If you frequent any cycling news-related websites at the minute, you’ll be met with a plethora of new bikes and kit aimed at gravel riding. But what is a gravel bike? Is it just a road bike that you can use on gravel paths? Or is it a mountain bike for people who don’t want to ride the more technical, treacherous trails?
For a lot of people there are more questions surrounding gravel bikes and riding than any other discipline, so we thought we’d assemble a quick guide to help you make sense of cycling’s latest craze!
What is gravel riding?
For the cynical among us, gravel riding is just a marketing term for something we’ve been doing for years. It’s a bandwagon the industry has jumped on to sell more bikes and more kit and, to an extent, that’s not far from the truth. Gravel riding, as the name implies, largely involves riding along mostly gravel or hard packed fire roads and trails on a bike that roughly resembles a road bike with big tyres and disc brakes. Nothing ground-breaking there then!
You can head out into the hills for a few hours and take in roads, fire roads or single-track if you really fancy it. Or you can pack up your bike and head away for the night and engage in another craze sweeping the industry; bike packing. It’s all riding and adventures you can have on pretty much any bike. So why do we have all this new kit specifically for the job that doesn’t need a specific tool for the job?
So, what is all this new kit and why do we need it?
You might not need a specific bike or kit, but what gravel riding has done is lead to an explosion of new bikes and kit that makes life out on the bike better. Gravel bikes are equally happy on the road as traditional road bikes but are so much more versatile. Bikes like the Cube Nuroad, the Scott Speedster Gravel and the GT Grade are all fast, comfortable bikes on the road, but have clearance for bigger tyres and geometry that is more stable at speed off-road. These bikes are proper quiver killers; with a gravel bike at your disposal you may no longer need a road bike, cyclocross bike or mountain bike!
You’ll see bikes covered in cleverly shaped bags to store a whole range of kit. These bags you use to lug a days or weekends worth of supplies around on your bike-packing escapades are also great for commuting to work with. Blackburn’s Outpost range has been designed specifically with this in mind, with large capacity frame, saddle and handle bar bags to accommodate all you’ll need and the kitchen sink. Ok, maybe not the kitchen sink, but you get the point!
The beauty of these bags is they can be removed and fitted in seconds; no more relying on pannier racks that add weight and hold you back when not in use. Your gravel bike can be ready to hit the weekend road club ride or head out on a multi-day epic in minutes, with next to no hassle.
Tyres is another area where the gravel craze has helped to improve on current offerings. This latest breed of tyres roll quickly on the road but offer excellent grip on loose gravel and also have excellent puncture protection. They’re another example of this growth in kit that works in a multitude of scenarios. Brands historically associated with both road and mountain biking have been getting in on the act, with Vittoria offering tyres like the Terreno Dry and Terreno Zero while Maxxis have entered the fray with the Rambler and Re-fuse.
What does it all mean?
It means there’s never been a better time to try something a little different! With the industry trying to pigeon hole us and our gear into ever slimmer categories, gravel bikes and riding defy categorisation; the industry might be trying to put a spin on it as they always do, but the truth is the bikes and gear coming to market is enabling more riders to get out in the wilds and do something different, while being better equipped for the task. That’s a win in our minds!
Some of the best rides we’ve had recently have involved a bit of everything on gravel bikes, taking in tarmac, gravel and even a bit of light trail centre riding! Gravel riding is a craze for a reason: it’s great fun and takes cycling back to its roots, getting out there and having fun!