The Full Guide To Gravel Riding

Author: Darren Mallard   Date Posted:8 March 2022 



 

Gravel bikes were born in the US, where long stretches of long unsealed roads bridged the gap between riding destinations. Riders cobbled together road, cyclocross, mountain, and older bikes to go on long adventures. None of the bikes did the job. However, the bike companies saw the needs of these riders. They developed a new style of bikes specifically for these adventures. 

The New style of bikes became hugely popular due to their versatility. As they were designed for long days in the saddle, Gravel bikes are extremely comfortable. Roads ridden for exploration are often not the smoothest, so the bikes are often vertically compliant with comfort features built-in. Disc brakes are a must, so the bigger knobbly tires have plenty of clearance, and you have plenty of control when it comes to stopping. 





What is so different from a cyclocross bike? Cyclocross bikes can be ridden as gravel bikes; however, as they have been designed as race bikes, the rider's positioning will be lower and more aggressive. Cyclocross bikes are also limited to a maximum tire width of around 35 mm. If you want to run bigger tires for increased comfort and traction, you will be limited. 



 

Hardtail mountain bikes may seem more comfortable due to their suspension and bigger tyres. On a Gravel adventure, you are going to come across different types of terrain. On smoother surfaces, the bigger tyres and heavier bikes will be less efficient. This decreased efficiency will lead to more energy spent, and you will fatigue faster on the longer rides. 

One of the biggest attractions to gravel bikes is what is often referred to as underbiking. Underbiking is when you ride trails that are more technical than what the bike is created for. Riding a cross country dual suspension or hardtail bike would make the gravel roads boring or underwhelming. Riding a Gravel bike will make even the simplest trails exhilarating and leaving you more stoked when you have made it to the bottom. 





Gravel bikes are efficient, so you can explore further and for longer with less effort. Put slicker tyres on, and you will have a slightly heavier but still capable road bike. Keep the racks on, and it's the ultimate commuter. The options are endless when you are on a gravel bike. 





Why the wider curly handlebars, though? As one of the 3 main contact points on the bike, you want them to be as comfortable as possible. Narrow handlebars with less "flare" may be more aerodynamic, but you are locked into 2 positions. Flat bars have even fewer options with just the two positions. Wider yet shallow drop bars offer more hand positions so you can move your position throughout your multi-hour epic rides. 



 

"1X" drivetrains are often seen on Mountain and Cyclocross Bikes, thanks to their ease of use and reliability. Road bikes have been slow to use 1X systems because the larger jumps between gears make it difficult to maintain an efficient cadence. Gravel bikes are more prone to using 1x as there is less to go wrong in the middle of nowhere. Touring bikes will use a 2x system in some cases as the extra gear helps get up those tough hills when fully loaded. 

Gravel Bikes are one of the best do it all bikes on the market today. Whether you want to commute to work, put in time on the sealed tarmac or adventure into the backcountry, gravel bikes will do it all. If you are unsure about where you want to ride, and the type of riding you want to do, a gravel bike is the best spot to start. 

Component Breakdown

Shimano

GRX (RX400, RX600, RX800)

The GRX groupset is Shimano’s latest creation, added to the hierarchy in 2019. It is designed specifically for gravel riding and racing, to meet the needs of the ever-growing gravel market.

At the moment, there are three GRX series available: RX400 10-speed, RX600 11-speed, and the RX800 11-speed Di2 option.

Some features that make it a good choice for gravel riders include grippy levers and hoods, front derailleurs with more outbound clearance, and Shadow RD+ rear mechs that decrease chain chatter.

All GRX series can be ridden as 1x or 2x systems, with 11 or 22 gears, and are available with hydraulic disc brakes.

SRAM

 

Apex 1

In fact, for anyone who would like to have a 1x11 drivetrain on their gravel bike. We’re unlikely to find a decent, cheaper groupset of this kind on the market. Apex works effectively, there’s a wide range of cassettes that allows us to have most routes covered, and the components are easy to maintain. 

The advantage of 1x11 is its simplicity - you don't have to play around by adjusting the front derailleur, you only have one gear lever on the handlebars (besides the brakes), and the chain has practically no reason whatsoever to fall off. Moreover, the cost is very low! You can spend the money you save on upgrading your wheelset, for example. Remember that 1x11 loses to 2x11 in terms of the gradation.

Rival 1

Like SRAM Apex, the Rival groupset is available in 1x. The components are still made from a combination of steel and aluminum alloys, but the end product is lighter compared to Apex. The tolerances in this groupset are also tighter so shifting performance increases. 

SRAM’s XLPR wireless wide range 12-speed configuration is now available at the Rival level. Riders can now experience precise shifting every time, less tuning, and a top-quality drivetrain at a low price. The only difference Rival has compared to Red is that it is a bit heavier due to the materials used and less complex machining.

If you are unsure that a gravel bike is for you check out our full road bike buyers guide HERE or our full guide to buying a bike HERE 

SHOP GRAVEL BIKES HERE