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Gravel Cycling Guide – Training and Developing Skills

By Jiri Kaloc

With varying terrain and race formats, gravel cycling offers a wide range of challenges for riders of all skill levels. This guide will help you prepare for gravel races by addressing training and skill development, as well as how to handle unexpected situations that may arise during a race.

Training for gravel racing

Gravel cycling demands a multifaceted approach to training, as the terrain and conditions can vary greatly from race to race. Depending on the type of event you choose, your training should focus on different aspects:

  • Long endurance events, such as the legendary Unbound Gravel, require long hours in the saddle to build the necessary endurance and acclimate your body, mind, and equipment to the challenges ahead.
  • Shorter, technical races call for more emphasis on intensity and bike-handling skills.
  • Gravel stage races necessitate a balance of intensity and volume to prepare your body for consecutive days of racing.

When it comes to building endurance, you can use the same principles you would for any other type of cycling. Check out our article for examples of what endurance training sessions should look like. When building intensity for shorter gravel races, you should check out some of our lactate-threshold workouts for inspiration. One thing that you’ll need, regardless of the type of race, is gravel-specific skills. Let’s take a closer look at those.

Climbing steep gravel
Gravel cycling tests you’re your handling skills on a variety of different surfaces and obstacles and gravel racing events are typically really long. 

Developing gravel cycling skills

Bike handling is crucial for gravel cycling success, as the terrain can range from smooth dirt roads to technical singletrack. Riding on rough and unstable surfaces with relatively narrow tyres and little to no suspension will force you to develop specialized skills. Some key skills to practice include the following.

  • Cornering on your gravel bike: Keep the bike more upright and avoid aggressive leaning when navigating loose gravel turns.
  • Climbing steep gravel: Lower your chest toward the handlebar and scoot forward in the saddle to maintain traction on steep inclines.
  • Managing downhills: Start in a position with your pedals levelled, your butt hovering over the saddle, knees and elbows bent, chin above your stem, and your eyes forward. This position allows you to keep the bike stable and in a straight line through soft surfaces and harsh bumps.
  • Braking on gravel bikes: Modulate your braking intensity to maintain control and avoid skidding.
  • Pedalling over rough terrain: Maintain a steady cadence and apply even power to keep traction on challenging surfaces.

Better gravel cycling skills save energy, help you go faster, and keep you safe. For a more in-depth look at these, check out our gravel cycling skills article.

Crisis management for gravel cycling

Gravel cycling can present a variety of unexpected challenges, from mechanical issues to sudden changes in weather. Being prepared for these situations will give you peace of mind and the ability to handle adversity during a long gravel ride or race. Some key aspects of crisis management include the following.

  • Carry essential tools and supplies, such as spare tubes, a pump, a multitool, and a tyre boot to slip between your tube and the tyre in case of a sidewall cut.
  • Know how to perform basic repairs, like fixing a flat tyre or a broken chain, and practice these skills, especially before a race.
  • Develop strategies for handling physical or mental setbacks, like hitting the wall or dealing with unpleasantly cold or wet weather.

By preparing in advance and practising essential skills, you’ll be better equipped to tackle the unique challenges of gravel cycling and enjoy a successful race experience. The next article in the series will be about the last piece of the gravel puzzle – nutrition and hydration.

Next up in Gravel Cycling Guide series