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5 Tips for the Gravel Curious

with KAYSEE ARMSTRONG, Liv Factory Racing Athlete 

Gravel biking is a hot topic right now in cycling. I now spend 90 percent of my race season racing gravel and probably an equal percentage of my training on gravel. Gravel riding can provide a happy medium for cyclists who want a less technical ride than mountain biking or for those that prefer a longer ride without worrying about cars. Aside from that, gravel can be a great way to cover some longer miles and do some exploring. With anything, sometimes getting started is the hardest part to getting into something new, so here are a few tips to help you take the leap into gravel. 

1. Bikes

Having a gravel-specific bike is great, but really any bike can do. Point being, don’t sweat if all you have is your mountain bike. The important part is you’re out on the bike having a great day. I personally ride the Liv Devote, which is a gravel-specific bike. I love this bike because no matter what the terrain, the Liv Devote is up for the challenge. I have tackled single track, roads, greenways, sandy roads, dirt roads, gravel roads, and even the rockiest of roads on this bike. Plus, it’s fit for bikepacking with its ability to hold racks and extra bottles.

Learn more about how to choose a bike for gravel riding

2. Choose a Route

If you’re familiar with the area you’re riding in, that’s great. I use Strava heat maps for finding routes, but be careful; Strava isn’t always the easiest to discern between road, gravel or trail. If it's available, Google street view can be a better way to nail down the surface. If there is a local shop or riding club around, local knowledge is always a sure bet and folks will happily give some route suggestions. Starting off small is never a bad idea and can help get your gravel legs underneath you. Finally, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good; most gravel routes have some sections of road or trail that connect all the dots, embrace the variety and see what you can find out there.

Learn more about how to find gravel routes near you

3. Gear

Bring the usual riding essentials. Even though gravel is less technical than mountain biking, flats and other mechanicals do happen, so come prepared. I opt for a saddle bag, handlebar bag, or frame bag to carry my tools. My go-to tool right now is a plug for tires. If you run tubeless tires, a puncture can easily be fixed by throwing a plug in. I also fill my bags up with plenty of snacks. Having a handlebar bag or frame bag gives you the option to carry a variety of snacks that usually your jersey pockets limit you from carrying. For example, sometimes I pack a bag of salty chips. Another handy thing to carry in your bags are extra layers. In the fall, winter and spring sometimes the temperature calls for a jacket or extra gloves at the top of the mountain. The ultimate goal with gear is to be  prepared to enjoy a long day in the woods, rather than think of gravel rides as another focused training ride to smash out.

Learn more about how to pack bike bags

4. Try a race

One of the best parts of gravel is the community. Riders are all out there to help each other and enjoy a new route, so it’s a great way to meet folks, ride with total strangers and make some new riding friends. Aside from that, the route is marked and you have aid stations for snacks, water and anything else you need. You can take any race however you want - take it seriously and put in a hard effort if that’s what you’re after, but know, too, that many riders are there for a casual day on their bikes and you’re more than welcome to join at that pace.

Learn more about gravel racing

5. Have Fun

Don’t take gravel riding too seriously or worry about getting it perfect right out of the gate. Come as you are, with the bike you’re comfortable on, and go find some fun roads to go exploring on. Take your time, and enjoy taking the leap into gravel.

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