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As a frequent bike rider who likes to escape from the crowded city streets and busy roads, gravel riding opened up the opportunity for me to ride my bike with unabashed freedom.
And how can you quickly get into gravel biking with minimal money spent? Convert your current bike of course!
Converting a hybrid bike into a gravel bike is surprisingly simple, and economic. Plus, it’s completely up to you how far you go.
The conversion can range from simply changing the tires on the bike to something more complicated that involves changing more or less everything except the frame.
To do a full conversion of a hybrid into a gravel bike, then follow these 9 easy steps:
- Clean before you begin
- Figure out the bearings
- Improve the brakes
- Upgrade the wheels and tires
- Change the handlebar
- Check the gear range
- Replace forks
- Extra accessories to install
- A fresh coat of paint
Let’s take a look at how it works…
9 Steps To Convert A Hybrid To A Gravel Bike
Hybrids usually have a flat handlebar and their shifting, as well as braking components, is similar to mountain bikes.
These allow for a more upright riding position, which is comfortable and safer in traffic. These are the kind of bikes that are designed to “do it all” and are perfect for everyday use.
However, a gravel bike is a beautiful combination of the features of a road and mountain bike. They retain the drop handlebar from road bikes while their wheels are inspired by mountain bikes.
Thus, a gravel bike offers the rider a forward-tilting, aerodynamic position for improved speed, while enduring rough terrain and longer durations.
Following are nine steps to help you convert a hybrid into a gravel bike:
1. Clean Before You Begin
I speak with personal experience when I say that cleaning your bike before conversion pays off.
By cleaning, I mean conducting a thorough deep clean; get it sparkling. Make sure the chain is clean and spray some degreaser, so you don’t end up with a greasy bike, even after cleaning.
Perhaps the easiest way to clean your bike is by disassembling it and ensuring that each part is cleaned thoroughly before the conversion process begins, especially if the bike is old.
Plus, by taking everything apart, you can spot any damage on your bike and get that fixed before beginning the process.
This method is great for rust spots that need a little more care. This inspection will also help you decide if your bike is in a possible condition to be converted or not.
2. Figure Out the Bearings
After you’ve cleaned the bike, check for any loose bearings that are covered in grease and can ruin an otherwise smooth ride.
Replace the headset with a sealed cartridge so when you’re steering, it doesn’t make any noise. This also reduces the risk of putting the headset cups over rough terrain.
You might even have to replace the hubs, especially if you weren’t able to clean the loose or caged ball bearings at the start. However, degreasing and deep cleaning will most likely have them running quite smoothly.
3. Improve the Brakes
Your hybrid bike most likely has either V-brakes or cantilever brakes if it is an older version.
You don’t need to replace your brakes altogether with discs. With a few simple tweaks, you can achieve improved performance.
Start with cleaning the brake track with wipes that allow you to scrub away the grime and grease. You can use surgical spirit or bioethanol as a cleaning agent.
You need a cleaning brake track to ensure that you are working on bare metal, instead of accumulated brake dust.
Replace the old brake pads with a premium set of pads, adjust them with some toe-in, and you’ll have an excellent braking system without worrying about cantilever being the wrong choice.
4. Upgrade the Tires and Wheels
The next order of business for a hybrid conversion to a gravel bike is swapping out the tires with some fast-rolling tires rather than something heavy or thick.
This is an important upgrade that could sometimes be the only replacement your bike requires.
When you’re selecting gravel tires, make sure to measure around the seat stays, chainstays, and fork, so you understand how much clearance you have, especially mud clearance. Measure the inner rim diameter of your bike as older bikes tend to have narrower rims than modern ones.
The ideal tire pressure is higher than what your hybrid has at the moment but lower than what you’d require on pavement for improved comfort and traction.
Choose tubeless tires as they are ideal for gravel riding, mainly because this helps you avoid flats.
As mentioned before, if your rims and tires allow for a tubeless upgrade, you should consider that. However, you can still work with tubes. Just remember to carry two extra tubes in case of an untoward situation.
5. Change the Handlebar
Changing your bike’s handlebar to a traditional drop bar on your bike works perfectly well for gravel roads. However, many professional riders prefer a flared drop bar that is wider at the end than the hoods for an easier grip.
A flared drop bar is no different in position than a regular drop bar, but it provides that extra stability you need for gravel rides. The wider base of the drop bar helps maintain balance in case the road/gravel is loose at some parts of your ride.
Using a drop bar as a handlebar for a gravel bike has a cult following.
So, if you’re determined to use a drop bar on your bike, there is a possibility that you can do it. Keep in mind that the process might be too tricky for a DIY project or at least, for doing it all alone.
Therefore, consult a mechanic before you get into replacing the handlebar.
However, keep in mind that bikes designed to fit a flat bar have a longer frame than ones designed for a drop bar.
You will have to tinker with the bike and see which conversion works, but before that, make sure you’re doing your research as there is a chance that the brake and shifting controls on a flat handlebar might not fit the drop bars.
6. Check the Gear Range
A hybrid bike has a wide range of gears from 1 to 27 and even more.
Add chainrings, cogs, and the number of teeth on them to the mix, and you’re going to find it harder to understand the gear system. However, the bike you have is likely tailored to your fitness level and the terrain you frequent.
Keeping that in mind, when you’re converting your bike, the gear range should be low enough to maintain momentum on the hills you encounter, as well as high enough for flatter sections of the terrain.
Generally, a hybrid bike has a wide range of gears that require zero modification. But you must do your research based on the specific components you already have and according to your bike’s requirements.
You can pick and mix levers and derailleurs however you’d like.
7. Replace Forks
While a hybrid bike does provide enough comfort on dirt roads due to the suspension fork, it isn’t suited for gravel riding. More often than not, front suspension forks on hybrids are heavy and only cause inconvenience while riding.
To lighten your bike and simplify the all-over system, consider installing a rigid fork.
For this, you will have to measure the wheel size, steerer style, brake compatibility, and axle-to-crown length of the fork.
If you’re going to change the fork between suspension and rigid with very few complications, get a space headset crown race.
8. Extra Accessories to Install
As a gravel riding enthusiast or someone who is intrigued with the idea of it, you can also amp up your bike with extra gear. This will also make your body feel more comfortable, and you’ll have a bike with “insane” specs.
How about investing in saddlebags?
Most riders prefer to put their weight onto the bike and keep it off themselves while riding. Saddlebags inside your bike frame, under your saddle, behind your stem, or in front of your handlebar are great places to start.
Plus, these bags can act as storage, especially with jersey pockets, to carry essentials and bike maintenance gear with you.
Maybe you can add a bell or a basket as well. Just remember that you will be carrying extra weight, so make it count by keeping the necessary things.
9. Fresh Coat of Paint
Finish the job with a fresh coat of paint or get a custom repaint, so your bike looks good as new.
Of course, do this if you have enough money to spare. But this is the perfect way to restore your bike to its original state or customize it to your liking.
You can just use spray paints to jazz it up, with very little spent and a new bike to your name!
Hybrid vs. Gravel Bike
While you’re considering converting your hybrid to a gravel bike, it is important to understand why you’re making this switch and how to go about it. Understanding the differences between hybrid and gravel bikes will help you prepare for the process and the required changes.
A hybrid is a mix of a mountain bike and a road bike with straight handlebars and is generally used for commuting within the city.
Because the bike isn’t used to rougher terrains, its gearing is light and susceptible to damage, whereas a gravel bike is designed for long-distance, comfortable rides.
This bike can tackle varying terrains without any damage to the rider as it has wide tires and a durable build.
A gravel grinder has drop handlebars that are more comfortable for cyclists to control than flat handlebars. These ensure stability as well as comfort, both of which are necessary for trickier terrains.
Overall, both these bikes can be great choices. So, it ultimately comes down to whether you would like to keep your hybrid bike or convert it to a gravel one, to fit your needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Does it cost a lot to convert a Hybrid to a gravel bike?
Not necessarily. A hybrid bike has enough basic components that correspond to a gravel bike. Therefore, you can easily treat it as a DIY activity, which is also low-cost. If you do end up accessorizing it and replacing some parts of it by hiring a professional, the conversion cost is still less than what a new gravel bike would cost.
- Can I convert the gravel bike back to a hybrid?
Yes. You can re-convert your gravel bike but keep in mind that your bike gets weaker with each conversion, so getting it back to its original functionality will be difficult.
- How long will it take to convert the bike to a gravel grinder?
You might need some commercial tools to begin your journey of converting any bike, especially a gravel grinder. However, this activity does not need to last longer than two to three hours if you’ve converted bikes before.
However, as a newbie, you can expect to spend more time figuring out the tools. Before you start, ensure you have done your research and have all the necessary parts and tools.
Reusing your old hybrid bike that has been lying in the garage for far too long as a gravel bike pays off. Experiment with converting your bike into a gravel rider since the process isn’t extremely complicated.
Just make sure that you have all the right tools to do this and have consulted a professional for their opinion on your bike, as each bike has its purpose. Can it withstand gravel grinding? Do you need shock absorbers? What type of bike do you currently have? The last question generally helps determine how much work will be required of you.
Enjoy your newly converted gravel grinder by going on an exciting ride, with the city noise, and bustle in the background!