When and Where to Take a Gravel Bike

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Cyclists and mountain bikers in the Park City area are incredibly fortunate with the terrain available. Paved roads cross the valleys and ascend mountain passes over 9,000 ft in elevation. And on the other hand, the ski resorts and open spaces have hundreds of miles of mountain bike trails to enjoy.

Gravel biking is a rapidly growing sport that brings together the speed and efficiency of a road bike with the durability and rugged capability of a cyclocross or mountain bike. This unique combination begs the question: Where and when should one take a gravel bike?

When to Take a Gravel Bike

For those who go back and forth enjoying both road and mountain biking, sometimes the limitations of skinny tires can be a drag. After a week of riding trails, you have to remind yourself to come off the saddle when going over bumps and to dismount instead of rolling off curbs. With a gravel bike, cyclists have the unique ability to ride a road bike on rougher terrain.

Gravel bikes excel in terrain that proves too demanding for traditional road bikes as well as in flatter or rolling landscapes where mountain bikes can be sluggish and slow. A gravel bike is specifically designed to handle such conditions with more stability than a road bike and greater pedal efficiency than a mountain bike.

In terms of the best season for a gravel bike, you really can ride one all year. In the fall and spring, when mountain bike trails are too muddy or still covered in snow, a gravel bike let’s you feed your off-road fix on dryer valley trails and dirt roads. And if you want to go road biking in the winter, wider tires provide extra grip and stability when you may encounter snow or ice on your ride. With a gravel bike, you can confidently navigate through any challenging obstacles throughout the year.

Chris riding the Specialized Diverge Sport Carbon gravel bike on a trail in Park City, UT

When to Choose a Gravel over a Road Bike

Gravel bikes shine when you want to venture off the beaten path and explore unpaved or rough terrain that may not be suitable for road bikes. Most road bike tires are 23-25mm wide. Compare that to the 47mm max. tire width on the Specialized Diverge gravel bikes and the off-road capability is no mystery. Plus, gravel bike tires typically run at about half the tire pressure of a road bike. That makes those wide tires even softer and increases the surface area for better grip.

Wider tires offer a softer ride on bumpy terrain and improved traction on gravel roads, dirt trails, and uneven surfaces. Gravel bikes have more robust frame construction, wheels, and components than most lightweight road bikes, which makes them more durable and stable for rough riding. We’ve all experienced the nerve-wracking situation of suddenly encountering unexpected gravel, pebbles, or potholes, particularly on the road’s shoulder. In such moments, the benefits of a gravel bike become evident as it handles high-speed terrain changes with ease. They’re more heavy duty, but it’s worth noting that gravel bikes are not significantly heavier or slower than traditional road bikes, and they offer the versatility to conquer various terrain beyond smooth tarmac.

When to Choose a Gravel over a Mountain Bike

For pedaling out miles, the forward posture of a road bike with drop handlebars positions the body to cut through a head wind. Pedaling on a rigid frame is also more efficient. On full-suspension mountain bikes, some of your pedaling energy is lost to the suspension. That’s why cross-country mountain bikes have locking shocks. While mountain bikes excel at tackling steep downhill and gnarly terrain with heavier frames, suspension systems, and wider, grippier tires, they’re less efficient going fast on flat or rolling terrain.

Though dirt and gravel roads can get pretty bumpy, a full-suspension mountain bike may be overkill unless the road is really rough. A gravel bike’s wider tires with softer tire pressure act as shock absorbers to smooth out a bumpy ride. Is it as smooth as a full-suspension bike? No. But it’s smooth enough, and the trade off for more efficient pedaling is worth it when you want to cover miles.

So, if you’re planning a ride that includes a combination of gravel roads, paved sections, and smoother trails, then a gravel bike is the ideal choice. It offers a versatile and balanced approach to handle various surfaces and transition between them seamlessly. Whether you’re seeking the thrill of off-road adventure or embarking on a mixed-terrain exploration, the gravel bike provides the perfect combination of speed, control, and versatility for your cycling escapades.

Keegan Swenson on the 2023 Santa Cruz Stigmata. Image courtesy of Santa Cruz.

Where to Take a Gravel Bike

Just over half of all roads in Utah are actually paved—providing ample opportunities for exploration on a gravel bike. Embracing the spirit of the Old West, gravel bikes have become the new horse, offering the same freedom and versatility to go wherever the dirt takes you. The Wasatch Back in particular offers countless trails, dirt roads, and single track that you can explore.

Explore Scenic Countryside

Gravel bikes excel in rural landscapes where paved roads give way to enchanting gravel paths. Park City, Midway, Heber, Kamas, and the surrounding areas offer an array of picturesque routes that meander through rolling hills, verdant farmland, serene marshlands, alongside tranquil rivers, and past shimmering reservoirs.

Deer Creek Trail to Provo-Jordan River Parkway – 7.6 mi

Treat yourself to outstanding lake views on the scenic Deer Creek Trail, which connects to the Provo-Jordan River Parkway. This trail offers a captivating experience with its undulating terrain that follows the length of the Deer Creek Reservoir.

Mountain Top Routes

Utah’s mountainous terrain offers gravel bike riders an exhilarating playground of awe-inspiring routes. From the rugged beauty of Moab to the majestic peaks of the Wasatch, there’s no shortage of thrilling mountain routes to explore on two wheels. Traverse the undulating red rock formations or venture into the high-altitude wonderland of the Uinta Mountains, where remote gravel roads wind through pristine alpine forests and reveal breathtaking vistas at every turn. Whether you’re drawn to the solitude of remote wilderness or crave the adrenaline of technical descents, Utah’s gravel mountain routes promise a memorable and rewarding adventure.

Cummings Pkwy to Snake Creek Rd – 14.4 mi

For a route that pushes the limits of a gravel bike, there is a rough and rocky path from Cummings Pkwy to Snake Creek Rd. This trail presents a formidable technical challenge—particularly during the downhill sections where you may wish you had front suspension—but the mountain-top views are worth every drop of sweat.

Jeremy Ranch Rd – 7.2 mi

Offering a delightful fusion of mountainous landscapes and serene countryside, the Jeremy Ranch Road route emerges as a delightful beginner-friendly choice. With its captivating vistas nestled within a valley rich in history, this route promises an enchanting journey that blends the best of pavement and dirt.

Juliana Quincy gravel bike. Image courtesy of Juliana.

Should You Try a Gravel Bike?

Residing in the Mountain West allows opportunity to fully embrace the remarkable lifestyle and myriad adventures available each season. A gravel bike opens up a world of diverse experiences—empowering you to explore untamed terrain and embark on thrilling escapades beyond the the boundaries defined by paved roads.

If you’re curious about gravel bikes and want to try one for yourself, now is a great time as snow still covers some of the higher-elevation mountain bike trails. Jans is proud to carry the Juliana Quincy and Santa Cruz Stigmata on our showroom floor and in our rental fleet. Stop by our Park Avenue location and take one for a spin!

By Broc Helgeson, Content Writer, jans.com

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