More and more people are getting into riding bikes both on-road and off-road. Some people have been doing this forever and a lot of people are new to it. One of the great benefits to riding both on and off road is the fact that you can ride your bike in places not normally reserved for riding. Typically, the only bike lanes that you’ll see are the ones painted on the road you take to your local trail, fire road, canal bank or dirt road.
People often ask what type of bike they should ride if they plan on covering both paved and unpaved roads, and if they could ride their current road or mountain bike. The answer is more complicated than a yes or no. It really depends on the type of terrain you are going to ride:
If you are going to be riding very mellow gravel roads, then a road bike with 28c tires might be okay. It would depend on your skill and comfort level, but it’s generally not preferred… just in case you come across something rougher.
If you are riding more technical terrain such as trails and sandy areas, you will want a bike that can accommodate a bigger tire (at least a 700x33), to give you greater stability.
Cyclocross bikes seem to be the best suited for handling most situations that you come across. These are light enough to attack the climbs and tough enough to take a beating.
Lately, gravel specific bikes are becoming popular in todays market. These bikes typically have a taller headtube, bigger tire clearance and can usually handle a 650b or 700c wheel. People who typically use a 650b tire opt for a size around 47c. This size will allow the bottom bracket to still have some clearance and put more rubber to the dirt, while also smoothing out the rough terrain and allowing for more grip in technical sections.
A few of the best technological advances within recent years is disc brakes on cross/gravel bikes, 12mm thru axles along with the 1x drivetrain with a wide range of gearing options.
Half of the fun of riding both paved and unpaved roads is planning out your route. Or better yet, not planning and just going out to explore. Whatever bike you choose to be your “graveler,” just make sure (like with any other bike) that it suits your style of riding and that you are not going to outgrow it within the first few months. Skills change and evolve and having a bike that can meet those skills will save you a bunch of money and increase the fun!
-Devin Bovee Devin@stevensbicycles.com 559.797.0148