Dress for Success: Your Gravel Race Guide

Dress for Success: Your Gravel Race Guide

By: Lindsay Goldman

Choosing your outfit for a gravel event is like going into battle - you need to be prepared for all conditions, have places to stow your gear and snacks, and maximize comfort throughout a long day in the saddle. While oysters manage to turn irritants into beautiful pearls over time, that is not how it works in gravel events; a minor outfit irritation will become a major headache over the course of 7+ hours of riding.

I’ve done three gravel races in my life - for a total of over 22 hours and 400 miles of gravel grinding - which basically means I have at least a B.S. in Getting Dressed To Suffer. With that in mind, I’d like to share some tips on what to wear when tackling super long gravel events.

  1. Your best bibs. This is not a time to squeeze the last bits of life out of those old bibs from 2018. You want a perky chamois, supportive straps, confident compression, and elastic grippers that stay in place. Gravel races are long and bumpy - your parts will thank you for protecting them with quality bibs.

  2. Consider the cargo. I was skeptical of cargo bibs at first - who wants lumpy thighs?? - until I tried a pair. Now they’re the only thing I’ll wear for gravel races. I use the leg pockets to store salt pills at the start, but eventually they’re also my go-to stash spot for trash. When you’re bouncing around on gravel roads and gripping your bars for dear life, back pockets can feel miles away, whereas leg pockets are always easy to reach. Whether you choose to fill them with food, supplies, or a phone to call an Uber, you’ll be glad for the extra space.

  3. The right jersey. If the race day is hot, I’m in a Diablo jersey because every bit of keeping cool matters on an epic day. For BWR San Diego, everybody talked about how hot it was, but I felt pretty fresh in my breezy Diablo jersey. (I neither looked nor smelled fresh, but that’s gravel racing.) For SBT Gravel and BWR Cedar City, I opted for a Solana jersey - comfortable for the cool start and the hot finish, with plenty of pocket space for the many hours in between. Whichever you choose, make sure nothing chafes or fits too tightly and that you can stow all your snacks and reach the pockets easily.

  4. Warmers. I’ve started with arm warmers and gone on to stash them under the back of my jersey when things heated up; while I’m willing to be chilly, I never want to risk getting too cold, so it’s worth adding the extra layer even if it means carrying them for the rest of the day. Depending on the weather you’ll face, you may want to add knee or even leg warmers; you can always take them off later but if you die of hypothermia, you’re not going to be having fun.

  5. A vest. I’ve been lucky enough (or soft enough) to only race in temperate events, so I’ve yet to roll out in a vest, but if you’re on the fence, throw on a Gibraltar vest. It’ll keep your core warm and folds into the size of a small taco for easy stow-and-go. If you’re a hardy soul signing up for a cold-weather gravel event, I’d recommend a Palomar vest. I wear mine all winter (and by that I mean “winter” since I live in San Diego and Phoenix), so I can vouch for its comfort, warmth, and perfect pocket set up.

  6. Winter layers. If full warmers and a vest aren’t enough to cut it for your event’s weather, you are a much tougher soul than me because I’m staying home on the trainer. Eliel makes some great winter gear (thermal tights! winter hats!) that I enjoy owning and never having to wear. What I can tell you is that layers are always your friend and you never want to let your core get too sweaty or you’ll be very uncomfortable.

  7. Gloves. Wear them! Whether you’re catching yourself on a rocky fall, wiping snot or sweat from your face, or wrestling with a mechanical issue, you’ll want protection for your hands. By the end of every gravel event, my right glove is nearly fossilized from dried everything, but that’s better than having a crust on my face. Plus gloves protect the tops of your hands from the sun’s rays, keeping you from prematurely sporting old lady lizard hands.

  8. Socks. Pick your most comfortable ones - a little shorter if it’s going to be a hot day, a little taller if it’s going to be cool. Seems silly, but an inch or two in either direction does make a difference in airflow. Feet take a serious beating during gravel races, both from the vibration in your soles and the times you're off the bike running, so having soft, wicking socks that never chafe, slouch, or bunch is key.

Everybody has different goals for gravel events - some people are in it to win it, some are there to adventure with friends, and some are trying to achieve personal goals. The one thing we all have in common is a desire to enjoy the experience, as much as one can enjoy something designed to be extremely long, challenging, and uncomfortable. Give yourself the best chance of a great day by starting out in the right clothes.

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