What is a Gravel Grinder? Tips & Tricks

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Over time, one can easily feel as though you’re stuck in the same routine, going through the same roads every day. The good news is you can ride off into the unbeaten path without worrying about causing unnecessary wear to your bike, so long as you have a gravel grinder. What is a gravel grinder, you ask?

Well, you’ve come to the right place because in the following article we’re going to answer just that question!

In fact, grinder racing with gravel bikes is a growing cycling niche that offers much-needed respite from the daily routine of traffic and it’s also accessible to anyone who’s interested. Gravel grinding is possible with implements that you already have which you can use to make adjustments to your bike.

What is Gravel Riding?

Gravel grinding is the ultimate definition of riding for fun. You get to ride through different terrain from smooth and well-maintained dirt roads to blown-out jeep tracks, potholes, sand bogs, exposed rocks, ruts, and washboards.

It’s about traversing through primitive double-tracks at the same time as machine-cut single-tracks. “Gravel” basically refers to any unpaved surface that makes drop bar bike riding possible.

Required Gear

Gravel specific bikes are a dime a dozen and easy to acquire. But, you don’t have to buy one in order to enjoy gravel grinding.

Nevertheless, gravel bikes have similar geometry to mountain and touring bikes and they sort of look like cyclocross bikes as well. They’re designed to keep you stable as you ride over rough patches.

If you’re already familiar with a cyclocross bike then you know what a gravel bike feels like. But, a mountain or road bike can work just as well for this application. The only difference is that you’ll need to consider the difference in tire selection. Mountain bikes sport an undeniable aerodynamic drag.

With that said, it’s always nicer to ride a bike that you’re familiar with even if it’s not a gravel bike. There’s no shortage of riders who grave grind using normal mountain bikes and sometimes even fat bikes. Just keep in mind that these types of bikes aren’t built to help you win if that’s what you’re after.

Preparation

Flat Tires

The type of tires you choose are predicated on the type of ride or event that you’re opting for. Most gravel grinders have a tubeless, semi-slick tire with dimensions of 700×38, or 700×42.

Riding tubeless comes highly recommended because it reduces your risk of experiencing pinch flatting and you’ll find that small punctures are easily filled by an internal sealant. Plus, you can always put in a standard tube if you get a flat.

Just make sure to put a PSI of five or so if you’re running a tube to avoid pinch flats. Don’t forget to bring a few spare tubes in addition to a patch kit.

Water Bottle Cage

While you’re in the process of learning what is a gravel grinder, you might as well be aware that your water bottles are much more likely to come flying off from your cages.

That’s why you need to plan ahead. You should drink up and leave the bottles at least half full to avoid the bottles taking on a rigidity that could lead to them being ejected. For the long term, consider getting softer water bottles that are easier to squeeze because the hard ones are easier to eject.

Of course, softer bottles might be harder to pull out when you need a drink, especially when placed in a standard metal cage, but it’s well worth it for a worry-free ride.

Clothes

When deciding on your riding outfit, you should ensure that it’s made from weather-friendly materials that can handle a constantly changing climate.

If you’re racing in the spring or fall then your focus should be on wearing as many layers as you can without weighing yourself down. You’ll also need lots of water and food supplies to last you throughout the race.

One can easily carry enough supplies for a race for up to 80 miles but you do need a frame to keep everything safe and your journey lightweight.

Training

Long Rides

The key to successfully training for a gravel grinder race is to improve your fitness levels and speed.

When riding in a race, it’s important to be comfortable on your bike and one way you can get yourself ready for the adventure is to prepare yourself mentally for the challenge that comes with riding through different kinds of terrain.

You can never tell how a race is going to turn out because it depends on a number of factors. Also, keep in mind that it takes longer to cover gravel road than long distances of a pavement road.

If this is your first time gravel grinding then you’ll want to get some practice by riding through rough roads to get an idea of how you need to handle your bike and the type of technique that you need to focus on.

Hill Rides

Inclines are incredibly difficult when riding through a pavement so it might be helpful to keep in mind that your muscles might find it difficult to go through the loose gravel.

Prepare yourself by doing a lot of incline work beforehand to get your climbing muscles primed and ready so that they’re powerful enough to handle what comes during the race.

Navigation

Another key thing is to understand that it can be difficult at first, especially if you’re a beginner. 

However, if you have a system in place then this can make your life much easier. A lot of race organizers make use of cue sheets as a way to simplify navigation. These cues are based on mileage and require a GPS or an accurate cycling computer.

If you want to switch it up and have fun on your bike, then gravel grinding can be the best way to do this.

But, avoiding traffic and getting stuck like a deer in the headlights can take the fun right out of it. So, try to enjoy the ride and remember to have fun through it all, even if you’re racing.

Conclusion

Well, there you have it! Now you know what a gravel grinder is and how to enjoy your bike on rough terrain such as gravel, etc.

Whether you’re participating in a race or just trying to switch things up, there’s no denying that gravel grinding is a fun way to enjoy your bike whether you’re an experienced or novice cyclist.

James is a passionate bicyclist who has done about every kind of biking there is. He loves the wind in his hair, the sun over his shoulder and maybe even the bugs in his teeth. No, just kidding about that last item. He isn’t crazy about road burns, either, but acknowledges that to have the good there is the occasional tumble. James feels that his bike is the place where he can unwind, leave troubles alongside the road, meet new people, go new places, and live the life of adventure that he loves. He is ready to share the ride with you.

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