Despite the laid-back nature of gravel events, some pre-ride preparation is a must for anyone looking to tackle the challenge. Nothing is worse than getting stuck in the middle of nowhere with a flat or broken chain with nothing to fix it. Gravel is appealing because rides are in far-off places on roads decidedly less traveled, so getting stranded can also be downright dangerous.
Preparation is so important, rides such as the Dirty Kanza 200 have their own Rider’s Bibles to prepare noobs for packing the right gear to ensure a safe and enjoyable gravel grind, even if bad luck worthy of Friday the 13th strikes out on the road.
A few years ago, we took a stab at a list for packing smart for gravel rides. The basic items included:
- a tire plug and spare sealant, as we’d prefer to run tubeless given the choice
- a tire boot, in the event of a severe cut
- two tubes
- a frame or mini pump
- a patch kit
- tire levers
- a multi-tool with a chain tool or a separate chain tool and perhaps a spare link or two
- a small bottle of chain lube
And for the more resourceful and mechanically inclined:
- a spare spoke or two, in the most common length(s) for your wheels
- a derailleur cable, and if running cable activated brakes, a spare brake cable
- some duct tape rolled up on itself (not the entire roll)
To re-visit the topic of what to carry on your gravel rides, we wanted to take a slightly different approach. We reached out to some gravel experts and asked them a couple questions:
- Three things you need for a gravel ride you might not think of?
- One or two things you think you need but don’t?
Our group of experts for this exercise was a diverse and star-studded cast, including Trans-Iowa race director Guitar Ted, two-time Dirty Kanza 200 winner Amanda Nauman, cycling coach Brandon Davis and gravel/cyclocross/mountain bike/skiing living legend Katerina Nash.
Hopefully they can provide an idea or two you have not thought of. If you have your own must-have or don’t-need items, feel free to leave them in the comments.
Things You Need for Gravel That You Might Not Think Of
Multi-tool with a chain tool, power links, derailleur hanger and Orange Seal.
There’s all the standard items you’d bring in your saddle bag (those are the obvious must-haves), but most people forget about a chain or derailleur malfunction. If your chain, rear derailleur or hanger breaks, you can’t pedal the bicycle or finish the event. It’s imperative to have these items if you want to do everything in your power to get your bike rolling to the finish line.
Spare tubes and all that fun flat-changing gear is a must, but you can prevent a lot of headaches if you ride tubeless with a good sealant in there. I have enough sealant experience with the last two Dirty Kanzas to attest to that.
[For more from Nauman, see her definitive list of what to carry on epic cycling adventures]
I would consider a bandana, which might seem weird. However, dust is a thing, and you can put that bandana on as a sort of “dust mask” if it is a bad day for dust. Or you can use it as a sweat band, a “do-rag” or you can wrap your tools up in a sort of tool roll deal. I’ve done all of those things before and still do. I’ve even had to use a bandana as a bandage one time when I endo’d in the desert.
You know those jersey pockets are pretty small so there is no room for much of extra stuff. I guess one thing I tend to bring is money, which is hardly ever needed since you are in the middle of nowhere and cyclists tend to be nice people who don’t need to be bribed by money and will help anyways.
I also bring a map if provided by the organizers. I have gotten lost before at some of the small events and had to use the sun to navigate back to the start …
I tend to bring several tubes and patch kit to get me home.
Cold beer at the finish line and potentially the mid-point. We have a killer gravel event called the Bootlegger 100 here in N.C. and at the top of a monster climb was the coldest IPA I ever had courtesy of @DealGardner. It hit the spot.
A friend to enjoy the inevitable rough point because there will be one and misery loves company.
If you are lucky enough to have some 29er wheels that are the same axle configuration as your gravel bike, then rock those with some 35mm+ tires, 40mm if your frame will hold them. The wider rim will bump the tire a little wider. I run a Stan’s Crest wheelset on my Focus CX Mares with 35mm tires and it is Send-It certified.
Things You Think You Need But Don’t
I always bring way too much Clif Product and hardly ever eat it all.
A gravel or ’cross bike.
If you are new to the sport and have a mountain bike sitting around, jump in the mix and have fun. After all that’s what gravel is ultimately about! The beer is just as cold at the finish line!
I’m being facetious, but I also mean it. As more people are taking gravel events way too seriously, I find big egos mixing in at the start of these events that are overly optimistic. Check the egos at the start line and ride your own race. Have a plan, but know that your plan will probably go awry for one reason or another and know what to do in those what-if situations.
Don’t let your ego get in the way of riding your own race and staying within your limits. Just because Ted King is dictating the pace at the front doesn’t mean you need to match that. Know what your physically capable of and set that expectation from the beginning. Approach the events with a little more fun, make friends with the people you’re riding with because we’re all in this together, and we’ll all have a good time out there.
The one thing you actually don’t need is anything electronic. Ditch the electronics, disconnect for a while and see what that does for your stress levels. I’m betting they go down a bit.
Thanks to our experts for their thoughts. For more gear for gravel grinding, check out our growing Gravel Gear archive.