Bike tours, when I first started venturing out on my road rig in the 1980s, were all the rage, and for good reason. They followed paved backroads, often gorgeous two-lane routes that wound through New England’s spectacular countryside and quaint villages. Higher-end tour companies provided top-notch support, delightful restaurants, cozy accommodations. They were fun, and fairly predictable.
Still, I found there was something lacking, even with the best of these tour organizations addressing every possible creature comfort. I had great routes, beautiful scenery, super support, and a comfortable bed to sleep in every night. So what was missing? Two things, actually — variety of terrain, and a corresponding challenge.
“Gravel riding, like trail running, demands constant attention, as the riding surface is much more varied than pavement,” said Arlon Chaffee of GRVL Cycling. “First sensations for me centered around feeling barely in control, which eased quickly with experience.
“Surprises came via the twitchy handling afforded by a ‘cross bike and the limited stopping power of rim brakes,” he said. “You can avoid those surprises with a gravel-specific bike — relaxed geometry, more like a road bike — and disc brakes.”