Recently we had the pleasure to join Brian McCulloch who is a current professional cyclist and owner of Big Wheel Coaching at his gravel clinic open to anyone looking to sharpen their skills out in the gravel terrain. With the popularity of gravel and list of events coming up it was a great opportunity to get out and go over some riding tips which many riders who are new to gravel may not be aware of. After the clinic, we were able to sit down with Brian to get his five tips for gravel.
Gravel riding is a special challenge that tests our skills and equipment over undulating roads and technical terrain. It is highly demanding for both rider and equipment. With this in mind, and in an effort to maximize your upcoming gravel performance, we have compiled the following five tips that are sure to make your gravel riding experience ‘next-level’.
#1: Look Ahead/Focus Forward
Bike riding is just like driving on the freeway, the faster we go, the further ahead we must look. Although looking ahead can be made difficult on rough roads, technical terrain, and narrow trails, this simple trick can improve your riding immensely. Looking ahead almost always reveals a smooth line on a bumpy sector. What’s more, keeping the attention forward minimizes the risk of distractions, a common theme in crashes. Note: Keeping the head-up is increasingly difficult when fatigue sets in. Be sure to remind yourself of this at the end of every hard ride, on road, or off.
#2: Momentum Is Everything
Build It, Maintain It, Covet It As the motor of our mixed-terrain adventures, forward motion starts and ends with our legs. This means that we naturally want to maximize every ounce of energy put into the pedals. An easy way to build momentum is to pedal over the top of and down the backside of any climb. To maintain momentum look ahead, constantly scanning the route to choose the fastest/ smoothest line possible. Covet the momentum you have earned by always looking for ways to keep it. Do this and you shall be rewarded with more energy at the end of any hard ride!
#3: Weight The Outside Foot
When Cornering Cornering on gravel, dirt, or other loose surfaces can be nerve-wracking as it requires putting immense faith in our equipment. One way to lower that anxiety and increase your stability, as well as your speed, is to weight the outside pedal. To start, the outside pedal is always down in a corner (unless you are pedaling). From this position drive your heel and foot downward as if to lift your behind off the saddle. To properly weight the outside pedal in a corner use this simple tip: lift the bones (your sit bones), leave the flesh. Minimal weight should be on the seat as cornering stability comes from weighing the handlebars and outside pedal.
#4: Soft Hands Make For A Smooth Ride
Although it causes discomfort, it is common to tense hands, shoulders, the upper back, and face over rough-terrain, which significantly adds to the fatigue-factor of gravel riding. Mountain-bikers and motorcycle riders know this concept as, “the death grip”. When this happens, the fix is simple, take a few deep breaths with long exhales. In a perfect world, the exhales would be twice as long as the inhales, but the simple act of breathing deeply will naturally encourage relaxation to come to your hands and other tight areas while on rough terrain.
#5: Fuel Strategically
An epic day in the saddle will get cut short if an Athlete doesn’t fuel properly. For gravel riding, we suggest that all substantial fueling/eating take place on smooth terrain, preferably on the road. This is to alleviate stomach distress as much as it is for convenience. Because this is not always possible, it is worthwhile to consider testing liquid nutrition options or mixing what is known as ‘heavy bottles’. By adding extra ‘mix’ to a water bottle, and sipping regularly, you can stay well-fueled over the roughest terrain.
Equipment Bonus Tip
Tire pressure is key to a great ride in the world of cyclocross, tire pressure is the key to a great ride as riders push themselves and their equipment to the maximum over grass, dirt, sand, and different types of pavement. This is also true for gravel riding, tire pressure (and tread pattern) is the most important aspect of equipment set-up. We suggest testing various tire-pressures on the terrain you regularly ride on. In most cases, a slightly lower (2-5lbs) tire pressure in the front tire, when compared to the rear, will provide the significantly better handling characteristics.
About Big Wheel Coaching: Big Wheel Coaching, Inc. was founded in 2010 by professional cyclist and P.E. teacher/educator, Joy McCulloch with the simple mission of delivering purposeful and effective training options to Athletes that hold-down full-time employment and run households. Helping these Athletes achieve their goals and highest potential is our passion!
Photos: Dan Munson