Are you starting to ride gravel, or at least thinking seriously about giving it a try? If you come from a primarily tarmac-riding background, it can be intimidating for any number of reasons. See, your brain likes to take the experiential knowledge you have and then extrapolate all the things that could go wrong as you adjust to a completely different style of riding. (If you don’t know this already, you shouldn’t always believe the worst-case scenarios that your brain tries to hand you without anything to back it up.)
That’s where Dork in the Road’s handy gravel tips video can be a great source of both information and comfort for your beginner gravel-riding anxiety. All five of the tips that he offers here are solid—but if you’re at all like me, hearing and seeing the information is one thing, but putting it into practice is another. While tarmac and gravel riding require completely different things of you as a rider, one thing they have in common is that you’re only going to get better if you go out and do it, not just run plays over and over again in your mind.
The first tip that DITR offers is one that you’ll also hear from dirt coaches, and it’s one that was particularly difficult for me to get over in a dirt scenario. The bike is going to be squirrely and move around much differently than street riders will be used to. Instead of choking up on the handlebars and maintaining a white-knuckled death grip the whole way, what you should do is loosen your grip and let the bars (and bike) move around on and through the terrain.
Obviously, you want to keep the bike moving in the general direction that you want to go, but shifting around on gravel is both normal and expected. Letting the bike plot its own path (within reason) and not fighting it will soon become second nature as you adjust to how it feels.
The second tip is to try to stick to both accelerating and braking in straight lines on gravel when you’re first learning. That way, if you experience wheel lockup, you won’t run into any unexpected problems, like precarious wheel slides. As you become more confident and accustomed to how the bike moves through gravel and what various control inputs do on this terrain, you can start to change it up as your comfort level dictates.
Next thing is, just like you have confidence in your road tires, you need to also have confidence in your dual sport or off-road tires. Assuming that you have a good set of appropriate tires on your bike, they were designed precisely to go over the terrain that you’re attempting to traverse. They’re not going to suddenly develop punctures just because you roll over some twigs. Don’t purposely aim for pointy, sharp, broken-off branches on logs as you roll over them, but also don’t unnecessarily freak yourself out worrying about whether your tires are robust enough to handle your chosen off-road path.
Standing up on gravel will help you calm down, because you won’t feel every squirrely motion of the bike through the footpegs. By contrast, that’s exactly what you’ll feel if you’re sitting in the saddle. As a bonus, standing up will also help you to control the bike better in this situation, so it’s a good skill to master on easy parts of where you’re riding before trying it on more difficult parts. Also, getting your body weight over the front wheel will help stabilize the bike.
Finally, one fundamental way that gravel riding is different than street riding is this: On gravel, you want to keep your body perpendicular to the ground and move the bike around underneath you. On the street, you lean with the bike to do things like get it around corners. Body positioning is totally different and may take some time to get used to if you’re coming from a street background. Just pay attention to what you’re doing, and what ride mode your brain is in, and you’ll gain more confidence and skill as you go.