The Beauty and Joy of Riding on Gravel

A cyclist riding on a gravel road in Tuscany at sunset

There is something beautiful about riding on gravel or the Strade Bianche of L’Eroica, especially when you’re on the road bike.

But why is it?
Is it that I’m not meant to do it?
Or that it takes you literally off the beaten path, and on to ultimately a different journey; one that is more often quiet and more tranquil?

a cycling riding on the barren roads of the Val d Orcia

Is it about looking back and taking some inspiration from yesteryear, where gravel was the norm and not the exception?

It certainly requires a lot more attention and good bike handling skills and once you’re hooked, you’re always on the lookout for the “long road”; the one that isn’t paved, the one that takes you further and more round-a-bout.

I was riding around Kinglake last weekend when we passed a gravel road and I found the eyes dart left…. and I thought, “I wonder where that goes”?
What’s over the hill?
Do we have time to find out?…… we might have to file that for another day…. and so the thought process goes.

a gravel road near Daylesford

I think the joy of riding on gravel is a mix of many things, and one is the search; the need for adventure and for new roads and new experiences. It doesn’t matter where it is, it’s always good, from both a challenge and reward perspective. You seem to have a heightened sense of awareness as you’re on the look out for soft sand, hard obstacles and other things that could see you in the gravel rather than on it.

I believe when you’re in this heightened state, you experience other elements of your ride in greater degrees than usual.
When navigating along gravel, you have consciously elected to take the road less travelled.

A cyclist riding on gravel near Daylesford

Riding on the same roads day in and day out is good because you get to follow the flow and rhythm of what you know, but when you’re rolling over new roads and seeing new things, it will always deliver a great ride.

Cyclists riding on the gravel Strade Bianche during L'Eroica

I don’t really know when this fascination with gravel started but it was firmly cemented into place after my first L’Eroica in Gaiole in Chianti some years back.

L’Eroica has started a movement of embracing the old ways and paying homage to the heroic nature of cycling in the past, and this is done in part by riding on unpaved gravel roads.

This is without a doubt the best day you’ll have on the bike regardless of the weather, and certainly one of the highlights each year on the bike, is when we get to share this with our L’Eroica tour guests every 1st Sunday in October.

The people behind L’Eroica have also played a huge part in the professional side of cycling, with the sensational Strade Bianche race which is on this coming weekend. Inspired by the L’Eroica ethos, rumour has it that when this project was first broached in World Tour circles, the response was that the Pro’s wouldn’t ride on 30 metres of gravel, let alone 60 plus k’s of it…..but here we are, with one of the highlights of the season, on the beautiful white gravel roads of Tuscany.

A man riding a bike past some cypress pine trees in Tuscany

There is an ethos that the creator of L’Eroica, Giancarlo Brocci articulates as “wanting people to rediscover the beauty of fatigue and the thrill of conquest” …. the heroic cycling of Bartali and Coppi, and the sacrifice that seeks out our physical boundaries where thirst, hunger, and exhaustion are felt with all their strength.

My first L’Eroica was a revelation; it was another day on the gravel that delivered adrenaline and emotion in spades with the joy and the satisfaction seeming to linger with you for longer.

A cyclist riding on a gravel road at sunrise

One thing I do know for sure is that riding on gravel is addictive and I am addicted.

Find out more about the beauty and joying of riding the strade bianche on our L’Eroica & Tuscany Cycling Tour.

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