QUESTION: Is gravel riding harder than the road? I haven’t ridden any gravel events yet, and I’m wondering how hard they might be. – David J
Stan Purdum replies: It is harder, but there are some upsides to that. For one, you’ll get more of a workout in the time you spend gravel riding than if you spent that same amount of time road riding. And for another, there’s an adventure bonus: You’ll get to pedal some places where paved roads don’t go.
Gravel riding is harder because it uses more muscles than typical road riding, including those of your upper body, which mostly just go along for the ride when on pavement. The irregularity and looseness of gravel surfaces send vibrations through the bike to your body, so several muscle groups must work to keep you stabilized, and with more work, your heart rate goes up and your lungs suck in more oxygen to keep those muscles going.
If you have any doubt about this, just ride a short stretch of gravel on a road bike with the typical skinny tires and note how squirrelly the bike feels under you and how hard you find yourself concentrating and working to stay upright.
Fortunately, bikes made for gravel riding have bigger tires, longer wheelbases and other geometry changes to increase stability on rough surfaces, but they still demand more from your body when on gravel.
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.