Gravel is hard. Wait, it’s soft, which makes it extra hard!
On my days off, I’m forcing myself to explore the hilly, twisty, turny gravels north of my home. If a person rides south, they’ll hit a few hills before pancaking a few miles north of DeWitt. Flat is fine. In fact, it’s fun because I can go fast! But flat doesn’t cut the butter when you’re eyeballing Dirty Kanza 2019.
It’s weird how even within a couple of rides, it seems like I’m getting a feel for this new style of riding. I’m starting to get a slight understanding of how to climb gravel: similar to the road in that I’m “sittin’ and spinnin’” but different because while most road climbing is steady and long or short and sweet, gravel inclines can be sudden and wall-like.
I’m “lucky” to have really hilly gravel near my home. Even though I’ve lived here for 12 years, the backroads are easy to get lost on because they move with the land–rising and falling, meandering and bending. Just a few miles to the south where it’s super flat, the backroads are laid out in perfect squares. But where I live? I never know where I’m going to end up! Not only does that make riding exciting, it’s also very surprising. I’ll be pedaling along and suddenly drop into a valley then just as quickly, need to grind and claw my way up and out.
And yesterday’s climbing was tough: nearly every road had been covered with a fresh layer of rock and then graded. On one particularly tough climb, I started spinning out and eventually gave up and walked it.
I’m currently riding the stock 700×42 Sawtooth tires on my Specialized Sequoia and I’m learning I probably need a tire with some real tread. Also, much like when I started riding a fat tire a year ago and messing around with tire pressure, 35 psi in my rear wheel is too much. A couple days earlier I was riding at about 19 psi and though it was too squishy, I didn’t seem to struggle with spinning out so much.
Aside from the tire issue, I’m also gaining a little experience with gearing. When climbing on the road, I stay aware of how many gears I have before I max out. On gravel it seems like I max out before the climb really even starts. There’s so much “mental” to it. Not only am I deciding where the best line in the gravel lies then trying not to bite it as I move into it, but the environs are gorgeous and I’m trying to enjoy the views. And when that view is suddenly a big ass hill and I haven’t been paying attention to my gears? Ugh. . .there’s a learning curve to this gravel stuff. For sure.
A friend told me it took him three rides to decide if he even liked it. I’m already sold, mainly because of the exploring that’s waiting for me out my backdoor. . .