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If you own a road bike, you may not want to spend more money on a gravel bike just so you can bike on gravel tracks. But can you use road bike on gravel?
You don’t want to damage your bike by taking it out on surfaces it’s not made to be ridden on, but you also don’t want to have to get a new one when you have a perfectly good bike right there.
Your road bike is generally fine to use on gravel without facing any kind of major damage. However, to make sure your bike does stay safe, it is best to go for lighter gravel tracks so you can avoid any surprises.
There are also some modifications you can opt for to make your bike better suited for riding on gravel. Understanding what your bike is capable of can help you make sure your bike stays safe and how you can work around some of the concerns.
While putting this article together, we looked into the topic extensively to find the best way to ride your road bike on gravel as well as any tips you should keep in mind.
Riding A Road Bike on Gravel
Gravel tracks and roads are significantly different. You’re much less likely to find as many rocks, loose stones or mud on the paved roads than on gravel tracks.
Because gravel bikes are made specifically to be ridden on such uneven terrain, you might wonder if your regular road bike is good enough. The good thing is that there isn’t much of a difference between the two. While there are some differences, you can easily make some simple adjustments to your road bike to use it on gravel.
Tips to Ride Your Road Bike on Gravel
Position of Your Bike
Make sure that if you’re riding your bike on gravel, you do so in the middle of the track, rather than at the edges. This is because when people walk, drive or bike over these tracks, the land gets smoothed over and the loose gravel gets pushed towards the sides of the track.
By riding in the center, where the gravel is smoother and firmer, you can keep your bike from getting damaged – or worse, falling off and hurting yourself.
In fact, when vehicles drive over the gravel tracks, they make the ground firmer, and let you build up your speed the way you would on paved roads as well. This helps you bike more effectively.
If the track has too many rocks, it is best to find a path through it that is less rocky, or better, avoid the track entirely. This will help you keep your bike from damage and prevent any injuries.
Your Riding Stance
On a regular road bike, your riding stance is generally lower. This is because it helps reduce the effects of air resistance and makes you faster. For roads, this is great because the paved surfaces are smooth and there are very few hurdles in your path.
However, gravel tracks are a different story. On these surfaces, the loose rocks and gravel make the path bumpy, which doesn’t just slow you down, but also poses some hazards.
When riding your bike on a gravel track, you want to sit higher with your chest up and your arms straight out in front of you. Ideally, your weight should be falling on the back wheel. This position helps you keep an eye on the ground in front of you so you can identify any upcoming hurdles. However, because of the air resistance, this riding stance will reduce your speed.
On top of how you’re sitting, also try to relax yourself. This can be a bit tough, since the feeling of the loose gravel under the wheels can make you tense up and make you tighten your grip on your bike. This can actually make you more likely to fall than if you were sitting more relaxed.
Keep a loose grip on the handlebars, and relax as much as possible. This way, you will be able to avoid overcorrecting in case something goes wrong, and you will also be able to keep from getting too fatigued while riding. This is especially true since riding on gravel requires more effort than on roads.
Turning Corners or Descending
Gravel tracks do get smoothed out by previous travelers, but turns and slopes are usually always a bit rockier and bumpier than the rest of the track. This can make it harder to turn corners or descend.
When you come to a slope or a turn, always make sure to take the smoothest line, and avoid leaning your bike into it as you would on the road. If you’re not careful, you can slip on the loose gravel and fall.
Also, avoid grabbing the front brakes of your bike while you’re turning. Before you reach the corner, slow down as much as you can and ride at a much lower speed so that if you have to turn, you have enough time to do so.
Modifying Your Road Bike for Gravel
While riding a road bike on gravel is not impossible, it does present some challenges that can make your ride a bit uncomfortable. Fortunately, you can modify your bike a bit to make the experience better, especially if you are to ride on gravel over long distances.
Thinner tires are lighter and generally more aerodynamic than other tires, which makes them an excellent choice on the road. Not so much on gravel, though. Larger, wider tires are a much better option for riding on gravel, since they will give better traction. Wider tires also allow for lower pressures by distributing it over the larger surface area. This helps reduce the risk of a puncture. On gravel tracks, where it’s easy to come across sharp objects and rocks, this can be a huge advantage.
The minimum width you should go for should be about 25 mm. If your bike frame allows more, 32 mm tires would be even better.
Lower Gear Ratio
Because of all the hurdles you’d find on rougher roads, your average speed will, naturally, also be slower. As such, the chain rings and cassette cogs that are common for riding on roads may not be the best choice for gravel tracks.
Instead, you could opt for more compact chain rings, or larger cassette cogs. This will help you out when you’re riding at a lower speed, and also keep you from fatiguing as fast as you would otherwise. This is especially true for races or training, where the rides are usually much longer.
Saddles for road bikes are usually thin and have less padding because you are able to ride more aggressively on the road. On gravel, you should be sitting upright, and this puts more pressure on your bones, which can cause discomfort or numbness, and can even hurt you in the long run.
By opting for a different saddle, ideally one with more padding, you can reduce this issue.
Road bikes will usually have rim brakes, and while it’s not necessary to replace these, disc brakes can be a much better option for riding on gravel. This is especially true if the track you’re on is expected to be wet or muddy. Mud can clog the rim brakes and keep your wheels from spinning well, which can make your ride impossible.
With disc brakes, you can avoid this and stay safe on the gravel.
So, can you use road bike on gravel? You can, and you can do so pretty safely too. But for a much better experience riding, it is best to opt for some minor modifications and keep the tips we mentioned in mind. This way, you can ride your road bike on gravel just as well as a gravel bike.