Having fun riding bikes at the Cycling Formula's Vermont Gravel Camp.
What is Gravel Biking?
Remember back to a time when you were kid - when your friend would call you up and ask, “Wanna ride bikes?” Remember when it was all just that simple? You had a bike. Your friends had bikes. You all wanted to go somewhere, but it didn’t matter where. It was all just riding bikes.
Then you grew up, grew wiser, and got “into” bikes. You started comparing specs. You argued over claimed tire weight. You justified ceramic bearings and had discussions about threshold and picked your route based on a workout plan. Let’s be honest - you got a little out of hand. We all have.
And that’s totally cool. Passion is key to a life well lived. But what if you could turn that passion back toward the experience? What if there was “just riding bikes” again? Could that be gravel?
Of course it could be gravel. Frankly, it could also be mountain biking or road riding or a rattly-old balloon tire bike from the 50s, but let’s talk about what’s so cool about this gravel thing.
Basically, you can’t do gravel wrong, because nobody knows what gravel riding actually is.
You get on your bike - it might be from your own front door or it might be a parking lot somewhere. After that, you pick a direction and pedal. Are you on pavement? Totally fine. Is it a graded fire road? Terrific. How about a rutted-out jeep trail? Maybe some scrabbly doubletrack? Stone dust hike-and-bike-way? Power line easement? They can all take you somewhere. Not sure where exactly that is, though? Even better.
The whole point is: the points don’t matter. A gravel ride isn’t about having somewhere to be. It’s about already being somewhere. You’re out there. You’re adventuring. You’re rediscovering the joy of the route. That’s the key.
So where does this all go down? The reality of our surroundings, for most of us at least, is that things are pretty well built up. We can’t just put long loops of nothing but dirt and gravel together - so our local rides tend to be put together “charm bracelet” style.
We string rides together by finding the off-pavement we want to explore, and then mapping out a route that connects it all up - left turn onto the power lines here… cut through the State Park there… You’ll be surprised how many opportunities you’ve barely given a glance when you were out on your skinny road bike. And while it’s nice to dream of spending hours on a perfect dirt ribbon across the countryside, it’s also a fair tradeoff to know that there’s always a road nearby if you ever just want to smooth things out or make up some time.
In a lot of ways and for a lot of people, gravel is reigniting that passion for the experience that so many thought might have been lost for good. And just like you’d expect, it was always right there in front of us. It’s “just riding bikes”, after all.
Ready to give this a go? Here’s a quick list of some of our favorite, local spots to pepper into your rides. Jump in on a fire road entrance and see where you end up on the far side. And check out our Gravel Riding Resources page for even more tools to find your stoke.
Burrage Pond Wildlife Management Area, Hanson, MA
Massasoit State Park, Taunton, MA
Freetown-Fall River State Forest, Freetown, MA
Myles Standish State Forest, Carver, MA
Borderland State Park, Easton, MA
Blue Hills Reservation, Milton, MA
And here’s a few nifty tools to help you find some local “gravel bits” to plan out your own cycling adventure. Go ahead and piece a ride together. Start on the road if you have to, then jump in on a fire road entrance or a trail at the local park and see where you end up on the far side. Don’t forget to stay creative. There’s a lot more rideable terrain out there than you’d ever realize until you start keeping an eye peeled for it.
For your first few adventures, go ahead and ride whatever you've got. Hardtail mountain bikes make great gravel bikes with the right set of tires. Or if your road bike can squeeze some 28mm tires, you'll be surprised where you can go. Be sure you take an extra tube, a pump, and some basic tools - you will be off the beaten path at times so self-sufficiency is a must. And of course, don’t forget to charge up and pack the ole cell phone as well - being able to call your significant other for a bailout is comforting. That map app can certainly come in handy too.
And remember, you can’t do gravel wrong, because nobody can say what gravel riding actually is.
It’s just riding bikes.