Smooth roads are over rated
You can’t fail to have noticed the upsurge in popularity and coverage of gravel riding but is it just about selling us more bikes or is it a cycling trend that you should be trying?
What is it?
Off-road sportives have been around for a few years with riders tackling them on mountain bikes, cyclo-cross bikes or even slithering around on road bikes. However, mainly due to a burgeoning gravel scene in America, dedicated gravel or adventure bikes are now being designed and manufactured by all the big brands. With a geometry more suited to long days in the saddle than a cyclo-cross bike, clearance for bigger tyres and drillings for mudguards, bottle cages and panniers, a gravel bike is an incredibly versatile steed, equally suited to a commute as epic off-road adventures.
Without the extensive network of dirt roads found in America and our notoriously damp climate, gravel might be a slight misnomer in the UK but, with a bit of imagination, it’s relatively easy to piece together exciting “gravel” routes, get away from traffic and discover trails and lanes that you'd never dare tackle on a road bike.
Gravel riding isn’t really a new thing. In fact, the routes you’ll probably end up riding, mirror pre-trail centre and pre-suspension mountain biking routes. However, the difference is that there are now dedicated bikes that are perfectly suited to lighter off-roading duties, mixed terrain routes and events for you to test your off-road riding fitness and skills on.
Why do it?
The biggest advantage of riding a gravel bike is the sheer variety of riding it opens up to you. Road sections aren’t the soul sapping drags that they can be on a mountain bike and, when you do hit the dirt, you’ll be amazed at what you can ride. This means you can put together routes that you’d probably never ride on a mountain bike, definitely wouldn’t on a road bike but are perfect for a gravel bike.
Where can you ride?
Along with all public roads apart from motorways, In England and Wales, you have the right to ride on the following public rights of way:
Byways Open to All Traffic
You may also ride on the following:
‘Routes with other public access’ – the Ordnance Survey term for ‘white roads’ or ‘green lanes’
Forestry Commission stone tracks
Some unsurfaced Forestry Commission tracks
Dedicated mountain bike trails. Many green, blue and even some red routes are fantastic fun on a gravel bike.
Cycle paths and cycle tracks such as converted railway lines
Some Canal Towpaths
There are a number of bodies who are lobbying for increased access rights for mountain bikers in England and Wales as the current rights of way distinction between bridleways and footpaths was made long before off-road cycling even existed. The exact intricacies of the law are complex and vague but, right now, you should assume that you don’t have the right to ride on footpaths and shouldn’t do so.
Existing members may be looking to upgrade their traditional steel winter bike, with mudguards and a rack that's served them well for many years, with a gravel bike that comes with very reliable disc brakes, a similar rack, and fun cycling coming as standard!