With the UCI formally recognising gravel cycling, the discipline is definitely here to stay. Starting with the rowdier drop-bar discipline can be as simple as buying a bike, and a helmet and hitting the trails but there are a number of products that'll make your gravel riding life more comfortable and generally easier. Some of them you might not have ever thought of.
Thick bar tape
Throughout any gravel ride, you'll be facing all manners of vibrations and while the chunkier gravel tyres do a lot to tame chatter, fat bar tape will elevate your comfort and experience further.
Before brands realised that vibration was something of a problem, many gravellers would double-tape their bars in order to boost comfort. Now, many brands such as Ergon and Lizard Skins have cottoned onto this, offering thicker tapes with more padding - or silicone inserts that you can wrap underneath the tape.
Not only does a thicker tape reduce vibrations, but it can also enhance your handlebar's ergonomics, especially if you have larger hands. Not to mention, choosing a fun colourer bar tape is a way to spruce up your bike's looks!
Vibration damping stem or seatpost
2021_Redshift_ShockStop_Pro_Main.jpg, by Matt Page
You can spot a theme here: vibration damping is key to a comfortable gravel ride, especially over long distances. If thicker tape isn't for you, a bouncy stem or seatpost might be the next best choice - although a little more expensive at that.
Brands such as RedShift make suspension stems and seat posts. Cane Creek's eeSilk stem works the same way - dampening small trails or road jitter by employing elastomers built into the stem. The result of this is a stem that pivots slightly, thus absorbing any shock before it's transferred to your hands.
A suspension stem or seatpost are a pricier method of vibration reduction, but their firmness is tuneable and they won't wear as quickly as bar tape, if at all.
Nowadays, we can't talk about gravel without talking about old-school mountain bikes and if anything harks back to the bikes of the 90's - it's gravel bikes with suspension.
While suspension forks are still frowned upon by some of the gravel-riding population, gravel-specific suspension forks offer a range of benefits that'll suit those who like pushing their gravel bikes a little further. Arguably, once you've tried one, you will understand why they exist.
Firstly, I'll say this again, they dampen vibrations. But unlike a stem or seat post, telescopic suspension forks are much more tuneable, thanks to modern air springs and rebound circuits. So you'll be able to fettle with the fork's settings to suit hard and fast fire road springs, or more undulating terrain.
But where the performance benefits of a suspension fork really come into play is in braking, front-end grip and its ability to inspire confidence. Thanks to the grip that a suspension fork offers, riders can lean harder on the front brake without worrying about the front wheel locking up as quickly. This grip helps everywhere too, where a bike can be cornered harder and faster, with much more confidence. However, not all gravel bikes can accommodate modern suspension forks.
There are also brands such as Lauf, that have developed their own gravel-specific suspension fork called the Grit. This kind of fork offers 20mm of travel but without the need for maintenance of a telescopic fork. Of course, the downside is the lack of tunability.
A handlebar bag
Even if you're not one for multi-day bikepacking epics, the humble handlebar bag can make any gravel jaunt even more of a pleasure. Even though many gravel jerseys, jackets and bibs are littered with luggage storing pockets, moving a bunch of that cargo onto the bike simply makes for a more comfortable time.
All but the very smallest of handlebar bags have more than enough space to hold tools, spares, snacks and your phone. While this won't mean much in theory, in practice, shifting all of this kit into a bar or frame bag not only leaves it all easily accessible, but you'll be more comfortable during long stints in the saddle.
Gravel specific saddle
Many bikes in the early days of gravel took saddles from their road brethren without realising that the rigours of fire road and singletrack pose very different demands to that of smooth asphalt. Where those saddles were built for maximum power transfer, modern gravel saddles are mapped and crafted to provide extra flex for (yep, you've guessed it) vibration reduction.
Before brands began to offer saddles that are designed especially for gravel, many would choose mountain bike saddles for their extra give, but doing so would often come with a weight penalty. A gravel-specific saddle will offer more compliance but without such a hit to your bike's overall weight.
Off-road-specific saddles are often also more flat in their profile, which allows you to shift around the saddle when you are riding over technical sections or steep descents.
YT Szepter gravel bike dropper post, by YT Industries
Another piece of mountain bike tech that's often shunned by the gravel purists are dropper posts but like the suspension fork, they do a lot to elevate any gravel ride. Perhaps the smallest benefit is that lowering the saddle makes it easier to get on and off off the bike.
However, the biggest impact a dropper has on a gravel bike is that it allows the rider to lower the centre of gravity on the bike when descending. This can help the bike feel more planted when negotiating choppy terrain, and it can even make a rider more aerodynamic when smashing on the pedals.
Some droppers, namely the RockShox Reverb XPLR, have some squish built in to take the sting out of chunky tracks while saddled.
Gravel specific pump
I know it sounds mad, pumps are just things that push air into tyres! If you're coming from road or MTB fields, your current pump will get the job done, but not as effectively. They'll either require a lot of effort to get your fatter gravel tyres up to pressure, or they'll be inaccurate.
A gravel-specific pump middles the air volume delivery of a road-specific pump and a high-volume MTB pump, meaning that you'll be able to inflate those tyres efficiently, and accurately.
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