The gravel bike is a versatile, adaptable option which is capturing the heart of cycling enthusiasts
Gravel is here to stay because it is an intelligent, practical, and enjoyable way to understand cycling. Being a middle ground between road cycling and mountain biking has allowed it to draw fans from both sports. If a mountain bike allows a rider to take the road less travelled, a gravel bike allows riders to explore new and exciting terrain, from paved roads to dirt trails. They’re tough enough to handle simple terrain (gravel trails, fire roads, etc.) while remaining lightweight. The gravel bike is a new trend that is gaining traction among lovers of two wheels.
Once a niche pastime, it has developed a devoted following of riders who demand gravel-specific frames, wheels, tyres, components, and gear.
"Your standard road bike might be a barrier to actually travelling the less travelled path. The mountain bike (MTB) may not be a useful tool for long and swift rides. In order to experience both, riders began adding drop bars to their MTB hardtails and switching to less knobby tyres (of course for speed!). As a result, the gravel bike was created," says Avinash Noronha, founder and editor, CyclingMonks.
The gravel bike is something like the ‘Crossover/ Compact SUV’. "A vehicle designed to handle some rough terrain but nothing too technical, while maintaining all of the necessary road manners. As a result, it’s no surprise that compact SUVs and gravel bikes are becoming increasingly popular," says Avinash.
Gravel bikes are an attempt to return you to the roots of cycling, with one bike capable of tackling everything the journey has to offer. "While most cycling enthusiasts may have multiple bikes to suit different formats, a gravel bike is a one-bike quiver. It’s the Jack of all Trades of cycling. While it may not excel at any given format, its USP is freedom. From smooth roads to broken paths, to gravel paths like village roads connecting fields, to mellow trails, it is at home," says Abhishek Purohit, a die-hard two wheeler aficionado and associate general counsel, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited.
Routes that open up
"Gravel discipline typically refers to riding a drop-bar bike on unpaved roads, jeep tracks, single tracks, and moderately technical trails. This is very different from riding a mountain bike because the drop-bars allow you the flexibility to ride both on and off road. I’ve been gravel biking for more than two years now," says Ricky Sharma of Cycling Club — Aravalli Trail Hunters (ATH) and CEO, Two Tree Logistics Pvt Ltd.
Because of increased commercial activity, trails have deteriorated dramatically in recent years. "The trails are becoming more mellow, with fewer technical sections. This resulted in our usual routes becoming somewhat mundane and devoid of the challenges they used to present. Plus, the hassle of loading the bike into the car and driving to the trailhead. In most cases, the driving distance would be greater than the riding distance! Gravel bikes provided an entirely new perspective on the trails. Because there is no suspension, one must concentrate on the lines to follow; additionally, gravel bikes are faster on flat terrain," says Avinash Noronha.
"Most gravel bikes don’t have suspension because it adds weight to the bike, reduces your road performance, and makes it harder to accelerate in a race, while requiring extra maintenance. Since gravel routes tend to be hilly, you’ll be climbing more often, so the lighter the bike, the better," says Ricky.
To get off to a strong start and ride strong later, you should work out at a medium-to-high-intensity, including tempo, steady state and power intervals, two to three times per week. It may take hours of riding at this intensity over the course of a lengthy gravel race, so tempo (moderately hard aerobic intensity) is crucial. "It helps to have some MTB riding experience and hours because you can handle the difficulties of riding on trails. Many people purchase gravel bikes, but they only use them to ride on roads; they never enter the trails where they can actually perform a proper gravel ride," says Ricky.
Gravel vs. Road Bikes
Abhishek says, "There are two major distinctions — Capability and Geometry. Gravel bikes have more relaxed trail figures than road bikes, allowing them to be more stable in difficult terrain. Road bikes, on the other hand, are designed to be sharp in handling and changing directions.
Elaborating, he says, "Built to accommodate wider tyres, it is stronger and designed to hold a variety of gear (top tube bag, frame bag, up to three bottles in some cases) with mounting options, dropper post, and so on. In comparison to road bikes, which are geared more towards outright speed, the gearing on mountain bikes is also wider to allow for riding in a variety of terrain."
Comfortable to ride
From a distance, this bike might pass for a typical road bike. But is relaxed frame geometry and somewhat upright riding position make it more comfortable to ride, particularly over long distances on difficult terrain. Wider tyres offer a more aggressive tread than road tyres for better grip and puncture resistance, and disc brakes enable better braking in rough terrain.
A versatile approach
Gravel bikes offer improved control and stability, making them perfect for navigating a variety of terrains. While mountain biking is geared towards overcoming difficult trails and challenging terrain, gravel biking offers a versatile approach for those seeking a combination of road and off-road experiences.
Three benefits of gravel bikes:
Adaptability: Gravel bikes are more adaptable because they can accommodate different tyre sizes. It is more affordable to use this feature because it eliminates the need to buy multiple bikes for various riding disciplines. Riders can easily transition from enjoying trails and rough terrain to cruising on quiet roads by simply changing the wheels.
Enhanced Stability and Control: Gravel bikes provide superior stability and control, which makes them well-suited for navigating a variety of terrains. Riders are able to confidently take on difficult off-road trails as well as maintain stability and control even on paved roads as a result. The stability and control of a gravel bike make it a versatile and enjoyable option for those looking for a balanced cycling experience across various terrains, whether tackling a rocky path or taking in a smooth country ride.
— Prateek Thakur, Professional cyclist and steadfast athlete
Positions: Gravel bikes have a more accommodating geometry than road or mountain bikes. Being a little more laid back than road bikes but more aggressive than mountain bikes, they strike a balance. This makes it possible for riders to find a position that suits their preferences, and improves their overall cycling experience.