My rides on gravel roads tend to be long. This is because the gravel roads near my home in Austin TX are not actually that “near” at all. If you want to get out on a decent gravel ride here (25-30% gravel) then you are heading out for at least 80-100 mi. This means thoughtful preparation and gear is very important to consider, so here’s how I prepare for these big days out in search of the crunchy:
My bike – The ALLIED ABLE, size Large (58cm equivalent.) Shimano GRX Di2 groupset, on which I monitor the battery life at least once a week. You don’t have to charge these Di2 systems often, but it sucks to get stuck in the little ring on the flat Texas plains. My Enve bars, stem, seatpost and rims are ever-present, yet so solid and un-affected that they often go unnoticed. They just work, exactly as they should. The ABLE is equipped with FOUR (4) bottle cage mounts! This is HUGE for a hot climate like Texas, especially when the goal is to navigate to remote gravel roads. I have Arundel Mandible carbon cages on the two triangle mounts and one on the down tube mount. My top tube is running the new Arundel bolt-on snack bag (the Top Tube Tycoon).
Tires – If I am going anywhere within sight of gravel roads, I run gravel tires. My go-to is a 42mm Pathfinder from Specialized. These robust yet remarkably fast-rolling tires carried me to lots of gravel wins in 2019, and even 2nd in the mud at 2020 MidSouth. I have been experimenting with some other Specialized offerings to ensure I have a diverse quiver to match a variety of courses.
Tire Pressure – At 170 lbs, I would fall into the “upper midweight” division. On 42mm tubeless tires, I typically run 45psi rear, and 40psi front. Most would consider this pretty high, but I have to roll lots of tarmac to get out to gravel stretches around Austin. I would likely reduce that down to 40psi rear, 35psi front if I was rolling straight onto crunch.
Sealant – Orange Seal. Hands down, this Orangesicle slurry has saved my rides, races and commutes more than anything. I check up the levels in my tubeless tires every month, or after any puncture that had sealant visibly bleeding out. Reliable tubeless tech is completely reliant on quality sealant. Try it, and you will see.
Puncture repair – Dynaplug Racer is the current industry standard for swift puncture plug system. If you can immediately stop and diagnose that a puncture is not sealing with sealant alone and that a tire plug is necessary, the Dynaplug Racer tool can get you back on the road and moving. Remember to always place a finger on the puncture while you are getting out your tubeless kit, so that you don’t lose all of your tire pressure. This technique saved me towards the end of DK 2019.
Luggage – For long rides, desolate hot rides, or cold weather rides, I always run frame bags of some kind. I use the Rapha waterproof frame bag as my go-to for carrying stripped-off jackets and warmers, snacks , and miscellaneous items. I am a big fan of bolt-on top tube bags, as they are the most stable, and have the least side-to-side sway when loaded with snacks.
Hydration & Nutrition – I use Skratch Labs hydration mix. Find the mix that you like, and that your stomach likes, and load up, because long hot days REQUIRE lots of hydration mix. It’s not that you maybe need the electrolytes found in hydration mix on long rides, it’s that you DEFINITELY need these minerals. I fill an old Floyd’s of Leadville CBD bottle with an extra 5-6 scoops of Skratch hydration mix, so that I only have to buy/ fill my bottles up with water and add healthy electrolytes when I stop to refuel. Gatorade and the like is not your friend, so bring some high quality dry electrolyte mix and make your own. I usually set out with one of my three bottles with a heavy mix (about 4 scoops of dry mix) and I keep the other two bottles full of straight water. Food – Bring lots. It’s way better to end up with some left over food than it is to run out. I like bringing sandwich-type food on rides to break the monotony of eating packaged bars. Save bars, and chews for race day, or later in the ride.
So that’s how I get out and explore the gravel hinterlands. There is an endless minutiae of tricks that you’ll pick up to suit your geography and riding style, but these are some of the tips I’ve picked up. Get out and ride!