How To

How to upgrade your gravel bike for beginners

Gravel Bikers Sun

Upgrades are an excellent way of improving your gravel and adventure riding as well as being a fantastic way to transform both the performance and reliability of your bike.

Here’s a quick rundown of the best gravel bike upgrades:

  • Pedals (flat or clipless)
  • A gravel-specific saddle
  • Flared handlebars
  • Tubeless gravel tyres
  • Frame and bikepacking bags
  • GPS bike computer
  • Gravel specific clothing

Beginner Mountain Bike Upgrades YOU Should Make

MTB Upgrades

Beginner Road Bike Upgrades YOU Should Make

Road Upgrades

Why upgrade?

Happy Gravel Biker

In short, this article will take you through some bang for your buck upgrades you can make to your gravel bike and the difference they will make to your ride. We’ll also take you through some tips which will be useful to do a spot of adventure riding on the mountain bike or road bike you own.

Upgrade 1: Pedals

Vault Pedal

Firstly, we’re going to look at one of the three contact points you have with your bike. Pedals are number one on the list. This upgrade can be relatively inexpensive alongside the fact you don’t have to be a master mechanic to fit them.

Clipless shoe

Your pedals are what connects you to your bike therefore, in return are responsible for the power transfer to make your bike move. Just like mountain biking you have two options when it comes to pedals: flat or clipless.

You can of course stick to the road pedals if you prefer. In contrast, MTB pedals will clear muck away easier not to mention MTB shoes being much easier to walk in than road shoes.

Spank Pedal

If you’re used to being clipped in – you may want to stick with that for gravel riding. However, if you’re new to the scene we’d recommend using flat pedals which will consequently make your life easier.

While clips have the advantage of better power transfer, flat pedals will help with more technical riding. On top of this, flat pedals will allow you to hop on and off the bike quicker in trickier situations.

In conclusion, upgrading to a decent pair of pedals will help improve your power transfer. Thus you will notice yourself going faster, further and most importantly, having more fun.

Upgrade 2: Saddles

Saddle Adventure

The next contact point we’re going to focus on is the saddle. Now, this may not be the sexiest part of the bike but it’s definitely worth talking about. Simply put, when it comes to saddles if you aren’t sitting comfortably you’re not going to enjoy the ride. This will consequently make you want to cut your ride short.

Gravel Bikers On Smooth Road

When it comes to gravel and adventure riding a good saddle is a must have. For long adventures, having a comfortable saddle is priceless. Luckily for you there’s more choice than there ever has been. Many saddle brands have clever fitting guides to ensure you’re being paired with the right saddle.

At present, there are now gravel specific saddles available to purchase. You may ask yourself “do I really need a gravel specific saddle?” well, let’s get into that.

Saddle Position

A gravel specific saddle will be a great in-between. These saddles will be able to absorb vibrations better as well as being more compliant for long, off road rides.

Moreover, gravel specific saddles will have high quality rails focusing on flexibility and performance. On top of this, you can also fasten bike-packing bags to the rails of most saddles thus, ensuring you can take everything with you for an all day adventure.

Bottom line, gravel specific saddles are the best option for your long, bumpy off-road rides. Lets be honest, what better way to enjoy your adventure than sitting nice and comfortably from start to finish?

Upgrade 3: Flared Handlebars

Flared Handlebars

The third and final contact point is your handlebars. Obviously the handlebar plays a crucial role as it controls the steering of the bike. The handlebars also provide riders with options for a variety of different riding positions. Upgrading your handlebars to a flared option will without a doubt give you an added advantage.

Up Close Flared Handle Bars

Most will be familiar with the style of handlebar that comes with a road bike. Gravel bike handlebars will be similar. These types of handlebars allow you to position themselves in more than one riding position.

Flared handlebars will offer you a variety of positions including on top of the bars for in the saddle climbing, on the hoods of the brakes for pedaling uphill or accelerating as well as on the drops for sustained high-speed effort.

Upright Riding Position

Now, you may be wondering “is switching between multiple positions such a big deal?” Moreover, a flared handlebar will give you a wider stance when in a dropped position. Because of this you will have more handling control when descending down rough terrain.

Being able to have more control of the bike will result in you being relaxed and comfortable resulting in you having a much more enjoyable ride.

It’s also worth noting that handlebars like this provide more room for a bar bag allowing you to carry more on your adventure.

Handlebars obviously play a pivotal role on your bike. Choosing the right handlebar can have a large impact on the time spent riding your bike as well as how much enjoyment you get out of that time spent. It’s always important to remember, no matter what position you are in you should always be having fun and enjoying your ride.

Upgrade 4: Tubeless Gravel Tyres

Rough Terrain

Moving on to the only contact point your bike has to the ground, tyres. For roadies, there’ll be miles of relatively smooth tarmac beneath you, except for the occasional pothole or two. In contrast, if you’re on a mountain bike you’ll be sporting bigger tyres to handle the rougher terrain.

Gravel Biker Happy

So, the picture is pretty clear when it comes to road riding and mountain biking but, what about gravel? When thinking about gravel tyres it’s important to pick the right balance. Key factors to consider are comfort, rolling resistance as well as puncture protection.

The beauty of gravel biking is the versatility. One moment you’re blasting down an open road then you may decide to venture off the beaten track into rougher terrain. It’s essential that for a hassle free, enjoyable ride your tyres can handle anything they roll across.

Off Road Biking

When it comes to gravel, it’s worth considering running a tubeless setup. This tyre setup will allow you to ride on tougher terrain with lower tyre pressures.

This setup will provide you with improved grip and better comfort. In the unfortunate event of hitting a sharp object the sealant within the tyre will fill the small holes as you ride.

A tubeless tyre setup is the perfect upgrade for those who are adventurous. If you are looking to head down country lanes and explore the areas of rougher terrain then the tubeless setup is ideal for you.

Upgrade 5: Frame and Bikepacking Bags

Bike Packing Bags

If you’re going for a gravel ride or planning your next big adventure you’ll want to consider bringing bags. Frame and bike packing bags help take your adventures to a whole new level. Bags come in a vast range of sizes to suit different bike designs and frame sizes too.

Bags on Bike

If you’re looking to dip into the world of bikepacking or a simple overnighter it’s worth investing in a few simple pieces. Options for this include a seat pack, frame bag and roll bag. All of these will enhance your bike’s carrying capacity.

The three most common types of bags are the seat pack, frame pack and handlebar bag. These three main bags will provide the backbone for your bikepacking setup.

Coat In Handlebar Bag

The type and size of the bag you go for will depend on your ride and how long you might be out for. You can invest in everything from purpose built bags to smaller top tube packs and fork-mounted accessory bags.

Before you set out on your next bikepacking adventure we recommend to only pack the essentials. Being smart with your packing will cut down the unnecessary weight and make your ride more enjoyable.

Upgrade 6: GPS Bike Computer

GPS Computer On Desk

While a bike computer isn’t exactly an upgrade to your bike it’s a simple addition that can prove very useful. A GPS bike computer will not improve how comfortable or stable you are on your bike nor will it improve your overall fitness. That being said a GPS bike computer will help you discover new, uncharted territory which is a dream for any gravel rider.

Lezyne GPS Computer

Displaying a wide range of information such as speed, distance and trip time these powerful devices can really help you improve your performance the next time you ride.

Alongside all these great data measurements these computers can also provide you with turn-by-turn navigation.

Garmin GPS Computer

When it comes to GPS bike computers the type of computer you buy depends on the type of rider you are. For most riders, it’s interesting to track mileage whether that be throughout a day of riding or a full weekend of a bikepacking adventure. For others, tracking your current, average and max speed is another key metric with the objective to improve upon these metrics.

On the higher end of the scale, you can also get GPS maps and navigation built in. This is ideal for adventure riding when you want to plan your next route or get back onto familiar roads. You can also link some higher end computers to your phone to receive notifications, alerts and much more.

For gravel and adventure riding a GPS bike computer can be a vital upgrade. When most of your time is spent plotting routes, figuring how to link up bridleways with main roads and navigating forest paths having a companion that can do all of that can be a huge asset. In some worst case scenarios a GPS can get you back to familiar roads should you get lost.

Upgrade 7: Clothing

Downhill Gravel Biking

Last but not least, our final upgrade is clothing. When it comes to what you should wear on the bike there isn’t a right or wrong answer. When it comes to gravel riding it’s no surprise there is a bit of a blurred line. We’re going to try to shed some light on what clothing options are out there.

Woman DHB Jersey

Gravel biking is very closely linked to both the road and mountain bike disciplines therefore, deciding what to wear can be difficult.

If you come from a road background you will most likely stick with your current clothing range. Despite this you may still want to mix and match your clothes from either side of the spectrum. Even though your options are endless, there are now gravel specific clothing options out there.

Man Castelli Jersey

So what makes gravel specific clothing any better from road or mountain bike clothing? Gravel specific clothing allows you to get the best of both worlds. For example, gravel specific bib shorts have the normal features of bib shorts (stretch fabric / silicone grippers). On top of these features they also have double-layered side paneling to protect your legs from loose stones and mud.

Some gravel clothing will have anti-rip material built into the fabric. Because of this, you can be confident squeezing down a narrow trail without ripping your clothes on brambles or bushes.

If you don’t own any gravel specific clothing we would recommend at least wearing MTB shoes. Chances are if you are off road, you are going to have to get off the bike at some point. Mountain bike shoes are better suited for walking on the road as opposed to road shoes. In addition to this, mountain bike shoes will also be much comfortable and stylish should you decide to stop somewhere to eat and drink during or after your adventure.

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