If you’re thinking about joining one of our group gravel rides this summer but are maybe a gravel novice or have mostly ridden off-road alone, here are a few tips to help you get the dirtiest fun out of your off-road Hotchillee adventures!
It’s inevitable that you’ll be hopping on and off the road during most “gravel rides” in the UK so, when you do get back on the tarmac, make sure you switch back to road mode. Stick to usual good road group riding practice. Check out our group road riding skills and etiquette post here.
Even on non-technical fire-roads and wide tracks, if you’re following a wheel, it’s even more important off-road the on-road to not overlap wheels. Riders are far more likely, whether to avoid a hazard or just to find a smoother line, to move unexpectedly so make sure you make allowances for this.
Don’t stick limpet like to the wheel ahead off-road. Leave a bit more of a gap to give yourself room to react. Also it’s no fun, especially on downhills, to feel pressured by a rider behind. Gravel is a broad church and, if you’ve come to it with a mountain biking background, just be mindful that pure roadies might be finding the trails more of a technical challenge than you. Give them space and wait for a spot when you can pass safely – don’t sit on them buzzing their rear wheel.
Look as far ahead as you can rather than at the rider ahead’s backside. Anticipate gear changes, line choice and possible hazards. Focus on where you want to go and not on obstacles you’re wanting to avoid. If you fixate on that rock or log, you’re more likely to hit it.
There’s no shame in admitting that a section of trail is beyond your current skill level. Don’t feel pressured into riding anything you don’t feel comfortable with. If in doubt, look before you leap (or roll!) and ask the Hotchillee Ride Captains for their advice on any tricky trail features.
Gates are an unavoidable part of riding off-road and can break up the rhythm of a group ride. The first rider to a gate should get off and hold it open for the rest of the group. The rest of the group should keep rolling through but back the pace off a bit to allow any gaps in the group to close up and for the gatekeeper to catch back up.
Expect off-road groups to be far looser than on the road and the Hotchillee Ride Captains won’t be keeping you on as tight a leash. This will allow you to tackle the trail at your own pace and rhythm without feeling pressured to speed up or slow down. This means though that it’s vital to wait at any arranged regathering points, not ride blindly on and ideally have the ride route download onto your GPS device.
As you’ll be riding on bridleways, by-ways and shared use trails such as canal towpaths, expect other trail users. Ride considerately and give way to both pedestrians and horse-riders. The latter especially have to be passed with care and consideration. If you’re coming up behind a horse, let the rider know you’re coming and give as much room as possible. Avoid braking and changing gear as you pass and the rider might even ask you to get off and push past. A bell can be really useful for letting pedestrians know you’re there.
On single-track, stick to the already worn line to prevent unnecessary erosion and trail widening. Mud and puddles are all part of the fun of riding off-road so don’t create new lines to avoid them. Similarly, avoid intentional locking of your wheels and skidding
The more relaxed you can be off road, the smoother you’ll ride. Don’t overreact to the bike moving underneath you and resist the temptation to grab a handful of brakes – in most situations, speed and momentum are your friends and will carry you out of trouble. Be a lot more mobile on your bike and less locked on your saddle than you would on the road. Shift your weight around in response to the trail and again, ask the Hotchillee Ride Captains for their tips and advice.
Glen is usually behind the scenes making sure that the Hotchillee Ride Captains and event participants have fully functioning bicycles to ride but he occasionally makes an appearance in front of the camera to share his wisdom. If he’s not fixing or building bikes he’ll be out riding in #SweetSussex. If you want to know anything about Cyclocross, Glen is the man to ask.
Consultant with British Cycling and author of the Road Cycling Performance Manual. Lover of cobbles, gravel and Siberian Pine – not so keen on climbs! Nik is the author of all of the Hotchillee Training Plans, Zwift workout files and regularly posts tips and advice on the Hotchillee app. He’s also the evil genius behind the now infamous Hotchillee Gain Train.
Adele has worked within the health and fitness industry for over 25 years starting with a ballet and dance background herself, she has progressed to training and teaching all styles of fitness and offers Pilates, barre & yoga. As a keen runner, Adele appreciates the need for a strong healthy body and mind and incorporates many elements of Pilates, yoga and barre into her own training to ensure her strength and stamina remain.