The Allure of Gravel

Part 3

For me there is no inherent allure to gravel as a road surface.

I don’t seek-out gravel roads. I seek-out roads-less-traveled, which are often roads-more-graveled. It’s not the gravel that makes these roads special, it’s the primitive areas these roads usually lead through. Areas little changed over the last many decades, and used mostly by just a handful of locals. That’s why I’m not a fan of the moniker “Gravel Bike”, and I am a fan of Norco’s label “Adventure Bike”.

The stuff we call gravel comes in lots of varieties. There are many roads in rural areas that are referred to as “chip-seal”, where a seemingly asphalt paved road is “refreshed” by being sprayed with melted tar as a sealer/adhesive then fine gravel is spread on top. This surface is frustrating because it takes several weeks after this treatment till the excess gravel gets scattered off of the road and riding on a skinny tired road bike gets less treacherous. In general these roads are as frequently traveled by motorists as smoothly paved roads in the rural areas they are found.

There are less traveled roads that have been improved from muddy tractor paths by spreading larger diameter gravel. Riding this sort of gravel can be tricky. Often it’s loose and rutted, and even with wider tires can still be a challenge as it moves around under tire, the bike bouncing and skidding. Pinch-flats and sidewall cuts are a higher risk in these conditions. The good news is, few motorists want to subject their cars to this sort of road.

Some roads are mostly dirt with gravel poured down in some of the mud-prone spots. Dirt roads go through cycles, changing with the weather. They occasionally get graded to erase the ruts and wash-boarding that occurs over time. When they are wet they can be slippery and almost impassably muddy. When bone dry, piles of powdery dirt can be deep and as hard to get through as mud. After a good soaking, then drying, they can be for a while, nicely hard packed and smooth, at least in segments.

There’s nothing to be adored about gravel. It’s just one possible road surface.

But in the past it was a road surface that marked a “No Go” zone for many skinny tired road riders. Now, with a properly appointed bike, it’s an indication that there might be adventure ahead.

In general, the less well paved a road is the less automotive traffic there will be, that coupled with the primitive, rugged, challenging, topography and scenery that such roads take me through is the appeal I find in Adventure (gravel) biking.

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