There’s no doubt that gravel riding is here to stay and an increasing number of roadies are discovering the joys to be had of exploring lanes, By-ways and Bridleways that they’d never dare tackle on their road bikes. However, if you have little or no prior off-road experience, either mountain biking or cyclo-cross, it can at first be a nervy and stressful experience. Fast track your gravel skills by following these top ten tips.
Easier said than done sometimes but try to stay relaxed and don’t overreact to the bike moving under you. Any tension in your body will transmit to the bike and result in more twitchy and unpredictable handling. If you do find yourself tensing up or have a “moment”, stop, take a few breaths and calm down before heading off again.
Soft knees and elbows
Your knees and elbows are your suspension so don’t lock them out. Especially when descending, keep them soft, hover a few inches off your saddle and keep your knees apart to allow the bike to move and soak up bumps.
Learn from mountain bikers and cyclo-cross riders
You can learn an awful lot about off-road riding technique by checking out other disciplines. Our series of Trail Smart and Cyclo-Cross skills videos are a brilliant places to start.
Trail Smart Videos
Lean the bike
When cornering on the road, you’ll tend to lean with the bike but, on loose off-road surfaces, you’re looking to lean the bike and keep your body more upright. Think about bringing your outside elbow up and hips to the outside of the seat. If your bum is still over the seat you aren't doing it right. This leans your bike into the corner while your upper body and head remain relatively upright.
Drops and tops
On the road, you probably spend a lot of time riding on your brake hoods and, on smoother and less technical trails, you can do the same. However, when the trail gets steeper or rougher, it’s easy for your hands to be bounced off the hoods. On descents, the drops are the most secure place for your hands to be. Many gravel bikes have flared drops which give a wider and more stable position for descending. On flats and climbs, where you don’t need instant access to your brakes, the tops are a good secure option too.
Look where you want to go
Or, more importantly, don’t look where you don’t want to go. So, don’t look at that big intimidating log or rock, you’re guaranteed to hit it if you do. Look well ahead down the trail and focus on the line you want to take. Even on non-technical trails, look ahead to scope out smoother and faster lines, don’t just follow the wheel ahead.
Unweight the bike
Advanced skills such as bunny-hops are fantastic to possess but, just by understanding and implementing the weight shifts involved, you can “unweight” your bike and allow it to skim over rough sections of trail.
How to bunny hop
Speed is your friend
The more you ride your gravel bike, the more confident you’ll become and the more you’ll be impressed by what it can handle. Momentum is your ally and, by just letting your bike roll and staying loose, you’ll find yourself riding out of a lot of seemingly sketchy situations. Tensing up and grabbing a handful of brakes rarely ends up well.
Your road riding position might translate pretty much unchanged over to your gravel bike but you might want to consider running a shorter stem and less saddle to bars drop. Pay particular attention to tyres and tyre pressure as both can make a massive difference to off-road performance and comfort. Especially if you’re running tubeless, don’t be afraid to try running lower pressure.
We can all sometimes be guilty of mindlessly grinding out miles on the road or turbo but, when riding off-road, try and be a bit more mindful of skills and technique. You don’t necessarily need to “session” sections of trails in the way that mountain bikers do but, if you do fluff a corner or aren’t quite a smooth as you’d like, maybe consider looping back and giving it another go.