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Gravel 101

What the Heck is “Gravel Riding” Anyway?

By Taryn Askew & Damon Telepak

Remember back to a time when you were kid - when your friend would call you up and ask, “Wanna ride bikes?” Remember when it was all just that simple? You had a bike. Your friends had bikes. You all wanted to go somewhere, but it didn’t matter where. It was all just riding bikes.

Then you grew up, grew wiser, and got “into” bikes. You started comparing specs. You argued over claimed tire weight. You justified ceramic bearings and had discussions about threshold and picked your route based on a workout plan. Let’s be honest - you got a little out of hand. We all have.

And that’s totally cool. Passion is key to a life well lived. But what if you could turn that passion back toward the experience? What if there was “just riding bikes” again? Could that be gravel?

Of course it could be gravel. Frankly, it could also be mountain biking or road riding or a rattly-old balloon tire bike from the 50s, but let’s talk about what’s so cool about this gravel thing.

Basically, you can’t do gravel wrong, because nobody knows what gravel riding actually is.

How do you get into gravel riding

You get on your bike - it might be from your own front door or it might be a parking lot somewhere. After that, you pick a direction and pedal. Are you on pavement? Totally fine. Is it a graded fire road? Terrific. How about a rutted-out jeep trail? Maybe some scrabbly doubletrack? Stone dust hike-and-bike-way? Power line easement? They can all take you somewhere. Not sure where exactly that is, though? Even better.

The whole point is: the points don’t matter. A gravel ride isn’t about having somewhere to be. It’s about already being somewhere. You’re out there. You’re adventuring. You’re rediscovering the joy of the route. That’s the key.

So where does this all go down? The reality of our surroundings, for most of us at least, is that things are pretty well built up. We can’t just put long loops of nothing but dirt and gravel together - so our local rides tend to be put together “charm bracelet” style.

We string rides together by finding the off-pavement we want to explore, and then mapping out a route that connects it all up - left turn onto the power lines here… cut through the State Park there… You’ll be surprised how many opportunities you’ve barely given a glance when you were out on your skinny road bike. And while it’s nice to dream of spending hours on a perfect dirt ribbon across the countryside, it’s also a fair tradeoff to know that there’s always a road nearby if you ever just want to smooth things out or make up some time.

In a lot of ways and for a lot of people, gravel is reigniting that passion for the experience that so many thought might have been lost for good. And just like you’d expect, it was always right there in front of us. It’s “just riding bikes”, after all.

Ready to give this a go? Here’s a few nifty tools to help you find some local “gravel bits” to pepper into your rides. Go ahead and piece a ride together. Start on the road if you have to, then jump in on a fire road entrance or a trail at the local park and see where you end up on the far side.  Don’t forget to stay creative. There’s a lot more rideable terrain out there than you’d ever realize until you start keeping an eye peeled for it.

Gravel Ride Resources

Gravel Map
A great resource for finding as well as mapping gravel in your hood.  Little snippets of gravel & dirt to piece together on your “charm bracelet” gravel ride.

Strava Heat Map
Ever see some power lines and wonder if anyone has ever pedaled down it?  Ever see what looks like a deer trail in the woods and wonder if anyone’s ever ridden it?  Then head to the Heat map to find out!  Chances are some crazy SOB has done it - and you very well could be the next.

Using Google Maps
A little older article, but none the less sell pertinent today.  All the little tips & tricks as well as do’s & don’ts for using Google Map and Google Earth to scout out some adventure ride options.

For your first few adventures, go ahead and ride whatever you've got. Hardtail mountain bikes make great gravel bikes with the right set of tires. Or if your road bike can squeeze some 28mm tires, you'll be surprised where you can go.  Be sure you take an extra tube, a pump, and some basic tools - you will be off the beaten path at times so self-sufficiency is a must.  And of course, don’t forget to charge up and pack the ole cell phone as well - being able to call your significant other for a bailout is comforting.  That map app can certainly come in handy too.

When you’re ready to go deeper send, the folks at Litespeed and Ocoee Bikes have great gravel bike options to consider.  And if you’re fortunate to have a local bike shop near you, BY ALL MEANS visit them!  They’ll know the right bike for all the terrain in your neck of the woods - and they’ll certainly know where all the little hidden gems to ride are.

And remember, you can’t do gravel wrong, because nobody can say what gravel riding actually is.

It’s just riding bikes.

What is gravel riding - and how do you get started in gravel?

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