Sean Mailen, a product designer engineer at Salsa Cycles, offered advice on everything from which bike to consider to what to expect riding on gravel. “Riding on a gravel/dirt/unpaved road doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, once you understand how great these roads are you’ll likely include them into many of your rides,” Mailen wrote in an e-mail. “Many gravel roads have very little car traffic and take you through some spectacular scenery, making them perfect for cyclists.” In his words, here are some of his tips:
The bike is important to making your experience pleasurable one. I recommend a bike that puts you in a comfortable and stable position, and one that can fit today’s larger tires (28- to 50-millimeter). Many of today’s gravel and AnyRoad bikes have geometries designed to help the rider feel in control in the different conditions. Disc brakes also are more predominant, and are a great choice for gravel riding because of their power and reliability in wet conditions.
Every year more and more tire choices become available. More tire choices are better for the rider but, depending on your expectations and considering the many varieties of dirt roads, things can get confusing. I recommend going to your local bike shop and talking to the experts there about what they ride and recommend. A good starting point can be a tire between 38mm and 44mm width to inspire confidence and provide a little cushion.
Gravel road conditions can vary. They can be smooth hard pack or slightly loose, fresh Class 5 gravel (crushed limestone). Add in climbs, descents, mud, car tracks, and minimum-maintenance roads. Don’t be intimidated. If it’s your first time riding dirt roads, plan a route with a couple of short sections to give it a try. Stay relaxed and centered on your bike. Observe how the car tires usually push away the looser gravel. Those lines are the most stable. Also, beware of potholes and loose gravel piles. Usually it’s on the inside of corners and at different street crossings. After just a couple of rides, you’ll begin to understand the preferred lines.