Gravel riding requires more full-body strength and stamina than traditional road cycling. Riding gravel also demands more skill, especially when dealing with rough terrain. For example, the conventional advice for paved turns — ride in wide, clip the apex, and exit wide — can go out the window on loose gravel. Choose the smoothest line instead.
Practice Over Rough Terrain
Gravel mountain bikes can tackle various terrain and surfaces, from rock gardens to ruts to soft sand patches. Developing intense Train to Ride bike control skills will help you overcome these challenges and stay on course. Timing and balance are crucial when riding over rough terrain, as is spotting the best line to take ahead of you. To prepare for these conditions, practice doing hill repeats on rough gravel to improve your ability to spot a smoother, faster line and get there before the rocky, sandy, or washboard sections. When descending, focus on unweighting the bike and using your arms to absorb shocks rather than over-gripping and letting the front wheel lose traction. In addition, practice putting your body into the “ready” position on steep descents so that you don’t have to brake and can keep momentum. These are the same skills that cyclocross and criterium racers use to maintain control on rough surfaces.
Practice Group Riding
Some riders love it, and some hate it, but gravel is the fastest-growing segment of the bike industry. Train to Ride gravel racing is often crazy and takes participants out of their comfort zones. This makes the discipline a great place to develop new bike-handling skills and gain confidence. One such skill is a line of sight, which can be a significant problem on rough terrain. Riding in a pack requires knowing how to draft and look ahead of you to see the smoother line to ride over. Navigating rock gardens, ruts, and soft sand patches can be incredibly challenging. Another important gravel riding skill is adjusting your body position to absorb shocks. It is easy to tense your hands, shoulders, and upper back when you ride over rough ground, which can be very uncomfortable. Learning to drop your heels and move your weight onto the bottom bracket can help with this.
Practice Over Potholes and Ruts
Getting to grips with rough surfaces is one of the most challenging aspects of gravel riding for new riders. Riding over bumpy, uneven terrain can take its toll on the rider and cause them to tire quickly. This can also lead to crashes and loss of control. Riding your gravel bike on different terrain is the best way to practice navigating these conditions. This includes a variety of road surfaces and varying conditions, such as dirt, gravel, sand, and mud. During these rides, focus on pedaling and braking smoothly. Avoid significant shifts in your body weight or death-gripping the bars, as this can throw off your balance and make it difficult to maintain traction with the ground. Keeping your hands in the hoods, drops, or bar tops will help you stay stable on the rough terrain. The flared bar ends on most gravel bikes can also spread your arms out a bit to absorb the shocks of the terrain.
Practice One-Handed Riding
Gravel riding is a fun and rewarding experience, but developing your bike handling skills is essential to help maintain control. Riding on rough and uneven surfaces requires good balance, the ability to adjust body position, and the use of your arms and legs as suspensions to absorb shocks. It’s also important to practice riding one-handed when riding on gravel. Taking your hands off the brake hoods will help you be more comfortable on rough terrain and when climbing. Getting out of the saddle is often more efficient on steep climbs, but keep sight of your balance and safety. Lastly, practicing group riding and ride etiquette on gravel rides is always wise. Keeping a safe distance from the riders in front of you and leaving enough space for passing can make the ride safer and more enjoyable for everyone. Learning how to fuel and drink on a gravel ride is also helpful.