The heat of summer is upon us, but that's no reason to stop going out to ride gravel roads. We've got the connections to help you get started riding gravel roads. It can be intimidating learning to ride dirt roads, but there are plenty of resources available when you're ready to learn about gravel grinding.
We asked the experienced gravel riders from our SDG-Muscle Monster team about the best ways to start gravel riding and where to find information about gravel riding.
Panda: Get a panda and let it teach you everything there is to know about gravel. I found a panda and she’s won DK200 twice so she’s been around the block and she’s passed all her gravel wisdom on to me. Thanks Amanda.
The Bike: Gravel bikes are awesome, but you don’t NEED a gravel bike to do gravel. People were riding gravel long before the “gravel” bike came to fruition. An old cyclocross bike works just fine. You could even throw some narrow tires on a mountain bike and send it. I wouldn’t suggest road bikes and skinny tires. But if you do want to go ALL-IN you can’t go wrong with Niner’s gravel specific RLT 9. #RoadLessTraveled
Be “Self-Sustained”: This seems to be the “gravel” way. Have EVERYTHING you could possibly think to need during a ride. This is going to include 4 tubes, 8 gels, extra tire sealant, spare chain, spare bottom bracket, 2 pairs of brake pads, endless amounts of Little Debbies and a fire extinguisher. And if it’s possible, buy as many frame bags as possible to store all these “essential” things. Then use your bottle cages to mount your bluetooth speaker and use a hydration backpack to actually store your fluids.
Books: I’d recommend “Time Crunched Cyclist” by Chris Carmichael. This book gets into the science behind training and helps you understand how to get the most out of your training, even if it’s only six hours a week.
Saddle: Because of the nature of gravel, you’ll be spending a lot of time in the saddle. The motto in gravel seems to be “the farther you ride, the cooler you are.” So get a saddle that works for you. You don’t want to spend countless hours on an uncomfortable saddle. I personally recommend the all-new SDG Bel-Air V3. The curves are nice and it’s extra squish.
Food: The number one thing people get wrong when doing gravel events is nutrition. People don’t eat enough on the bike. Amanda Panda rides with a pocket full of gummy bears because she knows she’ll eat them throughout the race, along with other bars and foods too. For more information on nutrition I’d recommend “Racing Weight” by Matt Fitzgerald. He has a simple 6-step plan that is all about improving nutrition for the goal of improved performance.
Friends: This might be the most important part. Find good friends. Find good gravel. Get out and #rideingoodcompany. Gravel isn’t about timing or placing or winning. It’s about finishing an adventure with a bunch of other adventure-seekers.
Bike: The experience is much more enjoyable with a bike that is equipped to handle more aspects gravel will throw at you. I would suggest comfort over speed to start. Throw some wide Rene Herse tires at a low psi and enjoy what a gravel bike of late can accomplish. Learning about tire selection and correct pressures will be one of the most important lessons for a beginner gravel rider. There are YouTube videos galore about setting wheels up tubeless, what tire pressures to experiment with, and different tire options on the market. This part of gravel has a slow learning curve, but you’ll come to a better understanding of your preferred riding style over time.
Influence: I personally learn a lot about routes and gravel trends through friends locally and also through social media. Riders like Amanda Nauman and Yuri Hauswald can all show you new roads to turn your bike down and explore and they also share tips they have picked up over their years of experience. Not being afraid to ask questions and look for suggestions will be your best resource.
Mindset: Gravel is a breed of its own, if you let it be. Toss out expectations and learn to explore. Some of my favorite memories of riding have been in Illinois in the summer. Find a dirt or gravel road, expect that you may not know where the road will lead you, and be comfortable with that. Of course there is a time to plan and be prepared, but there is nothing more freeing than choosing to get lost every once and awhile. Building mental fortitude and instinct for off-road handling will be an asset. One of my favorite books for mental strength is Mind Gym by Gary Mack.
Event: There are so many events to choose from now as gravel has grown. Two of my favorite events are the Peloton Gravel Mob out of Ojai, Ca. A smaller loop compared to many of the events, yet the climbs and gravel sections more than make up for the length. Second is the upcoming Mammoth Tuff. I have spent a fair amount of time riding in Mammoth and it is second to none. Do yourself a favor and check it out!
Bottom line: Go have fun riding your bike. Feel free to reach out to any of us and ask questions! The SDG team can be an excellent resource.
The website bikepacking.com is my go-to place for all things bikepacking. From routes, races, gear review, videos and more. Once you start committing to riding your bike and staying places overnight, there’s a whole new world of equipment and gear that you need to learn about and this is the most informative resource on the internet for that realm.
The calendar on Gravel Cyclist is best resource to compile a race calendar or list of events you want to tackle in the future. All the promoters of gravel events submit their information to Gravel Cyclist, so it’s the most accurate list of events you can search through. They also have many good reviews of different gravel products that are helpful when compiling your equipment.
The gravel cycling Reddit is a great community to post and get questions answered, share info, inspire, etc. If you’re looking to ask questions and solicit answers from a knowledgeable community, this is it.
The Jooi Ride YouTube channel was started earlier this year and houses videos from me and my girlfriend, Christina Ooi. You’ll get a glimpse behind the scenes at some great gravel events like Rock Cobbler, the LA Tourist series, and Mid South. The amount of videos from inside the bunch at these gravel events are few and far between if you get searching, so find the videos that will give you a good look at the riding conditions and be better prepared for the events you’re tackling.