Wondering what the gravel riding trend is all about, and what you need to get into this niche of the sport? Gravel riding is nothing new, of course. People have been taking their mountain bikes, hybrids and even road bikes out for ages – but in recent years bicycle manufacturers have begun building bikes specifically for exploring gravel roads. These bikes have a more relaxed geometry than, say, a cyclocross race bike, which makes them more comfortable to ride especially over longer distances where the objective is not an all out sub-1 hour effort.
A gravel bike can look similar to a drop bar road bike at first glance, but will have more clearance for wider/knobby tires and a wider range of gearing for climbing. This makes the gravel bike a veritable swiss army knife as it has the flexibility to traverse many different types of terrain: well packed gravel, trails, paths, class VI roads, sand, mud, slush…oh,and yes it will handle the pavement just fine too. Only have one bike and want to do a road ride? Just swap out the tires or think about investing in both a “road” and “gravel” wheel set to make swapping over easy until you can justify buying another bike (don’t worry, you’ll get there!).
I love riding gravel, and one of the big perks of living in Nottingham is my ability to drop right into a gorgeous loop without even putting the bike on the car. I often ride in Nottingham, Deerfield and Lee right from my doorstep. These roads bring me through beautiful, quiet, scenic areas and farms that sometimes make me feel like I am in another country – although I’m often aware from the map on my bike computer that civilization is just on the other side.
Gravel bikes bring a sense of adventure into riding, as they give you the flexibility to hop off the road and explore a trail or path on a whim. Yell hi loudly to the cows, pull over for some mid-ride farm stand treats, take a picture of that majestic barn or tree you just found. Then get back on the bike and crush it up an insanely steep hill. Want to ride through some mud, or try to gun it across a stream of questionable depth? Go for it! You’ll feel like a kid again. There are no rules. Sometimes I come home sopping wet or muddy, but that’s always accompanied by a big fat grin on my face.
Gravel roads tend to have much less traffic than the main roads, and this can be a welcome escape. As we navigate the ongoing pandemic, quiet gravel roads can give you a chance to forget pace lining and have a side by side chat with a friend at a comfortable distance.
With the many rail trail networks we have throughout the state, you could plan a day trip or even a bike packing adventure to explore somewhere new without having to travel far on planes or trains.
Miss out on the spring gravel classics? The routes still exist – you just need to do a little more planning to pack enough water and nutrition to self support. For very remote or longer distance rides, I now carry a handle bar bag where I can stash extra layers, nutrition & a water filter. I have a frame bag where I can stash spares, hot hands, a frame pump and a third bottle. A small thermos of hot tea goes a long way to warming you to the core in the colder months. I also have an Arundel “loony bin” bottle cage installed, which allows me to carry large bottles, and I can even schelp home a full sized bottle of wine if I so desire!
Like the idea of gravel riding but afraid of the distance and elevation gain? E-bikes have come a long way and may be a good option to explore.
If you are looking for some suggestions for where to get started, here are some of my favorite places to ride gravel:
Raid Rockingham loop (45 & 60 mile options): http://raidrockingham.com/course/
New Hampshire Rail Trails: https://nhrtc.org/about-3-3/
Gravel loops throughout Strafford, NH – nice elevation gain (good place to park is the Blue Job Mtn Trail Head)
The Muddy Onion route from Montpelier VT (check travel restrictions, but maybe next summer!)
Jen Murphy is a local scientist, cyclist, She Rides Seacoast steering committee member and endurance coach. Follow Jen’s food and bike adventures on Instagram at @jenxmurphy or connect via https://rofaendurance.com/coaches/