Welcome to the Basics of Gravel Series (B.O.G.)! In this series I will attempt to bring a very foundational knowledge of gravel and back road riding to anyone reading that may be curious or a beginner in riding off-pavement, but not wanting to be mountain biking. There will be a new entry every Wednesday until the series is complete. To see the schedule, click this LINK. Thanks!
Note: Many of my suggestions for clothing are uni-sex, but being a male, I don't know a whole lot about what a female cyclist may want to wear. So, if you've got suggestions, hit me up and I'll add whatever seems to make sense here later. Thanks!
Last week I mentioned that the gear associated with cycling can be a very expensive bit and a barrier to participation for new cyclists or for someone looking at a new way of cycling, like gravel/back road cycling. So, today I am going to detail out a few, commonly available, inexpensive things I think are necessary for gravel riding, why that is, and at the end I want to mention a few 'upgrades' which would enhance your experience, but are not "essential" to getting out there.
|Yours truly modeling some essential gear for gravel riding|
For The Head:
The first thing you should think about getting, if you don't have one already, is a helmet. Now......you can ride without one. Controversial, yes- but totally doable. The only nit here is that if you fall, this helmet thing is a big deal. If you hit anything- it is a big deal. On the other hand, if a vehicle hits you? Helmets will not help you much if at all. So, helmets are more a precaution against you hitting your noggin on the ground. But they are great for two other reasons.
One- Head protection from the Sun. If you get out in rural situations, Sun exposure can be an issue and helmets can help shade your head. Yes- a hat could too, but if we're putting something on our head why not make it a helmet? Serves two purposes, right? Actually- three....
Helmets also protect your head from bits of gravel that can get kicked up by tires- your tires and other's tires. So, you have that added benefit. Along with this I use a head/neck gaiter, (you probably have one now what with the pandemic), and that also helps with smaller pebbles, insects, and dust. You could use a bandanna too, a ball cap, or go with a cycling specific cap.
The next bit is eye protection. This is very important and is not really an option, in my mind. There are many insects which can impair your vision if your eyes are not covered. The Sun is another obvious enemy of the eyes out there. Dust and small pebbles are another issue your eyes have to deal with. So, eyewear- be that your prescription glasses or Sunglasses, or even goggles if you are so inclined.
|The Guitar Ted non-cycling specific riding kit.|
Now for the tops and bottoms I would recommend. For tops I can say that anything you feel comfortable in wearing that doesn't cause you to feel bound up, sweaty, or is not too loose (Flapping in the wind like a sail, as an example) is a good top to wear. A t-shirt? Sure, maybe.... An old Western shirt with the sleeves cut off? Seen it done more than once. I've used 'shirt-look' jerseys. I've used long-sleeved wool shirts. And yes....I've used t-shirts too.
One thought on long-sleeved garments: If you are fair-skinned, or if you are really concerned about exposure to the Sun and its radiation, long-sleeved garments can really help. Especially where tree-lined routes are rare.
Bottoms- My absolute favorite non-cycling specific piece of clothing for bottoms is either a pair of Dickies cotton twill shorts or Dickies model 874 long pants. I am wearing the Dickies shorts in this image here to the right. I could ride in them all day long. And I wear regular underwear with them, but you could wear silk undies, I suppose, and that'd work. that's just what I like. You can use whatever you find comfortable. But the bottom line is you want to wear breathable, not too loose, easy to move in pants or shorts. And if you wear long pants then secure the bottoms of the legs with something like a bandanna to keep them from getting caught up in the whirling machinery.
Hands and Feet:
I generally do not wear gloves, but if you want something on your hands, a nice pair of gloves for working can do the job well, just don't get anything too hot if you are riding in warmer weather. I used to use Mechanix gloves which you can get at any automobile parts retailer. You could use cotton 'jersey' gloves which are really cheap.
For shoes, the simplest way to go is to combine your flat pedals, (non-'click-in', regular, ordinary pedals), with whatever shoes your feet are happy in. I've done a hundred mile ride on gravel in Vans and on flat pedals, just like you see in the image here. I've seen folks wearing boots like Doc Martins, and I've seen folks wearing hiking boots. I would not recommend any shoes with a lot of soft, forgiving material in the soles, like running shoes. (But I suppose you could- if that's all you have.) If you use lace-up shoes, make sure you confine the laces! Getting laces stuck in the chain and chain ring can cause a bad crash. Socks can be anything you are comfy in, but I like thin wool socks all year long or thin cotton socks in Summer.
These are all low-barrier, easy to find, simple items that will get you out on the back roads. I've utilized almost every suggestion here, so I know it can work for riding. But that said- there are way more ideas than I have space for here. (Commenters- Please keep suggestions generalized- not too specific. We're thinking the simplest way to get out there- okay?) This is just some suggestions to get you started out. Now, I will mention a few key upgrades which could enhance your enjoyment of riding out in rural areas.
|Cycling shorts/bibs can really make your day a lot better.|
Cycling Specific Shorts:
Besides a cycling helmet, the one thing I would highly recommend you think about adding to your clothing for gravel riding beyond anything else is a pair of bib shorts or regular cycling specific shorts. (Or liner insert) These are made to move with your body, they do not chafe your 'undercarriage', and keep your nether region relatively happy and dry. You are going to be rubbing these areas- upper thighs, buttocks, groin area- a million times during a ride and the resulting friction can raise hell, to put it mildly, with your body. So, paying attention to that with an upgrade to cycling specific shorts/bibs is a highly recommended thing. Now- two things you need to know about these items.
- DO NOT WEAR REGULAR UNDERWEAR WITH CYCLING SHORTS/BIBS!!
- WASH AFTER EVERY RIDE!
If I could have only one thing I am talking about here it would be bib shorts. Yes- they are expensive. Yes- they are worth every penny you spend on them. Cycling jerseys, gloves, cycling specific shoes and pedals- all very nice, but I could live happily ever after and ride all the time with just a nice pair of bib shorts.
Okay- it is Honorable Mention time! Remember- These are not essential for getting out there, but they may really enhance your experience. A cycling specific jersey is nice since it is designed to get rid of sweat and keep you cooler. Obviously, in colder weather you'll want a wind breaker. Then maybe a wool, long sleeved jersey to extend the riding season. Cycling gloves with padding might appeal to some of you, but are totally not necessary. Maybe getting cycling specific shoes and pedals at some point, if you really want to start squeezing more performance out, or if your feet are not real happy pedaling in standard shoes. I can see doing a pair of baggie shorts over a cycling short/insert deal. That gives you options with pockets. I like pockets.
But you get the idea. You can dive as deep into apparel as you want to, and with each choice you can gain better comfort and performance 'bennies', but you do not have to go that far down the rabbit hole to get started riding gravel and back roads. Remember- If you are having fun, you are doing it right.
Next week: How To Ride On Gravel including tips on handling and some easy ways to enhance that by way of making a few tweaks to your bicycle.