Starting gravel bike, off road riding - tips?

I’m just about to buy my first gravel bike for training on local bridleways (UK designation for bits horses can use) and foot paths, and commuting partially offroad and tow paths.

I don’t think we have any actual gravel paths in SE London or Kent but I don’t want a mountain bike as there are no mountains :wink:

What’s different to road riding?

What are classic road to gravel mistakes?

What’s different about TR workouts outdoors and offroad?


I just made the switch this year to “gravel” for most of my outdoor training. I’m mostly not on proper gravel either. But I find it very enjoyable. My only road-to-gravel transitional learning was to outfit the bike with storage for clothes. On the road we want to be sleek or whatever. Once you get off the road and all you’re concerned about is the training, it frees you up to carry/shed extra clothes and store them on a bar bag and seat bag. I’ve found this very satisfying and more enjoyable.


Tires that are too narrow and use too much pressure. Similarly, getting a bike that has too narrow clearance for wide tires. Make sure you have enough clearance for at least 45mm tires.

You can always run narrower tires in a wide frame, but you can’t run wide tires in a narrow frame.


Classic roadie to gravel mistake, thinking a bit of bridleway mud makes you gnarrrlly :crazy_face:

But more seriously, get the biggest tryes you can. 47c to "2.1 would be my goto now.
As for riding, one tip, get in the drops for descending, especially for anything remotely bumpy.


One more, especially in the UK, get a gravel bike that has fender mounting points. Figure out the biggest full fenders you can put on. Then make your tire selection from the max size for the fenders. It doesn’t take long to put on and remove full fenders after the initial setup.


I’d normally say to learn some bike handling skills so you don’t slide out or lose traction while cornering, climbing, or descending, but it almost sounds like you’re talking about riding on paths where you could still use your road bike. The majority of issues I see is roadies who slide out in tight or loose corners. Watch the transitions between road and loose stuff, especially in turns. MTB skills really help. Loosen your shoulders, elbows, and grip on the bumpy stuff and let the bike bounce around a bit to reduce fatigue. Stay low and keep your butt over the rear of the bike on downhills and big bumps. Make sure your bottle cages are tight and your phone/keys/wallet are secure. Learn to drink with the hand that controls the front brake so that if you have to panic squeeze you squeeze the rear brake, not the front so you don’t go OTB. Eat and drink on the mellow sections if you don’t know how long it will be until you can eat and drink again without being bouncy.


for US forum members, here are some bridleway examples almost due south of London, near the coast:





@JoeX my mid 20s buddy rides 40c tires because thats the largest that fit on his cross bike. Those bridleways are a lot like what’s around here, and I ride my 42c tires that measure out to 47mm on the wheels.


To answer your non equipment question- it’s not mountain biking, there’s no special technique. Just keep in mind, mounted far forward on a gravel/cx bike, it’s easy to find yourself over the bars if you hit a gulley or branch - even once’s smaller than normal curb or beer bottle.

As for tires, you can ride those on slick CX tires. There “big tire mania”, but like ones departure time for the airport, people will overly pad how much time/tire you need. The fat ones are better on the softer or rougher surfaces. If there’s slick or wet mud, you need size and knobs. If there sharp things, you need size and durability. Otherwise, a fast 38c is fine for most stuff.
For the first and last pics above, (something you’d drive a golf cart on) 38c tires. For the middle two, (mud and unsurfaced grass path) that’s MTB tire.


In my experience, bigger tires w/ lower pressures are more comfortable. On the road, I can’t tell the difference in up or down 5 psi, but on gravel it can be the difference between fun and unbearable. YMMV based on your specific terrain.

Also, bike-body separation is not a frequent concern on the road, but can be super helpful off-pavement.


Thanks all - anyone else with experience doing outdoor workouts off road?

I find outdoor workouts difficult on road as the terrain and traffic need to go with it. Offroad you lose the traffic, but surely the rough surfaces make holding specific power even harder, no?

I watched a ton of YouTube videos;

Sit on climbs
Different weight distribution on cornering descents
Don’t be afraid to walk

I think I’ll take my tourer put on flat pedals and see what it’s like where I usually run trails

I might put 32s on my tourer, it has clearance for 35 according to the spec. if I can’t get a specific gravel bike.

I’m not sure where the limits are, how rough before you need 40+ before you need an MTB etc.

I had to relax my roadie brain would tell me to be too hesitant/ careful at obstacles and I think touch wood learning to relax has made me a better bike handler overall.


This year I started taking advantage of a “rails to trails.” It is a 25 minute drive, but it’s worth it. I can keep steady power because of the minimal gradient changes. This also helps with clothing selection since the effort is so consistent. Some may find doing the same route over and over a bit boring. But I listen to stuff in my headphones and just enjoy being outside. Here is a typical z2 ride. Hopefully you have something relatively flat.


What @jfranci3 said. That and don’t overthink it. It’s a bike. Comfort is king. Explore and give thanks you’re able to get the hell away from cars (drivers to be more precise).


If you’re going to use your existing bike and it has clearance for 35s, I’d try to find tires that large. Even if you can handle the roughness, you want the bigger tire for soft conditions. It’s never fun sinking in.


Doing the same here, bought a Giant Revolt 1 (aluminum entry level) as my go-to.

I tweak the fit to be close to my TCR, not too aggressive, but marginally aero. 100m steam instead of the 70/80mm stock. Also replaced the handlebar for a road 42cm. Riding is spectacular, no concern with cars, or different paths/routes, more relaxed position means less taxing.

I’m in love with the bike. My endurance rides have been all on the gravel. Then I take the road for our group rides and intervals.

I’m running the stock 38mm tires, and I’m fine with them so far. Will replace it soon to get more comfort on the gravel, although I’m putting something around 60/40% - 60% gravel 40% tarmac - so the narrow tires are doing ok as a jack of all trades.


@brianspang - exactly. Don’t overthink it as @KorbenDallas said. Find great places to ride, have fun.

@joex One other thing to note: you might be venturing away from civilization than you expect - even if you’re not far from a roads/houses. Just like a rural road ride or MTB ride, make sure you know where convenience stores, water, phone reception is. I live in the Chicago area; I never really leave suburbia going north on my go-to gravel ride (Des Plaines River Trail - awesome fall ride if you’re in the area BTW); even then you can can find yourself 20-30min from water/food/help. I recommend a mini frame bag w/ an extra snack & large bandaid (Duoderm specifically) and +1 water bottle than normal.


For dirt roads with rock (“gravel”) I’ve taken my Tarmac with road tires that measure 34mm. It’s just not as fun/fast on a road race bike versus a bike running large tires with some traction knobs.

Yes, pretty easy. Also keep your weight further back on descents. Try it and have a spirit of adventure - you’ll have fun!


The main adjustment for me was just getting used to working with less mechanical grip from the tires and the bike moving under me in ways you shouldn’t experience on a high grip surface like asphalt.

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