Exciting times are here! We’ve declared 2018 the Year of the Gravel Ride.
Riding gravel roads is nothing new; motorcyclists and adventuresome cyclists have been hiding themselves on these off the beaten path routes for generations. But as cycling has risen in popularity, proficient riders have started to become weary of sharing their serene time with cars, traffic, noise and debris. So many have taken to the back roads, where sure, the surface might at first seem challenging but the reward is so very sweet.
The Year of the Gravel Ride
So why is 2018 The Year of the Grave Ride? Because no longer an underground or emerging-in-popularity riding discipline, supported rides are popping up in our region that have nothing to do with competition or racing – they’re simply pleasure cruises on the back roads with support. It all started with the Art of Survival Century launching a second day of their wildly popular Memorial Day Weekend ride out in the remote hinterlands on the border of Oregon and California. Day one is a traditional century ride. Day two is all about gravel – a gorgeous route through the Butte Valley in California, snaking up to hidden Juanita Lake (with pancakes at the rest stop there!).
And now the heavy hitters of Cycle Oregon are launching the aptly named October ride: Gravel. This event is sure to be an awesome weekend – Cycle Oregon truly knows how to treat their guests very well.
Support Rides To Help You Get Started
In the past if you wanted to try riding your bike on a gravel route, you were pretty much on your own. But now with these supported rides, it’s a little easier to break into the scene. Sure, the courses are rather remote and you should still come very prepared to be as sufficient as you can, but you won’t be carrying your overnighting gear and there are rest stops (ahhhh… rest stops!).
Now with a few tips, a little gumption and a thoughtful approach, you’ll be good to go. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
Tips for Riding Gravel
Your Bike Matters
If you don’t have a gravel-ready bike, you can probably make a few adjustments to your current bike to help get ready to at least dip your toes in the grit and see what you think, before you invest in an all-road/gravel bike.
Go really fat on the tires and consider your bike’s geometry. Make any of the adjustments you can to reduce an overly aggressive position.
If you are considering getting a gravel-specific bike (also sometimes called all-road), here are some suggestions from Bikepacking.com.
Wheels matter more than most people ever realize. A great wheel set can make for a buttery ride.
Consider custom wheels from Portland-based Sugar Wheel Works for a life-changing ride experience. These hand-built gems are designed specifically for your riding style, your budget and your aesthetics with experts to guide you through those decisions. Plan for something light weight, sprightly and resistant to pinch flats. Maybe even go for tubeless tires, but that’s a personal choice. (Read more about tubeless from our Resident Mechanic Tori Bortman of Gracie’s Wrench here and here.
Maintain Your Speed
Forward motion creates balance. When you’re nervous, this seems counter-intuitive, but maintaining your speed will help you float through the gravel. Stay in control and if you feel you’re going to fast for a descent, lightly feather your brakes to reduce your speed. Definitely never slam on the brakes – that’s a recipe for skidding out and wiping out.
Become One With Your Bike
Feel the bike, know the bike. Allow your bike to fishtail and sometimes slosh through the gravel. It’s going to feel radically different than pavement and you’re probably going to doubt your stability – but don’t. Trust your skill and balance and keep moving forward.
Riding gravel is a more dynamic experience and you know, that’s probably a big reason so many people are attracted to it.
Get Out There and Clock Some Miles
We could go on and on about how to prepare for gravel, but the best way to become more comfortable is to get out there and clock some miles. Sign up for Gravel (October 5-7) and commit. Then head out on some approachable gravel routes to familiarize yourself.
The best cheater intro ride in the Portland-area is Saltzman Road. It’s an approachable not-really-gravel-but-kind-of-gravel route through Forest Park that will wow you, and truly help you get comfortable 101 style… especially if you like a sustained (but totally do-able) climb. You can see the route here.