Maybe you have heard of ravel riding, but want to find out more about it? Perhaps it’s totally new to you, but you fancy trying something different? Although Gravel Riding is big news in the cycling world at the minute, it’s been in Skedaddle’s DNA since our very first trip. We’ve always done things slightly differently – pedalling through, rather than passing by. Gravel Riding epitomises the very best of everything that we love about cycling. With the launch of our NEW Skedaddle Gravel Riding range of holidays, we thought we’d give you an insider’s view of what it is all about.
WHAT EXACTLY IS GRAVEL RIDING?
Experiencing more on two wheels is one of the fundamental aims of our range of cycling holidays and Gravel Riding fits so perfectly into this, you would have thought we invented it! Gravel riding is the perfect combination of adventure, fun, challenge and inclusivity and we think this is what has led to its phenomenal growth and popularity around the world. More and more of us are discovering the joy of riding non-paved trails on a drop bar gravel bike. But what exactly is it?
Gravel riding as a term is a bit of a misnomer. In the same way that 99% of mountain bike riders don’t actually ride their bikes in the mountains, gravel riding isn’t just about seeking out the non-paved roads of the type found in the mid-west of the USA, the spiritual birthplace of gravel riding.
Gravel riding should probably be called ‘ride-everything’ or ‘mixed-surface-riding’ or ‘I’ve-been-doing-this-for-years-but-didn’t-know-what-to-call-it’. But none of those descriptions is exactly catchy and in a world of ever-shortening attention spans and the need for a catchy slogan, the gravel riding moniker is here to stay.
You might wonder how it differs from mountain biking or leisure riding – after all, both of these disciplines generally take place away from the road? The answer is to think of gravel riding like a fantastic cocktail – taking a range of ingredients and mixing them in a way that creates something bigger and better than the component parts. The mix of riding surfaces, the lack of traffic, the buzz from riding a rigid drop bar bike off-road, the ability to switch from one surface to another in the blink of the eye, the feeling of riding a good gravel bike which generates a sense of flow – all of these things combine to create an enticing amalgamation.
A typical day out on a gravel bike might see riders covering greater distances than they would on a leisure trip, on away-from-the-road trails that feel as much fun as mountain biking and with the kind of flow you might get from a perfect road ride. Does this sound like your kind of mix? It certainly sounds like ours!
GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL
One of the biggest joys of gravel riding is the endless variety of surfaces and terrain that can be included in the route. A gravel ride will typically incorporate a wide range of surfaces. We might start off on a paved road, but then head off down a singletrack bridleway, or take in some agricultural tracks or tackle a section of cobbles. A good gravel route allows us to avoid busy roads and can give us the gentle thrill of off-road riding on trails that aren’t technically too challenging.
WHAT TYPE OF BIKE SHOULD I USE?
You might be thinking that gravel riding sounds fun, and adaptable and gets you away from the hubbub of general life. But surely you can do that on a mountain bike or a hybrid bike or even a road bike, can’t you? Do I really need to ride a gravel bike?
Gravel riding surfaces range from a smooth, uniform cycle path, to woodland singletrack, or a stoney farm track or a moorland drover’s road. But all of these trails will generally be linked together with small sections of paved road. With such variation in the riding, a bike that can cope with all the different surfaces that you can throw at it will offer you the best riding experience and this is where a dedicated gravel bike comes in.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A GRAVEL BIKE?
While you don’t need to ride a specific gravel bike to enjoy gravel riding, there are some definite benefits. A gravel bike will have two main characteristics which make it ideal for mixed-surface riding – wide tyre clearance (tyre widths of 40mm and larger are typical) and slightly more relaxed geometry so that they are stable and comfortable to ride on non-paved surfaces for example. Every manufacturer will claim their particular flavour of a gravel bike is the best, but we summed up here what are the essential characteristics that well-designed ones will share!
TUBELESS RULES THE TRAILS
If we could only pick one characteristic of a gravel bike to highlight, it would be tyre volume. The vast majority of gravel bikes don’t have suspension and this means the best way to increase comfort levels for riders is to fit as big a volume tyre as you can and then to run them at low pressures.
For anyone coming to gravel riding from a road cycling background, tyre widths of 40-50mm and pressures of 25-40psi (1.7 to 2.8 bar) might sound alien, but for anyone from a MTB background, wider tyres run at low pressure will make more sense.
The difference from a MTB tyre is in the level of tread – gravel tyres have low levels of ‘nobbles’ so that they roll well and help keep a light and fluid ride ‘feel’ which road riders will be looking for. The critical thing with gravel tyres is to try and run them tubeless. Minimal tread and low pressures are not happy bedfellows with inner tubes and so the majority of gravel tyres will be set up tubeless.
This system, again common to mountain bike riders (and increasingly seen on road bikes too), replaces the tube with a liquid sealant and a slightly tougher tyre to help resist punctures and maintain airtightness. They are a bit of a faff to set up initially, but once done they should be trouble-free and give you the perfect ‘magic carpet’ feel to your ride.
ALL ABOUT THE FUN!
If we had to sum up in one word why you should try a Skedaddle Gravel Riding holiday, it would be ‘fun‘. Gravel riding allows you to explore areas you might not have previously thought of, in a way that’s adventurous, challenging, fun and inclusive. That sounds like the perfect list of ingredients for a cycling holiday to us!