The Art of Riding Gravel
By Ethan Egglestone
Whether you’re about to take part in your first gravel race or ride, or just want a change of scenery for training, riding on dirt isn’t quite the same as riding on the road. The VDR boys and I have compiled some tips on how to ride a bit more like Tiesj Benoot or Anna van der Breggen, and avoid an embarrassing crash on the dirt!
Before you actually get into stomping the gravel, you might want to make some changes to your equipment and set up. The obvious, and easiest, change to make is to drop your tyre pressures, you don’t want to hit the ruts with 120 PSI in the tyres. How low you can go really depends on how much you weigh, but some riders can get away with as little as 60PSI.
To aid this quest for lower pressure, tubular or tubeless setups are definitely recommended. This removes the issue of “pinch flatting” when you hit a bump. Tyre choice is also a consideration. Gravel rides really aren’t the best for pulling out your latest watt saving cotton wall tyre – you need something with a bit of strength on the side walls. A 25/28mm diameter tyre (or wider if your frame will allow), will not only give you more traction but will also help prevent punctures.
If it’s going to be a long day of dirt – then you probably want to pay attention to your chain, and in particular, it’s lubrication. Our pick for dirt? Pedalit Legend Lube. Don’t forget to make use of the VDR supporters discount code VDR10.
Finally, adding some tyre sealant always helps, in the event that you do puncture this liquid (generally) seals the hole before too much pressure is lost – and will let you keep on your way.
When riding gravel, it’s important to consider pedalling action (particularly if you want to keep up with faster riders!). A lower cadence than bitumen is recommended ~80rpm), with a focus on constant power output (ie a smooth 360-degree pedalling stroke) will help keep your tyres in full traction.
Another key point is to keep your upper body relaxed and to not fight the bike. A relaxed upper body works like a shock absorber, meaning the bike can move on the road as it needs. If you get tense that’s when you’ll be thrown off!
It’s also important to find the right line as every road is different. Making sure you are looking up the road is critical for avoiding corrugations, potholes, sand and gravel. Some roads the knuckle is the right line, whereas other days you’re better to follow the tyre tracks. Once you’ve found a good line, avoid any sudden turns or hard braking as you’ll quickly find yourself sliding along the ground. Paying attention to the rider in front is also very important – overlapping wheels is never the greatest idea – but it’s even worse when the road surface dictates where you are heading.
You’ll need to wash your bike down so you can do it all again – and the sooner you do it the better. Check out our bike cleaning vid from after the Sam Miranda Tour of King Valley here:
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