[BTW, while the long epic gravel grinds are amazing rides, doing shorter, supported gravel road rides are incredibly awesome too. Don’t miss out just because there isn’t en “epic” ride near you. Find some gravel and go!]
Ira Ryan, two-time winner of the 300-mile Trans-Iowa gravel road race and Portland bike builder (iraryancycles.com) has some gravel survival advice for you.
- Bring extra tubes, patch kits and a dependable frame pump that inflates up to 100 psi.
- Have good gravel tires (hybrids between road racing and touring tires) that are wider and with a Kevlar puncture strip in the tire casing. They should roll fast with a minimal tread pattern for the smoother sections of road. Maintain near-maximum tire pressure to resist pinch flats.
- Have a comfortable bike. A good gravel bike fits like a comfy road bike but with more clearance for wider tires and a little mud. Cyclocross bikes are a good start. 29ers and other mountain bikes are often overkill unless the gravel turns into single track or gets very rutted.
- Be loose on the bike. Gripping the bars and trying to fight the gravel will only result in a crash or sore muscles. If you move your weight back on the saddle, the front wheel will glide over a loose section.
- Keep your overall weight down by carrying less and thus decreasing fatigue during a long gravel event. My good friend G. Pickle, who raced in the first Trans-Iowa race, told me to “travel light and freeze at night.”
- Music can be helpful. It has saved me at 3 a.m. when all I wanted to do was sleep in a ditch. Justin Timberlake and Deelite got me through the third Trans-Iowa. Be sure you can hear traffic.
- Stay fueled and hydrated. Dusty gravel makes water that much more important. Don’t be afraid to eat a burger for long-burning fuel.
- Stay flexible. Yoga and stretching during and after your ride help a lot by keeping your body from locking up.
- Make good lines and use extra power to get through loose gravel. If you steer with your hips, push hard on the pedals from the back of the saddle and use the front wheel as a sort of rudder; you can clean most deep, loose gravel.
- Train and refine your mental stamina for really long gravel races. If you get overwhelmed by the distance of an event, just focus on the here and now of the road. Ride at your own pace, take your time, and keep pedaling.