Gravel Cycling: A Road Cyclist’s Guide to the Unpaved
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June 12, 2023

Gravel Cycling: A Road Cyclist’s Guide to the Unpaved

Gravel cycling, also known as adventure cycling, is a growing trend involving riding on unpaved roads, gravel paths, and dirt trails using road or gravel bikes. Gravel cycling is gaining popularity because it provides a unique and challenging experience that allows riders to explore new routes and landscapes. It also offers a great way to escape crowded roads to enjoy the tranquility of nature.

Routes with Gravel Cycling on California’s Central Coast

With its stunning coastal views, rolling hills, and rugged terrain, California’s Central Coast offers a wide range of gravel roads and trails for cyclists to explore. This area is known for its mild climate, making it a great year-round destination for cycling. In addition, the Central Coast is home to many small towns and communities, like Cambria, San Simeon, and Avila Beach, that offer great food, lodging, and amenities for cyclists. Whether you’re new to adventure cycling or an experienced trailblazer, the Central Coast is the perfect place to recharge after riding a new route.

Avila Beach Route – 100 mi.

While not listed under our gravel routes, experienced insiders know the Avila Beach Route offers an under-a-mile-long section of unpaved road near See Canyon, creating the perfect opportunity for those new to adventure cycling. Extend the gravel challenge by detouring onto nearby trails and exploring the area—just make sure you have your map with you!

San Simeon Creek Climb – 77 mi.

After departing from Cambria and venturing north on Highway 1, you’ll arrive in San Simeon and head inland up the coastal ridge on San Simeon Creek Road for an exhilarating ascent, culminating in a short yet intensely steep gravel section right at the summit. After passing Hearst Castle and Stepladder Ranch Creamery, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with incredible views of the valley below and ocean in the distance.

Santa Lucia Route (via Eroica California) – 73 mi.

The Santa Lucia Route is part of the famed Eroica California collection of rides, each including a gravel portion to honor the original L’Eroica gravel cycling event in Italy. With 16 miles of gravel out of 72 total miles, this route will challenge even the most experienced cyclists, but it can be conquered on a road or gravel bike—vintage kit not required.

Tips for a Successful Gravel Cycling Trip

As seasoned cyclists know, proper planning, packing, and preparation are essential for a successful journey. Here are some tips to help you ensure that you have a smooth trip, despite the bumpy ride ahead of you on our gravel routes.

  • Bring water and snacks. Gravel riding can take you into the wilderness and away from any convenient stops, so pack plenty of water and snacks to keep you fully fueled throughout your ride.
  • Inflate your tires to the appropriate pressure. Gravel rides typically call for a lower PSI than road cycling, but you’ll want to consider several factors when filling up, such as the tire type, weight distribution, and weather.
  • Bring additional spare tubes. Along with your pump and multi-tool, pack more spare tubes than usual, especially when trying gravel riding on your road bike.
  • Ride safely and stay aware. Loose gravel can be harder to see on unpaved roads, and sharp rocks or debris can cause punctures. To mitigate risks, ride at a safe and comfortable speed and be aware of any potential hazards.

Regardless of your preferred scenery or intensity, the Central Coast offers a setting for gravel cycling unlike any other. Call your fellow gravel grinders, hit the road, and get ready to experience the beauty of this stunning region.


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