How to enjoy gravel?

Hi y’all - moving from road to gravel I’ve now done a couple gravel 100 mile gravel races, and I have to say it’s significantly more uncomfortable/ painful than road. Numb hands, much more significant saddle pain from all the bumps, my feet are killing me after mile 85, and for recovery I feel like it takes an extra day or two over a road event. Am I alone in this? Do I just need different equipment or maybe I need to ride more gravel every week to build up some durability? I ride a custom aluminum frame with nice carbon, gravel-specific handlebars, a gravel specific-saddle, 38" tires, berd spokes…

Is all this just part of the adventure and the price you pay for getting off the beaten path? Or is there a better way? I’m thinking about switching all my gravel races this year back to road because right now it’s just more fun on the road. Thanks!

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First and foremost, any disciline in cycling is not for everyone…I persoanlly can’t stand CX racing, but plenty of of people love it. So it may be that gravel just isn’t your thing. Nothing wrong with that!

That said, it sounds like you may have a fit issue…between the numb hands, saddle pain and foot discomfort, something seems off. How did you arrive at your current gravel set up?

Saddles that work on the road may not be good saddles for gravel…you can love a saddle for one area, but then find it to be a torture device when you use it in another discipline. Don’t be afraid to try other options.

As for the HB, this can definitely cause numb hands. We went through a phase where “stiffness” was desired for “efficiency”…but we are now discovering that it also makes for an unpleasant riding experience.

If you can, I would definitely put wider tires on…max it out as much as you can and lower your tire pressure at the same time. What is the max tire capacity for your frame?

A suspension seatpost can help a lot with saddle discomfort, as well.

But all of the above won’t matter if your root issue is bike fit. Get that sorted and then see where things sit.


You could play with tire pressure, wider tires, a different saddle, body position with your arms on the bike.
Those are a couple things to play with and line choice. It’s part of gravel for it to be rough but those few things I mentioned should help with your issues. I’ll backtrack it can be rough but it shouldn’t be so rough you have to recover from a ride longer than normal. Maybe find a different route with a little mix of road and gravel til you find some comfort off road.
Upper body and a good strength training routine can also help.

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Get a Redshift stem
You won’t regret it


In terms of (lack of) comfort, other than a properly fitting bike, I’d say the two biggest things to look at are:

  • tire size and pressure - 38 is pretty small unless your gravel is really smooth. try 42-47 with the appropriate pressure from the Silca tire pressure calculator
  • shoes and pedals - stiff road shoes will be far less comfortable compared to non-world cup level mtn bike shoes

Came here to say this.

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Get a full suspension mountain bike, lower those tire pressures and hit the trails! :smiley:


Gravel is all different, but here in Ireland it’s predominantly fire road, and 100km (never mind 160km) is taxing off road. I do occasional Audax rides, and would say a 200km back road audax is less taxing on me than a 100km gravel event.

N=1 my power meter tells me it’s a third harder than the road (“work” for 66km gravel usually has me around where I’d be on 100km club spin) and that’s before the extra toll on the rest of the body.


I use the Cane Creek eeSilk stem. Same idea…totally changed my gravel experience. That being said, gravel will never feel like road. It will beat you up regardless of bike set up compared to smooth tarmac. It’s taken me a couple of years to to figure out a set up that works for me.


Was going to say, what tyre pressure are you running? Maybe see if you can go lower.

Also, as said above, 85 miles on gravel is much harder on the body than on the road.

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In addition to what everyone else said, riding gravel/off road surfaces is a skill you can improve. I moved from a place with zero gravel to a place where I’m on gravel pretty much every ride. I can tell you that I’m much more efficient and comfortable now than I was a few months after moving here. You learn how to let the bike move under you, how absorb the hits you need to take, how to “read” the gravel to find the smoothest lines, etc. Still, at the end of the day, it does beat you up more than road. I don’t think there’s anyway to mitigate that unless you start adding mtb type suspension.


Do you have a carbon seatpost? Got my first gravel bike last year and hated the ride quality. It’s also an aluminum bike. I changed to carbon bars (you already have that) and a carbon seat post and now I’m very happy with the ride quality. I’m no longer wishing I held out for a carbon frame.

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So cool that you switched over to Gravel :heart_eyes:

I’ve got enough years on my legs of CX and Gravel that I can attest that the bike fit is definitely where you want to start :slight_smile:

Then I definitely agree with @Bones, the widest tires and lowest pressure you can get by will tremendously change the comfort of the ride. And definitely recommend mtb cleats/shoes.

@Power13 is very right on the saddle info, may be worth trying a different saddle!

I’d say don’t give up just yet! It takes a bit of getting used to if you’ve only been on the road before. Once you get your set up dialed I bet you’ll start enjoying it!


+1000 on redshift stem. On chunky courses, it really cuts down on the chatter and abuse to the hands and arms.

Also, technique can help. You can’t just plow through stuff with the saddle weighted, there are times you need to kind of hover/unweight and let the bike do it’s thing under you. This will also help with avoiding flats. Much like MTB, chunky sections should be heavy feet and light hands and butt. Rough stuff is where you want to be loose and supple and this is where newer folks tend to get rigid/stiff.

And as much as many of us cyclist just want to ride our bikes, we really need to incorporate some core work into our training. You can get away without it on the road, but gravel and XC are unforgiving if you have a weak body/core. It just compounds during longer races and we get sloppy/tired as the miles rack up. Sloppy form is uncomfortable and makes us slower and less safe. Don’t feel like you need to be doing hours of core work each week, just setting aside 2-3 days for 30-45 minutes will make a huge difference. Anything is better than nothing.


All of the above.

Plus, 100 miles of gravel SHOULD be more “work” than 100 miles of pavement (given similar elevation profile). More work, more “pain” during the event, more recovery. Quite probably less drafting happening, so more watts from you. Dodging potholes. Bumps take a toll.

I enjoy gravel. Most of my big rides and races are 50-80 miles because anything longer is brutal. But, I’m also just a mid-pack masters, nowhere near the pointy end. And zero dreams of completing Unbound.

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Gravel combines the worst aspects of road riding and mountain biking :slight_smile:


I think your are looking for the Unpopular Opinion thread :grin:


Make sure you are not too rigid on the bike or grabbing the bars too tight as well. Those new to off road are often a bit fixed and tense on the bike as they aren’t used to relaxing and moving over the bike as they do a nice drift through corners etc,

A carbon post was mentioned, but really look at a carbon post thats made for gravel with built in flex. The specialized terra post really absorbs alot of small bumps

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To the OP: no idea.

But I have a 200km gravel event in 5 weeks, so will report back :rofl: