Gravel? What is gravel? If you live in the US, you instantly think about the big gravel rollers which you can find out in the mid west. Gravel roads where you can ride a 100 miles before turning, well at times they definitely feel like a 100 miles. Those brutal headwinds!
Or maybe gravel is forestry roads deep in the middle of Germanys forests. Places where your GPS can’t find a signal because you encapsulated by trees.
For myself a rider from the UK, gravel riding is harder to define. We do have forestry trails but they are few and far between, and we don’t have the glorious gravel rollercoaster roads like you’ll find in South Africa. Gravel riding for me, is as simple getting off the paved surface. Turning off the need to count down the miles as quickly as possible. To explore and to really enjoy being on my bike.
As a photographer who enjoys hunting out “shots”, I often travel with a road bike and run Panaracer 32mm Gravelking+ slicks. With the often changing theories on what is aero, the latest breed in road bikes offers the ability to do this, although I am probably irritating the aerodynamicist who created that wide open fork to allow less friction around the tire. Having this wider tire and extra grip offers me a huge amount of extra flexibility over a road tire. The ability to still run plenty fast on road but to dive onto trails. But imagine if I could have the best of both worlds. Increased tread for greater traction off the road, but a tire which still runs fast on the road / light gravel too. Step in the new Panaracer Gravelking SS (Semi Slick). A tire sat right in the middle of the Gravelking range. Freshly delivered and installed (running them tubeless at 38psi) it’s time to go give these badboys a go. I’ve opted to go for their 35mm tire and my playground? London.
London, although not as pretty as say riding over the Golden Gate bridge and hitting the Marin Headlands in San Francisco offers unique riding.
An urban cycling assault course and my mission is to try and find as many different surfaces and to carry as much speed as possible. This is going to be a fun mission.
The UK’s roads and in particular London roads are notorious. Dug up and patched too many times it’s hard to find a silky smooth piece of tarmac. I opted for the 35mm over my usual 32mm tire to make it easier to appreciate any rolling resistance change. I’m also trying to be somewhat scientific and setting my power at 300w. 300w on a road bike normally results in 23-24 mph. So far so good I’m doing 21mph and of course there are so many variables to affect this speed. Holistically they are rolling very well, and the ride is like being on a magic carpet on these rough city streets!
Time to do one of my favourite things in London and that’s to ride over one of the bridges over the Thames. I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of those views and my route today is taking me on a loop.
Over Waterloo bridge to head east towards Greenwich, which you may or may not have heard of. Greenwich is where the worlds time was originally set (Greenwich Mean Time) and in Greenwich there is little known tunnel foot tunnel which takes you back underneath the Thames to the Docklands, one of London’s financial districts. Time to hit some canals.
These canals, endless concrete slabs where you feel every join mixed with slippery zero friction tiles and narrow sections underneath bridges where if you lose grip or chose your line wrong you’re going for a swim and the water is not like pure glacial lake in Canada!
All in all an interesting place to see how much speed I could carry whilst maintaining decent levels of grip. Loose concrete, dirt, cobbles stones and more. I’m sure they have sections like these in car testing facilities.
My last section of inner city “gravel”, was at a local park. It would actually make for a decent cyclocross venue. An outer trail with loose bark chips winding through sections of undergrowth with some pretty steep and fun lumps to rip up and over. Plenty of muddy grass in the winter too, for a classic cyclocross mudfest.
The unicorn of tires? I think so. The 35mm rolled fast on the road, felt super comfy on rough sections and bags of grip to go be a hooligan. Fun times! and looking forward to giving the 32 mm SS+ on my next trip. (the Plus+ wasn’t out when I went to go test these out and they offer even more puncture protection than the standard SS for really rough terrain).