Gravel, exploring, It’s all good, until it’s not

Like I said, its all good until it’s not. Then you are really in trouble. Don’t be that person. Here are bike exploring and gravel riding tips and recommendations before it all goes a bit Pete Tong. (google it)

Early on I made mistakes, let’s just say a lot of mistakes. As I became more interested in gravel / trail riding and route creation I learned. I changed equipment and started being more prepared.

Exploring in remote unknown places can potentially be massively dangerous. We have all heard the stories of hikers who get lost, airlifted or found several days later. Well, it’s no different with cyclists. Are you prepared if something goes wrong and you don’t have a cell signal?

Rewind: This shows you how old I am, but I remember planning routes by hand writing cue sheets and taping to my top tube. I knew the details because this method forced you to know. I always had “escape” routes written down and ample notes. Now things are different and I dare say more dangerous to the unaware. Simply drawing lines in mapping programs and uploading to your garmin doesn’t prepare you in the same way. It creates a false sense of security

So, without lingering on some of my terrible stories, here are some equipment things I have learned. 

  1. Have a researched route. Have it on at least 2 devices. Your garmin and also an on phone app. (I use Gaia GPS App on my phone because it can be configured to show exceptional topographic and locational info that can be a real saver )
  2. Tubeless doesn’t mean easier, it actually means if something goes wrong it can be more complex. Have the tools but also spend a little time with people who know tricks and techniques on how to plug a tyre or remount a bead. Don’t try learn in the field, you will get stranded. 
  3. Have a gear checklist. – this is what I carry on 90% of gravel rides : –
    – Spare tube(s).
    – If you are tubeless – Blackburn bacon strips or Dynaplug.
    – Tire lever, (pedros is great)
    Adhesive boot. (for sidewall rips)
    – Multi tool. Chain tool.
    – Quick link for the chain you are using.
    – CO2 cartridge and head (to try remount beads).
    – Spare valve core and removal tool. (check out the Wolfstooth Tool)
    – Mini hand pump.
    – Nitrile gloves (for frozen rain).
    – Alcohol wipe (for tubeless beads).
    Water filter.
    – I also carry hyper small glue and patches
    – $20 cash.
    For more off season rides
    – two pairs of gloves can be sensible
    – Emergency Rain Jacket
  4. Think ahead for duration and contingencies, especially in winter months. Depending on time of year and situation, have bike lights on the bike.
  5. If you have the money, invest in a device like a Garmin in-reach. It’s a last resort satellite communications device that can rescue you. 
  6. Carry more food than you think you will need. Assume eating something every 50mins ish. Others will have a different philosophy on this but here is mine. Take a mix of real food and synthesised energy food. Be aware and choose calorie dense foods. Don’t be peer pressured into eating food all your friend take like wasabi almond scaloppine’s and homemade sriracha egg jammers, only take food you know works with your body. If you are 100% certain you can do this only on gu gels, then good for you. But take what you know, don’t grab any old energy bar from the supermarket the night before.
  7. The same point 6. goes for sports drinks, they are a good way to have calories or electrolytes but don’t try new stuff on serious ride day. Test stuff on smaller more urban, well known trips.
  8. I don’t advise remote adventure riding solo unless you are highly experienced. So before you roll out. Have a serious moment and talk with everyone about gear, attitude and people’s comfort levels. There are a lot of more adventurous sports where these gear check meetings are mandatory. If someone forgets an essential piece of kit, it can compromise the whole group, you need to know this before you ride. 
  9. Have a change of clothes back at your car, including a puffy jacket.  I have very much regretted not having this several times, especially at colder times of the year. In warm moths you can get away with less, but it’s always good to have. change of clothes, extra hoodie etc. 

Here are some attitudinal things this I have learned. 

  1. Be ok with turning around, calling it a day and back tracking. There’s always another day to re investigate the route.
  2. When the conditions get tough, the tough don’t get machismo. See point #1
  3. Always make decisions in a calm attitude. Even if that means stepping aside, having alone time. Finding a way to calm down before making a navigation call.
  4. It’s ok to give your wife / sister / neighbour the route before you ride. This ain’t no secret adventure.

Happy exploring and be safe

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