Looking to spend more time in the saddle and a little less on the pavement? Instead of dropping some cash on a gravel bike, add a few key accessories to your current bike to give it adventure chops.
Top photo credit: 8bar bikes
If you’re at all involved in the cycling community, you already know that gravel racing is so hot right now.
But seriously: More and more riders — even high-level racers — are turning in their road bikes in favor of adventure machines and heading out on daylong epics across pavement, gravel, mud, and singletrack. Anything goes when you’ve decided to focus on the ride, not the watts.
You may not be able to plunk down a wad of cash for a dedicated gravel or adventure bike, but you can make your current ride a lot more adventure worthy. And even if you do have the cash saved up, you might want to test the waters with a few add-ons to your road or mountain bike to decide which kind of adventure bike you want. There are options available mimicking both road and mountain bikes out there.
Adventure Bike Add-Ons
Are your adventures mainly gravel, or do you end up in a lot of forests along the way? The only way to assess your ride style is to get out there and get riding! With that in mind, let’s talk simple swaps to make your existing bike serve you better.
Your cyclocross, road, or mountain bike becomes a lot more fun on wet gravel roads. And it gets even better if you can snap on a solid fender and avoid a cold, wet chamois. You’ll also be a friend to your fellow riders: Fenders don’t just protect your bum, they help keep water from splashing up at the rider sitting behind you.
The SKS mudguard works simply — it uses quick-release straps that snap onto the seat tube, plus a pivot quick release to adjust the fender’s angle. Because it can snap on any bike, it’s also great to have around for wet commutes to work. But beware: This is a commonly pilfered accessory. It’s best to remove it if you’re parking your bike outside for a while.
Ass Savers: $11
Heading out on a dry day with only a hint of rain in the forecast? You may not want to bother with a full fender, but if that thunderstorm hits, you’ll be glad you had something. That’s where Ass Savers come in. They’re thin strips of plastic, shorter than your average fender, that secure onto the back of your saddle and offer just enough protection to, well, save your ass.
You can actually fit one into your jersey pocket, so you don’t need to have it on your bike when you head out. Consider it rain insurance.
Planning to be out all day? Expect that at least some days will get unexpected extensions, be it a flat, photo op, snack stop, or some other slowdown. Light & Motion’s Urban 850 Road LTD front and rear light combination (currently on sale at Competitive Cyclist) keeps the road visible ahead and you visible to cars behind.
On high, the headlight offers a whopping 850 lumens in a beam pattern designed with a cyclist’s viewpoint in mind. It lasts for 90 minutes on full blast, but you can get six hours of ride time on low.
Q-Tubes 700c x 28- to 32-mm Cyclocross Tubes: $6 (4 for $26)
If you’re planning to embrace adventure, you’re going to want a lot of tubes. Even if you have a tubeless setup on your tires, you’re still going to want to have a tube or two on hand in case of bigger rips and tears, as those require sticking in a tube to limp home.
QBP’s Q-Tubes are inexpensive while staying light at 125 grams. A 48-mm-long Presta valve stem makes inflation easy, and the tubes work with 28- to 32-mm-wide tires.
The Vittoria Adventure Trail TNT Clincher Tire is ideal for the road with a chance of some trail and serious gravel along the way. It’s great whether you’re still running tubes or hoping to switch to tubeless.
Its tread pattern is designed to handle limestone paths, dirt roads, and patches of salt or sand along your ride. And the TNT casing offers reinforced sidewalls and thorn-resistant rubber Solid Shielding. The tires are wide at 38 mm, so make sure they’ll fit your frame before purchasing!
Continental Gatorskin Tires: $68-143 (2-Pack)
The clincher Continental Gatorskin Tires are the ultimate treads — reasonably priced and practically bombproof. They work for winter riding and are a bit heavier than a standard road tire but are made to handle punctures.
Duraskin anti-cut fabric lines the sidewalls to avoid cuts, and a puncture-resistant layer under the tread makes it less likely you’ll end up with a flat 40 miles from the nearest gas station. Available in a huge range of sizes from 23 to 32 mm, you can find one that will fit any road bike.
For longer rides where you need to bring a lot of spare food, and possibly an emergency blanket and a spare chamois, the Lezyne Bar Caddy Handlebar Bag will come in handy. Consider it the miniature start to bike touring: not great for a fast-paced adventure, but perfect for a 12-hour meander with a lunch stop.
Roll closures at both ends keep your gear in place and allow access from both sides. This lets you keep your favorite snacks on either end and less-timely gear in the middle. Water-resistant fabric and clip-on points for lights make it the perfect all-weather, all-condition bag.
This bike bag is perfect for long treks. Kaitie Keough (née Antonneau) used something similar as she rode to the win at the 200-mile Dirty Kanza gravel race. The ArcEnCiel is great for adventure thanks to a clear waterproof window on top for slipping your phone into, whether you want to keep an eye on notifications or use the mapping feature.
Two zippered bags on both sides offer perfect storage for a plethora of snacks and emergency gear. It uses Velcro straps, though you may want to add a bit of tape to keep it firmly in place when you know you’ll be on bumpy roads.
Garmin Edge 1030: $600
Bigger and with a longer-lasting battery, the Garmin Edge 1030 is ideal for daylong adventures. The features seem limitless: You can see when Strava segments are coming up, send pre-loaded notes to let other Edge-using riders know you’re lagging behind, respond to texts and calls with prewritten messages, and download an AccuWeather app to receive storm alerts. Meanwhile, people at home can trace your ride on Garmin Connect.
The screen now measures 3.5 inches, so it’s easier than ever to follow a map. Meanwhile, optional accessories are available, like a spare power pack for extra battery life if you’ll be out for more than 20 hours.
Stuff this slim portable charger in a jersey pocket or your handlebar bag. You can keep your phone or your GPS charged when you’re on a super-long ride, especially if you’re in a low cell service area where your phone is running through battery faster than you can pedal.
The RAVPower can recharge an iPhone 7 five and a half times on a single charge, and it can power two small devices at the same time. Bonus: It even has a built-in flashlight in case you run out of daylight on the way home. (Just don’t forget your charging cables!)
Hoping to make your clincher tires more effective? Welcome to the world of tubeless tires, where you use sealant rather than tubes to keep air in the tires. It’s great for long rides on questionable roads, as the sealant will actually fill tiny holes caused by things like thorns or glass shards.
Stan’s NoTubes Standard Tubeless Kit comes with full instructions. Just make sure your rims and tires are tubeless-compatible before setting them up.
A small bottle of this in your saddle bag can be an absolute lifesaver. Most of the top gravel and adventure racers swear by it when they have tubeless tires. Even tubeless tires can suffer serious mishaps, and Orange Seal Endurance Tubeless Sealant in the 4-ounce size fits into a pocket or handlebar bag.
And thanks to solid particles mixed in the sealant, riders can seal a puncture up to 1/8-inch wide or a slice up to a 1/2-inch long. That might be the difference between calling AAA to pick you up and being able to limp home.
Don’t end up in hot water when you return home with a bike that’s gone from neon green to solid, mud-puddle brown. Keep a 1-gallon pump-action sprayer filled with warm water to hose down your bike before going inside. This is also great at a trailhead before stashing the bike in the back of your freshly detailed car. And unlike a bucket of water, this won’t spill everywhere.
One gallon goes a long way when you’re using the sprayer, and you’ll be able to clean off the worst of the gunk. Use it to clean your shoes and helmet as well!
Every gravel rider knows the weather can turn on a dime. That’s why when you’re on a long ride, you should always travel with a rain jacket. The Rapha Core Rain Jacket — available in women’s and men’s — is super thin and light, so it can cram into a jersey pocket and you won’t even notice it.
The classic Rapha off-center zipper uses AquaGuard to keep water from soaking through to your jersey. Elastic cuffs and a drawcord at the waist make it easy to keep water all the way out. And the drop-tail hem protects your butt if you forgot a fender.
You can’t go on a daylong gravel adventure without the appropriate headgear. A cycling cap like this houndstooth option from Walz makes an excellent sartorial statement. And it’s made with wool, so it’s moisture-wicking for sweaty rides. It’s also perfect for a chillier ride to cut the wind. (Walz caps are also made in the U.S. if you prefer shopping American made.)
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