Road Bikes on Gravel: 13 Ways To Make The Most Out Of Them

Gravel is getting more and more popular as cyclists seek more exciting places to explore. Gravel rides also bring you closer to nature and test your skills and endurance with long rides over bumpy terrain. But what if you don’t have a gravel bike? Can your road bike go on gravel? 

Road bikes can go on gravel if they are set up properly. You need to make a few changes to your bike, such as switching to wider tires, going tubeless, or even changing your cassette to get a smoother, safer gravel ride. There are some limitations to what a road bike can do on gravel, but you can definitely get on your bike and explore with a few adjustments and skills. 

This article will talk about whether or not road bikes can go on gravel. We’ll give you some ideas on what you need to do to take your road bike out on rough roads and give you some tips to make it safer and smoother. First, let’s look at why road bikes can go on gravel

Road Bikes Can Go On Gravel

Road bikes will work as gravel bikes, but understanding a few key differences between the two will help you know how to go about it. 

For starters, gravel bikes have a more relaxed geometry, making them a little slower but more stable. On the other hand, road bikes have a more aggressive geometry for speed and quick handling. You’ll also find skinnier tires on road bikes because they roll faster on the road than wider gravel bike tires. Finally, both types of bicycles tend to feature drop handlebars, which give you lots of hand positions for comfort and control. 

A road bike might feel a little bit twitchy or jerky on a gravel road, while a gravel bike will feel slow and steady on a smooth road. So while road bikes can go on gravel, there are some limitations. However, with a few adjustments and some knowledge, you can make your road bike a little bit more gravel-ready. 

Wider Tires 

The tires are the most significant change you can make to your road bike to get it gravel-ready. Swap out your road tires for the widest gravel tires you can fit on your road bike. You’ll want thick chunky tread and wide tires to help you with grip and traction, and comfort. 

A larger tire will absorb some of the vibrations you feel when riding on gravel. It will also help you get over larger rocks and loose gravel with better traction, making your bike more stable and safer. 

Don’t put on tires that are too wide, or they’ll rub on your frame and cause damage, not to mention they’ll be hard to spin. 

Tubeless Tires 

If possible, run tubeless tires. Tubeless tires need less tire pressure, which makes for better traction and much more comfort. In addition, you won’t have to worry about pinch flats, and if you do get a small puncture, you might not even realize it because the tire will seal itself as you ride.  

Watch Your Tire Pressure 

If you are using tubeless tires, you can run your tire pressure pretty low. However, if you try to do this with tubes, you’ll get pinch flats when you ride on gravel. So even if you do have tubes, run your tire pressure as low as you can without getting pinch flats to make your ride more comfortable. The sidewall of your tire will tell you what the lowest tire pressure you can put in your tires is. 

Use a Wider Range Cassette 

When you are riding on a smooth road, your cadence is everything. So most road bikes have gears that are closer together and meant for speed. However, if you are going to ride your road bike on gravel, you may want to consider swapping your cassette out for one that has a wider range of gears. 

Gravel is slower overall, but you’ll need a variety of gears to find just the right amount of torque when you’re climbing up gravelly hills. Too much or too little will cause your wheels to slip, wasting precious energy and possibly causing you to fall.  

Raise Your Handlebar 

Drop bars are typically found on gravel bikes because they offer more positions and more control. However, you’ll want to raise your handlebars just a bit if you can. First of all, gravel is slower overall than road riding, so you don’t need such an aggressive, aerodynamic position when you’re on the bike. It won’t really help you. 

Second of all, a more upright position is more comfortable for long rides and will put your body in a better position for stability on even ground. In addition, since you aren’t as stretched out, you’ll be able to move around more on the bike to get extra traction or stopping power when you need it. 

And third, it will put your hands in a better position both in the drops and on the hoods to keep control of the bike. 

Relax Your Upper Body 

Gravel riding is a little bumpier than the road, and you’ll feel all the vibrations with a road bike. However, you can mitigate this to some extent by bending your elbows and keeping your upper body relaxed. This riding position will soften the feel of the vibrations and allow the bike to float under you as you move through looser rocks and gravel. If you keep a death grip on the handlebars, your hands, arms, and upper body will be unnecessarily tired.

Moderate Your Speed

You have to go slow, especially when descending through rocky roads. Otherwise, you’ll end up with two flat tires and possibly a crash by the time you get to the bottom of the hill.  

Guard Your Chainstay 

Chain slap can happen on any bike, but it is definitely more likely to happen if you ride a road bike on gravel. Many gravel bikes and mountain bikes have a clutch to prevent this, but road bikes typically don’t. 

In some gears, your chain will be looser on the bike, and that means it can bounce around more when you hit bumpy sections. Unfortunately, the chain bouncing on the chainstay can chip the paint and cause damage. It can also come off the gears, meaning you won’t be able to pedal. 

First, choose your line carefully so you can avoid the rockiest, bumpiest areas. Second, you may want to play a little helicopter tape on your chainstay. This thick, clear tape will protect the paint job from damage from chain slap. 

Install a Rear Mudguard

If you are going to be riding in muddy areas, you may want to install a rear mudguard. Some mudguards are made of metal and will attach to brazeons on your bike. Chances are, though, that your road bike doesn’t have the mounts for this type of guard. 

However, there are plenty of disposable mudguards that are very thin and lightweight that will clip to the back of your saddle. These little pieces of plastic will keep the mud and wetness from splashing up on your derriere, keeping you cleaner and drier. 

Keep an Eye on Your Rear Derailleur

When you ride gravel, there are bound to be weeds and mud that can clog up your rear derailleur and make it difficult to shift. Therefore, you may need to clean it out periodically to keep your shifting experience smooth and trouble-free. 

Pack Extra Supplies 

You might want to bring along some extra tubes, patch kits, and water bottles. You are much more likely to get flats when you’re riding gravel, so be prepared. If you’re going to be riding for long hours, you may want to bring extra food and water, too. Gravel roads tend to be out in the country where there are fewer coffee shops and convenience stores to refuel. 

Choose Your Gravel Roads Carefully 

It is best to take your road bike on maintained gravel rather than single track or rough roads. Your road bike can do a lot, but it can’t do everything. Also, if you are new to riding gravel, you’ll want to practice your skills on easier terrain before you move into more difficult stuff. So make smart choices about the roads you ride on so you don’t damage your bike or risk a nasty fall. 

Road Bikes Do Have Limitations on Gravel 

The reality is that road bikes can ride gravel, but they do have some limitations. However, if you make a few adjustments to your bike and choose your rides carefully, you’ll be able to have a fun gravel ride even on your road bike. 

Sam Benkoczy

When it comes to Cycling to Work, SAM IS THE MAN because he doesn't just talk the talk, but he also walks the walk - or rides the ride, to be more precise... I also create content on my YouTube channel at Say hi to me at

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