, and enthusiastic, communities of people who love sharing their experiences with others. With that said, you may find it challenging to find people with whom you can ride when you’re just getting started.
This is why it’s important to get involved with the community as soon as possible. One of the best out there is Bikepacking.com. Joining online groups, participating in local events, and attending gravel biking workshops are just a few ways to meet other people who share your interests and ride style.
Once you’ve connected with this supportive community, you’ll have access to new gear, tips, and information that can help you along your gravel biking journey.
Gravel biking resources for beginners
If you’re new to the sport of gravel biking and are interested in trying it out, but aren’t sure where to start, there are a few resources and tips you can keep in mind - without going out and buying an expensive new bike!
First and foremost, it’s important to make sure your bike is ready for gravel riding. This means replacing the standard road tires with wider, more durable tires (here's where a mountain or hybrid bike makes a better fit that a narrow framed road bike!). Additionally, you may want to consider purchasing a wider handlebar to give you extra control and comfort.
Once your bike is set up for gravel riding, it’s time to purchase a few essentials that are necessary for riding on gravel. This includes a bike repair kit, tire repair kit, and some basic tools. It’s also helpful to wear appropriate gear, such as a helmet and gloves, to protect yourself from potential hazards.
Whether you’re new to off road riding or an experienced veteran, you can find something to enjoy about gravel biking. With its unique blend of mountain biking and road riding, gravel biking gives you access to a wide variety of terrain, from smooth, easy trails to challenging off-road routes. Here are two of my favourite routes to inspire you: Camino de Santiago in Spain and Rota Vicentina in Portugal.