Gravel biking’s popularity is drawing road cyclists and endurance mountain bikers to the sport. Go to any gravel event, and you’ll notice a distinct difference in cycling backgrounds with roadies in Lycra and mountain bikers in more casual cycling apparel. Generally speaking, whichever cycling background you bring to your gravel experience will likely determine how you choose gravel biking helmets and sunglasses. That being said, there are nuanced considerations you should keep in mind. Gravel riding is always dusty and dirty and sometimes muddy and messy. Your protection kit should be dialed-in to deal with it.
Best Gravel Bike Helmet
A solid gravel biking helmet will provide a sweet balance of cooling ventilation and protection from rocks and dirt hitting your head. Road helmets are usually just fine for gravel, but the ones that prioritize ventilation over debris protection can be a problem. On the other hand, road helmets designed for aerodynamic efficiency can trap heat and get uncomfortably hot. Mountain biking helmets offer better all-around protection, especially over the back of the head. Simply remove the visor from the mountain biking helmet, and you have an ideal helmet for gravel riding.
With its generous ventilation, a helmet such as Rudy Project’s Venger may look like a dedicated road cycling helmet at first glance. But it gains its gravel cred thanks to a “bug stop net” liner designed to keep insects off your scalp. This practical feature works to keep gravel out as well.
Best Gravel Riding Sunglasses
When it comes to picking sunglasses for gravel riding, coverage is king. You want the lenses to keep dust, dirt, and grit out of your eyes. The width of the lenses should be slightly past the corner of your eyes, and the depth should be just above and not touching your cheeks. At the same time, you need sunglasses that ventilate efficiently to keep them from fogging up. The Rudy Project Defender features cut-outs in its large lens and frames to boost airflow across the top of the lens to help expel fog-inducing heat.
Be sure to choose a lens color best suited for your gravel riding terrain. Green, copper, and purple work best in open, bright, sunny backroads like those in the Plains, western mountains, and deserts. Racing Red, 2 Laser Red, and brown lenses are better suited to lush coastal regions and the shaded forest tracks of the Midwest.
There’s one more sunglasses feature to consider: photochromic lenses. These lenses transition from light to dark tint based on the level of UV rays hitting them. As speeds on gravel are much slower than those on road courses and downhill mountain biking, photochromic lenses offer a superior, all-in-one, all-conditions answer for your eye-protection needs. Even in varying conditions, these lenses will transition quickly enough to give you the necessary tint to see clearly.