Bumpy roads and endless mountain scenery made for beautiful riding this weekend at Rebecca’s Private Idaho, a 150 km gravel race in Ketchum, Idaho. Hosted by the “Queen of Pain” Rebecca Rusch, this yearly gathering of gravel enthusiast is just one of many off-road events to take the cycling world by storm.
Over the past decade, gravel racing has seen huge growth popularity in the United States and it is now building momentum across the globe. These challenging events vary by distance and terrain and even the type of gravel changes depending on the geographic location. However, one thing remains constant across the board: gravel racing continues to grow and even the cycling industry is taking note. New bikes and equipment specifically designed for these races are popping up left and right. I’ve spent the season testing different gravel inspired products and here are some of my picks and tips for the best gravel gear around.
While gravel bikes are built specifically for this type of riding and racing, they are by no means necessary for a gravel event. Cyclocross bikes and mountain bikes are also great choices if you’re looking for something more versatile. In the spirit of gravel, keep it easy and start with what you already have. But if you’re looking for a new ride, here are few of my favorites.
Salsa Cycles Warbird– Salsa Cycles has long been the standard for off-the-beaten-path bikes, and the Warbird is no exception. This new design offers gravel specific geometry and expert details suited for these rugged events.
Norco Search – I raced the Norco Search at Dirty Kanza 200 this year and it performed superbly. Despite a muddy and bumpy year at this 200-mile (320 km) excursion, the Norco helped soften the ride and kept me comfortably all the way to the finish line.
Giant TCX Cross Bike – With a higher bottom bracket and shorter wheelbase than the other two bikes, the TCX is certainly designed for cyclocross racing. However, it has huge tyre clearance, a luxury for gravel races, and versatile geometry for an easy transformation into a gravel steed.
Clement X’PLOR MSO Tyres – Ideal tyre selection depends heavily on the terrain and type of gravel your event includes. In some places, the gravel roads are more like dirt road and road tyres are perfectly acceptable. However, for deep, jagged gravel, more robust tyres are necessary. I love the Clement X’PLOR MSO 40mm tyres because they roll quickly in a straight line but offer ample traction through loose corners.
Padded cycling gloves – As you can imagine, gravel roads can get bumpy and your hands will be the first to feel this stress. A padded pair of cycling gloves, long fingers or short, can go a long way in keeping your hands fresher longer. Adding an extra layer of bar tape for an especially long or bumpy race is another option to keep your hands happy.
Aero bars – I know, I know, aero bars on a cross or mountain bike is a serious cycling faux -pas. However, gravel races are often held in desolate geographic areas where the wind can pick up and turn an easy day on the bike into a death-march home. A set of aero bars, as dorky as they may seems, can make a world of difference if you find yourself riding solo on a windy day in the middle of nowhere during a gravel event.
Eat real food – Like any other long cycling event your take on, fueling your way through the long hours in the saddle is crucial for success. Gravel races are no exception. Eating real foods like sandwiches or homemade rice cakes will keep your stomach happier long into the race.
Pacing strategies – 100 km on the road is very different than 100 km of loose gravel. Not only will it take longer to complete but it also takes extra energy because of the added rolling resistance. Start your day slightly more relaxed than you would on the road so you can finish strong in the gravel.
Look around – Gravel races often take us places we’d probably never see from the car. So make sure to take a look around every once in a while and enjoy the exploration.
Kristen Legan is an athlete, writer and coach. She raced triathlon professionally from 2009-2013, but has since switched her focus to exclusively racing bikes. In 2012, she was one of six women to complete the entire Tour de France route as part of the Reve Tour. Living, training and working in Boulder, Colorado, Kristen coaches for APEX coaching and has a degree in Molecular Biology & Neurology from the University of Colorado, Boulder.