The Do-It-All bike, Swiss-army-bike, The One bike you’ll ever need… you’ve probably heard it all before. However, with the gravel bike trend still thriving – far outliving the initial marketing hype – even the most sceptical bike riders have to admit, there’s definitely something about gravel.
Depending where you live in the world, gravel bike riding has developed a number of synonyms and off-shoots, including; G-road, Adventure Biking, All-road and even ‘Gnarmac riding’. Whatever you choose to call it, the activity is broadly similar, it’s basically having adventurous fun on a rugged road bike.
More than any other type of road bike riding, the terrain sets the agenda for your ride, not necessarily your fitness, skills, power or speed. You can be as competitive as you want to be. Part of the appeal of gravel riding is that all riders can get a decent amount of enjoyment from the same tracks.
Relax! No pressure or abuse from other road users means that you can chill-out and enjoy your ride! Depending on where you live and when you ride, road riding enjoyment can be unfairly dependant on other road users. Sometimes it’s hard to forget & ‘move on’ to enjoy the rest of your ride after suffering aggression from other road users. Gravel tracks, trails and singletrack all get you away from traffic and stress. Instead of looking at a never ending stream of the rear view of cars, trucks and buses, you get to check out the great outdoors in all its glory.
Gravel Tyre Tips
Tyre pressure is important for gravel riding and really depends on the terrain you are riding on. There is a balance to be struck between grip / traction & comfort – on the softer side and more speed without punctures / pinch flats – on the harder side.
Ideal tyre tread again depends on the types or trails you ride. If you ride on compacted, smooth gravel tracks and trails, then small knob (SK) tyres are a great place to start. Soft gravel and mud requires more grip, deeper knobbles offer more grip, but they also collect more mud when the going gets sticky and can feel slower on roads. A tyre with a small knobble centre and deeper knobbles on the side can offer a good grip mix for varied terrain.
Bike Set Up
While saddle height for long and straight forward gravel tracks is best kept the same as with a road bike, more technical, trickier sections are often best approached with a slightly lower saddle height. A reduced saddle height provides a lower centre of gravity and improves handling through having the opportunity to shift weight around on the bike.
Newcomers to off road riding can find it safer to tackle technical and tricky sections when its easier to unclick shoes from pedals faster. Reducing spring tension in the pedals allows fast and easy ‘pull-outs’ when balance is lost.
The best footwear and pedal combination depends on the type of gravel riding you do. If you have smooth gravel trails which don’t require constant clicking in and unclicking, regular road shoes and pedals cope really well. More rugged, knarly or muddy terrain is best tackled with gravel specific or MTB shoes and SPD type pedals which are far better at mud shedding and walking grip, than road pedals and shoes.
Rocky, jarring tracks are the ultimate test for water bottle cages. They need to be tight enough to securely hold the bottle, while still allowing the bottle to be removed relatively easily.
More varied terrain means there are more opportunities for things to go wrong. With gravel tracks and trails often far away from bike shops and mechanics, it pays to be more self-sufficient. Carrying enough to fix a flat tyre and complete minor repairs is a minimum requirement to keep out of trouble.
Merlin Malt G2 Claris £599
The Merlin Malt G2 Claris is the ideal entry level gravel bike. Featuring an aluminium frame & carbon forks, together with thru-axles and Shimano groupset, you don’t have to spend big to have a lot of fun. Full blog on the G2 Claris here.
Merlin Malt G2P Tiagra £809
The Merlin Malt G2P Tiagra features Shimano Tiagra groupset, Merlin thru-axle wheels, internal cable routing and flat mount cable discs. The Merlin Malt G2 can handle a wide variety of terrain including muddy trails, gravel tracks and green lanes. This flexibility allows you to combine roads with a wide variety of other more challenging forms of terrain.
Merlin Malt G2X GRX £1299
The Merlin Malt G2X features shimano’s gravel groupset – GRX and a triple butted aluminium frameset. The Merlin Malt G2 GRX features a lightweight, hydroformed, Triple Butted Aluminium frame with 12mm thru-axles front and rear. Thru-axles ensure the connection between wheels and frameset is secure and solid, disc brakes are always perfectly aligned and stearing precision is enhanced due to the wheel hubs and frameset essentially becoming one unit.
The Malt G2x frameset is a great starting point to build an amazing gravel bike. Built to withstand the rigors of off-road riding, the triple butted aluminium frame, carbon fork and gravel optimised geometry is built to provide a smooth and responsive ride. Depending on build spec, full bikes are usually between 8 – 11 KG. Build blog here.