How to Gravel

Gravel ride here, gravel bike there. There’s hardly a word you hear more often in cycling these days than the word gravel. For me, gravel was for a very long time mainly one thing: nasty little stones. Anyone who has ever ridden on a forest road with 25 mm tires knows what I’m talking about.

When I started road cycling, poorly planned routes and spontaneous shortcuts often ended on these very roads with the nasty little stones. This caused either an indispensable speed reduction to about 5 km/h, or complete dismount and pushing (strongly linked to the current slope of the road). To me the danger to lose control was just too high. I think I said “I hate stones” more often than “look how beautiful”. Anyone who has ever ridden with me knows what that means. And why would you want to ride a road bike on small stones?

Even well-intentioned advice and strategies for mastering the gravel paths could not convince me. Simply driving over them as fast as possible, which should lead to a higher stability due to physical principles unknown to me, simply not manageable for me. Finally, there were still the additional hurdles of the less beaten paths: Brnaches suddenly blocking the road, tree roots at the edge of the path, holes in the middle of the path, which are only recognizable at the last glance, In short, not a fan.

Upgrade to 32 mm tires

Gravel Road
Gravel Road

My relationship with Gravel made a complete turnaround when I upgraded my Cannondale Synapse first to 28 mm and then (after the move to the country side) to 32 mm tires. With each mm tire width my stone security increased as well. Suddenly, small bumps were not mattering to be anymore. With each km/h more on the forest road rose also my tolerance towards the unevenness. And who would have thought, there is actually a correlation of speed to stability (if only I had paid better attention in physics class). After a few weeks of practice (ok, maybe a few months) and numerous shortcuts later, there was no difference for me anymore between freshly paved roads and gravel roads in terms of security. The first breakthrough was reached.

The biggest difference between classic road biking and graveling is: no cars! Graveling is far from near-death experiences on the highway. On small paths through the middle of forests, along rivers, past hares and hedgehogs, that’s gravel. Birds chirping, waterfalls, flower meadows and quiet clearings. The safer I became, the more beautiful the routes and the more I trust I developed to my 32 mm.

The mountain bike problem

Eventually, you get to a point where you notice the mountain bike trail signs. This is what I would call the next breakthrough, which you should definitely hide when talking to your life insurance agent. Suddenly you start testing how far you can actually get on your road bike on these mountain bike trails. The problem with these mountain bike trails is that you can get up some of them just fine, but you have to get down too somehow. And here’s the next challenge in gravel. Gravel downhill. As a non-downhill person with a slight fear of heights, riding downhill in general is already a problem. Downhill with many stones? A big problem. After many times pushing downhill a solution was needed.

The gavel blitz

Meet: The gravel blitz. My new Cannondale Topstone with 40 mm tires and mechanical dropper post.

Cannondale Topstone

Dropper what? A dropper post is a retractable or extendable seatpost, with which you can change the seat height in a flash, without having to get off the bike. The whole thing runs on a small additional lever, which is installed on the handlebars (Anton mechanic God). So just before the descent you can simply retract the seatpost to shift the center of gravity further back and gain more security on the descent.

Since this upgrade and with the new tubeless tires only inflated to 2 bar, I am becoming the mountain bike trails without mountain bike pro. I do not claim that the very steep pieces are no longer a problem, but I am 100% safer than still on the Synapse and have not had to push downhill since then.

My advice to all who may still be a little unsure on and with Gravel: The thicker the tires, the better. The lower the air pressure, the more comfortable (but also the slower on the road). And then just enjoy it. And do not let the fast road cyclists on the highway next to you unsettle you 😉