Riding Gravel on Road Bikes

Can I ride my road bike on gravel?

IFT Photo by: Chris Morris

The riders traveled 60 miles of gravel roads to tour local farms, student gardens, orchards and restaurants.

It is one of the most popular questions we get.

Short answer: Yes!

This is one of my favorite topics and deserving of a more in-depth answer because gravel riding is so much fun! At the very basic level a gravel bike is a road bike with beefier tires. Although gravel and cyclocross bikes are fun and I highly recommend looking into purchasing one as they are the most versatile, riding the Culinary Ride requires nothing more than a great attitude and some minor adjustments to your road bike. Plus, riding gravel is a great way to hone in on bike handling skills.

The Culinary Ride is a bicycle tour of farms, and most farms are on gravel roads (Yeah! An opportunity for adventure!). The only thing we advise against for those worried about dings and nicks, is riding your brand new, high $$$$, carbon fiber road bike or a bike with high end components. Other than that, here are some tips for getting your road bike ‘Beet-it-Up’ ready.

Setting up your road bike for gravel riding:

– Get tougher and perhaps wider tires. I like Specialized Armadillos or Continental Gatorskins as they work great on pavement but are tough enough for a few miles of gravel. Put fatter tires on (some that still fit your frame) for even more control and stability. Thicker hybrid, touring, or cyclocross tires will work and your LBS can help you pick something out that is perfect for your road bike.

– Make sure you love your saddle. More cushion DOES NOT equal more comfort. Women specific saddles for the ladies are a good option too.

– Double wrap your handlebars with bar tape for extra cushion. Or, get some Ergo Grips if by chance you have flat handlebars (a personal favorite).

– Wear bike shorts and slather on the butt-butter. I’d rather ride in cut-offs, but after 5 hours in the saddle…

Gravel riding tips:

– Pick your line. Always be scanning ahead. Your bike will follow where your eyes are looking. Usually there are smooth lines you can cruise through.

– Eat more food and hydrate. Riding on gravel takes more energy. Be ready with bars or money for food, and plenty of water.

– Keep your upper body loose. Don’t tense up when the road gets bumpy.

– Keep a constant speed. When I started riding gravel one of the first things I noticed was that every time I slowed down pedaling got harder. Keep up your momentum and it will feel like you are practically floating!

Riding gravel and dirt is a challenge, but the list of benefits is long:

– Low-traffic roads

– Getting gritty and grimy

– Access to farms and the ability to explore back-country roads and the path less traveled, usually presenting sublime views!

– Feels like you are floating!

– Getting outside your comfort zone and enhancing your bike handling skills

– Great exercise

– The hot shower, dinner, and beer are extra good at the end of your ride.

Got some tips for gravel riding on road bikes? Leave it in the comments section.


Ride on.