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Two people bike through fall foliage

Have you ever been gravel biking? Go now and experience the road less traveled

My beeping computer is telling me to turn around. I must have missed my turn. What's weird is that I did not see a road. Curiously, I oblige and head back to where my Wahoo cycling computer — with my downloaded turn-by-turn route — now tells me to make a left. There is not much of a road: more like a jeep trail.

“This looks like it might get interesting ... " I say to the friends I am riding with. With all of us on board, we make the left turn and start down the path less traveled.

This is, in a nutshell, gravel riding — and why I love it so much. Gravel riding exists in the ambiguous space between road riding and mountain biking. You get the efficiency and range of a road bike with the added adventure and adrenaline rush of mountain biking. Who would have known there were so many back roads and old logging paths to be explored, right in my backyard? Within three miles of my house I can start an off-pavement adventure that takes me to unchartered places and fills me with a wonderful feeling of discovery. 

Two people bike through a field

We make the left-hand turn, and the smooth double track of the jeep road quickly deteriorates into a single track with brush closing in on both sides, while boulders hide beneath leaves like waiting prey to throw us offline, demanding all of our attention. Before we know it the trail seems to end, but as we crest the trees and roots that are blocking our view we see the trail makes a hard left over a foot bridge spanning a brook that looks like it has been all but washed away. Seeing a way through, we ford the rickety bridge and continue on. A little over a mile later, we pop out onto a more traditional dirt road and continue on our planned route, quickly realizing where we are.

Gravel riding has gained popularity as roads become busier and drivers more distracted. Incorporating secondary roads has been the answer to finding peace and quiet — and increased safety — in the many remote corners of our county.

Accessing these dirt roads and trails requires a specific type of bike. A traditional road bike is really not well suited for gravel as its frames and forks are optimized for smaller tires, and road bikes with rim brakes do not have the clearance for a tire big enough for the rigors of what gravel roads throw at the equipment.

Gravel riding has been the hidden gem of the cycling world for years, unlocked only by the adventurous person who has a cyclocross bike. Simply stated, a cyclocross bike is a road bike with bigger tires. These bikes are raced around the world on mixed surfaces like sand, dirt and grass. Over time, these few cyclists — knowing the capabilities of these bikes — began exploring the woods and non-accessible roads that traditional road bikes could not attempt. Seeing a growing shift in how cyclists were using these bikes for gravel riding, cycling brands began specializing the bikes for gravel riding versus cyclocross racing. This shift is so prevalent now that Specialized, one of the leading bike brands, does not make a dedicated cyclocross race bike anymore. They now make a gravel race bike that is suitable for cyclocross racing.

As a cyclist that indulges in almost every category of cycling, I have really come to love gravel riding. For me, going on a gravel ride with my friends takes on an air of adventure, every ride. To be always looking for the road we have not yet explored, or a through-path we are not quite sure is passible by bike, makes for an exciting ride. Finding and riding roads that our daily lives would never take us down evokes that primal feeling of heading into the unknown. Do it at night and the sense of excitement and discovery is taken to another level!

If this sounds enticing to you, please join us on one of these gravel adventures! Every fall from mid-September until the weather is too cold and icy, the fine folks at Berkshire Bike and Board lead gravel rides starting at 6 p.m. each Wednesday. Every week, all around the county, a new start location is announced on our group ride calendar. For all those details check the website and follow the Riding link to all upcoming rides. I look forward to seeing you on a gravel ride soon!

Steffen Root is co-owner of Berkshire Bike and Board.

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