Originating mostly in the Midwest, gravel grinders—long races held on predominantly unimproved dirt, chip-seal, and gravel back roads—have exploded in popularity over the past few years. People race on whatever they’ve got (mountain bikes, cyclocross rigs, traditional road bikes), and the vibe is part century, part adventure race. Challenging road conditions, nasty weather, and limited support checkpoints are all part of the allure.
CamelBak Podium Chill Bottle
Load up the Chill with ice and you’ll be treated to a refreshingly cold drink hours into your ride. The on-off bite valve ensures the jostling roads won’t eject half your hydration before you drink it. ($12)
Salsa Warbird 2 Bike
One of the first gravel-grinder-inspired bikes, the Warbird 2’s longish wheelbase, tall headtube, and low bottom bracket deliver confident handling, and the Enve carbon fork takes the edge off rough roads. Smart gravel-oriented details include a huge main triangle for cargo bags, clearance for tires up to 38 millimeters wide, and better-performing-in-the-mud disc brakes. ($2,499)
Mavic Helium H20 Jacket + the Rapha Super-Lightweight Jersey
The Helium ($200) kept us dry for hours in full-on rain and all but disappeared when the sun came out—it stuffs down to the size of a Coke can. The Helium goes great with the Rapha Super-Lightweight jersey ($160)underneath. A trio of dimpled and textured fabrics make this jersey one of the most breathable we’ve ever tested.
Garmin Edge 810 GPS + WD-40 Bike Dry Lube
Navigation at most races is done with cue sheets, but wrong turns happen. Edge 810 ($500) will get you back on track and logs every cycling metric (speed, distance, power). Even better, Bluetooth compatibility means friends can follow you remotely and uploads are automatic. As for bike maintenance, the clean and nonsticky Dry Lube ($9), part of WD-40’s new line of cycling-specific products, kept our chains running smoothly in all but the harshest conditions.
Pearl Izumi Elite Gel-Vent FF Gloves
Pronounced gel pads on the palms and fingers of the Gel-Vent FF gloves take some of the sting out of washboard roads. ($40)
Castelli Inferno Bib Shorts
With textured stretch nylon in the legs to speed evaporation, the Infernos were our favorite shorts for long, hot days in the saddle. ($200)
Next Up: 2013 Bike Commuting Essentials