Words by Bruno Ferraro, photos by Lucia Mottin
You know well that liberating feeling, the transition between asphalt and dirt road. The moment when you speed up before plunging onto that white road, the dividing line between everyday life and adventure. You draw your line, in what is virgin terrain for the cyclist. You read what the gravel describes, trusting and letting yourself be carried away by its irregularities. Pushing on the pedals has never been so good, it’s a pleasure that spreads along with the vibrations caused by the hard ground, the flat surface of the less traveled paths in the woods. When you stop to catch your breath, it’s not the horn of yet another pissed off SUV that distracts you but the sound of a stream slowly flowing down to the valley.
We love gravel because it’s not demanding. Slowing down to take a picture doesn’t worry us for having wasted the average speed, we face the climb to enjoy its features without going beyond the threshold to try the umpteenth personal record. It’s not a discipline but an attitude that certainly doesn’t get along with those who are absolutists, purists or minimalists. It’s a middle ground where we can decide which side we’re on, without hindrance. And if you’re not a “pro”, it’s okay anyway, because afterwards we’ll go for a sandwich with a half a pint of a beer and we’ll start off again slowly, without overdoing it.
You grow attached to the gravel bike, even if it can never be as polished as the full carbon racing bike you keep clean in your studio. It carries with it the signs of all the jaunts made with friends or alone, indelible memories that at every glance come back alive as if they happened yesterday. You mount Hard Terrain 40″ tires, nice and smooth, and if you’re a good cyclist you might even be able to keep up with or even overtake some cyclists, and then take the first trail and return to enjoy the uncertainty of riding a road you’ve never seen before. This is perhaps the thing we love most about off-road trails, as they allow you to rediscover the area you”ve always ridden in. You connect the dots by finally discovering where that trail you’ve been crossing for years without ever having a chance to know leads. It opens up a world of infinite possibilities where the limit is not the area where we ride but only our desire to try something alternative.
And if someone were to ask us: “but is this route a gravel one?” the answer would be mostly always the same: “yes, of course!”. Because gravel is not a category and even less so it doesn’t outline a single type of route. It’s post-punk cycling with a rebel streak.
Those who prefer fine gravel on straight and clay road can also do it with a nice 28” road bike, maybe tubeless. To be honest, you can do it with whatever you want, what you really need is the desire to ride.
We’re the ones who carry the bike on our shoulders if the terrain is too rocky, shake our hands on the low grip if there’s a ford to cross, and push on the pedals if there’s a 18% mule track ahead.
We use the gravel bike as a means for multi-stage rides, reframing the idea of the touring cyclist. Long distances don’t weigh as much anymore.
The road runs well under our wheels, we ride stages of 150 or more miles a day stretched out over a week without discomfort.
We like stay up late to prepare ourselves as best we can when we have a bikepacking trip in sight. We pack everything we’re going to wear in 7 days and leave at dawn, after 3 hours of sleep. We set off without even deciding the various details of the route and even if we are a little hesitant, as soon as we hook the toe clip to the pedal, all thoughts disappear in a while. If we catch sight of the sea, we can try to go towards it by pedaling on the beach, even if every now and then we get unbalanced by sinking into the sand. On the other hand, in the mountains we can reach refuges or cottages, even if we can only get there by military or forest roads.
You may think that all this is a fleeting trend and that one day it will burst like a soap bubble but certainly today it is on everyone’s lips, cyclists and not. For me, this means only one thing: the gravel is already a cult and will be increasingly present as a style or as a simple approach to cycling.