By Alison McGregor
So you’re committed and ready for adventures off the bitumen. You could wing it to see how you go… or you could check these handy tips to settle you into a less bumpy ride. I’ve rated these 10 essentials because of some tricky predicaments actually experienced out there in the wild.
Navigation computer, whether its the latest Wahoo Roam, a Garmin or a Bryton, before you head out the door check it’s fully charged and your map is downloaded! If you’re fairly hopeless at the former, get yourself the incredibly economic KNOG PWR Front Light 600 to 2000 lumens that’ll charge your phone or computer as you ride.
If you drive, keep a loaded kit in the car. On the bike and planning a trip for over 5 hours or away from built up areas? I recommend a bandage, and a space blanket. Remember this is an adventure and anything can happen. That’s why we’re doing it, yeah?
Off road riding can involve mud and if you get that stuff stuck in the cleat it can be a problem with some pedals. So I’ve always used Crank brother Egg Beater 3’s – they excel at mud shedding.
I absolutely love the latest Vittoria Gravel Tierra shoes. Glamorous but very practical. And they match my bike!
This will depend on the terrain. In general I like a tread for dry packed mixed conditions, like the Vittoria Terreno Mix. And if you’re thinking tubeless …. Do it!!! I’ve walked 10km trails in the dark to get someone’s bike back to their car due to continual flats. Tubeless has since solved every problem.
They sound gross. But hell they work. Got a big hole in your tyre you just wedge this sucker in and she’s good. I could talk more on sealant…. But lets move on.
PMP Valves are a hot new item in Australia. Air access to these valves is up to 250 times faster. You can also check the sealant levels. They’re small but important additions to your gravel hardware.
Prepare for regular bike check ups. Get to know your local bike shop as a preventative measure. It’s preferable they know you and your bike well to keep you both in shape.
Saddle bags bring about a hot topic of debate amongst graveleurs and it’ll depend how your bike handling prefers to take the weight. I like the Ortlieb saddle pack. However, if you like top tube bags, check out the Miss Grape range – they’ve the luxury of three lengths available. There’s also handlebar bag options for those wanting to keep their snacks close.
Lets not rave about brands you can find in any other magazine. I’m going to share some truly special models …
Firstly, the gravel bike is really a multipurpose invention. If you’re like me and take that literally, you’ll end up buying 2 sets of wheels – road and off road. But the frame is really the heart of a bike, so I start with the Basso Palta. Its is an Italian stunner that’s as good to look at as it is to ride.
The Wilier Jena is a sturdy, stable and reliable beast. It’s also a good climber. The Orbea Terra is nimble and light plus, if you’re starting out, they offer a hydroformed triple butted aluminium model.
Meanwhile, for something truly special, a custom gravel frame transcends everything to another level. I can’t go past the DeAnima Carbon Soul.
Whatever bike you choose, please don’t limit your riding by choosing any less than a 40mm tyre clearance.
Oh, before I go … don’t forget the GoPro Hero7. Because all that awesomeness deserves to be captured.
As for what I’d recommend? I’ll share my three highest priorities when it comes to off-road riding. They aren’t likely on your average list of cycling necessities …
– Check the age of any downloaded route you aim to follow. Anything that hasn’t been travelled for more than six months suggests it could be on private property, or overgrown and now unrideable. I know, I’ve been stuck in the middle of a National Park without trails. Nadine had an irreparable flat and I believed we’d be the next meal for the local dingoes. Fortunately all worked out in the end that time, but it does pay to learn from others’ experiences.
– Get yourself a dependable mode of navigation. Definitely add an independent GPS tracker to your core gravel necessities, as well as a bandage and space blanket. It sounds dire, but if you need it…you need it.
The last remaining tips for those wanting to embark on a gravel journey are these –
– Make sure you check your bike before each and every ride. Take all your tools. Learn to clean your bike after every outing so you discover any issues before your next ride. If you can’t do the basics, go to your bike shop. You don’t need the latest carbon model with SRAM Eagle, but at least invest in something that’ll take a 35 or 38 tyre. Trust me, your life will be easier and it instantly opens more riding options.
– Whether your next ride has your back splashed with mud after hitting creek crossing, or you prefer sticking to rolling hills alongside farmlands, its good to be prepared. Even then one thing you can be sure of is, no matter how or where you ride, you’ll be telling stories.
– If you’re new to gravel, the easiest way to enter the adventure is to ask a bike shop close to trails, or join the many events popping up on social media.
– Finally, don’t be put off believing that getting into gravel is all too difficult. After all, it’s been years since you did the hardest part and learnt to ride a bike.
This article was orginally published on the Bicycling Australia website.