With Spring fast approaching, for some, it will be time to dust off the cobwebs and for others, a time to see if those hard winter miles have paid off. For most, Spring brings the perfect off-road conditions. Those boggy fire roads and trails are drying out, the ground is still loose but the grip is easily found and the best bit is less bike cleaning.
So here are our tips on how to get the most out of your gravel riding this Spring.
1. GET YOUR BIKE SERVICED
Sounds too simple to be true. Regardless of the miles completed this winter, a good clean, lubrication and general adjustments can go a long way. Having an issue free bike that just works is really important when you venture off-road. If something goes wrong you could be a long way from help or face a difficult hike-a-bike back to civilisation. There is nothing worse than waiting in the rain at a bus stop for a friend or spouse because you have had a mechanical you can't fix.
2. TYRES AND TUBELESS SETUPS
Bigger is not necessarily always better when it comes to tyres. Ultimately your tyre is your only contact with the ground. So, the right rubber for the conditions is just as important as size or pressure when heading off-road. Spend some time playing around with your tyre pressures. Have you set up your tyres tubeless yet? There are huge gains to be made in grip and rolling resistance from a tubeless setup. Why not ask us to do it for you, when we ship your bike? After all, all HUNT wheels are tubeless-ready and fitted with the right tape from the go.
Here is a quick tyre cheat sheet:
- Have fast-rolling tyres but need more grip? Try lowering the pressure, setting up tubeless, or consider a more aggressive tread pattern on the front.
- Have aggressive tyres and you ride mostly off-road but the occasional road miles are a slog? Try different tyre pressures front to rear, or consider a rear tyre with good side knobbles but a slicker centre.
- Run lower pressures but keep getting punctures? Try increasing the pressure a little bit, fit a tyre insert or consider tyres with some protection.
- Need the best of both worlds? Try tyres with a fast-rolling centre and good side knobbles, in combination with different pressures front to rear.
3. WHEEL SIZE
There has been a big debate in recent times about the best wheel size for gravel bikes and we have found that it is really all about personal preference. The general rule of thumb is the smaller 650b wheel with a big tyre 50c + is better for off-road and more comfortable. 700c with a small tyre 32 to 40c is better for road/tracks and towpaths, faster but less forgiving. Even then that rule doesn't always work - take the team here at The Rider Firm. Cairn Product Manager Matt uses 650b but rides mostly on-road/light off-road and website guru Stan uses 700 x 35 and no bigger on serious off-road trails. Here is the thing you will never know unless you try it. Our colleagues over at HUNT offer the same 60-day ride or return policy on wheels, so just give it a go and see what works for you.
Wider bars and shorter stems on mountain bikes are not just a trend, it is happening for a reason. That reason is better control of your bike off-road. The same rule would apply to gravel bikes, however, we have the added issue of having to be able to reach the brake levers. So although a wider bar might not help, a bar with more flare will. This means your seated pedalling position and bike fit is not compromised. However, the flare increases access to the brakes and that wider stance improves control when you get on the rough stuff.
5. DROPPER SEATPOST
Another MTB trend that is making its way into gravel riding. Dropper seat posts are great. The days of getting off and adjusting your saddle height every time you reach a trail are long gone. If you are getting serious with your gravel bike and you are taking it to the extremes of its intended use, a dropper post is a must-have. Being able to get that saddle out of the way even just a small amount and move around on the bike makes life on a gravel bike a whole lot easier. Dropper posts designed for gravel bikes will have a 50 to 100mm of drop or travel. Luckily for Cairn owners, we have internal cable routing for this so you can run a 'stealth' setup.
- PRO Discovery
- X-Fusion Manic
6. COMPLIANCE & COMFORT
Compliance, isn't that just suspension? Yes and No. Of course on a mountain bike, the traditional way to add compliance is to add suspension. Something some brands have done to their gravel bikes. However, gravel bikes are making the bicycle industry think in different ways about how to make bikes more comfortable off-road. At Cairn we keep things fairly simple, we use high-quality Fabric bar tape, a carbon Seatpost and large 40c tyres to keep you comfy.
There are all kinds of solutions, super flexy carbon posts and handlebars, using the carbon layup to add vibration damping and flex. On the suspension front, you have Lauf, Fox and MRP which offer gravel-specific suspension forks. The Redshift Shockstop stem and seat post is also an option. Designed to flex and give the feeling of suspension without the weight and inefficiency. Reverting back to point 2 and 3 fitting 650b wheels with a bigger tyre could be enough comfort for some. Can even be as simple as a second wrap of bar tape like the pros do during the spring classics.