QUESTION: How do I start gravel racing? —Lee G.
RBR’S STAN PURDUM REPLIES: Gravel racing is really a “deep end of the pool” activity in the realm of gravel cycling. Many people who become gravel racers start out just as gravel riders and then work their way up to racing. It’s wise to do that because pedaling on gravel is not simply one step harder than road cycling. Depending on the unpaved surface you are on, gravel grinding (as it is often called), can be almost a world apart from road riding. I’ve written before about the differences between road and gravel riding, but one key distinction is how much more your upper body is involved as you negotiate irregular gravel surfaces. And because it is, you are working harder the whole time you are riding on gravel.
On the other hand, if you’re coming to gravel riding from mountain biking, you likely already have experience with the upper body effort necessary to avoid large obstacles and not lose control while bumping over washboard or slogging through sand or mud.
Most gravel events don’t yet require that you use a specific kind of bike (though not an ebike), but gravel racing is moving toward the use of drop-bar gravel bikes. So if you’re already a MTB rider and are making the switch to a gravel bike, you likely still have some relearning regarding steering. If you’re coming from road biking, you know about drop-bars, but the upper body stuff is all new, and the balance between braking and maintaining momentum is different from road riding.
If you want to start gravel racing, begin by picking an event, choosing one of the shorter distance options, and not even worrying about the racing part the first time. Just see how it goes and how you feel. That’s a less stressful way to start than road racing where you must deal with licenses, rules, categories and so forth.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.