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Dear Coach: I Want to Get Into Gravel Riding. What Do I Need to Know?

Ready to take to the dirt? Here's what you need to know to get started.

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We’re seeing an increasing number of triathletes turning their hand to dirt roads and getting their grit going with gravel riding. And if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s about seizing the opportunity to dabble in new sports or adventures that we might not otherwise have had the chance to try. I decided last year to give gravel riding a try and, to give you some history, I am not one of those athletes that had a boat load of mountain bike/off-road experience going into it. In fact, a number of years ago, I bought a mountain bike, tried it, and actually decided it really wasn’t for me and sold it. Yet gravel riding opens up a new door of combining some “soft” mountain bike-type riding with some of the things we all enjoy about riding on the road. It’s also something new and fun. Here’s what I’ve learned that triathletes might want to consider if they are thinking of getting into the gravel scene:

#1 – Get the right bike

Get a gravel bike that is close to your road bike set up, including crank length, position, handlebar width, etc. Keeping your gravel bike close to what you’re used to will help you feel more comfortable and keep the injuries at bay.

RELATED: Two Gravel Bikes (For Triathletes) Go Head to Head

#2 – Slow your roll

Remember that riding on gravel is slower than the road. It might sound obvious, but forget all notions of X number of miles taking you Y hours to cover. Remove all thoughts about speed and just be aware of how much slower different surfaces can be. Deep sand, washboard gravel, wider tires—all of these things can mean you’re out there longer than you are used to.

#3 – Don’t forget to hydrate

Wear a hydration vest. It can get bumpy out there and the last thing you want is not getting the fluids you need because you can’t reach down for your water bottles. Additionally, those water bottle cages better be gorilla tight so you don’t launch your bottles. A hydration vest (such as a CamelBak) allows you to stay hydrated while also keeping your hands on the bars.

#4 – Be fit for it

Gravel roads can beat you up more and can require more strength. I remember the first gravel race I did. I felt like I’d been beat with a jackhammer for hours. Your shoulders and upper body can feel especially tight and sore. Be prepared with good gloves and, ideally, go into it with good upper body strength.

RELATED: How to Train for Gravel Triathlon 

#5 – Prepare for the course

Know your course/route. With the variety of races popping up, be sure you know what kind of course you are entering. Some have a lot of technical mountain bike terrain, some have deep sand, some are rocky, some have a lot of washboard gravel, and so on. Practice the skills you’ll need for the type of course or route you’ll be facing.

#6 – Gear up

Make sure you have the right equipment and tires for the type of course you’ll be riding. Tire type and pressure matters! Be ready with tools, tubes, and all the little things you’ll need to troubleshoot out there. Flats and mechanicals are a big part of gravel adventures, so have the right stuff and know how to use it.

RELATED: What Gravel Equipment and Gear Do You Need for Your First Gravel Ride?

Gravel riding and racing can bring a whole new level of fun to your riding and be a great addition to your cycling skills and development. Enjoy trying new things and having more fun on two wheels!

Marilyn Chychota is a USAT-certified coach and former pro triathlete who is now owner and head coach at Marilyn Chychota Coaching. Find out more at MarilynChychotaCoaching.com.