To be perfectly honest, it’s a poorly construed name created by the bike industry for a type of riding which involves a mix of paved, but ideally predominantly unpaved riding. Whilst paved riding is fairly self-explanatory; involving anything on tarmac, unpaved and off-road conjures more elaborate thoughts of anything you can think of not on tarmac...this may be somewhat daunting to the uninitiated, but rest assured; there is a reason gravel rides are approached by the majority with drop bar bikes, largely resembling what you’d take on the road, but with fatter tyres.
In reality, a gravel ride is not that dissimilar to a road ride, generally covering relatively long distances, but at lower speeds. However, it purposefully incorporates sections where the road runs out. These sections may be gravel-based fire roads (where the name originates), flat/gentle runs along singletrack, and perhaps everyone's best friend; some nice muddy wooded or open field tracks. It is not, however, cross-country or trail mountain biking and any technical sections tend to not only be mild, but short and sweet should you feel more confident tackling them on foot.
Now, for those who know the intricacies differentiating a road bike from a gravel bike, they’ll know simplifying the difference to tyre width does the latter bike type a disservice; overlooking the subtle differences in geometry, versatility and features. However they, and soon you, will also know that you don’t need to be put off enjoying a Gravel ride just because you don’t have a swiss army knife-esque fleet of bikes, each perfectly designed to tackle any chosen type of terrain.
So do I need a Gravel bike to ride a Gravel event?
No, not at all.
A Gravel bike would inevitably be the best-suited option for the ride, but just as you don’t need a pro-peloton standard road bike to enjoy a road ride, you can tackle a gravel ride on most modern disc brake road bikes, hybrids, xc mountain bikes or even a full suspension mtb if you fancy.
Ok, so what bike is best?
Good to go:
- Gravel Bike
- Cyclo-Cross Bike
- Hardtail Mountain Bike
For any of these, fit some tyres with some grip - not slicks. 32mm width and upwards will do the job nicely. You can lower your tyre pressures for added comfort - ideal for longer distances.
Provided you have a tyre width over about 30-32mm, you’ll get by. The wider the tyre, the more comfortable you’ll be.
- Full-Suspension MTB
You’ll have no problem with the terrain, but you’ll need a good level of fitness for the longer distances involved. The shorter the travel and more aggressive the geometry, the easier you’ll find the ride. Big Down Hill rigs aren’t going to be much fun over long distances.
- Road bikes
We’ll go into this in more detail below.
- BMX - these really aren’t suited to much more than playing around at the local skate park or a pump track. While it’s not impossible, the distances involved in a gravel ride aren’t going to be fun on these bikes.
- TT / Tri Bike - narrow handlebars or TT bars are an absolute non-starter for off-road riding. Not only do they excessively hamper control you’ll need on varied terrain, but they’re a danger in a crash - the combination of which is not a good one!
Can I use my road bike?
Maybe...we’re going to try and help you work out if your road bike could be made gravel ready or not. While it may not be the perfect bike for the task, some wider, grippier tyres are really the only thing you will definitely need to take your road bike on one of UKCEs gravel rides. While skilled riders could get by on slick narrow tyres, it doesn’t mean it would be particularly enjoyable or fun.
You can work out what width of tyre you can fit in a couple of different ways:
Google search - your bike make, model, year, and ‘max tyre width’. For example - Specialized Allez Elite 2018 max tyre width.
If you can confirm your bike can fit 28mm or wider, you could probably give it a try. 30-32mm or wider would be ideal.
If you can’t find an answer, you can measure your frame and forks yourself.
...you should leave 4mm clearance between tyre and frame...
By measuring the gap you have available in the forks and frame at the location the tyre passes, you can work out the max-width. According to British Standards, you should leave 4mm clearance between tyre and frame. So subtract 8mm from your total width measurement to get your max tyre width. If you’re willing to risk lowering these tolerances, that is your prerogative, but be mindful that tyres will very quickly wear through any frame material so you do so at your own risk.
Disc brakes are by far the better-suited option for gravel riding simply thanks to minimising wear on your rims, but again, tyre width is more important here. However, most calliper brake road bikes will be limited to roughly 27/28mm tyre widths so bear this in mind.
Any tyre recommendations?
There are a plethora of options out there so get in touch with us at Pura Velo (email@example.com) if you’d like some more personal recommendations, but here are a couple of good value for money options to consider:
- 30-40mm wide
Vittoria Terreno Dry, Mix or Wet - approx £30 / tyre
Hutchinson Override or Touareg - approx £25-35 / tyre
Don’t let the fear of not having the perfect bike be a barrier to entry. The whole point of gravel rides is to slow down, enjoy the outdoors and have fun whilst enjoying a bit of an adventure. They’re not meant for smashing PBs, average speed watching or counting KMs. By going off the beaten track you may end up outside of your comfort zone at times, but you’ll be rewarded with a feeling of being closer to nature, you’ll get the opportunity to get away from any traffic, and most likely you’ll have a really good laugh along the way.
We hope to see you there,
Jez | Pura Velo