Has anyone else had the bright idea of taming their riding during lockdown with the use of a gravel bike? My flawed logic was that a gravel bike isn’t capable of sending down technical trails at speed, therefore I would be safer than I am on a mountain bike. Here’s a short story of how I made bad choices.
Before you all heckle me, let me explain how I got to this point. My beloved hardtail is being held hostage at a friend’s house and my current long term test bike is incapable of low gnar, given the speed I can go on it without even realising I’m riding fast. I have to make a real conscious effort to slow down, but then dragging the brakes never makes a bike ride well so I just end up feeling clumsy. It’s also not much fun lugging a bike bouncy bike around gravel paths, so the obvious solution was to get my hands on a gravel bike.
My first ride was comedy gold, but unfortunately I didn’t film it. Drop bars are a new concept to me so I positioned them as I saw fit, and set on my merry way towards the tow path. Of course it only took a few moments before I met with a dog walker, so I went to grab a brake and couldn’t find them. In a panic I just jumped off the pedals and let the bike ram into me as I stumbled forward mumbling “S… sorry. Hi. Sorry” to the poor bloke with his dog. Did I mention that I’ve put my Nukeproof Horizon Sam Hill pedals on this bike? The ones featured in issue 130’s Last Word as the most lethal skin munchers ever made? So that was my first ride done.
The next day I looked at a photo of a gravel bike, had a chuckle to myself and proceeded rotated my bars around 30% upwards. I also took the sensible step of getting familiar with how it felt, leaning against a wall as the geese sang me the final verse of their morning song. Determined to get as far as possible from the honks that had kept me awake half of the night, I set off on a big road climb. My plan was to get used to how the bike behaved gradually, so a smooth road with not a lot to negotiate seemed ideal. And it was, that part went really well.
The road led me to a bridleway that has a brilliant trail off of it. It’s a legal trail too, which in my book means it’s rideable on a hardtail (another entry to Amanda’s Big Book Of Misjudgement, right there). I’m not sure what my brain was prioritising at that moment, but it certainly didn’t think to remind me that more than the tail of this bike was hard, so I set off at full pelt and got a sharp reminder in my bad wrist and badder shoulder than I was on a rigid bike with weird bars. I took a moment to think about what I was doing. I’m a very competent mountain biker. I could ride this trail at speed on my big bike and be at the end in less than two minutes, safely. But I’m choosing not to ride that way right now, it seems irresponsible… I just need some fresh air and an hour’s exercise. So WHY have I got myself an unfamiliar bike that shares very few characteristics with my ‘real’ bike and convinced myself that this is low gnar? It’s SO gnar. I don’t know what to do with my hands, I can’t judge what trails are suitable, I can’t even look at the trail ahead properly because of my glasses.
Gravel bikes to me should be a great way to keep on top of fitness, discover new trails, and just enjoy the scenery. Instead, they are making me question if I have ever ridden a bike before or if it was all a big exciting dream. Stay safe, make sure you’re fully informed if you introduce new challenges to your life right now, and don’t ask me how much my back is hurting, because I’ll not be polite in response.