How do I get better at gravel biking?
Find a gravel partner
Safety comes first. Gravel biking will often take you off the beaten track and into bushland or deserted areas. Riding with a partner ensures that you have someone there to help if you become injured or lost. Plus, everything is more fun with a friend! Melbourne Gravel Grinders is a great gravel biking group to explore with.
Decide on a route
"You don’t have to go too far off the beaten track to get gravel roads in Australia,” said Miller. He recommended joining a social media group for community info and popular route recommendations, and downloading the TrailForks app. “It’s largely MTB focused, but there’s info there specifically catered to gravel too so you can piece together your own courses and routes.”
Keep your bike maintained
Learn how to clean and service your bike to keep it in top condition with this guide to maintaining your bike. You could always take your gravel bike into your local bike shop if you aren’t yet confident in your bike maintenance abilities. You will inevitably scratch paint, graze skin and blow tyres at some point during your gravel adventures, so it pays to know how to fix small issues.
Stay relaxed (and off the brakes)
Instead of fighting the bike, allow it to correct its path during forward momentum. When you stop fighting, you’ll notice that you will start to ‘float’ over tricky terrain rather than hang on for dear life. It’s also far less fatiguing to keep your hands and arms relaxed with bent elbows rather than maintaining a death-grip.
Like most vehicles, bikes are more stable at speed – especially on rough terrain. The slower you go, the more you’ll bounce. When you’re rolling, feather the rear brakes on the flats rather than slamming on the front brakes on the bumps.
During descents, place your hands into the drops, keep your elbows bent, shift to the back of your seat, and bend your legs to absorb the bumps. You can hover out of your saddle on particularly hairy terrain to avoid being jolted around too much, much like a horse rider during a trot.
Learn which techniques to use on different terrain
Gravel biking is infamous for its wide array of terrains. Different surfaces require different gear and speed choices to avoid wiping out or getting bogged down. Here are some particularly tricky tracks:
Washboard / Cobblestones – use a bigger gear at a higher speed to stay on top of the stutters rather than crashing into them
Sand / Silt – use a smaller gear at a higher cadence: your speed will drop but at least you’ll move forward
Climbs – shift around in the saddle to give different muscle groups a rest as you climb. Moving to the rear of your saddle uses your glutes more, while moving to the noise engages your quads. Always keep your heels low to take stress off your calves and use larger muscle groups to power your climb.
Singletrack / Descents – look as far ahead down the trail as you can to process what’s coming and find which line you’d like to follow. Stay as loose as possible to keep your ride fluid rather than rattled.
Rotate in some strength training
Strength training will help make your cycling more powerful and efficient, and less injury prone. Lifting 2-3 days a week will quickly improve your full-body strength and stamina. Focus on moves like squats, deadlifts and plank rows: these exercises target your glutes, quads, back and core, while increasing spinal stability. Push-ups are also an excellent way to work out multiple muscle groups at once. You don’t have to join a gym if you don’t want to: your backyard can work just as well. Just remember to regularly change your moves, weights, reps or sets to prevent your muscles from adapting and plateauing.