Gravel racers that are successful can usually thank the trifecta of gravel rides: Preparation, Skill and Luck. Typically, most of us hope for at least two out of three in order to come in ahead of most of the gritty and dusty pack. I would have to say that my first gravel race was awesome because I got two of the three right … and one of those wasn’t Skill.
Roadie Meets Gravel
I’m basically a roadie. Mountain bikers sneer at my epic fear of fast dissents and then wish they hadn’t when I’m still climbing after they’ve gassed out. However, the fact remains that my ‘skilz’ off road are minimal. Just about anyone can drop me on single track without even breathing hard. While I may love sprinting on the road; put me on dirt and I turn into Auntie Sally out for a Sunday Stroll. I fail to see why I must go so fast and miss all the pretty scenery!
Roads Less Traveled
With that being said: I don’t mind gravel so much as there aren’t but so many things being thrown at me at once. Gravel roads are typically less traveled and that means less motor vehicles. There are no ledge drop offs, roots and so forth (usually). Gravel roads remind us of adventure and exploration. To those that aren’t familiar with gravel – there’s several different types of gravel roads. Here’s a few off my list: hard-pack, sandy, easy rolling, fire-road (includes 1 inch of tree debris), brain-jarring, washboard and bouldering.
The Trifecta of Gravel
My first gravel race (HTFU Roubaix: 40% gravel, 60% pavement) was blessed to have none of latter four descriptions. Mother Nature also helped out and delivered a nice rain to beat down the significant sandy sections the night before. After noodling around for days trying to decide which bike to take I opted for the quickest with the narrower tires. It ended up being a good choice but only because of sheer Luck.
If Momma Nature hadn’t handed out some H2O I would have been a sad, sad little gravel rider.
Be a Good Little Scout
Preparation was also in my favor. I loathe Garmins and I don’t even have a speedometer on my bike. BUT, when I realized the course wasn’t going to be marked – I dug out my basic Garmin, charged it up, loaded the course and crossed my fingers. Good thing too! Some people went 20 miles out of their way because they missed the turns. The thing about most gravel rides, gran fondos or races: they aren’t often marked. You can get beer and tacos at the end, but you’re on your own out there!
The ‘H’ in HTFU
Overall, the most challenging part of the ride was the pavement. Being a roadie and used to traveling much, much faster on such surfaces, I spent some time in the Hurt Locker to make knobby tires roll as fast as possible on the road. It was almost a relief to be on gravel again! There was also the challenge of staying focused in the pain zone while butterflies flitted past with the sunlight dancing over the green trees and ferns of the forest.
I had to remind myself about once a minute that I was racing!
To sum it all up … I think I’m hooked on gravel! It’s a lot of fun, it’s challenging, you don’t fear that you will be run over (much) and there’s usually some good scenery. I may not have mad ‘skilz’ off-road but I think I might love some gritty gravel-grinding fun!
If you are prepping for an epic gravel gran fondo, race or event: remember the Trifecta of Gravel and work on your Skill, Prepare a LOT … and send a few prayers to the small gods of Gravel for a bit of Luck. While I certainly do not know anywhere near everything about gravel racing, I do know that putting some training time in the bank will go a long way towards meeting your end goal. Tires, tire pressure, bike choice and so forth also matter a TON.
Stay tuned for my upcoming chat about tires for gravel. What’s good and what’s not so awesome… and why.
A Tip For Your Trip
Think like a boy/girl scout when you are going out for a gravel ride. services can be few and far between – or non-existent. You are seriously on your own. For most all gravel races, forget about ‘wheels in and wheels out’. Carry a tube or three, a patch kit, a multi-tool, an air pump and a tire boot or four. Don’t forget nutrition and water! If you’re in the country and you know there’s a farm or two around, you might be able to beg for water off of a local.
Otherwise: plan your gravel ride like a backcountry camping trip: pack it in – pack it out.
Go Get Your Gravel On!!
Interested in the latest gravel adventure bikes for 2017? Check some of the top picks here: