Heterogeneous coarse grained channels are often characterized by local transitions in bed surface roughness. Distinct spatial zones in terms of grain size have been reported, for example sand ribbons and bedload sheets. The transition from areas of finer to coarser grained surface sediment is often abrupt. However, the effects of these transitions on the shape of the velocity profile and associated shear velocity and roughness length estimates have not been investigated in detail in coarse grained channels. This paper therefore examines the combined effects of a sudden change in surface roughness and of superimposed scales of resistancé on the structure of the turbulent boundary layer. Measurements along roughness transitions from smooth to rough beds were conducted in a flume using artificial roughness features and in a natural gravel bed river. Immediately at the transition from a zone of close packed roughness to a rougher section dominated by obstacles superimposed on the more or less uniform roughness surface, boundary shear stress and roughness length increase considerably. Downstream from this transition, velocity profiles become concave upwards. Downstream and upstream sections show significant differences in terms of near bed velocities (deceleration downstream of the transition), velocity gradient and turbulence intensity of the streamwise velocity component. Comparing the mean velocity profiles corresponding to these two different roughness surfaces gives some indication of the proportion of total shear velocity (or shear stress) associated with the pressure drag produced by large and isolated obstacles.