Five tips for riding your road bike on dirt and gravel

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It’s nearly time for the CyclingTips Giro Della Donna, which means tackling a bit of dirt and gravel on our road bikes. In case you need a few pointers to help you feel ride ready, we thought it might be a good time to revisit this article from last year in which Gracie Elvin graciously shares her top five tips for tackling unsealed roads on your road bike.


The two-time Australian national road champion may be better known for her road riding these days, but don’t let Elvin’s skinny tires fool you. Her start in the sport was on the dirt. The U23 Australian national mountain bike champion recently returned to her roots when riding the famed gravel sectors of Strade Bianche – and loved every second of the challenge.

During the Italian one-day race, Elvin noticed that much of the peloton was far less confident than she was riding off-road. Elvin credits her mountain biking background with her comfort in taking her road bike over non-paved terrain – and shares her top five tips for rides that include an off-road portion.

1. Don’t be afraid. As soon as you start to dread something, it seems a lot harder. Think of it as a fun challenge, as something new to achieve, and you will have a much more positive experience.

2. Relax. Once you are on the dirt or gravel, try not to tense your upper body. As soon as you stiffen up, you will find it much harder and will crash much easier! Loosen your shoulders, elbows and hands, and let the bike guide you. Use your core strength to manoeuvre the bike.

3. Stay high. When on loose surfaces the best line is the highest part of a camber because then you have room to move if you slide or need to drift outwards, particularly in corners.

4. Learn to “feather” your brakes. This means putting light pressure on your brakes intermittently (every couple of seconds), almost evenly to both front and rear. Not grabbing the brakes hard reduces the chances of your wheels locking up and your bike sliding further and faster than if you hadn’t used the brakes at all!

5. Know your limits but find ways to push yourself. If you are nervous, don’t be the first of the group to lead through a gravel section. Riders behind can make you stressed, increasing your chance of making mistakes. Instead, find someone you know is a good wheel to follow who would go a touch faster than you would on your own. It’s amazing the things you can do when you see someone else do it right before you!

Want yet another opportunity to hit the dirt and gravel. Ella CyclingTips will again be putting on a ride up the back of Victoria’s Mt Donna Buang for The Women’s Ride in March 2017. Stay tuned to Ella’s Facebook page and The Women’s Ride website as full details and registration will be available soon.

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