Six Top Tips On Going From Road To Gravel Cycling

Following his podium finish at the opening event of the Belgian Waffle Ride in California, we spoke with Griffin Easter, a professional road and gravel racer and lead rider for the OpiCure Foundation Gravel Team.

In his breakdown of the race, Griffin also gave us some of the lessons and tips he’s picked up since swapping tarmac for gravel.

Griffin Easter solo at BWR

Image Credit – Walker Hague @thomaswalkerhague

1. Always download the route

It sounds simple and obvious, but some of the best tips are! It’s easy to think that when doing an organized race it’ll be sign posts galore and other riders to follow. But, as Griffin discovered to his detriment, this not always the case. Griffin recalls that for “Big Sugar last year, I was expecting there to be arrows, or to be able to follow the other racers. But then I got a flat tire and had to chase back on. I discovered then, the route wasn’t always clear and when I reached a fork in the road I had to wait for the next group on the road to come along.” Regardless of whether you’re racing for the podium or just to finish, it’s pretty clear that this is not going to help your time!

2. Practice putting plugs into you tires.

For the mountain bikers among you, this’ll probably seem like old news. But if you’re more used to riding on the road the concept of tubeless tires and plugs might seem like alien technology. It’s inevitable though, when covering rough terrain, that you’ll eventually get a puncture. “Out of the six or so races I’ve done,” Griffin says, “I’ve probably flatted three or four times. In the moment, you’re fumbling around and if it’s a tool you aren’t familiar with then it’s hard.” Even if you do know what you’re doing, Griffin cautions against rushing the job. “There’s no real gain to rushing through it; you’ll likely make a mistake and take longer,” says a very chill Griffin.

 3. Carry electrolyte tablets

On long, organized gravel races aid stations with water are a common occurrence. However, these typically won’t provide hydration tablets and electrolytes; “especially when it’s hot out, you need the salts, too” says Griffin. Griffin’s advice is to “carry a few tablets with you so you can add them to your water bottles at aid stations.”

 4. Tyre pressure

Tire pressure is a hotly debated topic these days and can play a big role in the overall outcome of your ride. “Personally, I think I’ve flatted because I’ve been running too low of a pressure,” says Griffin. To counter this he says, “I’m now running a bit more air pressure than when I started. I know a lot of guys run the tires lower [than me], but I’d rather be more confident in knowing I’m not going to get a pinch flat from running too low a pressure.” For his podium finish in BWR Griffin ran 40psi in the front tire, but says, “I was still bumping a bit of rim. So I think I’m going to bump it up to 45psi on the front and back [for the next race].”

5. Don’t worry about being the ‘right’ kind of rider

As a discipline, gravel brings together cyclists from a host of backgrounds: amateur cyclists rub shoulders with current and former professionals, and the world’s elite mountain bikers jostle for position with pro roadies. This leads to many discussions around what type of rider is best suited to gravel races. But, for Griffin, “what I like [about gravel racing] and BWR, in particular, is it really doesn’t favour a specific discipline. If you’re a strong cyclist, you have a shot. I’m mostly a road cyclist, with a bit time spent riding mountain bikes in college for fun, but there’s such a variety of terrains, I don’t think for this type of race it matters all that much what your background is.”

Cullen Easter side shot on his gravel bike

Cullen flying on his gravel bike

6. Keep calm and position well (when it matters)

Gravel races tend to be long. So, for Griffin, “it’s important to keep calm during the race. I’ve learnt it’s important in tight, twisty sections to be up at the front of the race, but I see a lot of people wasting energy being over-zealous, or even aggressive, trying to hold a position and chopping in front of people when it really doesn’t matter.” So, save your energy for when it counts!

Griffin Easter and Matt Beers at BWR

Image Credit – Freddie Jiminex -@fjimz10

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