Gravel handling technique

I’m a nerdy roadie and if the road isn’t perfectly polished and providing infinite grip I’m not sure what to do.

With that said, yay Gravel. How the hell do you corner carrying any amount of speed? Is there a way to get over washboards (corrugations, whatever you want to call it) without eventually catching your back wheel and losing tons of speed?

Top tip: Don’t handle the gravel. Keep your hands on the bars, and the gravel under your tyres. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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Correct air pressure helps on the washboards. I also will take my butt off the saddle when coming across those, and let the bike float over.

If your not riding an aggressive tread on a tire its really hard to carry speed on a corner. I always take corner with caution. I would rather close a few length gap then crash and end my race. I was riding in a group with Kaysee Armstrong at unbound, she took a corner too fast and crashed hard. She would have been top 10 at the point but she crashed out. She can out handle everyone on this forum. Minimal gain for maximum loss is my view point on taking corners at speed.

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exactly this! Gravel races aren’t 60 minute crits where it’s all out all the time and loosing the group on the corner is a big deal. a TON of time will be spent in the Z2/3 area, a short z4 effort is all it will take to close most gaps that might open on a corner. That said, the majority of the others will be slowing down too.

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If you’re just going around a corner stay in the tracks & you’re golden. I like to take the outside line & go further but not turn as hard. You may have a different preference.

If you’re turning at an intersection the rule I use is to do most of the turning in the track & very little turning in the loose stuff. Break the turn into segments. Turn a lot in the track. Go mostly in a straight line through the loose.

But most riders go faster through a gravel intersection than I do. One thing I try to always do is assess the group before race day. If there are a lot of crit guys in the race I’ll usually move up a distance & do the hundo (if available). Or make absolutely sure I’m the first guy through technical sections in the first 25% of the race.

In my area washboards happen at points where traffic is slowing down on the road. So before a stop sign…before the entry to a residence…sometimes before a bridge. The interaction between the road and braking tires (esp when the road is a little moist) causes washboards. There is part of your hint…washboards will be worst where auto tires contact the road. This will be one of the few times when it might be easier to ride out of the track and in the loose stuff. Try the edges of the road or down the middle.

No suspension I’ve ever tried…lauf, seatpost, stem, whatever…effectively takes out washboard undulations.

As others have said, I prefer a gravel tire without big lugs, so I just slow down in corners and then sprint out if needed. For washboard, loosen your grip and get out of the saddle (or at least just float above it). Don’t feel like you need to squeeze the bars so tight, let things bounce around a bit and let the bike do the work. Speed helps too. Think of it as surfing over the rough parts rather than digging in.

  • Some good cornering tips:

We have hardly any gravel roads around here, and I don’t feel qualified really…but a collection of things:

  • corners: it depends a bit on how lose it is, and what tread pattern you have, but in general I’m wary of leaning with the bike as you’d do on the road, and rather lean the bike more, as in mtb’ing. It sort of depends if you have corner knobs on the tyre, and how they differ from the centre ones. In general it’s ok for the backwheel to slide, but front wheel slides often mean you’ve had it. So if you need to slow down more, use the back brake.

  • washboard: we don’t have that here, but I imagine it’s a bit similar to riding cobbles. I’d use a slightly harder gear (higher torque), and try to hover over the saddle a bit. Hands are tricky - you need a safe firm grip, but on the other hand you also want a bit of “float”. Some people find it better to ride on the tops, or the very end of the drops (with carbon bars) for less vibration. Your tyres will not have much ground contact in places like that, so take extra care and pick a good spot for cornering.

I did an extremely corner-heavy gravel race this weekend and was actually taken a bit by surprise by the race’s power demands. Because the corners were so loose, no one could take them quickly, meaning the accordion effect was even more dramatic than usual. With so many corners on a flat course, the race took on a very crit-like dynamic— I surged above 700w 27 times in the first two hours (which destroyed me!) So the short answer to how to take loose corners quickly is “you can’t” but the implications of this can be important depending on the course design, the size of the field, and where you are in the pack.


Anytime that you are on loose surfaces, regardless of bike you’re on, or even sport you’re in, you need to do three things: keep your center of force over the contact point, keep it low and maximize traction.

Your center of force is your center of gravity plus the centripetal force pushing you to the outside of the turn. At low speeds and in gentle turns centripetal force is negligible. At higher speeds and shaper turns it matters quite a bit. Having your force not aligned with your ground contact points means you lose traction and balance.

Keeping your force low means taking weight off the seat and bars and putting it into your pedals. In a turn have the outside pedal lower and getting the most force. Low center of force means any error in force distribution has a lower likelihood of crashing you.

Maximizing traction means weighting your bike extra hard (pressing down) in the times of least traction available or when you need more traction because you need more traction for what you’re doing. Note that you can only get this extra weight for a second or so so you have to use it wisely.

Note that the number 1 skill you need to execute all other skills is looking ahead. You can’t be calm and execute well if you’re not looking far enough ahead to anticipate and be proactive. You’ll end up being reactive and constantly in fear until you learn to properly look ahead.

Go watch Joy of Bike on YouTube, especially the traction, braking, and turning videos. These are skills for all cycling disciplines (except Zwift, but that sure as shit ain’t cycling).



Effective cornering is a skill developed over a long period of time.

But you’ll get 80% of the way there by getting low and braking effectively:

  • Hands in the drops, elbows slightly bent, weight distributed evenly over the two wheels
  • Brake before the corner

If you observe people washing out their front wheels, you’ll notice their arms are often fully extended. CG is high and they’re in a weak position to correct any problems.


I had a similar time on a course. Changed to a more aggressive tread and hit the same course the following weekend and was successful. Tires make such a difference

1st weekend gravel king semi smooth
2nd weekend terra trail


I want to emphasize the importance of “hands in the drops.” I was recently riding with a new gravel rider and he was descending/corning with his hands on the hoods. He was really surprised at the handling improvements of moving his hands to the drops. It’s the same reason many mountain bikes have dropper posts; they lower you center of gravity which improves handing.


I was reviewing this today on one of my recovery week rides. Gravel like you mountain bike.

Get out of the saddle, weight balanced between feet and hands, belly button over the bottom bracket, look beyond where you want to go, weight the outside pedal more for extra traction, pray.

Brake hard early if you need to brake. Stay off the brakes in the corner. Better to roll in too slow than give up cornering traction for braking traction. Try to not die!


Instructions unclear, am dead now.




Just finished The Rift on Saturday and there were some of the worst stutter bumps / washboard sections I have ever ridden. And not just short sections, we are talking about many KM’s of the stuff.

As moentioned above, ride them like cobbles….big geared, low cadence, high speed. But if they get big enough, you will eventually hit a section that makes you front almost a complete halt.


This mainly works because you are evening up the weight balance between front/rear wheels. Depends somewhat on your position on the bike. I have a long low front end on my CX bike, in the drops I can end up with too much weight on the front, which is not ideal either.

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