“I eat gravel for breakfast. Haha.”
You thought the goal was to find the smoothest pavement possible for endless miles of rumble-free bliss, but after a few spins through gravel you just might change your mind. Gravel’s all the rage these days, so we decided to dig into the nitty gritty of the grind and find out why.
Who better to chat with than Jason Britton, who apparently eats it for breakfast. He’s also the Web Developer at Sellwood Cycles who says he spends most of his waking moments “thinking about and planning bike adventures”
JASON BRITTON TALKS THE GRIT OF GRAVEL
What’s the attraction to gravel?
For me, it’s really about the locale. Riding on gravel roads usually means that I’m off the beaten path and miles from the next town. The road conditions change, and the challenge of keeping my momentum going is something that motivates me. It’s like mountain biking on roads.
Where have you been on gravel?
I’ve ridden lots of places in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and a bit in Southern California. The mountains behind my parents house outside of LA are filled with fire roads. Every time I visit, I explore more of the area that I took for granted growing up.
So what do you see out there that you wouldn’t otherwise experience?
There are lots of dead animals. Abandoned churches, schools, and houses. Time moves a lot slower on unimproved roads, and I enjoy the quiet. The scenery tends to be a bit more dramatic as well, especially when you’re 100 miles into a 127 mile route.
What would you consider your favorite gravel route?
Hands down Velodirt’s Oregon Stampede. On a clear day you can see Jefferson, Hood, Adams, St. Helens, and Rainier from the top of Center Ridge Rd. The roads are quiet, the wildlife is abundant, and the terrain is beautiful. Drinking a cold beer with your feet in the Deschutes before climbing out of the river valley is one of the best feelings in the world.
What tips would you offer for success on gravel?
Stay loose on the bike. Pedal a light gear if possible and don’t be afraid to let the bike move under you. Road conditions change constantly, so move around to find the right line.
What your preferred gravel steed?
I prefer a steel road bike that accepts wider tires. I have a Kona Honky Tonk that I run 32c tires on. They are big enough to plow through the deep stuff, but round enough to be efficient on pavement as well.
There’s a lot of talk about riding gravel right now. Why do you think that is?
In my opinion, the gravel “scene” is more about having a good time with friends than anything else. Generally free, most races or events aim to bring people together for the sake of fun. I think that the combination of good people and something different is a big part of why it’s really taking off. And for the most part, you don’t need anything special to do it.
TIPS FOR ROCKIN GRAVEL
* Don’t death grip your bars. Hang on loosely and don’t be tempted to hover over your brakes.
* Don’t brake.
* Forward motion creates balance; ride through it.
* Hold a straight line as best you can, sideways movements are what create skidouts.
* Your rear wheel may slip, but don’t freak out – you are not going down (unless you freak out).
* Take a deep breath and exhale forecefully as you go through a sketchy, rutty area. That exhale will get you through it like magic.
* No fenders, especially if you’re on a wooded trail.
Uphill is easier than downhill so start with a modest climb or flat route. Choose something not too deep or too long.
A nice introductory route in Portland is the Salzman Rd. Trail through Forest Park, provided you can handle the 1,500 elevation gain that comes over the course of about four miles. The climb is consistent. but rarely over about a 4% grade. The road has pavement underneath with a light dusting of gravel on top making for a bit more stability than some gravel routes.
DO YOU RIDE GRAVEL?
Tell us what you think in the comments below.