By: Isaiah Montoya
Photos courtesy: West Texas Gravel Group
Around 2019 a new fad or phase of bicycle riding came to the forefront: Gravel Grinding. Gravel grinding is taking bicycle riding off of the busy paved city streets and onto roads that are made for vehicles but are at least less than 50% paved. El Pasoans have been joining the gravel grinding movement because participating gets them out of the city and onto county roads where cars aren’t whizzing by at 60 miles per hour.
Hector Hernandez is a member of the loose knit gravel grinders movement. He says that he likes it because it takes him and his wife onto rural routes. “We go to Clint and San Elizario and onto farm roads where we’re more likely to encounter a windmill or some curious farm animals. It’s more of a journet and some people call it bikepacking.”
Because gravel riders pedal roads that, though not paved, are built for motor vehicles, they won’t encounter obstacles that can easily make a cycle fly and therefore injure the rider, such as boulders, roots, rocky ledges—that mountain bikers love to overcome. Unlike mountain bikes, to do gravel grinding, almost any sturdy bike with wide tires will do. Built-for-gravel bikes have become increasingly popular and the movement is the fastest growing scene for bicycles.
Bicycles that are best for gravel grinding usually are best with a more relaxed riding position and frames that are sturdier than the more thin and fragile road bikes but are not as rugged as the mountain biking variety. Any person with a standard bicycle can upgrade theirs to be more fitting for gravel grinding or go to their favorite bike shop and find out what would be best. There are gravel grind races and the more leisurely non-racing bikes.
Some of the best new bicycles specifically for gravel grinding racing often include aero features and deeper section, wide aero gravel bike wheels. The gearing may be higher to reflect the higher speeds you’d expect to ride at.
On the other hand, a racy frame may lack the clearance for really wide gravel bike tyres and may not have a comprehensive set of mounting points for gear. At the other extreme are gravel bikes designed for bikepacking. They’ll have plenty of mounting points to carry bikepacking bags along with really wide tyre clearance so that you can fit tyres to give you traction and comfort on long off-road rides. Often they’ll be fitted out with smaller diameter 650b wheels rather than the 700c that’s normal on road bikes and will usually feature on fancier gravel bikes.
If you are interested in purchasing a gravel grinding bike, these are considered some of the best according to Cycling Weekly.
The Lier Rave SLR Sram Force AXS XPLR is best for light gravel. The BMC URS One APEX is the best for blending trail-readiness with speed. The Specialized S-Works Crux is best for racing speed. The Canyon Grizl CF SL 8 1BY is considered the best for bikepacking on rough terrain. If your budget is lower you can purchase a Vitus Substance CRS-2 ETAP AXS Rival.
The fact that gravel grinding is generally more leisurely than other types of biking makes it easier to become involved. The West Texas Gravel Grinders can be found on Facebook and they basically accept anyone who wants to join. They are adventure seeking enthusiasts in constant search for the roads less traveled, who use bikes built for the ability to roam. Often they are on dawn patrol, chasing sunsets and seeking pedaling nirvana.
Hector Hernandez says, “I love it. We want more people to get involved in this scene. The bicycling scene here in El Paso is growing rapidly; maybe not to the level of Austin or San Antonio but it is growing.” Get out there this summer El Paso and start gravel grinding!