You can certainly put gravel tyres or tires on your road bike. To ride on gravel, you don’t need a gravel bike. People have always ridden dirt bikes on their road bikes. However, if you ride a lot of gravel or plan to ride more gravel, it might be a good idea to modify your road bike so that when you leave Tarmac, you’re more comfortable and have more fun. But, more importantly, you will be able to quickly and easily convert it back to a road bike with no lasting damage.
Consider wider tires
The first investment you should think about is wider tires. A good rule of thumb is to fit the widest tire possible into your frame and fort. You can ride gravel roads on a 23 mil wide tire, but you’ll probably need to pump it up to rock hard to reduce the risk of punctures. And at that point, you’ll be travelling much slower and in much less comfort.
So, on a regular road bike, you probably want to be able to fit a 28-millimetre-wide tire that is wide enough to tackle some proper gravel. You might be able to get a 32 on an endurance bike with disc brakes, and then you’re really in the game. To put it into perspective, on a pure gravel bike, you could probably fit a 40, maybe even a 45-millimetre wide tire.
Protect your bike
Next, make every effort to keep your bikes as safe as possible. Because gravel equals rocks, and rocks equal scratches on beautiful paintwork and possibly even dents on delicate frames. However, there is a quick fix, and it is known as frame tape or helicopter tape. This is usually thick black mastic tape. Because there will be rocks flicking up and striking the chain stays, use this tape to protect them. The bumps also result in more chain slaps. So this will protect the delicate carbon there while also stopping or dampening the noise slightly. You can also use this tape to protect the down tube from rocks coming up from the front wheel. Also, use it on the seat stays and behind the seat tube. When you ride off-road, the ends of your cranks get scuffed up from rocks. You can use a rubber bumper to protect it.
Because riding on gravel is more difficult, it tends to be slower, so you could benefit from smaller gears. Changing your cassette at the back for a larger one is usually the quickest, easiest, and cheapest option. However, you must exercise caution because the size of the cassette you can use is limited by your rear derailleur. Another option is to replace your chainrings at the beginning. However, if you already have a compact chain set, you won’t be able to get a smaller inner ring unless you change the entire crank. However, if you do a lot of gravel, that could be a worthwhile investment.
Invest in a second pair of wheels
Road bikes are fairly durable, but one area where you may encounter an expensive mechanical issue is with your wheels. Not because they aren’t strong enough, but because riding down gravel increases your chances of hitting large rocks or potholes, leaving you with a flat tire and possibly a ding in the rim.
On an alloy wheel, that might be repairable if it’s not too bad. However, on a carbon wheel, this could be fatal. Not because the wheel is weak, but due to the properties of carbon fibre. In any case, if you have the money, it’s a good idea to invest in a second, less expensive set of wheels. Not because they’re stronger, as I previously stated, but simply because you’d be free of worrying about every rock that grazed your lovely wheels.
Then, as an added bonus, you could always leave these second set of wheels with fat gravel tires and a fat gravel cassette, leaving your other pair with road tires and a road cassette. As a result, you can switch between your gravel road bike and your road bike simply by swapping out your wheels.
Change your shoes and pedals
The final modification I’d recommend is to wear mountain bike shoes and pedals. Because mountain bike shoes have rubber treads on them, you can take them off and walk in them. When riding on gravel, you don’t have to get off and walk, but you might, even if it’s just for a selfie. And if you’re walking on gravel in your carbon-soled road shoes, you might find them scratched beyond belief.
So mountain bike shoes are an added bonus. I’d rather ride with road pedals than mountain bike pedals, but if you’re wearing mountain bike shoes, you can’t fit road cleats on them, which is why you need mountain bike pedals as well. But there is one advantage to these: they are double-sided, making them easier to clip in.
Get ready for gravel
There’s your modified road bike with wider tires, different wheels, pedals swapped out, and shoes changed. You’ve got a variety of gears on there, and you’ve protected it as much as you can with frame tape. You are now ready for gravel.