Gravel Riding - Any impact or benefit for riding on the road in the spring?

I finally decided to see what Gravel riding was about. Went tubeless, got some 35c gravel tires to fit on my Domane, and joined two group rides over the past two weeks.

Just wondering, has anyone seen any improvement or benefit to their road riding based on what they are doing on the gravel?

I have to say there is more of a difference than I expected in terms of how you ride and cadence.

One benefit is I’m getting in more climbing. My average road ride might have 1,500 - 2,500 feet of climbing over 30-60 miles depending on the route. My last gravel ride had more than 3000 feet of climbs over 30 miles.

But I do have some concerns about cadence.

Even in my lowest gear and trying to spin, seems like hitting those steep climbs I end up grinding out the hill with my cadence dropping from 90-ish to 70-ish and sometimes in the 50’s when it gets really steep. Seems every gravel hill is a 12% grade for the last 20 feet of the climb… lol! Seriously, we had one hill so steep that we had a significant portion of our group of fairly strong riders walk the last 50 feet.

With the very hilly nature of gravel seems like your cadence is constantly shooting up and down.

I’m running Shimano 105 with a compact cassette but I think I could actually use 1 or 2 lower gears that MTB and some gravel bikes.


I recently got a gravel bike, an older Norco 10 speed that had a 52/36 and 11-26 on it. I ended up going 50/33 with a 12/30 and it makes a world of difference on the steep stuff. I use it on the road a bit so didn’t want to go under a 50 large ring.

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There’s a reason many of the “gravel” bikes sold have a very low “undergear” at the low end and some even opting for 1x drivetrain with an MTB cassette to get even lower.

For a 2x like yours, you can go to a new cassette along with a few options for rear derailleur mods to accommodate those wider gears. Depending on your goals and how much you plan to use the current bike, it will be worth your time to dig into those options and find one that suits your needs.

If you have an 11-28, 11-30 or even 11-32 cassette, you can go down to an 11-36 (SRAM) or bigger to really give you a stump pulling gear. I ran an XT MTB 11-40 with my 50/34 crank and that low end is amazing at the end of a long day when you hit those kickers.


I assume it should be compatible with 105? Thanks for the link!

Not so much 105, but matching your gearing. You need to have an 11-speed cassette if that is what you already have (or possibly an older 10-speed). SRAM and Shimano are essentially interchangeable for the same number of speeds.

There are some limits when you look into the cassettes from SRAM. Any with a 10 tooth on the bottom requires and XD/R driver, so that could be an issue. Generally, if you stick with a “regular” cassette that claims “Shimano 8/9/10/11 speed” you are good to go.

Get us a pic of your bike or link to the original specs page, and we can probably offer more specific suggestions.

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Gearing really matters, when it gets steep andyou stand out of the saddle on gravel it can cause rear tire to break traction. A way to ease this issues is stay seated and have a lower gear to spin while seated. Also more revs on climbs to me keeps my legs fresher.

You might be able to swap your rear to an 11/34 just by changing the rear derailleur.


One great option is the RoadLink that can keep a rear derailleur in many cases, while allowing a wide range cassette:

Depending on the gearing you really want, this and/or a RD swap may make more sense.


It’s a Trek Domane SL5.

Here are the specs according to Trek:


You can fit 11-34 Shimano cassette no problem. As for the SRAM 11-36, I don’t know but I’m leaning towards that one. Since I won’t be riding outside for 3 months I’m delaying the research. Looking forward to what ppl say here.

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  • Sure can, and that is what it already has, according to the specs shown in the pic.
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Since you already have an 11-34, an 11-36 should be an easy fit with likely a B-tension screw adjustment and maybe longer chain depending on cross chain needs.

If you want a real drop, and 11-40 Shimano may be the real upgrade. That will take at least a Roadside (but need to check specs) or a new rear derailleur like I did for my old Boone.

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Hi Chad,
Is there anyway to workout or calculate if the 11-40 will work on a bike? (I understand it is well outside the stated limits of shimano)

I have Cervelo s3 with r8000, long cage RD. 50/34 upfront. I want to get the 11-40 on it but, don’t want to run the risk of purchasing the cassette to find it is no go!


Hey, welcome to gravel! To your first question, benefits of gravel for road riding, absolutely. The biggest benefit for me is simply variety, motivation and fun. Gravel opens up a whole new set of roads and trails to take. Low or no traffic, forests, prairies farmland, whatever. Gravel races and organized rides also have a whole different vibe than road, at least in the Midwest where I live. I’ve been in plenty of races that turned into “rides with numbers” or vice versa.

Gravel will almost certainly improve your bike handling. My first gravel ride of any kind was the Barry Roubaix (if you haven’t done it, you should), they’d just laid about 2 inches of fresh gravel on most of the roads and i was tense the whole time. Fast forward, I have the skill and confidence to ride through just about anything I’m likely to encounter and obstacles on the road are just easier to handle.

Last, if you’re not doing some strength training, gravel will encourage you to do so. As I’m sure you’ve experienced, gravel roads require more muscle and body english than pavement.

Hope that helps


You’ll be more likely to not have been buzzed by a car, forced off the road, and will be a cooler bike rider…:wink: Especially if you grow some sort of facial hair. Other benefits for road will be you’ll want to do less of it.


I think the “easy” option is this rear derailleur, along with the 11-40 XT cassette, or the SLX version, along with a new chain appropriately sized.


I have 50-34 and 11-40 on my Trek Domane. Ultegra, medium cage derailleur with the wolftooth extender.

The Shimano guidelines say this won’t work. But it does.



Does getting buzzed by a tractor count?

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Nice! But I wonder if it works with 105 or will I need to upgrade my derailleur? Wish they made parts between the gravel range and road more interchangeable.

Less likely to get hit by a car. Seriously. Not intended to be a joke. The thing I don’t like about road riding is the cars. Gravel is safer - with fewer cars and lower speeds. Still not as safe as MTB though.

The fitness for gravel translates well to road. Yes, there are differences in technique, and maybe cadence depending on gearing, but these do not make gravel riding less effective for building fitness IMO.


I’m starting to think N+1 is the real answer :wink: