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How to Ride Loose, Rough Terrain on a Road Bike

When the pavement ends, the fun begins! Right?

While gravel bikes like the Devote are made for riding comfortably on unpaved surfaces over long distances, road bikes like the Avail and Langma are completely capable of handling sections of rough and loose terrain. Several races in the UCI Women’s WorldTour include sections of rough cobblestones or gravel – including the Tour de France Femmes and Gran Fondo events also include bumpy "b roads".

If you’re planning on tackling some gravel or rough pavement on your next road ride, here are some tips that will help smooth things out.

close up of a rough road transition

How to transition to rough or loose terrain on a road bike

  • Be aware! Always scan up the road or around the group for road conditions. 
  • Give space to the people around you. When coming up to a transition in the road or rough terrain, back off from the person in front or beside you gently. If there are riders behind you, signal that you are slowing down. DO NOT suddenly grab on the brakes. Simply stop pedaling or gently feather your brakes to slow before the road gets rough. 
  • Relax. Your hands should be at the hoods for control and braking, but relaxed as much as possible. There is no need for a death grip. Staying loose will help you absorb any bumps in the road. 
  • Adjust your position. Scoot back on the saddle slightly. When you make the transition on to the rough terrain it may slow the bike down significantly. As you ride onto a rough/loose road surface, stop pedaling and keep your pedals level for optimum balance and control. This will also help you brace and limit any forward movement of your body. Once you’ve passed the transition, keep pedaling!
a road bike rider on a gravel road segment

Tips for riding on rough/loose roads

  • Keep it smooth. Once on the cobbles, gravel or rough road, start pedaling as smoothly as possible. Try shifting into a harder gear to have a bit more power for controlling your forward momentum and it will help your bum not bounce all over the place. 
  • Ride upright. Once you get comfortable when riding on flatter terrain, you can move your hands to the tops of the bars. An upright body position, keeping the front of your bike light, will help smooth out the ride. 
  • Stay alert. Watch out for shifting terrain, holes, or loose rocks. Anticipate what is next by keeping your eyes up the road at all times.
a woman riding a road bike on gravel

How to corner on loose surfaces

  • Use subtle movements. When the riding surface is loose, you will have less traction than on pavement. Keep your hands light and corner more gently than you would on the road.
  • Look through the corner. Looking ahead as you are cornering will help you maintain a stable position and trajectory through the turn. You’ll also stay alert to any obstacles in your path. 
  • Brake before the corner. If you need to slow down, do most of your braking when you’re still going in a straight line. Limit your braking as you are turning; locking up your wheels could cause you to lose traction. 
  • Outside foot down. Dropping the pedal that’s opposite of the direction you are turning will help you maintain balance and traction through the corner. 
  • Breathe! If you tense up, it will make it harder to execute the corner. So, relax, and look where you want to go. 
  • Stay centered. Make sure your bodyweight is balanced between the front and rear wheels to maintain traction. 
  • Exit the corner and start pedaling. Once you have completed the turn and are traveling in a straight line again, then you can get back on the gas.

Descending on rough roads on a road bike

How to descend on rough terrain

  • Stand up. When you see a downhill, ruts or rough  terrain coming up, you can stand up, again with the pedals at 3/9 position and whichever foot feels most comfortable up front.  You can try each foot and see which feels best for you.  
  • Pedals level. Keep your pedals level to the ground to maintain balance
  • Hands on the hoods. With your hands on the hoods, you’ll have brake control and be able to easily balance yourself. 
  • Hands on the drops for steep descents. Moving your hands into the drops will give you more braking power and a bit more control on the handlebars. 
  • Move back slightly. Stay balanced on your bike, which will mean you are slightly back on steeper descents. Keep your knees and elbows bent to absorb bumps.
two road bikes propped up on a building with gravel