Slonie pointed to this Japanese guide to gravel riding from Colnago. There’s some decent advice there, but gravel riding is so easy you don’t even need to understand Japanese to get the gist of this guide.
My summary: You need a $3000 road bike, and you need to be properly outfitted with another $500 to $1000 of the right gear and apparel. Cute dresses might be fine for city riding, but you must suit up for serious cycling!
I’d much rather ride longer distances in proper bike apparel than in a short dress, especially if I anticipate mud and rain. And I don’t disagree with Colnago’s recommendation for mountain bike shoes and pedals for gravel riding. Fording rivers with road shoes is a quick way to buy new road cleats, plus you look really funny sliding on your Teflon coated cleats whilst hoisting your bike over a fallen log.
But I detect either a subversive fan of Grant Petersen’s bike shoe philosophy or, perhaps, a model who doesn’t know how to use cleated shoes with clipless pedals.
The complete guide to gravel riding is here. Google Translate won’t help you because it’s a series of JPG image files, but here’s my summary:
- Gear: dress for the conditions and bring a rain jacket, tools, patch kit, spare tube, pump.
- Tires: replace your skinny road slicks with something a little wider. They suggest a 26mm brevet / tour tire from Panaracer, but even that seems a little narrow to me for gravel. I’m rocking 28mm Hutchinson Sector tires on my road bike right now and I love them – they work decently well on the sandy fire roads I sometimes hit in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
- But watch the clearance: Many modern road bikes don’t have the clearance between stays and brakes for wider tires, so keep that in mind when selecting wider tires.
- Handlebar position: Colnago tells you to raise your bars slightly by moving the location of your spacers. Yeah. They also tell you to angle your bars up a little for more upright riding and easier access to your brakes and shifters.
- Watch your speed: Don’t go zooming around a blind turn, keep your bike in control, and watch for road debris. Use both brakes, instead of just your front brake. Weight the inside foot in sharp turns. Don’t freak out when you hit big bumps.
- Your legs absorb shock: They don’t really demonstrate this in the pictorial, but take weight off of the saddle in bumpy sections.
- Take the ideal line through turns. You want to cut through the apex to keep the angle of your turn as shallow as possible.
- Smile and wave at the cameraman.
- Find a nice hot onsen to relax in afterwards.