What is gravel racing?
What is gravel racing?
Gravel racing is the cycle industry’s new kid on the block and is essentially endurance riding over unsurfaced roads.
It’s gathering momentum in the US but what’s happening over here? Is it simply a case of the US sneezing and the UK catching a cold, or is there’s proper mileage in the bourgeoning UK gravel scene?
Regardless of the concept, in this article it’s the bikes we’re interested in and we’re looking at what makes a gravel bike and why you might need one.
Now, if anyone remembers the TV series, The Dukes of Hazzard, you couldn’t have failed to notice that the majority of the scenes were filmed on dusty, unsurfaced gravel roads. The dramatic car chases and eschewing dust clouds (let alone cousin Daisy) played havoc with young hormones, but now, thirty or so years later, the battle-cry of the General Lee’s horn has been replaced by the grunts and groans of gravel-pounding cyclists.
But with probably more unsurfaced roads in Hazzard County than the whole of the combined UK road system, where exactly do we find miles of non-technical and unsurfaced roads on which to ride? Swinley Forest, Salisbury Plain, the New Forest and Kielder Forest all have potential with miles of fire roads, but maybe it’s just the do-it-all appeal of gravel bikes that really appeals to UK riders? It’s for that reason that the UK bike industry has labelled gravel bikes as ‘adventure road’ bikes (or similar) – but the idea remains the same and the growing number of multi-terrain/cyclo-cross sportives if proof of that.
With the premise that any road can be ridden, riders can be zipping along slick tarmac one moment then dive off into the forest tracks, onto a bridleway or down a previously unexplored farm road the next. This is perfect for thrill-seeking riders for whom the bike represents an escape route, but might equally work as a versatile machine for riders who appreciate that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Gravel bikes also have the potential to become a contender for the near-perfect commuter bike in the UK.
A quick flick through the latest catalogues and you’ll notice how seriously bike manufactures have taken to the gravel scene. Bikes like GT’s Grade, Specialized’s Diverge, the Giant Revolt, the Kinesis ATR and the Giant Anyroad suggest a bike design that sits somewhere between cyclo-cross and endurance road bikes with an emphasis on the later – but let’s delve a little deeper into what makes a gravel bike…