Skillz for gravel racing

Good morning!
My background is entirely on the road but I recently purchased a gravel bike. I had a mountain bike once and it lasted about 6 months before realizing I just didn’t have the disposition to ride it (I wish I gave it more time and found the right people to help me learn but too late for all that). I have done a handful of rides and I really enjoy it. Gravel gives me what I hoped to get from mountain biking - an outdoor escape from pavement- with what I enjoy most on the road - long climbs. When it comes to the tricky parts though, ie ruts, washboards, holes, etc, I just kind of plunge forward and hope for the best. I was thinking I should add some handling work before I start my gravel plan and am looking for suggestions. What do you think? Or should I just get my handling experience on the grind?

With the people I know who seriously race gravel their experience they use actualy come from either mountain biking or Cyclocross. Have you done cyclocross at all? When decending on the gravel being comfortable with tire pressure changes for increased traction, letting the bike move under you and going with it versus forcing it and riding too stiff, and picking lines with better traction. IMO you can get the skills via the grind but find some buddies to join you who have the skill and let them go ahead of you and follow in their lines. I love gravel for the reasons you mentioned and just have fun!

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Thanks for the reply! No cyclocross experience either but that makes sense!

Handling Drills are very worthwhile. They can lead to better and faster learning than the trial by fire of learning on the grind, like you said.

There are numerous YouTube channels on MTB and CX handling drills (cornering, bunny hopping, track standing, jumping, etc.) that are very worth your time. Additionally, if you have local friends who are accomplished, see if you can con them into a few sessions of practices on specific skills. Repetition is key, and you won’t get that with typical riding.

Hi @Trikitten - so the first thing I ask athletes is where they are riding because ‘gravel’ means different skills than in other place of the country/world.

Out here in Boulder and Colorado we have what we joke as ‘gucci gravel’ meaning it rides very similar to asphalt and you can even ride road bikes on it. Therefore the skills required are minimal because there are different lines to avoid stutter bumps. Tricks are to use beefy tires like most gravel bikes have and run 35-38mm tires and pressures that correlate with your body weight 35-40psi.

Descending down a gravel road is the most technical we get - Sunshine Canyon is a great descent to practice on - taking the turns nice and slow and easing of the brakes on the straightaways.

If you are talking about Southern gravel - that usually means mud and if its Rocky Mtn Gravel that 's more mountain bikey and North East Gravel more slippery, routes and mud puddles, etc…

Best way to practice in my opinion is what we emphasize in our gravel simulation rides - ride your gravel bike over the terrain your are training for as much as possible. Familiarity and repetitions is a really good way to practice. Plus its good for your training too.

PS - this could be a future podcast and/or youTube video :wink:


@FRANK that would be a great podcast, and a request for gravel newbie tips! My kids got me into Nova Eroica California 2020 as a present, without realizing I only have a road bike. While I’ve ridden 26c tires on short 2-5 mile stretches of dirt/gravel/washboard in CA, the Nova short route has 56 miles of “white roads” (a few pics here: Eroica CC) and my newbie concern is a 3 mile descent at 9% that as best I can tell is about 1+ mile of dirt/gravel/washboard and the rest paved.

Event originally rescheduled from April to Sept 2020, and my guess is that Sept 2021 is likely the earliest date for the event. My daughter lives in that area and I’m planning to rent a Specialized Diverge or Trek Checkpoint for both the event and a practice ride or two in the area (possibly on that actual descent). I’m not racing, only in it for the adventure.

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+1 on the request for a podcast on gravel skills. Especially descending and even more specifically cornering while descending, e.g., when and how to brake, how to choose a line through a fast corner, what to do if you start sliding out, etc.


That sounds like a great podcast/YouTube idea!

I am in the southeast where there is some packed gravel but also some muddy, rocky, and rooty sections. You will meet more than one slippery tree root. I kinda figured experience is king but have been wondering if I should add in some dedicated skill work. I guess I am just have a bit of 'cross envy haha.


Charging my GoPro for the on the bike recording now!