What is Gravel Cycling?
You’ve probably heard it mentioned, or you’ve already been kind of obsessed with it, but it seems like everyone is getting involved with gravel cycling. Not only a great means of exercise but also equally exhilarating and peaceful, gravel cycling could be your next favourite activity.
Let’s dig into everything you’ll ever want to know about gravel cycling.
What exactly is gravel cycling?
Gravel cycling is kind of in-between road cycling and mountain biking. Basically, it is cycling on unpaved roads, and plot twist, they don’t have to be gravel. Anything from gravel, sand, crushed concrete, off-the-beaten paths, etc. Basically, anywhere you can bike that isn’t paved, you can pretty much dub it gravel cycling.
And that’s what makes it so fun and exciting. You’re not just on your normal route cycling to work on the road. Instead, you’re experiencing varying terrains, paying attention to how your bike handles various types of ground coverings which, in turn, makes for a much more exhilarating riding experience.
Gravel biking is a great solo adventure but also lends itself to group rides. Whilst you can easily go out on your own, be sure to also check surrounding areas for scheduled races open for participation. Gravel cycling is just about everywhere - and for good reason.
How to dress for gravel cycling
Much like mountain biking, assessing both safety and weather conditions are two key components when properly dressing for gravel cycling. That and, of course, the type of terrain you’re going to be out on.
And, just like gravel biking is a mesh between road cycling and mountain biking, so is the attire. You can lean more towards road attire with the sleeker, lycra type of kit. Or take a more casual approach with shorts and lightweight and layered tops. It really is up to rider preference - usually, lycra comes out in more competitive gravel biking situations and a hybrid or more casual style is seen on multi-day rides.
Layering is always something to think about when curating kit for gravel cycling. Temperatures can change drastically on a long ride and having options if it gets cooler or warmer can make for a much more pleasant experience.
Let’s talk about specifically what kind of clothing you’ll want to wear on a gravel bike trip:
- Shorts or trousers that are quick-drying and stretchy are ideal. Also, as we mentioned above, many gravel riders will use lycra-style bibs as well. You can use them under your shorts or trousers or solo. Just make sure if you’re wearing bibs alone that you think about purchasing some with cargo-style pockets freeing you up to use a looser fitting top. You can also find bibs with reinforced thighs to aid in the off chance you slide on gravel during your ride.
- Speaking of tops, moisture-wicking, lightweight tee shirts are ideal for gravel biking. Coupled with a lightweight and breathable zip-up jacket, you’ll easily be able to adjust to transitional months when the weather is not as steady.
- Well-fitting socks that are moisture-wicking and breathable are also a must. SealSkinz socks are also waterproof and aid in preventing blisters. This is due to the fact that moisture in the means of sweat vapour is pushed out of the stock but moisture from rain, puddles, mud, sand, etc., is kept from getting in the sock as well. This creates a dry and comfortable environment perfect for gravel cycling.
- Find a hat that can fit under your helmet to help protect you from the elements. Our All Weather Cycling Cap protects you from sun and wind, plus it’s 100% waterproof so it’ll keep you dry as well.
- If you know you’ll be encountering weather, you can also opt for a gaitor. Choose a waterproof gaitor that fits securely under your helmet. Bonus points if rolls down when you don’t need it.
- Gloves that help you stay in control by providing exceptional grip and dexterity are a great piece of gear to have with you at all times. You can buy gravel cycling gloves that are suitable for warmer weather where you still want the added control but need a breathable and lightweight glove. Or, you can find warmer gloves that are properly insulated, or even heated, to keep you comfortable on your ride.
Gravel cycling safety tips
Gravel biking can be unpredictable given the terrain fluctuations, as well as maneuvering out of the saddle at various points throughout your ride. That being said, you’ll want to make sure you are relaxed and ready to ready to tackle all of the bumps and breaks in your ride. Sounds counterintuitive, but relaxing into the ride will give you the feeling of a more weightless experience versus a crazy holding on for dear life experience.
Aside from being relaxed and conditioning yourself to ride safely, you’ll want to make sure you’re properly outfitted to stay safe and seen. Carrying the necessary additional kit is pretty essential to gravel biking since you’re often in more remote areas and have to make sure you’re self-sufficient. Here are our top four extras to pack on any gravel cycling trip:
- Repair Tools - Packing a pump, tubes, and repair tools are key. You want to be prepared and since gravel biking takes you on all types of terrain, you never know when you’re going to need some emergency patchworking.
- Multitool - A multitool is another essential. Wear and tear come fast when you’re taking on gravel biking and a multitool will help if anything needs tweaking along the way.
- Food & Water - Overestimate what you think you might need and pack a little extra. Easy-to-peel fruit, bars, nuts, and trail mix (see our favourite recipe here) are all energy boosters and could come in handy if you’re out for a long ride. And, of course, bring as much water as your bike can store.
- Storage Solution - As we mentioned above a lot of bibs and shorts come with deep pockets to help you carry all of these essentials. But, investing in a storage bag could make a huge difference and allow you to safely store money, a phone, a charger, etc. as well.
- GPS - If you can swing it in your cycling budget, a GPS monitor is an amazing tool to have. Remember, gravel cycling is more remote and having the knowledge of your route and mapping capabilities is a good safety feature.
Do you need a gravel bike?
The short of it is, yes it’s a good idea to invest in a gravel bike. They’re first and foremost very versatile. You can go from road to gravel with no worries and they stand up to even the toughest terrains.
And the versatility doesn’t stop at the terrain options - it also is a factor in the tyres. You can swap out tyres of various sizes and treads quite easily on a gravel bike.
The best gravel cycling routes in the UK
So after all that, you’re probably ready to get on with it and hop on your bike. We’ve got a list of our personal favourite cycling routes in the UK. Based on purely personal preference, these are some of our favourites to tackle when out on our gravel bikes:
- Lake District - Obvious choice with a mixture of tracks it keeps you on your toes yet the scenery just makes it
- Chiltern Hills - Make it to the top of Wendover Woods and you’ve got views for miles
- Salisbury Plain - Mostly gravel, you’ll be able to also stop off in the town of Netheravon for a pint or a meal.
- Cambrian Mountains - Situated in Wales, this route is challenging yet serene full of climbs and adventure
With a little preparation and preparedness, you’ll be ready to go on a ride in no time. Make sure you’re also wearing the proper hat, socks, and gloves for your ride. SealSkinz waterproof accessories are made for gravel biking and protect you from more than just rain and water. They keep you blister-free, comfortable, and ready for long rides out on the trail.