The reason for this is clear. Gravel riding is more accessible and approachable; you don’t need to learn a new skill-set (sand riding, dismounting, barrier jumping and remounting while moving) in order to ride and have fun. Also, gravel roads are found everywhere – enabling fast access to a whole new realm of beautiful road stretches.
Another bonus is the experience itself. On gravel, you’re able to ride fast and cover great distances. And unlike mountain biking, the roads and terrain isn’t very technically challenging which give you a calmer ride and eliminate the fear of getting up and over obstacles.
Feeling the gravel turns, enjoying the variation in terrain and adding some exploration to your riding. Essentially, it’s a more free way of road riding and once you’ve tried it – it’s easy to immediately embrace this type of riding. It’s up to you if you want to ride slow and enjoy the views or speed through swinging turns.
Much of the gravel riding is done in the transitional season between autumn and winter. While some days might be warm and with nice weather, there are also days with cold winds that easily penetrate summer apparel. Short climbs will force you to go hard, increasing your body temperature, and many gravel roads have stretches with complete shelter from wind by trees and forests. We appreciate apparel that has high breathability and when riding in dark or cold, an outer layer of wind resistant material makes the difference between short-cuts home being cold or comfortable riding experiences.
The Rapha Supercross jerseys & Pro Team Thermal bib shorts
Slim silhouette and distinct, thought-out details. It’s something we’ve come to expect when it comes to this british brand.
The long sleeve Supercross jersey has a padded right shoulder for carrying your bike. This adds both function and style, and make this garment stand out from competitors. The grey-blue color is easily matched with many colors from the Rapha lineup and we liked the Supercross pattern armband. These highly breathable jerseys are perfect for warmer days with gravel riding where your heart rate is going up and down frequently. When riding in harsh conditions, the weather-resistant pocket in the back (with headphone loop) is something that we found very useful, protecting your phone or other sensitive items from the elements.
The Supercross short sleeve jersey is not for the shy and it’s classic Rapha cross pattern is featured all over the front and back in bright colors. The fit is similar to the classic jerseys, which means a little more relaxed and not compressive as the race-fit Pro Team lineup. The arms are generously cut which is one of few things that we didn’t like.
The Pro Team Thermal bib shorts has a roubaix fleece inner with a combination of good stretch and compressive feel that support your muscles even when the terrain is rough and bumpy. Longer legs mean more garment to cover the legs, which is highly appreciated when the temperature drops. It’s also a neat detail for taller riders who prefer bib shorts with longer legs. These bib shorts works really well down to fairly low temperatures (down to 5 degrees celsius) and is an essential for autumn riding. However, they’re not warm enough for scandinavian winters which require windproof materials.
Cafe du Cycliste Colette Rain jacket & Yolande merino jersey
We were excited to try the autumn pieces from Cafe du Cycliste and the slim Colette rain jacket surprised with this beautiful deep purple color and nice tight wrist gaiters. Being waterproof and breathable, it ticks many boxes of a really good jacket.
Two rear entry holes for your back pockets was a nice touch, keeping the weight of the jacket low without harming the waterproofness. Waterproof zip and a weather protected back pocket is added without making the jacket feel bulky, and we’re surprised by the low weight and packability of this jacket. Unlike many jackets with this much technical features, it actually fits in a back pocket.
The Yolande merino jersey kept us warm in cool temperatures thanks to the good insulation of merino wool. WIth original design with some functional additions like the zipped breast pocket, the quilted shoulders and the stylish elbow patches. Although the jersey itself wasn’t enough to resist colder winds but worked very well as an insulation layer under the rain jacket.
The fit of the jersey was slightly more generous than we’d prefer around the torso and a tighter fit would suit taller, slim rider better. It has similar tight wrist gaiters with holes for the thumb, which is a smart detail that adds warmth but when riding without gloves the seam placed just at your thumb was prone to chafing. I don’t think we have to say anything about how the color beautifully merged with the autumn palette of the forest.
In the changing terrain which many gravel roads offer, you will notice that gearing is an important question for riding with comfort, speed and efficiency. While some stretches flat and fast, gravel riding also offer steep, sometimes slippery climbs. While correct tire pressure will increase your grip by a lot, but sometimes it isn’t enough.
We run 42t single chainrings in front with 11-28 cassettes in the rear. This is a setup which can be rated from all round to high – a great choice for experienced cyclists who can manage to climb with torque and force when it gets really steep. If you look for a beginner-friendly gearing ratio, a 38t single chainring and 11-28 cassette will be a perfect choice for undulating terrain, steep gravel climbs and all-day comfort.
Learn more about single chainrings and how to fit them to your bike in our editorial guide.
With a standard cyclocross sized crankset, with 46/36t chainrings a 11-28 cassette is less crucial, but we would still recommend going towards these high-range cassettes to be able to ride with high cadence even in challenging terrain.
Just as in cyclocross, tire pressure is a hot topic. Too much and you’ll bounce around the gravel roads without traction. Too less, and you’ll have grip but also riding an unnecessary high risk of either pinch flatting or sliding the tire off the rim in a tight corner (tubulars).
Tire pressure is the skill that require the most experience to get dialed in. The pressure recommendations change with temperature, the type of terrain you ride, whether it’s soft or hard-packed and also what your weight is.
For clincher riders, our recommendation is to go for 3 bar or 45 psi in wet or soft conditions. Many gravel roads can offer large ruts and stones, and staying above 3 bar will increase your resistance to pinch flats while still maintaining traction. If you’re riding really hard-packed roads, or is a heavier rider, consider riding with up to 4 bar or 60 psi.
If you’re running tubulars instead, you’ll be able to go with lower tire pressure for increased grip and but without the increased risk of pinch-flatting. In soft, or wet conditions, consider 2.5 bar or 35 psi, and for faster riding in hard conditions, up to 3.5 bar or 45 psi is suitable.
Specialized Crux E5 Disc Di2 Evo
You don’t have to google it – we admit, that’s a made up name. But if Specialized were to name this model, it’d probably be something like that.
The gravel/winter bike of @emil.
“I thought I’d build something fun, and once I saw the 2015 Crux E5 disc frame I was completely sold. I wanted to have a bike that would cope with daily commuting (even during winter time in snow) and one that could handle long days on gravel as well as some cyclocross. I also wanted to keep the cost down as much as I could, but stay within the requirements I had for a clean, good-looking bike”.
The result is mechanical Shimano CX-77 disc brakes, complete with Shimano 6870 Ultegra Di2, single chainring Wolf Tooth 42t and Mavic Aksium One Disc clinchers (for putting studded winter tires on). I found these open tubular Challenge Tires and fell in love with the aesthetics and performance. These clinchers actually feel like tubulars! The alloy frame feels very sturdy, but lacks some of the responsiveness and lightweight of carbon frames. All in all, it’s a gravel bike with attention to detail, and having a bike you love is certainly going to result in more riding on it.
Gravel riding emphasizes the adventure, easily adding an optional element of exploration to your routes, binding your rides to nothing but your imagination. And the best part is that many stretches of gravel roads are completely car-free.