I’ve been in Oklahoma for a bit now, and I haven’t been too active. When I first got here, we found our local bike shop, District. And they introduced us to the idea of gravel riding. What is gravel riding? Well, when you live in a location where the roads aren’t always paved, you surely have to ride gravel, yes? but also, I’ve found a group that wants to ride centuries, and 200s on gravel – eeep! What have I got myself into?

Surly Cross Check
Surly Cross Check – I named her Becky.

My first step was getting a bike! I bought a Surly Cross Check, and the mister bought a Trek CrossRip. We were assured both bikes would serve us well on gravel, and I’m loving the Cross Check right now. She’s a comfortable little bike – and I get a lot of comments on her from the other cyclists in town.

There are two groups that host gravel rides around town – a co-ed bike group, the Stillwater Gravel Grinders and a women’s only group that supports all kinds of riding, the Red Dirt Divas. I’ve joined the Gravel Grinders for their Monday night no-drop ride – twice now. The first time went reasonably well, and the second, I turned back a couple miles in. My next step would be to join the Divas for their beginner gravel ride.

Our first ride was a day after a pretty big rain storm, and I hear that makes for better (if you like smoother) riding on gravel. Most of the sandy parts sink down to the bottom of the road, and you’re riding on a more consistent surface. I’m glad my first experience was a good one – but it didn’t prepare me for ride number two.

I headed out with the mister for another Monday night ride, but the roads were a little different. Just a mile into the gravel, and I felt my bike was going to slip out from underneath me. It’s like I was hydroplaning a bit on the gravel (and indeed I was). It all made me a little too anxious, and I turned back, probably only getting about 5 miles on gravel roads (and 5 miles on the paved leading out there). I do have to say, on the way back, I appreciated the pavement a bit more. I put some work into the pedals getting back to the bar, and it felt good.

Since I had some time to kill waiting for the rest of the group to make it back – it is a social ride, after all, I did some research about how to ride gravel. I’ll add some resources at the end, but here are some of my take-aways:

  • Tire pressure is key. I think my second ride I had my tires a little too full. This is something I will need to experiment with. I read a lot that competitive gravel grinders keep their tire pressure secret!
  • While it makes sense that the big pieces of gravel give you a bumpy ride, it’s actually the tiny pieces that cause you to slide all over. And in all these cases, the slower you go the bumpier it is, and the more noticeable the slide is – although that runs counter to what my brain wants me to do.
  • I may just have to get more seat time out there to get comfortable with it. There is a muscle memory on the bike – and right now, mine is focused on roads, where you have more control. I think I just have to get better at being a little uncomfortable, and we can all do with a little more that.

Here are some resources: Performance Bike’s Blog gives you a run-down of what to do to ride gravel; The GravelCyclist gives you tips for bike setup; a first time gravel rider sets the tone in the Blue Ridge Mountains; People for Bikes article about gravel grinding