As the newest of the cycling disciplines, gravel is an intentional departure from cycling’s traditional history. The gravel ethos favors self-reliance over rules and personal challenge, community and inclusivity over competition.

But things threaten to change. In 2022, the UCI stepped in, creating the UCI Gravel World Series. Likewise, prize money and sponsorships have grown such that top riders can now make a living.

Does competition threaten the spirit of gravel? Can serious racing and gravel-for-pleasure coexist? We asked three Challenge riders to explain their love of gravel and how they perceive its future.

First up is Spain’s Sergio Abad, a gravel-focused content creator. Per his Instagram description, he is “cycling for fun.”

“At first, nobody understood the gravel concept,” said Abad. “Over time, we have realized that it is something new. It's not mountain biking. It's not road. It doesn't pretend to be anything like that. It's whatever you want it to be. That is basically the essence of this discipline: you are the one who decides what to do.”

Fellow Challenge rider, Adam Blazevic, is a gravel pro from Australia. In 2022, he established himself as one of the world’s best, winning multiple World Series rounds and podiuming at another.

A bike racer since age nine, Blazevic’s background spans the disciplines of road, mountain bike, cyclocross and now gravel. “Gravel combines mountain bike and road,” said Blazevic. “You need the fitness and the power from the road, but you still need skills from the mountain bike.”

Our final Challenge rider, Amy Carter, is originally from the UK, but currently owns and manages a cycling guesthouse in the south of France. “We are lucky to enjoy cycling of all kinds, from Tuscan-style white gravel roads, vineyard tracks and harder mountain passes to some of Frances’ quietest roads,” said Carter.

“I love how fun gravel can be,” said Carter. “It feels like there is less pressure to go fast or far as compared to the road scene. It gives me almost a childlike sense of joy when I’m off-road!”

As gravel has exploded in popularity, some worry whether the discipline can flex to meet the needs of all. “What is apparent is the amount of new people that gravel has attracted to cycling,” said Carter. “This can only be good. It means getting folks off busy city streets and into local parks or woodlands. Getting people outdoors is a win!”

Carter believes gravel can welcome competitors and pleasure riders all the same: “I really think, if people want to compete, you won’t stop them, and why should we? If you want to enjoy a party pace and all the good vibes of a slower ride with stops for beer and coffee, find a group that suits you. It's good for the soul.”

Abad agrees with Carter, noting gravel has always nurtured a sense of personal competition. “Every day gravel adds more experiences to test our strength,” said Abad. “If you are not competitive, you won’t participate in endurance tests of 360 kilometers! I don't think it's a discipline with the sole purpose of comparing ourselves with the rest.”

As a competitor in the Gravel World Series, Blazevic has observed the UCI’s impact on gravel firsthand. “I think the lifestyle and racing scene can co-exist,” said Blazevic. At the World Series, there were still heaps of people turning up…not to be at the front of the race, just to ride.”

Blazevic clarifies: “It needs to be managed properly and have the right events in place. When you bring a more competitive nature to the discipline, there are going to be more rules. I think people like gravel for its lack of rules. The UCI has managed that well so far. At the World Series last year, you could turn up on any bike you wanted: gravel, road, or mountain bike.”

How “serious” you are affects how you interact with your tires.

At Blazevic’s level, tires are everything. “Tires are probably my most important piece of equipment,” said Blazevic. “Some of the courses are really rough, like sharp rocks, so there is a risk of punctures. There are descents where you have to trust your tires’ grip so you can build a gap.”

Likewise, Blazevic asserts: “Pressure is super important. In general, you don’t want to run too high. You want the tire to conform to the gravel a bit.”

Blazevic explains his process: “The day before a race, I will ride course segments with a pressure gauge, testing pressures. If it’s rocky or rough, I might run more pressure, so I don’t risk hitting my rim. For nice gravel, I want optimal pressure where I get good grip but the tires still roll fast.”

Carter takes a more relaxed approach to pressure. “Since I’m not competing, I try not to stress too much. A quick squeeze before I head out the door is usually what the annoyance of my husband who loves to check them before every ride.”

Carter’s favorite tire is the Gravel Grinder 40. “They are the perfect balance between speed and control,” said Carter. “The width gives me confidence, as I can run them on low pressure. The shoulder grip suits the gravel and dusty trails we get around here.

Despite coming from different sides of the racing spectrum, Abad and Blazevic both favor the same tire: the Getaway 40 TLR.

“It’s versatile, safe in curves, and effective in braking,” said Abad. “It will be the pressure that gives you extra safety or speed depending on the terrain.”

Blazevic echoes: “I raced on the Getaway a lot last year. It’s a really versatile all-around tire. The grip is really good, especially in the corners. It’s good in the wet and dry. It’s really fast because the center section rolls well.”

Here at Challenge, we are thrilled to make tires beloved by all sorts of gravel riders.

In closing, we feel it’s fitting to pass on Abad’s advice regarding getting into gravel: “Hurry up because you are missing out!”