Beginner's Guide: What is a Gravel Bike?

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, a gravel bike is 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:

  • It’s sort of a “Jack of all trades” on wheels: Their versatility is awesome. Apart from gravel, a Gravel bike can ride on the road and tackle certain trails! So, it’s one bike that gives you the opportunity to enjoy all three options.
  • Safety benefits: While gravel grinding comes with its share of hazards, you’ll be able to ride off-road without worrying about motorists.
  • You have a sense of adventure: You love the freedom and solitude of being able to go off the beaten track.
  • They’re fun! If for no other reason, this bike brings a new sense of fun and adventure to cycling and that is almost enough reason to get one. Never underestimate the importance of having fun no matter how old you are.

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 reach mean cyclists sit more upright on a gravel bike.
  • Drop handlebars make it easy to handle on the roads.
  • Tyres on gravel bikes are typically at least 35mm in width, although most cyclists 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 make them appealing to adventurers and commuters alike.
  • Gravel bikes come in different frame material options, the most common two are aluminum or carbon.

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 spares with you at all times in case of a puncture or mechanical issue.
  • 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 Sundays.

Cover Your Gravel Bike with Sundays

Whether you’re on the roads, grinding gravel, or exploring further afield, we’ve got your back with comprehensive cover that follows you where the roads, gravel, or trails take you. Here is a quick look at what bicycle insurance from Sundays offers you and your Gravel Bike:

Nothing spoils the fun as quickly and abruptly as your bike being stolen!

Yup, it’s pretty much, almost, kind of the worst thing that can happen to you. Luckily, having us as your insurance partner is pretty much, almost, kind of the best thing that can happen to you. We cover theft from and away from home!

Ready, set, GO!

If these three words get your adrenaline pumping, knowing we offer optional race and event coverage will probably do the same! This is an optional extra, and if you choose to add it, we’ll cover your gravel bike in case it gets damaged during a race or event as a result of an accident.

Thinking about pimping your ride?

Well, if you do fit custom parts such as upgraded carbon handlebars, accessories like a GPS, a headlight, special wheelsets, bikepacking bags etc, with Sundays Insurance these specialized bike parts can be covered too!

Travel the world and we will follow …

You might not go around the world in 80 Days, but when you travel outside of the UK, you can do so knowing your gravel bike is protected if you’ve added our optional worldwide coverage for up to 90 days.

Want to see how much it’ll cost to cover your gravel bike?

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