A guide to gravel bikes by ex pro Petra Wiltshire

In the first instalment of our gravel bike series, learn more about the gravel bike and its key features.  

What is a Gravel bike?  
A gravel bike, also known as an adventure bike, is a versatile and multi-purpose bicycle designed to handle a variety of terrains, including gravel roads, dirt paths, and rough trails. Designed for its versatility a gravel bike offers the efficiency and form of a road bike, whilst inheriting the fun and capability of the mountain bike. 

Keep reading to discover what a gravel bike looks like. These bikes have a robust frame and wide, knobby tires that provide stability and traction on uneven surfaces. They feature a more relaxed geometry offering a comfortable riding position for long-distance adventures.  

Gravel bikes often have disc brakes for reliable stopping power in diverse conditions, and they may include additional clearance for larger tires to enhance off-road capabilities.  

The design of gravel bikes makes them suitable for a range of activities, from weekend rides to gravel racing and bikepacking adventures. They are a popular choice for cyclists seeking a do-it-all option that can handle a variety of riding conditions. 

Why I love my Gravel Bike? 
For me, a gravel bike is the bike I would always choose to ride. It is related to its austere road bike cousins, whilst also taking q’s from its misbehaving mountain bike sibling, making it the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of bikes. A do-it-all bike happy to tackle all kinds of riding. Most of all, my gravel bike is FUN.  

A gravel bike offers me freedom and a guaranteed thrill on and off the road. I must confess to using my Reilly Cycleworks Gradient for almost everything. From winter training road rides, club chain gangs, mountain bike trail rides, to commuting and racing anything and everything!  

It can be loaded up on a sunny day with bags of food and camping gear and take me on the most amazing spontaneous bike packing adventures.  A ride that feels planted and stable, instilling confidence on and off road. It is definitely my ‘go-to’ bike!  

If I was asked on Desert Island Discs what one thing I would take to the island?  It would without question the Gradient with my Strada 650b wheels and mountain bike tyres! 

In short Gravel Bikes are awesome.  

How I set up my Gravel Bike.  
On my gravel bike I run a SRAM Force EXPLR gravel specific group set with a 1x setup. Gravel specific groupsets offer durability for rough terrain and more specific gearing for lower overall speeds and shorter, sharper climbing. 1x gearing also allows for a cleaner looking bike with less things to go wrong on the trail.  

I run two-wheel sizes, 700 and 650b. Being a short rider, I really enjoy riding the 650b wheels, they make the bike more responsive and turn quicker. I find the bike becomes more playful on technical style trails. I particularly like the fact it allows the frame to take a wider tyre which lets me run MTB tyres. I use the 700 wheels for faster riding especially in gravel races which are less technical and more speedy. 

Why choose a Titanium Gravel Bike? 
There are three main reasons to choose a titanium gravel bike. 

Strength and Durability 
Titanium also offers amazing strength and durability, the frames last a lifetime with no corrosion or degradation unlike carbon, steel and aluminium. 
If you scratch titanium the frame can be buffed easily to remove the scratch and it will look like the day you got it! Unlike a carbon or aluminium bike where you would need a respray or worse. 

Ride Quality 
The ride quality of Ti is incredibly smooth, unlike carbon and aluminium. Riding a titanium bike will put a huge smile on your face.  

I think the overriding reason to choose titanium is its looks. Nothing beats a sparkly bare metal frame and those classic lines. A titanium bike is unquestionably a thing of beauty 

Next in the gravel series will be How to start Gravel riding.  

These post are created by Former Pro & World Champion mountain bike racer Petra Wiltshire. Petra has won numerous National, European and International downhill mountain bike races including three UCI Downhill MTB Masters World Champion jerseys. 

Although no longer a professional, Petra has not stopped racing. Last year alone, she competed in many gravel events including the 110km Gralloch and UCI Gravel World Championships in Veneto Italy.   

She has recently been voted Cycling UK’s 100 Women in Cycling.