Gravel 101 – Part II: Get out there

By November 6, 20192020 News

Dirty Clare is coming to South Australia! Showcasing the best of the Clare Valley including awe-inspiring views, world-class wine and endless horizons. Dirty Clare is the ideal way to get to know this fantastic part of the world. Today we are showcasing Part II of ‘Gravel 101’.

By Alison McGregor

From Road To Rough

If you’re transitioning from road to gravel your muscles could be in for a shock. If you’re up for challenges, riding dirt hills will have you grabbing the epsom salts to soothe a mysterious set of new aches and pains. After all, we’re not kids again! Not only do we use alternative muscle groups, but the chatter of the rocks on a long ride will pummel your body like you’ve just been tenderised.

Even with the physical tests, the addiction to off-road grows. Flip through the pages of a bike magazine. You’ll see a definite surge of popularity for gravel riding. Its supported by a spike in gravel bikes, the growth of reviews and articles on locations, equipment, events and rides.

Why? Because even the smallest of gravel escapades burst with potential for excitement. There’s the lure of adventure away from the humdrum of work and routine. Moving over gravel is a sure way to punch a thrill or two into your day. And you’ll likely be talking about it all week.

Starting Out

The fantastic thing for those starting to gravel ride in Australia is that you’re in good company. Communities of off-road riders are being fostered by bike shops and event co-coordinators, and there’s no shortage of beginners with every event. At the start line you’ll compare the glossy paint and sparkling chains, there’ll be fresh rubber tread and clean bar tape. All are at the ready to take a good beating.

If you’re not up for a communal gravel ride, how else do you start?

When I began on the gravel again, I rode solo. Friends gave advice on trails suitable for a cyclocross. I was contacting people by association in search of good tracks. At the time I believed anything trail was doable on my cross, though in reality the options were more MTB trails than gravel. And so I built my confidence and picked up skills quickly.

Word got out and I was quickly matched by mutual friends to a perfect gravel partner. Riding solo isn’t reasonable to friends and family who wonder if you’ve being eaten by a python or fallen in a ditch deep in the Australian bush.

Nadine was the best person I could wish to ride with. We immediately hit it off and began planning riding weekends out of the smoky noisy city. Routes were discovered on random websites. Open our computers at any point and the search engines were filled with Strava rides, mapmyride, gravelmap and other MTB sites.

Things got serious as our navigation skills were put to the test using downloaded erratic maps. We started by dragging our bikes from the back of the car and spending hours searching for rideable gravel in the bush. I can’t read maps, so getting lost was inevitable. There were snake sightings, and the markings of wild dog prints and other unmentionables. I kid you not, a wombat skull in the middle of nowhere was worth stopping for a photo.

Consequently after a few encounters with stranger things, I got myself an independent tracker. Nadine did a first aid course.
Between the conversations on survival and chats over episodes of Bear Grylls, we’d do some seriously crazy riding. The trails got more technical, our bush mechanic skills became increasingly demanding. Once I’d a meter long stick jammed against my rear derailleur. Things happened to our bikes that’d give any mechanic an attack. Along with learning how to ride, we equally learnt how to fall. Skin was lost. Kit was torn. Shoes were destroyed. Paint was scratched. Tyres were blown. And through all the small disasters, our laughter developed and our stories developed into the absurd.

I consider gravel riding the perfect way to trick the brain in believing you’ve gone on a wild holiday. Part of that is getting out to places you’ve never been and exploring bush with two wheels. For city folk, finding trails can involve a car trip or a train. But don’t let this put you off. Off-road riding is for the adventurous. You don’t need to follow our paths because there are just as many serene country roads to start.

This article was orginally published on the Bicycling Australia website.