Gravel cycling is all the rage right now, and for a good reason. We hosted our first gravel cycling event way back in 2014 and called it The Montana Hell Ride. The event and was well ahead of the gravel craze that was beginning to brew. Some riders were on cyclocross bikes, but many were on road bikes with the largest diameter tires they could fit. Oh, how the game has changed! Many guests of The Cycling House are now replacing their traditional road bikes with something like the Moots Routt RSL, a gravel bike that handles smooth pavement and rough gravel all with the same frame, components and wheels. In Montana, gravel cycling has always been a part of road riding, and we are excited to showcase the backroads of Montana we’ve always ridden.
One of the first major gravel events was Dirty Kanza, which started with dozens of riders in 2006. Now it has over 2,500 participants, and the event has instituted a lottery for a chance to register. Last year, a few of the TCH staff participated in the inaugural SBT GRVL race in Steamboat Springs, CO and loved it! This winter, we invited the SBT GRVL founders to Tucson to experience some Arizona Gravel. Tucson has been our staple trip since 2005, and it was fun for them to experience firsthand the community The Cycling House has built, as well as the stoke gravel races created. We can’t wait for the 2020 SBT GRVL race! We have plenty of Arizona Gravel Camp options in 2021.
Gravel Riding in Montana
Gravel cycling has inspired many roadies to see the light mountain bikers have always been chasing. Getting off the beaten path encourages adventure, exploration and a chance to separate yourself from the normal hustle and bustle of life. Most of our staff are from Montana, so riding some gravel has been necessary for completing a loop. Montana has so many gravel roads, and we can’t wait to share them with our guests. This summer, we will host two gravel adventures: one based in Whitefish, Montana (#glaciergravel), and another based in Seeley Lake, Montana (#montanagravel). The trips are for experienced gravel riders and newbies alike, and we love helping guests expand their horizons and enjoy the freedom and adventure gravel cycling inspires.
There is a bit of a learning curve for gravel cycling and here are a few provisions can make your experience much, much better:
1. Ditch your traditional road shoes and get mountain bike or gravel shoes.
Road shoes do not have recessed cleats, so walking has always been a challenge. Add in mud and dirt — with the potential of a little hike a bike or dabbing your foot while gravel cycling — and you have a recipe for disaster if wearing road shoes. Many of our guides have ditched road shoes altogether, and gosh, it feels good to be able to walk off the bike without thinking you are going to slip and fall.
2. Ditch your road pedals for mountain-specific pedals.
The combination of road shoes and road pedals will not allow quick exit. We’ve all done it on the road: You get to a stop sign and topple over before you get out of your pedal. Gravel cycling is much more challenging, and mountain-specific pedals are easier to get in and out of. Our guides love the classic Shimano SPDs, but upgrading from the stock SPDs that come standard on bikes is worth it. We recommend Shimano XT or XTR pedals.
3. The evolution of road bikes has come to a head with gravel bikes.
Technological advances from mountain bikes have trickled over to gravel bikes and road bikes. Disc brakes and thru-axles are the biggest advances, allowing for wider tires. Nearly every manufacturer now has a gravel-specific bike. Our advice? Go to your favorite bike shop and demo a few. If you attend one of our trips, you can hop on a Moots Routt to experience the feel of titanium for yourself.
4. Choose a tire that inspires confidence and continue to work on your handling skills.
Honestly, you can ride most gravel roads on 23c road slicks, but it might not be as comfortable or as forgiving as 34c tires. There are now plenty of tire choices, including some good options for getting on and off gravel and pavement. If you choose a combination, you want to consider rolling resistance. Those burly tires with knobs might look cool, but they certainly don’t roll well on pavement. We love the smooth center tread tires with a little grip on the sides of the tires. These are great for pavement and gravel.
If you’ve ridden with most of our guides on the road, you’ve probably noticed that we don’t wear them. Long stretches of gravel and mountain biking are the exception. Disc brakes have helped keep our hands looking good compared to the old days of cantilever brakes, but a good pair of full-finger gloves can be nice to toss in your pocket for added comfort.
There is a host of other information, tricks and tips to help you get better equipped and more confident with gravel cycling. Check out the Global Cycling Network videos below for more gravel-specific tips and information. Hopefully, we will see you in Montana on one of our gravel cycling adventures this summer! Click the links for more details.
Here’s a good video that highlights what gravel bikes are capable of:
This video covers the gravel riding basics: