This past spring I took my first real foray into gravel riding. It was a challenging but oh so fun adventure. You can read about it here. Since then I’ve done a lot of thinking, and a bit of reconnaissance, on potential gravel ride routes here in Alpine Co., and as you can imagine there are many possibilities.
What is Gravel Riding?
I’m not really qualified to answer that question since I am by no means a gravel expert. Not even close. In fact I’m not very experienced on a mountain bike either. I’ve ridden over 6000 miles this year on my road bike yet I have only about 400 miles total on my mountain bike, and I’m a bit embarrassed to say, that’s in about 4 years. As for gravel riding, I’ve only done that three (3) times (but all this year at least!).
With that said, in my mind gravel riding is riding a road bike, with special tires, on trails or fire roads. I now know it’s not quite that simple but I think it’s a pretty fair one-sentence description. Selene Yeager, author of “Gravel! The Ultimate Guide to the Gear, Training, and Grit You Need to Crush It,” (which by the way is a good read and full of “gravelly” advice) writes that:
…”gravel is still up for intepretation. You know to expect some rowdy, even scary, stuff in a mountain bike race. You expect road races to have some technical turns. Gravel remains largely undefined, which is exactly the point. It’s supposed to be an adventure. One person might imagine quiet, rugged, relatively smooth, if crunchy roads [my original expectation]. Another considers any unpaved surface fair game [the reality of gravel riding that I’ve come to know].”
She also notes that “if you’re brand new to riding unpaved surfaces on a drop bar bar bike, everything may feel a category tougher.” I can relate. She goes further by adding to examples (categories), originally crafted by Neil Shirley and “codified” in his Industry Standard to Gravel (ISGG). Check out the book or the ISGG for more on those cats.
Also check out this post on VeloNews, written by Pete Stetina, where he compares a WorldTour year to a Gravel year — really eye-opening!
As you’ve now read in that post from earlier this year, I didn’t set my expectations very well this past spring and now that I’m better at that I’m happier when riding gravel.
Here’s three (3) of the four (4) gravel rides I’ve done this year (there’s a link to numero quatro – not shown below – in the first paragraph of this post), one of which, Leviathan Mine Road, was technically not a gravel ride since I rode my mountain bike. But it could be and so I’ve listed it here. I hope to ride it on the gravel bike sometime between now and next spring/summer.
- Starts at Highway 88 in Alpine Co., CA
- I rode up to the lake, with a slight detour on the way
- 11.61 miles round trip
- 1:31:15 of moving time
- 1542′ of climbing.
- Starts at Jacks Valley Road in Carson City, NV
- We road up to the Clear Creek Junction
- 16.77 miles round trip
- 2:11:39 of moving time
- 1909 feet of climbing.
- Starts at Hwy. 395 near Topaz Lake, in NV
- I rode the Fuel up to the intersection of Leviathan Mine Road (LMR) and Loope Canyon Road (LCR)
- 25.89 miles round trip
- 2:29:44 of moving time
- 2874 feet of climbing.
More to Come!
Admittedly I’ve barely scratched the gravel-riding surface but like the title of this post reads ’tis a brief what and where. Nonetheless I hope you found some of the “what” enlightening and some of the “where” inspiring. Pick your adventure, whether it’s one of my suggestions or not, and do some gravel.
It’s definitely more challenging than road cycling. In some (most) ways it’s harder than mountain biking (e.g. no shocks, smaller tires) but I’ve found that it’s also easier in terms of speed and nimbleness. I’ve got a lot more to learn but now that I’ve done a few rides, and gotten out of my own way a bit (those expectations, you know?) I’m certainly ready for more gravel!
How about you? Any tips or suggestions for some gravelly adventures?
Stay safe, be well and let’s kick some passes’ asses!
4 thoughts on “Gravel! the California Alps? A Brief What and Where”
I guess I’m terminally unhip. I still haven’t figured out why gravel is such a big deal. Gravel is what we rode on when I was a kid and they hadn’t yet paved the roads where I grew up. Gravel is what they didn’t want to admit was on the Rail Trails. They called it “crushed limestone” because they thought it sounded better. Gravel is what makes you have to clean the top of your water bottle before you can take a drink. Gravel is what makes you have to carefully clean your bike after a ride and grinds your chain into oblivion much too soon. Gravel is what lets bike companies try to convince you you need another bike. I’ll stay on paved roads, thanks.
You’re not unhip, you’re right. That’s why gravel has taken off IMHO – it’s what we all used to do. To tackle trails and dirt roads on what are now called road bikes. If you look back at some of those early TDF photos, they were all on “gravel.” The challenge, and for me the joy, of being a bit scared and at the same time going back to those days of my youth when I jumped my banana seated Schwinn from home made ramps onto dirt roads near the creek by my house, laughing and giggling all the way, is why I find gravel so fun. My comfort zone is on my road bike and so I’ve set some goals to get out of that zone more often, whether that be on a gravel bike, a mountain bike or a fat bike. Ride on my friend!
OK…the first time I saw your post I couldn’t see the photos. As the vehicle to get to those places, if gravel roads are what get you there, go for it!