Gravel riding is becoming more and more popular and this has led to a huge growth in the number of gravel specific bikes being made, which offer a great blend of flexibility and toughness for cranking out the miles on the road while crushing trails and other routes that head off the beaten path.
While gravel bikes offer a great amount of performance and flexibility, gravel riding is something that most bikes can manage, especially mountain bikes and hybrid bikes.
Gravel can even be managed by road bikes, and if you’re someone who has a road bike and is curious about the pleasures of gravel riding, you can potentially use your road bike providing that you understand the route well, and are relatively confident and comfortable using your road bike in more challenging conditions.
However, while you can use your road bike on gravel, its best to make sure you avoid heavier gravel or more uneven surfaces that have larger, more loose gravel, as this can damage your bike and lead to accidents as the wheels on a road bike simple don’t provide the grip or stability necessary to negotiate these types of more technical and difficult trails.
For lighter gravel paths that are fairly solid and relatively flat or even however, a road bike should function well and while it might not be the most comfortable, it will definitely get you up that trail and may even work out better than some hybrids due to the lightness of road bikes and their aerodynamic design!
Understand your route
To use a road bike on gravel, it’s most advisable to make sure you know your route well and have considered the surface of the gravel track you intend to use.
Tracks with loose stones, large rocks and mud will be very difficult to negotiate for even the most experienced rider when using a road bike, and trying to do so can end in disaster for both you and your precious bike.
It’s best to stay on trails that are well trodden and relatively smooth and solid, as this will provide the stability you need to stay safe on your road bike.
It’s a good idea to try and stay in the middle of the track or in parts of the track that are most hard packed and solid, as road bikes need a stable surface in order to translate their power and keep good traction.
Road bikes are designed to enable riders to hold a low riding position and reduce wind resistance when moving at great speed on smooth, flat roads, and helps riders maintain incredibly high efficiency when riding on these types of routes.
Road cyclists will be accustomed to reaching incredibly high speeds using their positioning, their bikes wide range of gears and its lightness, however all of this will need to be totally reconsidered when you take your road bike off the road.
The simple truth is that gravel paths and trails are much less efficient than roads and don’t provide cyclists with the luxury of getting so low and reducing air resistance.
Off road cycling, even on gravel paths, requires cyclists to sit up on the bike and keep the chest up, with the arms straight out in front and slightly bent. This will provide much needed balance and stability and allow you to move around the bike, redistributing your weight quickly to maintain balance and stay in control at all times.
Riders also need to keep their weight over the back wheel as much as possible, which road cyclists won’t be used to and will find strange at first. This is especially important when riding downhill or when taking tight corners off road, as most of the power and stability comes from the rear wheel.
This is also important because riding offroad increases the chances of an unexpected obstacle sending you over the handlebars, which can result in terrible injuries, or a huge blow to your confidence, as well as your face.
Keeping your weight back helps you to avoid this, and lowering the saddle is an important thing to consider when heading off the road to help assist this.
Naturally, these adjustments will reduce the power and efficiency a road cyclist is accustomed to, and can be hard to adjust to at first.
Another thing road cyclists won’t be accustomed to is reading the trail and picking out lines, as roads are often very clean and clear.
When riding off road, particularly on a road bike, you’ll need to be constantly scanning the trail 10 to 15 meters in front of you to make sure you avoid obstacles, particularly on a road bike as the bike simply won’t provide the stability needed to negotiate obstacles that mountain bikes or gravel tourers would be able to ignore or simple breeze over.
How to tell if the trail is smooth enough
Being able to read the trail and determine if it’s safe for you and your road bike is an important skill that many riders neglect.
There are ways to determine if a trail is well maintained enough to be safe for you however. First, look for any fallen trees or branches near to the trail. If they’ve been dragged off the trail and are piled up off the main track, then it’s a good sign that someone is maintaining the trail and keeping it clear of large obstacles.
Another thing to do is look for potholes, as well as areas which are more hard packed, as this is a sign that the trail is well used and likely to be relatively safe for you.Even if you’ve determined a trail to be safe, it’s important to stay vigilant as you may not know if an obstacle lies around the next corner!