So, you're headed to a gravel race! That means you're looking to work hard and have a great day in the saddle. With events popping up all over the world, the popularity of gravel in cycling is increasing at a steady rate, and with good reason. It's fun! Gravel events are also typically very approachable, with different length courses, aid stations, and tons of enthusiastic people to ride with and share a beer with at the finish line. To best enjoy your next gravel event, here are a couple of things you can do to prepare and ensure a good, challenging day on the bike.

Peter Stetina's Mechanic Big Tall Wayne

Get a Bike Tune-Up

Schedule to have your bike looked at by a professional mechanic several weeks before your race. Bike shops are busier than ever, so call ahead of time and get on the schedule early. For your bike check or tune-up, your mechanic will likely check your chain, change out your cables and housing if needed, and maybe even treat you to some new bar tape; live a little, you're worth it! However, the most important thing to check is your brake pads and replace them if there is any question or doubt. All of this can be done well in advance of your big event, and it’ll allow you some time to enjoy your sweet, well-functioning bike in training too.

Shimano Multi Service fixing a bike during Unbound gravel race

Know Your Equipment

This is true for all aspects of cycling. Know how to plug a tubeless tire, change a flat, and lube a chain. If you don't know how to change a flat, ask a friend, a local bike shop, or another cyclist to show you. It’s also important to learn how to remove and install the front and rear wheels on your bike. Some bikes require a tool, so make sure you have that tool with you or on your bike for every ride. Also, if you use a GPS unit, learn how it works and how to load maps. All these things take practice, so spend the time in training to feel comfortable and confident with each aspect.

Peter Stetina's Mechanic Big Tall Wayne bleeding peter's GRX brakes

Final Checklist

You’ve put the time, energy, and money into this race, now it’s time to check off all the details and make sure you and your bike and ready for anything. Here are some equipment checks to do before race day:

Shimano Multi Service fixing a racers bike at Unbound gravel race

» Check Your Tire Sealant – top off or replace your sealant if needed » Check Your Tires – Make sure there is still life in your tires with plenty of tread and no major cuts or wear spots » Get a Spare Derailleur Hanger - these are often bike-specific, so make sure you check you have the right one » Charge Your Batteries – fully charge your Di2 battery, cycling computer, lights, etc » Pack Your Food and Hydration – make sure you can carry enough food and water on your bike, or consider using a hydration pack

Crystal Kovacs Salsa cutthroat gravel bike with Shimano GRX Di2

Pre-Race Spin to Double Check Everything

You've registered, you've traveled, your bike is dialed, and you’re ready to tackle the event. Take your equipment for one last spin before your race and make sure everything is shifting, braking, and working properly. Almost everybody has had to travel to an event, whether by car or plane, and travel isn't always easy on the bicycle. Give yourself time to make sure everything is dialed.

Past Shimano Gravel Alliance member racing Unbound Gravel 2019

If your bike’s gears are skipping, you may have a bent derailleur hanger or need a cable adjust. If you forgot something, this is when you will remember. It's best to do this pre-race spin at least the day before the big event, but the morning of is better than nothing. If you need help adjusting your bike or are missing a piece of equipment, start asking around. Everyone at the event wants you to succeed and have a good time.

Shimano Multi Service fixing customer's bike at Unbound Gravel

It's All About Having Fun

This is the most important thing to remember, especially at hour nine in the rain, in the mud, when your tire starts going flat, or when all you're thinking about is that cold drink at the finish line. Take a deep breath and look around, you're challenging yourself, and you've worked hard to be here. Ride your own event and be proud of where you are. It's not intended to be easy, often these events are almost devious, but that's part of the challenge.

Past Shimano Gravel Alliance member jumping in excitement next the the big blue Shimano Van

The bottom line is to just get out and ride and have fun. If you've never done a gravel event, sign up and see what this sport is all about. If this isn't your first event, do another, push yourself further, or explore a new place. Gravel is all about exploring and experiencing new challenges. There are new gravel events starting all over the world, so explore a place you've always wanted to visit, ride a bike somewhere new, or rediscover the place you call home. Most of all, have fun and get ready to make new friends on your bike!