It’s not all about kindling, lit campfires and stuffing all your clothing into bivvy bags. Adventure road bikes come in all shapes and sizes, and their versatility and comfort over rough terrain has now made them commonplace on both the road and the trail. So, whether you’re looking to skip off-road on the way to work or go out for a day, weekend, or even a month long adventure, you’ll find everything you need to know in our definitive guide.
What is an adventure road bike?
Designed to push horizons as far and wide as you want, what makes an adventure bike depends on your thirst to explore, and there’s a continuous argument that adventure road bikes are what you make of them. Of course, there are certain limitations to this statement. You can’t just go and slap a pair of 28mm tyres on your full-carbon road racing bike and expect it to be comfortable, nor can you expect it to remain in one piece after a day of bumpy, gravel strewn terrain.
However, there are certain features to look out for when doing your research. The first - disc brakes, known for their enhanced stopping performance in every situation, disc brakes allow for all-condition reliability and typically come with wider tyres as they eliminate the need for brake calipers found on rim brakes.
As stated above, wider tyres and wheels come as standard on most adventure road bikes, and perfectly complement the use of disc brakes. Offering greater traction and acting as a small amount of suspension, the tyres fitted enhance puncture resistance and aid the go-anywhere, do-anything mantra these bikes are so well-renowned for.
Geometry is also another area where the margins are skewed. Compared to their road riding cousins, adventure road bikes feature slacker, taller headtubes and longer wheelbases, adding up to improve comfort and enhance stability for a more efficient, relaxed and controlled ride.
Where to go off-road/gravel riding
Head abroad and you’re almost certain to find the dusty, smile inducing gravel riding you fawn over when a brand releases a new adventure bike. However, if you’re looking for something a bit more local, then there’s a range of routes across the United Kingdom that will take your fancy.
New Forest, Hampshire
Littered with endless fire roads and winding, mud laden bridleways, the New Forest in Hampshire is the perfect weekend retreat. It actually includes one of the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture land, heathland and forest in the UK, so you’ll undoubtedly encounter wild horses, vast open spaces and pass over rivers and brooks on your travels.
Simply pack up your tent and head to one of hundreds of campsites throughout the county and get ready to be one with nature. My favourite? Matley Wood Campsite in Lyndhurst sits right in the centre of the New Forest and is the epicentre of off-road riding around the area.
North/South Downs Link, Sussex/Surrey
Starting in Shoreham-by-sea and carrying on through to Godalming or Chilworth, the Downs Link runs along a picturesque, disused railway line that once connected Guildford and London to the seaside. The Hundred Years Railway closed in 1966, and is now a hotbed for cyclists and walkers looking to take on the testing, mud-packed 118km route.
The route is fairly flat and we’ve managed it in just over 5 hours, but there are such great cafe’s such as Stan’s Bike Shack near Horsham along the way, so it can easily be turned into an easy spin with some truly breathtaking views.
Take a look at the route here.
Grinduro - Scotland
Making its way across the pond from an impressive run in California, Grinduro takes on a completely new style of gravel riding, aimed at the more well-rounded cyclist than road or mountain bike obsessives.
A 60-mile mix of spectacular scenery and testing terrain, plus four timed singletrack segments takes queues from the enduro platform, meaning you can sit back and enjoy the riding, then hammer it when you get to the race segments.
Tips for gravel riding
Riding on gravel is a completely different ordeal to riding on road. Loose stones and dusty trails are fun for unclipping your foot and skidding round corners (skids for the kids), but it can also play havoc with traction, hence the need for wider tyres.
Stay seated, don’t sprint out the saddle. Keeping your weight over the rear wheel does wonders for your traction vs standing out the saddle. Stand up on a high-gradient with loose gravel and you’ll spin on the spot like road runner, so always just sit back, relax and take it slow.
Maintain a low cadence. The lower your cadence, the more control you have and the less you’ll bounce around in the saddle. We recommend about 70-80 rpm, instead of spinning out at 90 rpm. Your legs will tire sooner off-road than on, so keep the cadence high for gradients and low for the flats.
Be cautious when you descend and corner at high-speeds. Sticking your knee out when you corner at high speeds on the road is perfectly acceptable, but if you do it on gravel, you’re asking for trouble. Take the smoothest line, not the most direct, and if you overshoot a corner, don’t pull on the front brake. Use the back brake and you’ll skid around the corner like Peter Sagan in the Diverge video below.
Adventure bikes come in all shapes and sizes. Some offer the versatility for nipping off road for a day, and still remain fast on road, whilst others sway towards tackling anything and everything. We’ve outlined a few adventure road bikes by both budget and their features.
Cannondale SuperX Cyclocross Bike
Originally designed for cyclocross racing, the Cannondale SuperX offers everything you need to take to the gravel roads and leave others in your dust. Its low weight, high-strength carbon fibre frame is built to go the distance, whilst a varied level of groupsets and gearing gives a wide enough range of spin to get you up harsh, steep gradients.
Specialized Diverge Road Bike
Specialized's Diverge takes versatility to new heights with its 2018 run. Offering a bike that’s at home on every surface, Specialized have incorporated their Future Shock technology that smooths the terrain ahead, whilst a new and improved geometry offers snappy, responsive handling to keep you on your toes as you manoeuvre the trail.
From the Elite model and up, Specialized have introduced something that’s usually reserved for mountain bikes: a dropper seatpost. Continuing their statement of a go-anywhere, do-anything bike, the dropper post allows for greater control on trails that require fast, aggressive cornering, but as soon as you jump back on the road you’ll be able to regain efficient pedalling.
Specialized Sequoia Road Bike
For the rider who doesn’t limit themselves to training rides, but just wants to get out there and soak up the miles, there’s none better than the Specialized Sequoia. It’s rough and ready, with a frame designed to take on harsh terrains with a more stable, endurance oriented geometry, whilst its range of components are focused around durability to keep you going, no matter the weather.
This is the ideal choice for those wilderness exploring adventures where you’ll find yourself without phone signal and revelling in the open space which follows you.
Silca Premio Seat Roll Kit
Carry your essential kit in a sleek and stylish package and be ready for roadside repairs and inflations with the Silca Premio Seat Roll Kit. The kit includes the waxed canvas seat roll with Boa dial closure, Silca's EOLO III CO2 regulator and the Tredeci Multi-Tool with 13 forged and plated tools.
The Apidura range of bags targets the faster, all-day sort of rider, either on a weekend outing, or looking to rack up considerable distance and bike time, at a fair pace. Offering a wide variety of frame, handlebar and seatpost mounted options, these bags offer waterproof storage and rugged versatility. Apidura offer dynamic storage options for that more adventurous rider.
Panaracer Gravel King Folding Clincher Tyre
Rugged rubber from Panaracer, the Gravel King is best suited to gravel and light offroad riding. A natural rubber construction and integrated puncture protection technology ensure reliability is never compromised.
Giro Empire VR90 Cyclocross/Mountain Bike Shoes
With a durable Easton EC90 carbon fibre sole, Giro's top of the range off road shoe is designed with performance in mind. The Vibram rubber tread ensures grip is never compromised, while the ingenious lace design holds the foot firmly in place without creating pressure points.
So whether it's escaping the rat race on a Tuesday evening after work, exploring the lesser known trails on a weekend or heading off for a summer adventure abroad, adventure bikes are the perfect choice for taking you far beyond the tarmac.