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Guide To Gravel Biking

First, what is gravel? It is a sedimentary rock that consists of small pieces of rock fragments. Gravel can be natural or artificial, depending on how it is formed. Natural occurs when rock is eroded by water or wind over time. Artificial is produced by crushing larger rocks into smaller pieces for construction, road building, and landscaping.



What is a gravel bike ride or race?

It is a type of cycling that combines elements of road cycling, mountain biking and cyclo-cross. You cycle on unpaved roads, trails, dirt tracks and other rough terrain.



Gravel bikes are designed to be versatile, durable and comfortable for long distances... are ideal for exploring new places, bikepacking, commuting, or participating in gravel races.


What is a gravel bike?

Gravel bikes are designed to be versatile, durable and comfortable for long distances... are ideal for exploring new places, bikepacking, commuting, or participating in gravel races. Gravel bikes have some features that make them more versatile and comfortable than road bikes or mountain bikes, such as:

  • Wider tyres that provide more grip, cushioning, and puncture resistance on rough surfaces.

  • Disc brakes that offer more consistent and powerful braking performance in wet and muddy conditions.

  • Mounts for bags, cages and racks that allow you to carry extra gear and accessories for long-distance or multi-day adventures.

  • Relaxed geometry that gives you a more upright and stable riding position.

  • Generous gearing suitable for a wide range of riding. 1x vs. 2x?... comes down to rider preference, riding styles/cadence and brands trying to please everyone.



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So which tyre size and width is best?

There is no definitive answer to the best gravel bike wheel size and tyre width, as it depends on various factors such as your riding style, terrain, comfort, and speed preferences. However, some general guidelines can help you choose a suitable setup for your gravel bike.


Gravel Tyre Width
  • 42 mm to 50 mm tyres are faster on rougher surfaces. Wider offers more comfort, grip, and stability, but at the cost of increased weight and rolling resistance.

  • 40 mm to 42 mm tyres are faster on smoother surfaces.

  • Tyres between 35 mm and 42 mm, as they offer a good balance of speed, comfort, and versatility.


Gravel Tyre Tread

Choosing a tread pattern that matches the terrain you ride on most often. For example, a smooth is better for hard-packed dirt or pavement, while a knobbly is better for loose or muddy conditions.


Gravel Rim Width

Internal measurement between 19 mm to 25 mm is recommended. A wider rim can support a wider tyre better, improving stability and cornering performance.



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The best gravel bike wheel size and tyre width depends on your preferences and riding conditions. Any width between 35 mm to 50 mm is generally suitable for most gravel riders. However, consider the rim width and tread pattern when choosing your tyres, as they affect the performance and handling of your bike.



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Types of gravel events...



Category 1 Gravel

Light gravel route with a mix of tarred/paved roads here and there. This type of gravel is hardpack, kinda smooth and well-maintained dirt roads with tiny and consistent bits of gravel.


Event example:

Any of the Eroica NOVA events.


Ideal bike with the recommended tyre widths below:

Endurance road bike, cyclo-cross bike, gravel bike or standard road bike (preferably a disc brake type). A road bike is fine, but more skill is needed when cornering at speed. If compatible, fit a wider tyre to lower the risk of puncturing and benefit from the pneumatic suspension of a higher-volume tyre.


Tyre size:

Heavy-duty 30-35 mm tyres, tube or tubeless and at a slightly lower tyre pressure than on tarmac.



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Category 2 Gravel

Often used for gravel bike racing. These are dirt roads composed of small rocks that are loosely packed and have some dirt or sand mixed in... think potholes, washboards, and loose corners, but not as extreme as mountain trails. It will test your skills and endurance and requires good balance, traction and speed to navigate the bumps and gaps.


Event examples:

Gravel Worlds, Seven Gravel, Gravelista Beechworth, Swartberg 100.


Ideal bike with the recommended tyre widths below:

Gravel bike.


Tyre size:

Tubeless 35-45 mm with a small amount of tread in the middle and grip on the sides for cornering.



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Category 3 Gravel

Heading more towards the extreme end of the gravel spectrum..., off-road trails with minimal paving and poorly maintained roads with rocks, ruts, and/or sand.


Event example:

Unbound Gravel, Across Andes, Badlands, Gravel Series


Ideal bike with the recommended tyre widths below:

Unbound - gravel bike. Across Andes, Badlands - rugged gravel bike with mounts for bags, cages, fenders, and racks that allow you to carry extra gear and accessories, and perhaps a suspension fork.


Tyre size:

Tubeless 45 mm to 50 mm tyres with significant grip and even lower tyre pressure.



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Category 4 Gravel

This is off-road terrain with steep climbs and descents, rocks, and roots which will require a specific line choice and a higher level of skill.


Event examples:

The Atlas Mountain Race.


Ideal bike with the recommended tyre widths below:

Mountain or sturdy/rugged gravel bike with mounts for bags, cages, fenders, and racks that allow you to carry extra gear and accessories, and a suspension fork.


Tyre Size:

Tubeless 50 mm tyres, or for the extreme - 650b wheel size and widths up to a 2.3-inch mountain bike tyre.





That is it. Thank you for reading. I hope you found it to be a useful resource. Questions, comments and high fives! Drop them here.



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