VP Scott’s 10 Tips For Riding Gravel

Gravel riding offers a level of exploration beyond that of paved roads. Rail Trails, unmaintained roads, unpaved roads, fields, single or double track, all are avenues to take you deeper and further into the world of exploring by bike. Here in Northumberland County, we have endless opportunity to ride gravel- rarely a route is ridden that doesn’t have you roll past an unpaved road or trail through the woods or fields. Our VP has spent a lot of time riding around these back roads so we asked Scott to give us 10 Tips for Riding Gravel. Here they are, along with some pics from recent off road adventures.

  1. PREPARE YOUR BIKE One of the most important things you can do to prepare your bike for a ride is to make sure it’s in good basic mechanical shape. That means giving it a good service and making sure there’s plenty of meat on the brake pads, the drivetrain isn’t worn and all the cables, bearings and other parts are running smoothly.
  2. ENSURE PROPER AIR PRESSURE IN THE TIRES. Rule of thumb for this one is the wider the tire, the lower the pressure. If your setup is Tubeless you can usually run even less pressure as you won’t risk a pinch flat. Lower pressure in your tires allows the tire the conform to the terrain and provide a more stable ride. If your tires are hard, they may bounce off rocks which will make bike handling more difficult. You should be able to squeeze your tire and feel some give. Side Note: Knowing the terrain on your route will help you determine the right pressure for your tires. Rail Trail vs. Unmaintained road vs. unpaved roads are all very different surfaces
  3. PICK A LUBE THAT SUITS THE TERRAIN OF YOUR RIDE This means choosing between Wet or Dry Lube. Wet should be used for early spring, wet or muddy conditions. Dry for summer, dry and dusty conditions.
  4. PREPARE YOUR SADDLE BAG: Include tools, tubes, air pump etc to help you with any trail side maintenance you may need to do. Getting comfortable with basic roadside repair is a real asset- changing a tire, etc. Carrying a Chain tool + spare link are super important for gravel rides- conditions are less consistent than riding on pavement and therefore a little more likely to put strain on your components. I’d also suggest carrying a Tire Boot as well as having 3, 4 + 5mm Allen keys on hand- those 3 sizes will cover most minor repairs.
  5. EAT AND DRINK ACCORDING TO YOUR DISTANCE: Bring extra water and snacks as there may be long stretches without places to restock. Bonking while you’re deep in the woods or trails isn’t a great idea- it may take a while for your call-a-friend to locate you.
  6. PICK A ROUTE THAT SUITS YOUR FITNESS AND EXPERIENCE LEVEL. As mentioned above, gravel riding can vary from fairly easy to very challenging. There are lots of online services like Komoot, Ride With GPS and Strava that can help you plan a route based on terrain, distance and elevation. There are also several online communities and Facebook Groups that share great information on routes where you can ask questions before you head out.
  7. PLAN YOUR ROUTE so you know where you can get replacement fluids, food and even shelter if needed. Please remember that a 50K gravel ride will take longer than a 50K road ride and factor that time difference into your day. Estimate that you will be approximately 5-10kph slower than your average road speed when on gravel.
  8. CHECK THE WEATHER FORECAST You may need to pack layers for varying conditions, or pack extra fluid for a hot day. Remember that gravel riding takes your father away from conveniences so being prepared is super important.
  9. LEAVE LOTS OF SPACE When riding with others, give lots of space between yourself and the person in front and behind you.This allows you time to react to obstacles up ahead like pot holes, sticks, an animal crossing the path, a rider falling over, etc. Riding close together on gravel can be dangerous.
  10. HAVE FUN AND ENJOY THE SCENERY. This is truly what gravel riding is all about.