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Ranking gravel rides


What is Gravel Riding?

If you ride a bike it would be very hard to have not heard about “Gravel Riding”. In Australai particularly since late 2020 at least the massive increase in it’s awareness makes it seems like a new phenomenon! You can have a read about what our interpretation of gravel riding is here in our first blog in conjunction with our good friends at Pedal Brisbane.

Since we were introduced to it in France in 2018 we were immediately addicted to not just the way gravel riding exposed new perspectives of a region we knew so well. As experienced road bike riders and operating a bike tour company we also loved that it opened up cycling to a whole new group of people. The flip side was from our first hand experience, how tricky it was to know how hard a gravel ride might be.

One thing is certain though, it is realistic to expect that someones idea of a gravel ride is someone elses idea of “Holy Crap” technical Mountain Biking, depending on each others experience levels.

Gravel grew from bloody difficult events in the USA, events typically have that level of being incredibly challenging, which is the well worn formula. So if your first gravel foray happens to be a “race” or event, you can expect a tough day and potentially lots of hike a biking! You wouldn’t be the first rider to find themselves in way over their heads, mid ride full of expletives!

However… it doesn’t need to be like that. Having no Mountain Bike experience to speak of, over time and as our gravel experience grew through our own exploring, joining gravel events both in Australia and Europe as well as leading our own gravel ride tours we developed a gravel ride rating. We are excited to share it with you too, both so you could expect what you would experience on one of our tours, but also which you could also ask a gravel event organiser to determine if that event could be suitable for you.

Underpinning our ranking is our Live, Laugh, Ride… philosophy, and created the following acronym – the Cycling industry LOVES acronyms! “SPH” “Smiles Per Hour”.

What is the “SPH” formula? If riding a gravel bike fitted with a tyre from a particular size range doesn’t return maximum smiles per hour, you need to move up or down a tyre size category. Also apply it to the off the saddle component of an event, as Gravel Riding is a very holistic form of cycling – post ride beers, banter and good vibes – these elements are fundamental inclusions in gravel events too!

The only caveat is the gravel ranking is an average. Gravel road and trail conditions are changeable by nature depending on a number of factors, so if in doubt choose a beefier tyre and embrace the free resistance training on smooth surfaces!

Our guide to Gravel Ride ranking:

One Dusty Roo

Best suited to 32 mm tyres, 700cc wheels

This is your classic entry category, covering pretty much anything you could encounter within the boundaries of the average city. Tarmac, cement, grass, bike tracks, bike paths, parks and open spaces.

In fact thinking of tarmac roads typical in Australia, I can think of a whole heap that would elevate to 2 dusty Roo’s simply because it is a road connected by poor quality patchwork and previous repairs!

For Gravel roads – that’s what your here for after all! – you can expect buttery smooth, well-maintained dirt roads, finished with a fine gravel or base layer. So nice are they to ride, if you were blindfolded you would be forgiven for thinking you were on tarmac! You could easily ride your road bike on the main tyre tracks without issue.

Two Dusty Roo’s

Best suited to 32 – 40 mm tyres, 700cc wheels

Welcome to the first half of gravel riding’s “Sweet Spot” ,what we have coined “Straya Bianche” as a nod to the famous gravel race in Italy. This is your gateway to escape on typical rural country roads. 80% of the time they are perfect however, you will find the odd pothole, corrigations and water washouts on the inside of corners.

The characteristics of the roads are that they are generally straight with few corners and the landscape features lovely longish, shallow gradients with the odd little pinch is thrown in to spice things up!

Off line from the main tyre tracks you will find built up gravel which can give some squirrelly moments offering unintended bike handling skills practise…

You could use a road bike if your skilled, but that would take away the pleasure of a typical Gravel Adventure.

We are going up in tire size, to maximise our “Smiles per Hour” measure compared with a road setup. Instead of 80+ psi tyre pressures, with the bigger tyre, your most likely going to be below 50 psi to benefit from the pneumatic suspension of a higher-volume tire.

It is probable you would encounter a couple of 3 Dusty Roo sections encountered along the way.

Three Dusty Roo’s

34–45mm 700c or 650b wheels with moderate tyre tread blocks

This is the “B Side” of gravel ridings sweet spot. If you have the right bike set up. What is the right bike set up? I’m glad you asked! We will cover gravel bikes in a later blog, so stay tuned! but for now let’s keep rolling.

3 Dusty Roo roads are not maintained as often due to being more remote and therefore less trafficked. On 700 c wheel/tyre they are rideable, but the “Smiles per Hour” measure may reduce a little. With 650 b wheels/tyres though, “SPH” goes through the roof!

Exposed rocks, tyre sized rain ruts, sandy stretches, big corrugations and a lot more climbing and descending all await you on a 3 Dusty Roo’s ride. It is also possible to experience the “Hike a Bike” phenomenon, but don’t worry, this is all a part of the rich fabric that makes up the full Gravel Bike Riding Adventure experience! It’s a badge of honour if you will.

Your 33–38mm tyres should have pronounced side knobs on the tread to help navigate the different surfaces and maintain speed and safety – “SPH”

There is likelihood of a couple of 4 Dusty Roos sneaking into the party!

Four Dusty Roo’s

Tyre size: 650b wheels with 42+mm tyres with big blocks

The only tarmac your likely to find is in the carpark of the country pub we stumble upon! These roads are rarely maintained forestry roads with deep ruts, loose rocky sections on steep gradients both up and down, big tree roots, single track, and hike a biking even if it is just to lift it over an impassable fallen tree.

Your high-volume 650b tyres will offer pneumatic suspension, and with tubeless options reduce the risk of a pinch flat. The aggressive tread provides greater traction in the corners and on steep, loose climbs.

You would mostly find these sorts of trails at any Mountain Bike Park, and are a great trail to build experience and skills. You will also find a lot of these sections in any number of “Gravel Races” as a way to really spice things up.

CAVEAT: A Mountain bike rider would consider these the characteristics of a “Green Track” – beginners level. Remember we don’t have suspension or the bike geometry to attack this stuff. So it is all relative.

Upside down Dusty Roo

You’re a nutter. 

We’ve all been there, you’re having so much fun and you see a track shooting off to the side. You might have accidentally missed the “black run” sign and found yourself way out of your gravel bike’s capability. On a VéloRoo Gravel Adventure, we can guarantee the only way you will find yourself on one of these sections is:

    a/ we will tell you in advance – sometimes hike a bike for a bit is the best option; or
    b/ freak weather has caused the conditions to deteriorate.

This is absolute MTB territory and highly recommended to not take your gravel bike.

So there you have it, our Gravel Ride ranking.
It boils down to 2 things: Tyre size and how that fits in with SPH!

Our next Gravel Bike topic is the steed itself.

If you found this helpful, please let us know, or share it around your communities. If you want to know more you can get in touch, it would be great to hear from you!

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