Gravel Time

For the last 18 months there has been much discussion among us regarding Gravel Riding.  I was very cynical and felt it was just another ploy from the bike manufacturers to persuade us to buy another bike!  I also felt that Mallorca’s terrain was far better suited to road biking and mountain biking than a mix of the two.  Jan Eric @ma13mallorca has been a real advocate – shouting about it from the roof… more recently, after lockdown, we also had to put up with @joanhorrach_liveablock banging on about it…. still I resisted.

Oh how wrong I was…. Gravel riding is a whole new sensation and an essential experience if you want to challenge your cycling brain and develop as a rider.

Rapha Prestige Gravel Ride 

133km, 1,600m vertical with a moving time of 6 hours 15 minutes – in horizontal rain & high winds 

At the end of November I participated in a low key Gravel Event organise by Rapha Mallorca.  They created a route for us to follow on our Garmins, we entered in teams of 4 and due to covid, start times were spread out over a two hour period.

The route took us from Felanitx to the lighthouse at Capdepera & back.  With approximately 60% of the ride off road, the route was creative and took us through some stunning scenery.  Mallorca’s varied landscape was evident throughout the day – forests, mountains, sea views and sandy tracks along the back of beaches… the route started with an ascent to the San Salvador sanctuary (+470m above sea level) and also included sections of the via verdes  Other highlights were the Castell Punta de n’Amer (past Sa Coma) and a 2km section round a muddy waterlogged field that had us sliding all over the place!

The delights of Mallorca also cooked up its usual varied array of weather – blue skies, high winds and torrential rain – but none of that managed to dampen our spirits 

Myself, Javier & Andreas rented gravel bikes from Jan Eric and were very fortunate to have the experience of Andy to guide us on our way.  It was a great day, a wonderful experience and something I look forward to repeating again very soon.

What is Gravel Riding 

When gravel riding started, it was viewed by its original adopters as almost one of an alternative culture to road biking.  More creative and a bit more hipster like… But more recently, events are starting to pop up all over the world.  These events are far more creative than the mass participation road biking events and allow riders to explore off road areas & routes that have historically been hard to navigate.  

Gravel riding allows you to get away from the traffic whilst still offering some of the attractive elements of road cycling, such as the ability to cover distance and at speed, not to mention safely with a group of friends.  In smaller groups, it is a sociable riding experience with friends with the opportunity to explore previously unridden trails and views.  The sociable element is one that is key and its appeal to a diverse range of rider abilities.  Exploring aside – gravel bikes are a fantastic way to build your core fitness and endurance, whilst exploring off the beaten track trails.

There is no ‘right’ way to dress for gravel

From the waist down go MTB, from the waist up go road.  Of course this is cycling and so there are little touches which are critical for ‘the look’ if you’re really getting invested – casquettes and bum bags would seem to be two cornerstones of the true gravel rider.   The latter perhaps has a more practical side to it.  Gravel is intended to be a long-distance affair and often strays into multi-day bike packing events – sleeping rough, away from civilisation, amidst extremely changeable weather.  As such, an ample cargo capacity is key to carrying a wide array of spares, food, liquids and clothing essentials.

You WILL puncture!

This is a weirdly masochistic element of gravel, particularly in countries with chunkier grades of forest road.  Without suspension and often higher top speeds than when on your mountain bike, you’re asking a lot of the thinly carcassed tyres.  Punctures are still very much a massive part of gravel, as is the chipper camaraderie around fixing them as everyone in the group knows that it could well be them next.

Losing air aside, gravel bikes are remarkably mechanically resilient.  They borrow heavily from both MTB & road and as a result, benefit from some already pretty dialled in bike tech such as one-by drivetrains and disc brakes.  They do a superb job of nullifying the vibrations and chatter coming back through them.

Everything is familiar, yet really different

Depending on the terrain, your first hour or so on a gravel bike is a space shuttle launch of a learning curve.  The speed at which you can climb feels strange.  Gravel bikes, are of course not trail bikes but riding easier trails on them is eye-opening in every sense. 

Go with experienced gravelistas

It would be very easy to go gravel riding on your own and not really ‘get’ it.  After the initial amusement of being on a completely new set-up & shape of bike wears off, it can feel a bit like the halfway house that it really is – neither on nor offroad.  Gravel is a social way of riding and is a hell of a lot more enjoyable with others around you… 

If you are keen on Gravel, I would give Jan Eric a shout.   He has the bikes, the experience and the patience.

Cycling, Wine & Horses

@ses_rotes OR

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