The popularity of gravel riding is on the rise and with it, the number of gravel specific bikes on offer. But do you really need a whole new bike just to take a little off-road adventure on your next road ride? Don’t get me wrong, I own and love my gravel bike for multi-day off-road adventures. But with the right skills and mindset, there is nothing stopping you from taking a little gravel or dirt detour during your next road ride.
So what’s the key to riding gravel (better know as “groad”) or dirt both comfortably and safely on your road bike? Some bike handling skills learned during cyclocross racing and mountain biking come in handy when taking your skinny tires over rough terrain.
Keep Up Your Speed
While comfort is not often associated with riding gravel or dirt roads, there are ways to make it easier on your body. Much like riding through rock gardens on your mountain bike, the key is to keep up your speed — this enables the bike to float over the obstacles instead of auguring into the grooves between the cobbles or rocks. If this is your first time riding on gravel, start a little slower to get used to how your bike responds, then gradually build up your speed.
Move Your Weight Back
Shift your weight towards the back of the saddle and keep your hands on the front of the bars (not the hoods) for the most control. This enables the front of the bike to travel more freely over obstacles. While easier said than done when riding sketchy terrain, try to remain loose, allowing the bike to move underneath you.
Drop Your Cadence
As your bum and lower back are going to take the brunt of the beating, take a tip from cyclocross racers and shift into a harder gear (though not too hard), dropping your cadence to ride through the rough stuff. As you push harder against your pedals, some of the weight load will be transferred away from your backside and into your legs.
Choose Your Line
Most gravel roads feature areas that are smoother than others — car traffic usually pushed the gravel to one side or another. Look for these smooth areas and try to avoid piled up gravel, especially when heading downhill.
Make Small Bike Alterations
If you have the luxury of making a couple of alterations to your bike, try swapping out your tires for ones a bit wider — 25 cm or even 27 cm tires will make a big difference. Wider tires will not only make handling your bike easier, but you can use slightly lower pressure without the risk of punctures for better traction and comfort.
It also can’t hurt to throw an extra layer or bar tape of even some gel pads in your gloves to soak up a bit of the shock.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Riding rough terrain on any bike — skinny-tired or not — takes practice. As you gain confidence, you’ll be actively seeking out the roads less traveled on your next ride.