If you’re looking for a thrilling new sport to try that helps you reconnect with the great outdoors – and possibly even compete, if you have a passion for pitting your skills against others – then why not try gravel riding? This form of cycling has become increasingly popular over the years, providing a fun-filled middle ground between mountain biking and road cycling.
Despite what the name suggests, gravel riding can introduce you to a rich variety of terrains, not just gravel tracks. You could find yourself gliding along tranquil wooded pathways, breezing down unpaved ranch roads and farm tracks, or braving shale and and dust in sunny, wide-open Kansas (home to the highly popular Unbound gravel race, which attracts thousands of entrants each year). There are breath-taking gravel bike trails dotted across the US, providing plenty of opportunity for exploration and adventure – not to mention plenty of exercise.
First things first, though, let’s dig a little deeper into the world of gravel riding and find out what it involves and why you may want to give it a try.
What Is Gravel Cycling?
The simplest definition of gravel riding is that it’s a type of cycling that takes you along unpaved surfaces, such as dirt roads and – of course – gravel tracks.
While the official name of this particular cycling discipline is very recent, with the term ‘gravel cycling’ having only come into being during the last few years, people have actually been pursuing this sport for decades, dating back to the nineteenth century.
However, it has undergone something of a renaissance in very recent times, thanks to the numerous advantages it brings for both mental and physical health. Here are some of the most significant.
The Benefits Of Gravel Cycling
- It Provides Adventure And Relaxation In The Natural World
One of the most obvious advantages of this sport is that it allows you to explore vast areas and discover new sights and locations that you may not have found otherwise.
It is also highly accessible, particularly in the US, which is home to a staggering 2.2 million miles’ worth of unpaved paths and roadways for gravel cyclists to explore. These range from humble farm tracks to disused oil roads and even former railway tracks.
Besides the thrill of exploration and adventure, gravel cycling offers a way for people to relax and recharge their batteries in the great outdoors. The events of the last few years have brought home to many of us the various benefits of spending time in nature, which include reduced stress levels, improved quality of sleep, and even a reduction in the risk of cancer.
- It’s Safer
Another substantial benefit of gravel cycling is that it’s safer than riding on the roads, as you won’t need to contend with traffic. However, it’s also not as challenging as mountain biking, so there is less risk of suffering a nasty tumble – unless, of course, you have opted to enter the notoriously dangerous Paris-Roubaix (also known as the Hell of the North).
- It’s A Great Workout
Although you can opt to take it slow while gravel riding, and pootle along gently winding country lanes and bucolic farm tracks flanked by pastures filled with grazing cows, gravel cycling can also be a lot more strenuous if you choose. Depending on the terrain, you could find yourself facing a hardcore workout that boosts your cardiovascular health and engages both your upper and lower body. In other words, it’s an ideal strength-training session, as well as being a scenic way to get acquainted with the countryside.
Getting Started As A Gravel Cyclist
If you are keen to start tapping into the benefits of gravel riding for yourself, then the first thing to do is to buy all of the right equipment. If you already have a road bike, you can probably use this to begin with – as long as you make sure to reduce the tire pressure, ideally to between 30 and 45 psi, for better traction.
However, if you want to make a regular habit of gravel cycling then it may be best to invest in a specially designed gravel bike, of which there are many to choose from; each model suited to various kinds of gravel or terrain. Depending on the type of bike you want, you may have to part with several thousand dollars; however, a perfectly sound bike can be found for less than $1500. It’s all down to what kind of features and design you are looking for, and what you want to do with the bike when you have brought it home.
Of course, once you have shelled out a few thousand bucks on your new gravel bike, it’s a good idea to get it insured, in case of damage or theft, among other things. Fortunately, you can easily find a good gravel bike insurance policy with the help of Velosurance, which specialize in bike insurance for cyclists of all persuasions.
The Helpful Extras
Once you have your trusty steed sorted out, you will also want to invest in some useful kit to make your gravel riding adventures as safe and enjoyable as possible.
A patch kit is always recommended for any form of cycling, but could come in particularly handy when you are gravel cycling, as you never know when your tires could encounter something sharp.
Some of the other useful accessories you may wish to invest in include clip-on mudguards for soggy conditions; spare tire tubes, regardless of whether or not you are using tubeless tires; sealant; and a portable pump.
When it comes to gravel riding, it’s always best to be prepared, as you never know what you may encounter on those unpaved trails. It’s also highly recommended that you take plenty of essentials for yourself as well, including a first aid kit, hydration packs, a torch, and a GPS to help you navigate if you get lost. You should also always have a cell phone to hand in case you need to call for help.
Gravel Bike Racing
If you have a competitive nature and you are looking for an exhilarating new form of contest, then you may want to expand your new gravel cycling activities to encompass gravel racing.
This is a competition that has rapidly grown in popularity around the world, including in America. As a result, you will find plenty of races to consider, held throughout the year and offering the opportunity to test your skills against other keen competitors – and different types of challenging terrain.
To add even more appeal, some of these races command a hefty prize pot; for instance, the Barry-Roubaix (a tribute to the infamous Paris race) offers a grand total of $34,000 in potential winnings.
As you can see, it’s no surprize that gravel riding has blossomed into such a popular activity, not just in the US but across the globe.
Besides the opportunities it affords to explore new areas, make new like-minded friends, and even potentially compete, perhaps most importantly gravel riding offers a means of boosting your physical and mental well-being while having fun on two wheels. With so many benefits to enjoy, it seems highly likely that the number of gravel riders across the USA will only continue to grow in coming months and years.