Fit for Gravel: How to Adjust your OBED's Fit for Gravel Riding
Congrats, you’ve taken the unknown road. You’ve traded fingerless gloves for full-finger ones. You’ve got grit in your teeth after a ride.
That’s right, you’ve gone gravel. Maybe you’re tired of the road-riding scenery and are ready for something different. Maybe you’re a mountain biker looking for something a bit edgier. Whatever the case, riding a gravel bike is going to be a different experience. That means a bike fit may very well be in order.
So how does a gravel bike fit—and ride—differently from its closest cousin, the road bike? On its face, your new Boundary may look like your road bike or your cyclo-cross machine. But The nuances are subtle—but important. Both road bikes cyclo-cross bike is engineered for quick handling in tight quarters—think crit races with tight cornering or cross races with hairpin u-turns and barrier jumps where slight steering inputs can change your line in an instant), a gravel bike is designed for more relaxed handling, greater control on (generally speaking) less technical riding experiences.
OBED designer, certified bike fitter, and gravel rider Brad DeVaney designed the range with all of this in mind and provides his input.
“On the road, fit specialists often set us near our stack minimum and reach the maximum in order to ‘optimize’ us. We sometimes find fitters can be a bit extreme, and adjust from his or her recommendations." DeVaney says. "With gravel, I’ve personally found a new norm that I wish I’d found decades ago. Gravel is teaching fitters to become better “position coaches” and helping cyclists to ride with more degrees of bend at the elbow. I’d love to drop a magic formula or correction factor to adjust from an existing setup, but I feel position and fit always deserves a fresh look at a cyclist in their current situation, and not reflect on who we used to be."
DeVaney has three key considerations when setting up your new OBED.
1. Neutral Body Position
It all starts with body position—how you are set and balanced atop the bike. “The setup should mimic road, yet allow you to hinge slightly more at the elbow,” DeVaney says. “This provides massive gains in comfort and shock absorption while maintaining our personal ranges of optimized hip angle within our window of position.”
2.Cockpit for Comfort and Control
Your road bike, with the aero bar top and integrated stem? You won’t need it for gravel. Instead, lean toward using a standard stem that’s 10 to 20mm shorter than what you typically run on your road bike and a bar stack (height) anywhere from 1 to 4 cm higher than what you run on the road.
Why? With a slightly taller, shorter position, you’re better equipped for quick steering inputs that come about when, say, a front wheel wants to wash out, or a big rock is in your path at high speed. You're also allowing your body to refrain from stretching excessively when riding on the bumpy undulations of dirt roads for a prolonged period. In short, your lower back will thank you.
You may also notice the proliferation of "flared" handlebars, which feature a drop section that flares out from a vertical to an angled position. Why is this the trend? While traditional bars have been engineered for speed and efficiency, the flare in the drops of gravel bars provides a bit of a wider stance when riding in the drops. That, plus a position that rotates the wrist slightly, makes for a more comfortable platform for gravel riders, especially during longer rides.
3. High(er) Bars + Short(er) stem + Low(er) saddle = More(er) control
OK, that’s too many ‘er’s… but you get the drift. Many gravel bikes may look somewhat pedestrian compared to road bikes with a long, low cockpit, but that’s certainly not the case.
With a shorter, slightly higher cockpit, you're set to do bigger miles with less low back strain, as we mentioned. But you're also better able to access a more sustainable riding position in the handlebar drops.
In fact, many gravel pros will set their bars up with a few centimeters of spacers under the stem, or with a positive-angled stem, in order to get a reach to the drops that are less aggressive, but maintain control and quick access to the brakes while navigating tricky, rocky sections while in the drops. Many of us will find riding on the tops or in the hoods more relaxing, but when racing, the drops have greater steering input and quicker access to the brakes. Bringing the bars a bit closer to you in both stack and reach makes things less of a strain when doing long days in the saddle, whether in training or a race.
That extra stack also makes for a bit more—again, control—when on steep descents, or inclines.
But isn't a higher cockpit position less aero? Not necessarily, says DeVaney, who has some wind tunnel experience on the subject.
"As far as the aero efficiency of my gravel position goes, my head and torso are in the same plane," DeVaney says. "My hands are higher and less of my arm is catching the wind. Hard data will come soon. I know, from plenty of saddle time, that I’m not losing any watts based on 'sitting higher'—because I’m not."
A slightly lower saddle height than on your road bike means you have the clearance for quick dismounts when needed (watch out for that rock garden ahead!) along with a bit of clearance from the saddle when negotiating steep drops when you have to shift your body weight way off the back of the saddle. A dropper post would certainly help there as well, but absent that, a slightly lower saddle helps provide enough clearance to slide back and prevent from going over the bars.
While your stack and reach changes from road to gravel are fairly benign, always be careful to not lower your saddle too much, in order to prevent the introduction of pedaling load changes that can cause knee issues.
"Having been a diehard deep-drop x 130mm stem advocate for many years, I’ve found that maintaining the same to 1.5cm lower saddle height, along with a set of shallow drop, open bend gravel bars attached to a two-centimeter shorter stem, allows me to stay comfy for more than double the amount of time," DeVaney says.
Gravel certainly looks the part of a road bike, but with a bit of thought and only a little change, your experience on your gravel bike can be made to deliver a whole new experience, with as much if not more fun.
If making equipment and fit changes seems a bit beyond your scope of expertise, be sure to reach out to your local fitter for advice and even a stand-along fit on your gravel bike. You can always call the OBED team as well with fit advice on your own OBED. We're always ready to help!