You don’t need a gravel-specific bike to get in on the gravel adventures everyone seems to be enjoying nowadays.
A road bike, with the right conversions, can take on some light gravel grinds. You won’t have the longer, slacker geometry of a gravel bike, or the option to go as big with tire width, but, with a few upgrades, you can prepare your road bike for the off-road experience.
Pedals and shoes
Moving to mountain bike shoes/pedals is an easy road bike modification–all you need to do is switch out your road pedals for double-sided MTB pedals. These pedals are less likely to get clogged up with mud, dirt or other debris and have a quicker clip in/out design.
Shoes made for gravel and cyclocross are designed for walking and keep the cleat protected from mud and further from the ground than road shoes. This switch is particularly useful when you have a road bike that might not be able to take on the rougher segments and you find yourself walking your bike through muddy patches of trail.
There are a few factors to consider when buying gravel tires for your road bike. The width of your fork, seat stays, chainstays and (if applicable) rim brake calipers will dictate the maximum tire size you can squeeze into your frame. That being said, don’t forget to consider a small amount of room for dirt clearance and take into account the size of the treads on the tires themselves. It’s better to be conservative with your estimates rather than end up with tires that won’t fit on your bike.
Your rims are also a factor. Road bikes’ inner rim diameter, particularly on older wheels, is much smaller than you’ll see with gravel-specific rims. Try not to exceed the manufacturer’s recommended tire size. Depending on how frequently you plan on switching up your bike’s setup, it may be worth looking into a pair of gravel-specific wheels to save yourself the work of swapping tires.
While not necessary, a wider will make riding on gravel a more enjoyable experience. Gravel bikes tend to have wider bars for better control and stability on rougher surfaces.
If you want to go the extra mile, choose a thicker, shock absorbing bar tape to dampen vibrations. According to Tim Wellens, when the pros take on the Tour of Flanders they will often double their bar tape to take on the rattling pavé segments.