By Pam Moore
Krystal Salvent was an avid road cyclist — until she found herself lying in a ditch after a driver ran her off the road. That experience prompted the Boulder, Colo., co-leader of Black Girls Do Bike Denver to buy her first gravel bike.
Salvent represents the growing community of gravel cyclists, who prefer pedaling alongside fields and forests rather than cars and trucks because of safety concerns. The past 10 years saw a 37 percent increase in accidental bike-related injuries.
As a low-impact exercise, cycling is easy on the joints and rich in health benefits, both physical and mental. Research shows that cycling is associated with improved aerobic fitness and decreased risk for cancer and mortality.
Gravel bikes feature gearing and geometry similar to road bikes and the wider, knobby tires of a mountain bike. While they lack the shock-absorbing suspension forks and rear shocks that mountain bikes have, gravel bikes allow access to off-road terrain, including muddy trails, dirt roads, and crushed gravel paths.
Inspired to explore gravel cycling but not sure where to begin? Here are some factors to consider.
Where to ride
Start with a shorter route and park at the trailhead in case you get in any kind of pickle where it’s five miles in and this is actually a lot harder than you thought.
One of the most important route-planning considerations is the surface you’re riding on. It encompasses a wide variety of surfaces, including gravel of all sizes and textures, pavement, forest roads, fire roads, single-track, mountain bike trails, and dirt.
While you should always inflate your tires before a ride, determining how much is tricky, English said. The recommended pressure stamped into every tire’s sidewall is a rough guideline. “It depends on your weight, where you are riding, and tire width,” but most people ride with too much pressure, says an expert. Lower pressure gives you more traction on rough terrain.
What to bring
Just as you would for road or mountain biking, at minimum bring tools to change a flat. While all riders should have a tire lever and a couple of CO2 cartridges or a pump, additional must-haves depend on the type of tires.
Many gravel riders prefer tubeless tires because you can run lower pressures without the risk of the tube pinching against the rim.
For more remote rides, take plenty of food and water, phones, GPS bike computers, and a satellite communication device.
What to wear
Gravel riding involves “stopping, getting off and walking and having to cross something that might be in your path,” situations that mountain bike shoes’ flexible soles and recessed cleats were designed for.
(Courtesy: The Washington Post)