A Comprehensive Guide To Gravel Biking & The Gear You Need

Are you ready to hit the open road? There are so many bikes out there to choose from nowadays; not all of them lend themselves to smooth tarmac but that's where gravel bikes come into play. When you think of gravel, you think of small, rough stones, and rocks that form a pathway. Of course, you can also experience gravel off the beaten path, on mountain sides and across different terrains all over the world. 

If you’re looking for a challenge and a step up from road biking, make sure you’re prepared to take on gravel biking safely and confidently. Our gravel cycling tips will guide you in the right direction.

What is Gravel Biking?

When you hear that crunch beneath your tires, it signifies you’re on the right surface for gravel biking. Gravel biking covers the most mild of the rough surfaces (like a dirt road) to the most extreme (think steep rocks and mountains).

While you could technically ride any bike over these surfaces, gravel bikes are more specialized to handle the rough and versatile terrain. So, what makes a gravel bike different from other bikes? The main difference is in the wheels and tires. As you can imagine, you’d need a more durable tire to safely ride over loose ground. Most gravel bikes have options of 700c (29-inch) or 650b (27.5-inch) wheels. Gravel bikes also feature:
  • Long slacker angles and upright, relaxed geometry for better stability
  • Wide, flared handlebars for more control 
  • Chainsets with wide ratios and lower gears to be able to tackle varied terrains and steep climbs

5 Surefire Gravel Cycling Tips

After you’re equipped with the right bike, it’s important to practice certain techniques that will keep you riding safely and successfully. Take a look at some of our tried and true, expert gravel cycling tips to help get you started.
  1. Hold the right position for rough descents.
When you’re about to tackle a descent, move your hands into the drops of the bike (the curly lower parts of the handlebars). Make sure your hands are behind the brake levers, and bend your elbows. Shift your weight backward and bend your legs to absorb the bumps along the way down. Doing so will lower your gravity and keep the bike in a straighter position for more control.
  1. Master sharp corner turns with proper braking.
    This tip also applies to rough, fast descents. In order to best control the bike during sharp turns, brake before the turn. Turning and braking at the same time means less control, so always be sure to give yourself enough time to slow down before you approach a descent or turn. Some descents and turns are not always predictable, so it’s important to always be aware of your surroundings. We also recommend feathering your brakes. This is a technique of lightly and rapidly alternating pressure and release of the brakes; this prevents brakes from locking while controlling your speed, especially when it's technical.
  1. Rely on your body weight to turn more than your handlebars.
    Yes, handlebars are used for turning. But when it comes to gravel biking, too much movement of the handlebars can cause your front tire to change direction too sharply, resulting in less control and potential danger. We recommended shifting your body and turning your hips in the direction you want to go while gently using your handlebars to steadily balance and guide you. You can practice this on descents and turns that aren't very technical at first so you can get the hang of it.
  1. Stay relaxed.
    We get it, the whole point of gravel biking is to experience new adventures and terrains while keeping that adrenaline going. But did you know keeping your body relaxed can actually help you master the skill of gravel biking? If you try to do too much maneuvering, the bike simply won’t work with you. When you stay relaxed, the bike will be able to maintain a straight path with forward momentum, guiding you safely up and down hills and jagged terrain.
  1. Keep your chin and eyes up at all times.
    As we said before, being aware of your surroundings is of the utmost importance, especially when it comes to enjoying your ride safely. Many novice riders tend to keep their gaze down on the road right in front of them–but if you’re looking down, how can you plan for what’s ahead? Keep your head up in order to take in the view ahead and in your peripheral vision. If you need a confidence boost, simply lower your center of gravity by bending your elbows and legs. This will help you maintain control.

Essential Gear for Gravel Biking

No matter what type of biking you take on, you must always take proper safety precautions. Standard biking safety equipment is always a helmet and sometimes gloves that provide grip. Is there safety gear specific to gravel biking? What’s the best gravel bike helmet? We have the answers.

Let’s start with additional safety gear. Depending on your level of adventurousness, you may want to invest in these items to keep you on track if the rugged land creates a snag in your ride:
  • Tire patch kit
  • Inner tubes
  • Make sure your chain is fitted with a quick link and also carry a chain tool
  • Tire levers
  • Mini pump
  • Lights

Now for the best gravel helmet. Since we know gravel biking can consist of unpredictable, tough riding conditions, the proper helmet is essential to riding safely. Gravel bike helmets are lightweight, well-ventilated, and offer more coverage than the average bike helmet. 

The KAV Portola Helmet is 3D printed, customized to your specifications, and made with a proprietary carbon fiber copolymer blend to ensure the utmost safety. The best part is that you’ll never need to adjust anything. Since we’ve created a helmet unique to your measurements, the helmet will simply feel like a natural part of you–so much so that you'll hardly notice you're wearing one. No more clunky, heavyweight helmets that don't fit right or give you headaches and unnecessary pressure. Only the sleekest and safest for maximum gravel biking.

Now that you’ve read our gravel cycling tips and prepared with our safety recommendations, it’s time to get riding!