Gravel cycling has become increasingly popular in recent years, as cyclists look to escape the crowded roads, bask in the natural environment and test their endurance on less-travelled paths. Unlike traditional road cycling, gravel cycling requires a different approach to clothing to handle the unique demands of off-road riding. In this blog post, we'll explore some tips for choosing the right clothing and resources for your next gravel cycling adventure.
When it comes to choosing clothing for gravel cycling, durability, breathability, and comfort are key. Look for clothing made from technical fabrics such as merino wool and synthetic blends, which wick moisture away from your skin and dry quickly. These materials are also stretchy and lightweight, allowing for a full range of motion and easy movement. They are also resistant to tearing and abrasions, which is essential for handling the rugged terrain that comes with gravel cycling.
If you are on a multi-day trip you will need to consider washing your clothes to ensure freshness and guard against bacterial infection especially in the bib shorts. So you will need clothing with fabrics that can be easily washed and will dry quickly.
Gravel cycling can take you through a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions, so layering is key to staying comfortable. Start with a lightweight base layer that wicks moisture away from your skin and adds insulation. You can then add layers as needed, with a windproof and water-resistant outer layer being essential for protection against the elements.
Ideally, fabrics should be light-weight and easily packable, so they don’t take up valuable space and add unnecessary weight. Consider adding arm warmers and leg warmers, as they can be easily removed or added as the temperature changes.
Cycling on gravel can be a bumpy ride, so comfort is paramount. Padded clothing can make a big difference to your comfort level, particularly for your lower half. Cycling shorts with a chamois pad designed specifically for gravel riding will protect you from numbness and help reduce friction and chafing, while gloves with extra padding in the palms can help reduce vibration and shock.
It is particularly important that the bib shorts fit snuggly as loose-fitting bib shorts will move around and cause chafing. The chamois should be tight against your body without being constrictive.
Bib Shorts that have additional external mesh pockets are an excellent idea as it increases your on-body carrying capacity. Make sure that the pockets are deep enough to hold the items that you want to store without jumping out on the bumpy terrain.
The type of shoes you will need depends on the type of gravel riding you will be doing. For gravel racing, your footwear will be more like the best road cycling shoes, except designed for use with SPD-style pedals. Modifications for walking are minimal, beyond a recessed cleat, and the focus is on power transfer and low weight.
At the other end of the spectrum for generalist, exploratory gravel riding, or for some ultra-distance races the need for comfort, durability, and the ability to walk for protracted periods is much more important.
Bear these things in mind be realistic with the sort of riding you intend to do. Like bib shorts, shoes are critical and it would pay to do some specific research to find out what suits you best as they are a big ticket item purchase.
Gravel cycling often takes you on less-travelled roads, so it's important to be visible to cars and other cyclists. Choose clothing with reflective accents, and consider investing in lighting that will ensure you are seen. (You can read our be safe – be seen blog for more information). This is especially important in terrain where you are constantly riding in and out of shade.
Consider the Weather
Gravel cycling likely means that you are off the beaten track without access to shelter, food or water. With this in mind it is even more important to plan your clothing, nutrition and hydration needs in advance.
As we have already noted, gravel routes can take you through a wide range of terrains and weather conditions, from hot and dry to cold and wet. Plan your clothing accordingly, with lightweight and breathable clothing for hot and dry conditions, and layered clothing with windproof and waterproof outer layers for cold and wet conditions. Consider adding toe covers or shoe covers to protect your feet from the elements.
In addition to clothing, there are several other accessories that can make or break your gravel cycling experience.
A hydration pack or multiple water bottles is essential for staying hydrated, particularly on longer rides. Sunglasses with a wrap-around design can help protect your eyes from wind, dust, and debris. A cycling cap can help keep sweat out of your eyes and provide additional sun protection, and a buff can be used to keep your neck warm on colder rides.
If you are overnighting, then you will be best to include clothes that can be worn on and off the bike. Going to the pub for an evening meal in your bib shorts is probably not your best look and also not that comfortable!
In conclusion, gravel cycling can be a challenging and rewarding way to explore the great outdoors, and with the right clothing and accessories, you can stay comfortable and safe no matter the conditions.
Choose a reputable brand known for quality, durable products. Layer appropriately, prioritize comfort and plan ahead. With these tips in mind, you'll be ready for your next gravel cycling adventure.
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Numbness while riding, in any region of your body, is an issue that definitely should be and definitely can be addressed.
There are many causes for numbness while riding and in most instances the cause of numbness boils down to poor positioning on the bike and/or inferior equipment. The two most common regions for numbness are hands and pubic/ perineal region but we have also heard of cases of numbness in the shoulders or feet although these cases appear to be rare in comparison.