What is gravel cycling?
Gravel cycling got its name because it involves riding on unpaved, gravel roads and trails. It’s a rapidly growing sport that combines elements of road cycling, mountain biking, and adventure cycling. It typically involves riding on a road bike or a cyclocross bike that is equipped with wider tires to handle the rougher terrain. Gravel riders often encounter a range of obstacles such as loose gravel, steep climbs, and technical descents.
Gravel races are also unique and quite demanding. For one, all riders start together, regardless of age, sex, or performance level. Races also tend to be quite long. For example, Unbound Gravel started with a 200-mile event and later added 100-mile and 350-mile distances. The level of support riders receive on course differs greatly by event. Gravel races feature aid stations where riders can stop to replenish food and fluids. However, self-reliance is part of the ethos of gravel racing, so aid stations are often few and far between. So, what’s the draw, why are people drawn to this harsh discipline?
Why is gravel so popular?
To most people, riding hundreds of kilometres over bad terrain without much support sounds like something from a horror movie. But for many, that’s exactly why gravel cycling is appealing. Here are the main reasons cyclists fall in love with gravel.
- Adventure and exploration: Gravel cycling and racing often take place on remote and less-travelled roads, offering a sense of adventure and exploration that is hard to find on traditional paved roads.
- Scenery: Gravel routes often take riders through beautiful and scenic landscapes that are not easily accessible by car and too far when going on foot.
- Community: Gravel cycling and racing have built a strong and supportive community, with events often featuring a festival-like atmosphere and opportunities for socializing and networking. Mass starts make people feel like they are all in it together.
- Challenging terrain: Rough terrain, steep climbs, and technical descents offer a new challenge. This can be appealing to riders who enjoy pushing themselves to their limits.
- Safety: Many cyclists prefer riding on gravel to avoid those dangerous distracted or aggressive drivers in cars and trucks. By utilizing low-traffic gravel roads in rural areas, gravel race organizers reduce exposure to car traffic.
- Versatility: Gravel bikes are adaptable. You can plan routes that include pavement, gravel paths, and light single-track in one ride. Many gravel bikes feature mounts for frame bags and up to 3-4 water bottles so you can easily convert them for bike packing or commuting.
On that note, the next article of the series will explore how to choose the right bicycle and gear to deal with the challenges of riding on gravel.