Male cyclist on a gravel bike with the sun behind him

Beginner’s Guide: What is a Gravel Bike?

May 16, 2022

A Beginners Guide to Gravel Biking

Even if you’re brand new to cycling, chances are you can spot a road bike or a mountain bike from a mile away and have a pretty good idea of what each one is used for. But gravel biking can be a bit more difficult to define.   Don’t worry, it’s not just you – since gravel biking is still new to the cycling world, there’s still some mystery around it. Luckily, we’ve put together an easy guide to help beginners learn everything they need to know about gravel biking.

The History of Gravel Biking

While bicycles have been around since the 1800s and mountain biking has been popular since the 1960s, gravel biking is relatively new to the cycling scene.    Colin Strickland, winner of the 2019 Unbound says, “It’s a blend between mountain biking and road biking, borrowing different characteristics of each to find a middle ground.”   While cycling on gravel has been around for a while (mostly due to not all roads historically being paved), the first bicycle to ever actually be called a ‘gravel bike’ was the Warbird from Salsa Cycles in 2013.   When a group of engineers at Salsa Cycles grew frustrated with using cyclocross bikes on long, exploratory gravel rides and races, they decided to build a purpose-built bike.    According to Mike Riemer, Marketing Manager at Salsa Cycles, “Our initial aluminum-only Warbird model proved the benefits of our first take on gravel-specific geometry (long and low for increased stability on rough roads and fast descents), increased mud clearance, and disc brakes. It also pointed out the opportunity for continued improvement, especially related to increased rider comfort.”   The rest, as they say, is history.   Since then, gravel biking became incredibly popular in the United States and has spread rapidly to the rest of the world. Now, there are countless gravel biking events across the globe, including:  

  • Dirty Reiver (UK)
  • Barry-Roubaix (USA)
  • Arkansaw High Country Race (USA)
  • Unbound Gravel (USA)
  • Nordic Gravel Series (Norway, Sweden, Finland)
  • Grinduro (Australia)
  • Trek UCI Gravel World Series (France, Poland, the United States, Sweden, Belgium, Italy, Australia, Holland, Spain)

Choosing the Right Gravel Bike

Technically speaking, gravel bikes of a sub-type of hybrid bike that provides a more comfortable off-road experience than road bikes, while being able to move much faster on the roads than a mountain bike.   For many cyclists who love gravel bikes, the most appealing aspect is their versatility. If you’re new to cycling and aren’t sure whether you’ll prefer road cycling or mountain biking, here are some reasons why you should consider getting a gravel bike:  

  • You only have space or budget for one bike.
  • You’re looking for a safer way to ride. While gravel grinding comes with its share of hazards, you’ll be able to ride off-road without worrying about motorists.
  • You find the freedom and solitude of being able to explore off the beaten path appealing.
  • Your commute follows an off-road trail.
  • You want a bike that can ride on pretty much anything you throw at it.

 Here are some of the defining features of gravel bikes:  

  • The geometry of a gravel bike is somewhere between road bikes and mountain bikes.
  • The frame is similar to a cyclocross bike, but the longer tube and shorter reacg mean cyclists sit more upright on a gravel bike than a cyclocross bike.
  • Drop handlebars make it easy to handle on the roads.
  • Tyres on gravel bikes are at least 35mm in width, although most cyclist use 38mm+ tyres.
  • Gravel bikes are designed to be loaded up for multi-day bikepacking adventures, so they usually have accessory mounts for mudguards, racks or bags, and many bottle cages which makes them appealing to adventurers and commuters alike.
  • Most gravel bikes have an aluminium or carbon frame. Due to its lower cost, most beginners will choose aluminium.

Staying Safe While Gravel Biking

Because of their versatility, gravel cyclists will face many of the same potential dangers that both road cyclists and mountain bikers will face. Here are some tips to stay safe while riding:  

  • Always wear a helmet, whether you’re on the roads or off.
  • Wear gloves to improve your grip and protect your palms in case you crash.
  • Protect yourself from the sun with sunscreen and UV-resistant clothing and sunglasses, especially if you’re heading out for an all-day adventure.
  • Assume you’re invisible to motorists, so make sure you wear reflective clothing and have lights on the front and back of your bike.
  • Carry a patch kit at all times.
  • If you’re going off-road on an ambitious adventure, buddy up with another cyclist and make sure someone at home knows your route. Apps with live-GPS tracking are perfect for keeping your partner or family up to date with your whereabouts.
  • Because gravel bikes are much lighter than mountain bikes, be extra careful on singletracks – you may pick up speed too quickly and find yourself flying faster than you intended.
  • If you’ve put wide tyres on your gravel bike, you should be able to manage most mountain biking routes, but don’t ride like you’re on a mountain bike – you’ll still need to pay more attention to rocks and roots.
  • Keep your gravel bike safe by protecting it with bicycle insurance from Velosure.

Cover Your Gravel Bike with Velosure

Whether you’re on the roads, grinding gravel, or exploring further afield, we’ve got your back with comprehensive cover that follows you wherever the roads, gravel, or trails take you.  

Theft from your home   We hope you never have the heartbreaking discovery one morning that someone stole your bike in the night. If you do, we can cover it (as long as you follow our security and approved lock requirements).  

Theft away from your home   Enjoy your weekend coffee ride, daily commute, or weekend adventure knowing that, if your bike gets stolen while in your line of sight or while locked with an approved lock, we will get you back on the saddle.  

Worldwide cover extension (No cost option – Premium only) Taking your gravel bike with you overseas? We can cover your checked-in bike whilst in transit and for 90 consecutive days while you enjoy your travels. Send us a postcard!  

Custom parts (Optional for Premium only)   Are you one of those cyclists who loves tech? Garage full of gadgets and accessories like GPS, racing wheels, panniers? Add them to your policy and we will cover them while they’re in use.  

Want to see how much it’ll cost to cover your gravel bike? Get an online quote in minutes.

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