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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Location
    Kansas
    Posts
    105

    Getting in to riding gravel

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    Hi! I'm a bicyclist who has been less active. Just nursed a family member through cancer. So now, I'm turning my face back towards cycling. I have a road bike and I have a hybrid. I have been wanting to get into gravel. Being from Kansas we have TONS of miles of gravel roads and there are some vistas you cannot get on paved roads. Someone said put some gravel tires on the hybrid and that is what I'm doing. My goal is to participate in some gravel rides in Kansas, although I will probably still do some charity rides on pavement too.

    Are there any people here who ride gravel? Any advice? I can, on pavement, do 15-20 miles pretty easily. I expect their to be more resistance with gravel. It has a reputation for being dirtier. I wear glasses and sometimes where over-wear sun glasses. Any thoughts on eye protection in gravel rides? I would like to up my mileage on rides on both bikes. I have in the past, ridden 50 miles. But my butt is a little deconditioned.

    So share your thoughts with me.
    2011 Trek Madone 4.5 WSD

    2011 Trek FX7.2--What can I say? It was on sale!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Location
    north woods of Wisconsin
    Posts
    1,124
    Welcome to the forum, Molly. Glad to see you getting back into more bicycling. Good for you.

    The first thing you need to know about riding gravel is that there is no standard as to what constitutes a gravel road. Gravel roads can be anything from hard dirt with no gravel to hard packed, small gravel (best for riding) to deep, loose gravel (really tough unless you have a fat bike or a plus tire bike). Also, gravel roads can be relatively smooth and flat (best for riding) to washboard and rutted (tough for riding). Then, to make the issue even more iffy is how well and how often a gravel road is maintained. A fresh new layer of gravel can really slow you down. Weather is another factor. A rain often tends to firm up loose gravel and make things easier to ride. A heavy rain, though, can create potholes and so on.

    DON'T let me scare you off, though. I love riding gravel. It takes me places that rarely see a bicyclist. It takes me places I can't get to on pavement. It will open up HUNDREDS of miles of riding for you in a place like Kansas or the other prairie states. It really is adventure riding at it's best. I love it.

    On a good gravel road with the right bike, I can maintain a good steady 10 mph, no problem, and even higher if I really gun it. On our roughest gravel roads, which turn to sand, up here, it's more like riding a mountain bike on a trail. Then I'm down to half that speed.

    Riding gravel is part art and part technique. Unless you are riding a fat bike, which allows you to just plow straight ahead though anything, you need to learn to pick a line ahead of you as you ride, judging the best way though the gravel, often changing lines to accommodate changes in the gravel. On some stretches, i find it's easier going along the very edge of the road - less gravel and fewer ruts. In other sections, I find it easier to ride on the crest of the road in the center. Turns in the road call for extra caution. Those are often places the gravels piles up. Navigating it all comes with experience, but it becomes second nature after a time. One thing for sure, it's always interesting. The way you rode the same gravel road last week, may not be the best this week, due to the ever changing conditions on gravel roads. Guess that's why I love riding gravel so much.

    You'll want wider, more all purpose tires than on a standard road bike designed for pavement. 700x35s are even a bit wider are the norm for drop bar gravel bikes. You want some tread, but not too much tread or you lose rolling speed. My favorite gravel tires will have mild, easy rolling tread in the center, with some higher lugs on the side for cutting though the deep stuff and controlling fish tailing. The tires you have on your hybrid are probably your best bet for now. They tend to run wider than standard road bikes.

    I've never had any issues with gravel hitting me in the face while I ride. I wear glasses, full time and have never nicked my glasses while riding. The one situation that can get you sprayed with gravel is a passing car, but if you're on a gravel road with heavy vehicle traffic, that's not a good place to ride.

    DO use a blinkie - a red flashing light - no matter what time of day you ride. On a day when dust gets kicked up, easily, you want to be seen by passing cars. Then, too, a lot of drivers don't expect to encounter someone on a bike while driving on a gravel road. A blinkie lets them know you're there. Carry all your basic tools and an inner tube, plenty of water, and in a place like Kansas where you'll be way out in the middle nowhere, a cell phone.

    Anyway, please do let us know how it goes. Ask away with the questions.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Location
    Kansas
    Posts
    105
    North Woods Gal, Kansas is actually home to a rather famous gravel race (which I do not aspire to) called the Dirty Kanza. They have various distances including a shorter community ride. But it takes place in the Flint Hills which means there is some climbing. I live in the tail end of the Flint Hills and it is possible to find yourself climbing. One of my first goals is a ride to Coronado Heights (where legend has it, Coronado actually visited.) This is entirely do-able since on my road bike I ride by it but to get to it, you must ride gravel. But again, like you, I like being off the beaten path. I was at another site looking at what you need to know about gravel rides and they said you have to have a light grip on the handlebars as you come in to heavier gravel so you can "float" across the gravel. Bet I know what the opposite of floating is.

    I had anxiety reading about maneuvering gravel but then I remembered that I have overcome other cycling anxieties.

    Do you wear clips to ride gravel? My hybrid bike has pedals on it and I won't change that. But if I liked gravel and got a dedicated gravel bike, I might do something different.
    2011 Trek Madone 4.5 WSD

    2011 Trek FX7.2--What can I say? It was on sale!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Location
    north woods of Wisconsin
    Posts
    1,124
    Oh, yes, anyone who rides gravel knows about the Dity Kanza. Oh, I could ride those roads, alright. We actually have some roads up here that are probably even more treacherous, as in deeply rutted and sandy logging roads. Ride that far in that allotted time, though? Ha! Not a chance, even if I had a week to do it.

    The light grip thing is correct, basically the same as mountain biking on rough trails. Basic mountain biking 101. Loose grip, weight up off the seat, lots of flex in the knees and elbows. Same for learning how to handle fishtailing. Not to worry. Fishtailing feels a lot spookier than anything actually dangerous. Just tends to freak you out at first, if you've done all your riding on pavement. Mostly a matter of learning to recognize those soft spots spots and avoiding them. Believe it or not, I actually practice how to handle fishtailing on a very soft and sandy section of gravel in our area. Kind of fun, but, then, I'm also a hardcore mountain biker, now.

    To clip in or go flat pedals is totally a personal preference, despite some claims that clipping in has a big performance advantage. That is not supported by actual testing, but since a lot of gravel riders are coming from the road bike world where clipping in is almost a religion, you'll get some very strong opinions. Mountain bikers coming in to the gravel riding scene, on the other hand, are much more likely to be using flat pedals. That's me. A quality flat pedal with pins will give you all the grip you will ever need. Not talking about the cheap recreational platform pedals, here. Talking about a flat pedal with removable and replaceable pins. Here's one of my favorites, https://xpedo.com/product/pedals/spry/https://xpedo.com/product/pedals/spry/ Have them on several bikes.

    One of the big advantages of going flat pedals when riding in remote areas is that you can use them with any kind of shoe, especially walking shoes, or jogging shoes or even light hikers. In the event of a breakdown, where you have to walk out, you've got the shoes to do it. Clipless road bike shoes are usually overly stiff and not made for a lot of walking, especially on gravel, not to mention that they are expensive. A long walk out with clipless shoes is NOT fun. (Been there, done it.) For my summer riding, I usually ride with conventional tennis shoes, same shoes I use for light hiking and walking. In winter, I even use insulated pack boots or insulated hikers. All done on the same flat pedals.

    Again, not telling you which to use. I use only flat pedals for all my riding, but that's me. I'm a firm believer in figuring out what works best for you, personally, and not what someone else feels is best for you. Okay?
    Last edited by north woods gal; 10-26-2018 at 08:14 AM.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Location
    Kansas
    Posts
    105
    Clips make sense to me on pavement. Where you need more responsiveness to conditions like you might on gravel, it does not make as much sense. I don't even like the feeling of slipping on ice in a car so I know I won't on dirt but I can figure it out. I have fallen before. I have fairly pedestrian flat pedals on my hybrid; what the bike came with. I might look at different pedals if I get grabbed by it.

    Have you ever done any bigger rides on gravel? I think in Kansas there are some less hard-core more recreational gravel rides...
    2011 Trek Madone 4.5 WSD

    2011 Trek FX7.2--What can I say? It was on sale!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Location
    north woods of Wisconsin
    Posts
    1,124
    No, as I've mentioned, I'm pretty much a solo rider and a not very competitive solo rider, at that. Up here, most of our county roads are actually paved, but we do have some gravel roads in sections, the longest running about 8 miles or so. They can be very rough, though, due to logging trucks and ATVs constantly tearing them up, so very much an adventure to ride, but in a different way. Then, too, we have a lot of old, abandoned logging roads, which are sometimes sand and sometimes gravel and sometimes nothing more than rough single track. These run deep back into remote forest areas, so you have a serious risk getting lost, not to mention bears, wolves and so on. Have done them when I'm feeling brave, but you better have good maps or a compass or a GPS. Mostly I stick to established roads, either paved or gravel, these days. Still plenty remote enough for me.

    Here's an example of an old logging road, which is open only to foot or bicycle traffic most of the year. This one sees only one or two bicyclists all summer. Not for the faint of heart, because lots of old side logging roads that intersect, so very easy to take a wrong turn and get very lost, many miles from an established road.


    And in places can get so overgrown as to barely even see a road. These are really best done on a mountain bike, not a drop bar gravel bike, though you could certainly ride them with such a bike. Might have to do some walking, though.


    And then we have stuff like this that is so bad that you'll even need to walk with a standard mountain bike. This is where I only use a fat bike.


    But it's not all like that. We also have these wonderful, though short, two or three miles long, gravel roads which are pure gold and a joy to ride on any bike.
    Last edited by north woods gal; 10-26-2018 at 04:48 PM.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Location
    Concord, MA
    Posts
    13,464
    NW, what you say is only for serious mountain biking, and you may have to walk, is what I face when the small section of an unpaved road is full of water after a rain, on my commute home on my hybrid. There's usually space somewhere on the side or in the middle to ride, but I've had to walk, if I have forgot it may be wet. I only ride this way home if it's between 5 and 6, to avoid turning left from a busy road onto my street. I'd kill to see a dirt/gravel road like your last picture. Most of the ones around here are just full of rocks and gravel, and I've done them on my road bike, because DH did not realize it when he planned a route. There was a serious stretch of this on my 60th birthday ride, a few years ago. There's quite a few dirt roads with homes on them in one of the towns near here.
    2015 Trek Silque SSL
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    2011 Guru Praemio
    Specialized Oura
    2017 Specialized Ariel Sport

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Location
    north woods of Wisconsin
    Posts
    1,124
    Crankin, for sure, you never know what you will find under that label of gravel road and that's my point. Even in Chicago, I had shortcuts that I could take though alleys that were only a sometimes thing because they were so rough. Even with pavement, though, quality can vary, tremendously. Again, commuting in Chicago on a cyclocross bike, I had some paved streets that were so badly cracked and potholed that I risked destroying a wheel if I made a mistake and all this with heavy passing traffic to boot. I had to thread my way, carefully, around bad spots AND keep an eye on traffic. Sometimes even that was too much so I'd bail out and ride a sidewalk for a section or two. It's why I eventually went with a mountain bike for my commuting (that, and an old MTB was much less likely to attract attention form bike thieves). Slowed me down, some, but at least I had a better chance of surviving those rough streets. Spring was especially bad after a long winter with those rough streets. Yeah, even i the city, I found a mountain bike to be a very useful bike.
    Last edited by north woods gal; 10-27-2018 at 08:21 AM.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Location
    Kansas
    Posts
    105
    Those are beautiful stretches of road. Well, on the nearly over grown one, you might start to hear banjo music if you listened closely. There are stretches in KS where cell reception isn't good--know that from camping. My son's boy scout troop did a canoe trip to the Northern Tier (the boundary waters) and we encountered thick mud that would pull your shoes off. They called it Moose Muck. I told them we would never let our mud get that out of hand in Kansas.

    Kansas is often laid out on the square but when you get into the flint hills and other windy roads...it would be possible to get lost. It's a good caution.
    2011 Trek Madone 4.5 WSD

    2011 Trek FX7.2--What can I say? It was on sale!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Location
    north woods of Wisconsin
    Posts
    1,124
    Lived many years in eastern Nebraska and, yeah, I remember county roads all being laid out in a grid pattern. Also remember, though, that locals drove those gravel roads like the Indy 500 and would often ignore stop signs and keep going. Always made me very aware and nervous when biking those roads. The, too, when conditions were dry, you could choke on the dust. Up here, locals keep the speed down for fear of hitting deer and the roads just don't support high speeds, anyway. Seldom dry enough, either, for dust to be a problem.
    Last edited by north woods gal; 10-27-2018 at 06:00 PM.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Location
    Kansas
    Posts
    105
    Kansans=Nebraskans. I think it matters how much they would expect to see a cyclist on the road. I have one of those lovely blinking LED tail lights but I _often_ forget to turn it on.
    2011 Trek Madone 4.5 WSD

    2011 Trek FX7.2--What can I say? It was on sale!

  12. #12
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Location
    north woods of Wisconsin
    Posts
    1,124
    Very true. In a lot of remote areas of Nebraska, seeing someone way out there riding a bicycle on gravel would have some locals dropping their jaws. Other areas, though can be very bike friendly. These tend to be in pockets, here and there, depending on how popular biking is with the locals. A good way to check is to see where the bike shops are in a particular region.

    As for visibility, you can't be too visible. Don't forget the bright clothes, too.

 

 

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