Road Bikes on the Gravel Loop

Anyone out there do a gravel loop on a road bike? Considering it this year, but would like to hear how it went with others. Thanks!

31 Replies

Cory Rood, March 12, 2018 at 6:08 am

I did it last year on 700×32’s. Gravel roads in Iowa in late July USUALLY have 2 paths with compacted crushed limestone where most rocks have been removed, much like crushed limestone bike paths. Now if it rains I’d forego gravel on any kind of road bike as this becomes like peanut butter.

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Andy Jelagin, March 12, 2018 at 6:15 am

I read that Jamis had demo bikes available for the Gravel Loop last year. Is this a regular thing?

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Sergio Osuna, March 12, 2018 at 10:01 am

There are gravel bike loaners available but they go fast. I did last year’s gravel loop on 700 x 25s and had absolutely no issues. I plan to do the same this year.

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FastEddy, March 12, 2018 at 2:59 pm

I love to ride the gravel loop! Have ridden it each year on my Trek Domane with 700×26 tires. No problems, yet. It’s incredibly fun, don’t tell all the gravel loop naysayers though.

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Geoff Butland, March 12, 2018 at 7:17 pm

Rode it last year on a LWB recumbent. Tires are pretty husky – along the lines of a comfort bike. No problems at all. The loop was one of my favorite parts of the ride.

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mcdermott1, March 12, 2018 at 8:31 pm

I did my first Ragbrai in 2016 with my son before he left for his first week of college . It was also the first time, and last time, I did the gravel loop. We did it because it was Sunday and we wanted to attend mass at St.Patricks Church that was along the route. I was on my Trek Domani rd bike and lost control going down a hill to fast , went off to the side and flipped over the handle bars, slid down into a revive . Fortunately I did not get hurt , 2 very nice and helpful guys stopped and helped me get my chain back on and helped me out of the ravine. I thought ,this is the first day, what did I just sign up for?. LOL ….Well , I signed up for the best week of riding in my life! My son and I had a blast the rest of the week! I laugh about it now .However, I passed last year and I think I will pass on the gravel this year. I’ll leave the gravel for the more adventurous!Looking forward to seeing you all along the route !

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KenH, March 14, 2018 at 3:49 pm

As we were driving to the start of RAGBRAI last year my riding buddy and I got to talking about the gravel loop and during that conversation it hit me why I like riding on gravel:

I learned to ride a bike on the gravel driveway at my grandfather’s farm!

My Fuji is essentially a road bike, they did not when I bought it but today Fuji calls that model a flat bar road bike. It will take decently wide tires however and I run 38’s all the time. I’m currently using Vittoria Voyager Hypers. They make nice gravel tires but they also make excellent road tires. I seem to have significantly less issues on gravel with them than my riding buddies and people here report having. CX tires would be even better for gravel, I would suppose, but not so much on the many paved miles we ride across Iowa.

The gravel loop in 2015 was a piece of cake. The gravel loop in 2016 was a bear, a corn bear perhaps! The gravel loop in 2017 was a bit of a challenge but also quite scenic in spots and generally just a nice ride. By taking the 2017 loop twice I was able to get in a century and that compensated me for having to drive the support vehicle on Karras loop day. I’d consider doing that trick again this year but it looks like you’d have to do the loop thrice to get a century this year! Every year so far the gravel loop town has been a nice place to rest and refresh, one of the nicest of the week. Perhaps that is because it is far, but not too far, from the madding crowd.

Every year people do the gravel loop on road bikes with their usual road tires and are quite successful at it. It does add to the challenge. Gravel is not as forgiving as pavement so no matter what you ride you do have to keep your wits about you and if your attention lapses you can go down in a hurry. Most people do not crash however and relatively few have pinch flats even although the latter are reasonably common on the gravel. Although it is not necessary, if you and your bike’s frame are willing to ride 25’s or 28’s for the day you will have a nicer time of it on the gravel and it is well kept secret that wider tires will deal with the shortcomings of Iowa’s paved roads more gracefully too so they could be used all week.

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Terry Hunt, March 16, 2018 at 2:03 pm

I’m planning on riding it this year with my steel framed gravel bike. I’ll use 40 mm gravel tires then switch them out the next day for my 28 mm slicks. There are people who can ride gravel easily with road tires but I’m just not that skilled. I last did the gravel loop in 2015 and there were people on light road bikes with 23mm tires passing me and they must have been going 17 to 20 mph.

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Chris Harbaugh, March 16, 2018 at 3:35 pm

Like to ride my 4.5″ tires on Iowa gravel so will probably take it at least the first 2 days of RAGBRAI this year

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Chris Harbaugh, March 16, 2018 at 4:00 pm

Sorry meant to add that I wouldn’t be afraid to ride 25mm on most gravel roads around here

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John Richardson, March 17, 2018 at 5:21 pm

I’ve managed to ride the gravel loop the last 3 years on a fully loaded touring bike with 32c tires. The only issue I had was in 2016 the loop had a few steeper hills and I would spin my rear tire on some of the climbs. As long as I stayed in the saddle on the climbs I was fine. People ride the gravel on just about anything. Last year at least one guy did it on a unicycle. If your new to gravel just take it slow and pick your line.

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jeffreydennis, March 19, 2018 at 7:57 pm

2016 rode my Madone on tubeless 25c tires. People looked at me like I was nuts. Keep your wits about you, pick your lines in advance, try not to tense up let the bike find its way. Glad I did it but will not feel the need this year (doesn’t mean I won’t). The pounding was what got me.

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Bruce Woodrow, March 19, 2018 at 10:28 pm

I love the idea, but I ride a recumbent trike and average about 10 mph. That means I am already spending long days in the “saddle” (chaise lounge; you know what I mean). So it is hard for me to deliberately add an extra 2 or 3 hours for a gravel loop (or to get to a century).

This is my 2nd RAGBRAI. Maybe one year.

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mootsman, March 20, 2018 at 6:19 am

JD, like you I road 25mm tubeless tires on my road bike which worked great. Can’t get a pinch flat when there is no tube to pinch.

General tips for all riders on road bikes new to gravel: Stay in the car tire tracks mostly as those are compacted dust mainly but at intersections the gravel gets deeper. Maintain a fast enough pace to avoid sinking into the deeper gravel. Maintain a steady pace and avoid any sudden changes in direction. Plan your line of travel in advance (especially when crossing deeper gravel at intersections) and give other riders a wide birth. Some practice on a gravel road if your a compete newbie would be good.

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KenH, March 20, 2018 at 10:19 am

I did some training on gravel before the first year the gravel loop was offered. I don’t think 4 miles did much to boost my skill but it boosted my confidence by a couple of orders of magnitude and confidence is what you need most so I too will suggest some practice on gravel.

The gravel road I practiced on had some of the worst gravel I have ever seen. It was deep, the stones were huge, and when I first turned onto it I am not sure the word “pounding” is adequate to describe the experience it gave me. After a mile I stopped and let some air out of my 38mm tires. WOW! It made all the difference in the world. Yes, your 25mm tubeless tires cannot get pinch flats but do you really want them bottoming out on your expensive rims when you catch a big rock? Big tires can run below road pressure and still not bottom out on gravel. Big tires are what you want, the biggest that will fit. They also deal better with cracks and pot holes and rumbles and everything else you will experience on Iowa’s paved roads during the rest of the week.

That first gravel training ride I did was while visiting my mother in law in Central Illinois. I had to ride 25 miles round trip from her apartment to the only stretch of gravel road in the county. It was 2 miles long so I did it out and back to get 4 miles in. By the time I got back “home” my Garmin had recorded 100 feet of ascent in those 25 miles of riding. RAGBRAI’s first gravel loop was pan flat, just like my training ride. The next one and last year’s had some hills. Google maps does not have a street level view of this year’s route that you can use to judge the hills but the loop is located in the Loess Hills region so there could be hills on the loop this year which will either make it more fun or more “fun”….

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