Looking at the title of this article, I’m sure some of you who are triathletes are wondering, “Why in the world would I ride gravel?” The quick answer: There are several benefits to changing it up and hitting the gravel, from a performance standpoint and for contributing to overall fitness. And it’s fun and challenging!
Most triathletes have the mindset that you have to ride your tri bike for every workout, and very few will change it up, but there are some great performance benefits to riding gravel. The first aspect of performance is bike handling skills, which translates to the road. When you ride on gravel or dirt roads, you have to be more attentive, because potholes, rocks, and sand can suddenly appear. That handling can come in handy when riding on road as well, because better attentiveness equips you well for unexpected turns, speed bumps, and other things that might surprise you. Gravel riding also requires several short bursts of power to get over small hills or rocks. These bursts are necessary when you are racing tri, to help with sprinting around a fellow competitor. Riding off road is typically a little rougher on the body, with more vibration because of the different road surface, which requires you to engage your core and have a good grip on the handle bars. I got first-hand experience with this when I did my first gravel race. Honestly, I went into it thinking it would be a walk in the park - after all, I do three- sport triathlons! As the miles went on and on everything began to hurt, the constant vibration caused my hands and body to fatigue at a faster rate then I was accustom to. Let me tell you, I was blown away by how difficult it was and how sore I was afterwards. Not only was it the hardest race I have done to date, it gave me a whole new appreciation for gravel riding and what is has to offer.
Gravel riding not only helps you physically and performance-wise, but it is also enjoyable. Getting off the normal roads and routes on which you typically ride on a tri bike gives you the chance to explore new territory. A vast number of unridden and hidden roads exist everywhere, just waiting for you to discover them. Riding off road is usually quite relaxing, as you are typically away from the traffic you find on paved roads, and therefore it is quieter, and the views are almost always better. I would even go as far as to say it could be considered safer. Though you ride on rough dirt and terrain, you are not exposed to numerous vehicles and the possibly dangerous drivers out on the paved roads.
With the way today’s road bikes are constructed, there are several bikes on which you can put 28mm tires, or even a little larger, with a little tread on them, to get started with off road riding. While the road bike is not really recommended, I like to tell people its a great starting point for anyone who is unsure about gravel riding and wants to try gravel roads that are relatively tame. Once you try that and realize how enjoyable it is, you can invest in a true gravel bike with a great set of wheels and tires with which you can fly over the dirt and trails.
Triathletes can use gravel riding as a great opportunity to grab some friends and go exploring without worrying about your pace or power- just enjoy the ride! You might enjoy it enough to take it further and with all the new gravel tours popping up all over the country and even a few gravel triathlons, there are plenty of opportunities.
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