In the past few years, gravel riding has gained an incredible amount of popularity. The bike industry has been flooded with gravel specific bikes, pros and amateurs alike have flocked to gravel races, and the number of people and bike tire tracks seen out on those rocky roads have steadily increased. There are a lot of reasons contributing to this latest trend. As spring approaches and the gravel dries and temperatures rise, it’s the perfect time to give it a try!
A big force steering many riders to the gravel is the fact that the paved roads are becoming less safe with a growing number of distracted drivers. And while the gravel is still open to cars, the number of vehicles encountered is significantly less than most country paved roads. In a lot of places it is possible to go over 15 miles without seeing a single car.
Also, despite all of the marketing of gravel specific bikes, almost any type of bike can be used for this type of riding which means the barrier to entry is quite low. Cyclocross bikes with moderate width tires are the most common, but people also ride mountain, fat, hybrid, and even road bikes.
A variety of bikes can be used on gravel because the conditions are always changing. During the right time of year, many of the roads are almost like pavement when all of the big gravel chunks have worked their way into the road, making it smooth dirt. Other times, there are long stretches of big, chunky gravel if they have recently put down fresh rock. But most of the time, it’s something in between and is small gravel that is fairly fast but requires constant vigilance. There are usually steep hills that take practice in order to maintain traction in the loose rock. Because of the ever changing conditions, riding gravel is one of the best ways to work on bike handling skills.
In addition to all of this, one of my personal reasons for venturing out onto the gravel is the scenery. The endless hills roll into the distance like ocean waves. The sun streams through a cloud of dust and the wildflower meadows go on as far as the eye can see. There are cows, llamas, horses, and historic barns and covered bridges. Listen closely. It’s quiet and serene. Gravel riding is marked by the sound of labored breathing when climbing a steep hill. Then the gravel “tinks” off the bike as it blasts down the hill.
Riding on the gravel is a pure and simple endeavor. It requires no special bike or training, and it rewards the rider with a great workout and incredible experience. Start the adventure; it may take some trial and error to discover the best roads, but it will be worth it!