Musings of a Mountain Biker – Gravel

Hi, Gilly here. As a mountain biking enthusiast, I am always looking at relevant online articles and links that pop up on social media, and I’m particularly interested in the stories that focus on trends coming out of the States. North America is attributed as being the spiritual home of mountain biking – it is the largest market and what happens there usually sets the trend for the rest of the world. Through my musings, we have looked at e-bike trends (urban and e-MTB), so this month, I’m putting the spotlight on a relatively new bike discipline that is really booming – gravel biking.

What is gravel?

It is a discipline of biking that sits between road and mountain biking, combining characteristics of both. It first emerged in the States roughly 10 years ago, where long-distance races predominantly on gravel tracks led to the development of a dedicated bike. 

As you would expect, gravel bikes are a hybrid of road and mountain bikes. They tend to have drop handlebars, often splayed out and the frames are a bit longer and higher than road bikes for added stability while being stiffer and faster than mountain bikes. There is clearance for wide tyres and mudguard mounts and the bike geometry is relaxed so riders can comfortably navigate uneven terrain and keep control on loose and rough surfaces. These bikes combine agility, speed and durability, are lighter on the climbs and handle well on non-technical trails. 

During the pandemic, the recreational scene really started to take off. When cyclists and non-cyclists alike couldn’t travel, they started to look for adventures closer to home. For many, it was a revelation, getting out and finding tracks and trails they never knew existed on their doorstep. This, alongside the increase in gravel events, has seen the discipline become firmly established, with continued growth projected for both the racing and recreational markets.

Why is it growing in popularity?

One of the main advantages of owning a gravel bike is they are very versatile, which can eliminate the need for multiple bikes for different terrains – analysts are suggesting that with consumer spending limited, multi-discipline products will have a greater impact on the market

Cycling in general, is seeing a growth in response to society’s concern with fitness, health and wellbeing. Whilst there are lots of options for high-price, high-spec gravel bikes, there is also a lot of choice at the bottom end of the market. This,coupled with the more relaxed dress code (compared to road biking), means gravel biking is proving appealing to a diverse audience

These hybrid-style bikes are perfect for the growing commuter market, where more people are exploring cheaper and greener alternatives to car travel. The wider tyres and optional full mudguards make them suitable for year-round cycling

Gravel bikes perfectly suit the new travel trend for ‘bike-packing’, travelling long distances, exploring countryside routes whilst carrying your luggage and potentially your camping equipment

Established riders are always keen to try something new and a discipline that includes speed and off-road riding is sure to pique interest!

This momentum is fuelling demand for ready-made routes, avoiding congested roads safe in the knowledge that you are not going to hit a gnarly technical section – I have it on good authority that new gravel routes will be developed in the Algarve from next year, marked and promoted in the same way as the BTT trails. Happy days!

Sharing this news is for me a great way to finish my tenure, as I’m not just signing off today, I am signing out! 

I have had a blast these last two years, meeting wonderful people who share my passion, learning about routes top-to-bottom and across the country, and generally sharing my thoughts and stories with you. If I may, I’d like to send out a special thanks to my mate Paul, who keeps my bike on the trails, and to the great girls I ride out and explore with, and who make sure I have a regular supply of photos. 

I’ll still be hitting the trails and I hope to see you out there. In the meantime, thanks for indulging me. 

As always, stay safe and have fun!

A huge thank you to Gilly from the Tomorrow team for her knowledge and enthusiasm during her time working on the column. She has done an amazing job promoting mountain biking in this area and we all owe her a debt of gratitude for shining a light on the wonderful opportunities for this sport in our corner of the Algarve. 


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