Gravel riding requires a different skillset than road riding.
But armed with the following knowledge, you’ll become an expert on all terrains.
So, you’ve bought a gravel bike, armed it with Campagnolo’s world-leading 13-speed Ekar groupset and are ready to go. .
Or you would be but you’re new to this gravel game and are uncertain of the skills and nuances required to conquer every terrain. Well, thankfully you’ve come to the right place.
You see, while many of your road skills will come in handy when tearing up the off-road, they need to be refined for maximum speed and maximum enjoyment.
When it comes to cornering on tarmac, it’s been ingrained into you that you enter the corner wide – but not so wide you face oncoming traffic, of course – cut in and kiss the apex of the corner before exiting wide.
It retains momentum and has you in a good position to accelerate out of the corner. It’s great for tarmac but may not work on looser, rockier terrain as the outer edges can be the roughest sections.
Instead, take each corner as it comes, looking forward and picking out the smoothest line. Cut your speed as you approach and even look to stand out of the saddle.
This has the effect of detaching you from your bike, allowing you to manoeuvre slightly more around the bend that helps balance. Also, crank up friction – and grip – as you round the corner by consciously pressing down on the outer pedal with your heel and foot.
Breathe easy, stay relaxed and maximise your gravel handlebars, which probably flare out slightly, giving you greater control when down on the drops.
All of these techniques should ensure a much more efficient flowing motion around the corner.
As mentioned, maintaining momentum is so important when gravel riding. Unless you have experience of mountain biking, your instinct when facing loose stones will be to take your foot off the gas.
But this is the worst response as to prevent tyre slippage and to keep your bike projecting forwards, you need speed.
This is where you need to become your own suspension mechanism. Ensure your body’s centred over your gravel bike, keep your arms and elbows flexed and relaxed, and use yourself as a vessel to dampen vibrations.
Again, counter your instinct to elicit a firm grip. You want a lighter but controlled grip that flows with the terrain.
Keep looking forward, keep those pedals turning and you’ll roll confidently over the gnarliest of paths.
A GRIPPY CLIMB
Climbing’s difficult enough on the road but the one saving grace is that your major obstacle’s gravity. When gravel riding, it’s not only what’s pushing down on you but what you’re pushing on; in other words, that terrain again.
As you’re probably starting to realise by now, good grip is key to proficient gravel riding. So, when you face sharp climbs, be it slippery canal paths or unstable gravel tracks, make sure that your bodyweight and hips are slightly over the back wheel to stop it slipping.
Do this sitting down as standing up naturally sends you forward, which loosens grip. This might feel unnatural for road cyclists but persevere.
UP AND DOWN
Conversely, when descending it often helps to ease yourself out of your saddle. Again, position yourself slightly further back to aid stability but stand up as you do so, as this affords you the space to make small movements in balance to remain upright and in control.
Look to retain a relaxed upper body and hips, and feather your rear brake to prevent wheel slippage.
Also, keep your pedals level so that they don’t hit the rutted ground. And it goes without saying that you should keep your head up and looking forward to see what’s coming.
Once you’ve mastered your new set of gravel skills you can elevate your talents to a higher level by learning the ‘step-up’.
This is a similar skill to the bunny hop and is designed to negotiate gullies and rocks without losing momentum and speed.
How do you do it? As you approach the obstacle, hover just above your saddle and then, as you crank up the power, ease back and pull with your arms so that you throw out a small wheelie and lift your front wheel onto the rock or over the narrow gully.
Swiftly transfer your weight forward and lift your rear wheel with a shift of the hips.
The result? It’s goodbye fear of rocks, hello better gravel riding.