Road Bikes & Gravel Roads

The century I rode over the weekend was well planned and well supported.  But compared to two years ago when I first rode it, some of the roads had deteriorated — mostly on the back half of the course.

Yech. Gravel road.

Suddenly, the little county road we were on changed from pocked-up asphalt to gravel.

Now, I have some friends who like gravel.  They ride mountain bikes with wide tires, and can take advantage of the more remote countryside they get to travel on those less-improved roads.  But those are mountain bikers.

Even some road bikes with wider tires can probably do well on gravel.  Some like a Surly Long Haul Trucker with 28 or 32 mm tires should be able to handle gravel with no trouble.

But that’s not necessarily true of a road bike with skinny tires.  I run 25 mm tires on my Specialized Allez, and I was all over the road, trying to find the more tamped-down sections.  I can imagine that people riding 23s had a rougher go of it than I did.

After the gravel ended, I stopped to attend to a hot spot on my shoe.  Bikers who were behind us passed by, and every one of them made a remark about the gravel.

As it turned out, I had good reason to be concerned with the rough surface.  I discovered  low pressure in my front tire at the next rest stop.  I pumped it up with the mini-pump I carry, but ten miles farther down the road, at another rest stop, the tire was soft again.  A sag vehicle was at the stop, waiting to haul a hapless rider back to the start, and he had a big floor pump.  I pumped up the tire again.

At the final rest stop, it was soft again.  I was getting ready to pull out the mini-pump when a Bicycle Sports Shop van pulled up.  The bike mechanic pumped the tire up for me.  I finished the century without any other mechanical problem.

When I got home from work today, I pushed the bike out of the garage to get ready for a short ride.  The front tire was completely flat.  Once I took off the tire and carefully inspected it, I found a small gouge like a sharp-edged pebble would make.  I had to pump up the tube and submerge it in the kitchen sink to find the slow leak.  I found no debris inside the tire, so I put in a replacement tube and took a one-hour ride.

Gravel roads and road bikes — they just don’t mix very well.  Or is it just me?  Do you ride gravel on skinny tires?



  1. Jeff says

    Riding in Upstate NY over the summer, I came across multiple areas where they evidently are saving money by “patching” existing paved roads with gravel, or some kind of oil and gravel mix. Sometimes it would be in the shadows coming down hills, and it would be quite a thrill to suddenly hit the soft stuff. Not fun at all! No flats, but I never felt comfortable on it.

    • says

      That’s called chipseal. They like it here in Texas too.

      It’s acceptable when it’s older — not good, but not awful. But when new … it’s pretty bad.

  2. says

    Gravel grinding is slowly becoming all the rage lately and central Texas has plenty to go explore. Several of us have built rigs specifically for these types of rides and there have been races like the Dirty Kanza 200 and Trans Iowa that have popped up around these kinds of roads:

  3. says

    I love gravel! I usually try to ride it on my LHT or mountain bike, but I’ve done it on my road bike too, with no problems whatsoever. Sure, you slide around a bit, but it’s generally manageable. Once you get to a certain point, you get used to sliding around a bit and realize that you won’t crash as easily as you think. I think I’ve had more flat tires on paved roads than gravel … (knock on wood). Road bikes can handle much rougher terrain than a lot people seem to realize.

    What Jeff describes sounds like chipseal … that’s pretty much just nasty stuff, no matter what kind of bike you have.

  4. says

    I had a similar issue on the Red Poppy ride with my front tire. I finally found the hidden rock shard buried in my tire, but I was already out of tubes.

    I do run 23s. My Vredenstein tires actually held up pretty well and were very stable. They also have a very smooth ride quality combined with an extremely low rolling resistance. I get them at Performance Bicycle for about $30. They are super high pressure (up to 160 psi).

  5. says

    I dono, as a randonneur and adventurer, I don’t like to let things stop me from going where I want to go…

    I’ve got 25mm Schwalbe Marathons on my road bike and one of the first things I did when I ditched the 23mm’s was take it on a gravel road to see what would happen.

  6. Corbin says

    I am looking into buying a road bike to replace my MTB. There is a trail in VA that I ride that is all gravel (50 miles) would a road bile do or should I opt for a hybrid?

  7. Mark says

    My biggest issue with riding on gravel roads are the farm dogs that often give chase. I have set of wheels with 28’s on them and the ride and handling is fine on my road bike.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *