Toze on Gravel Bikes
Posted on 04 September 2018
A couple of years back, (or maybe a decade or something if you’re uber cool, or maybe when you were a kid you invented it down a quarry with an old road bike and some welding kit) Gravel bikes started to appear. A Gravel bike is just a type of road bike, let’s get that really clear from the outset. The bike industry is an awesome force at creating marketing toss, I know this as I am part of that machine, but really the only purpose this serves is to create a new reason to replace that totally fine bike that you already own with an equally fine one, slightly shinier, but in a different colour.
Road bikes and Gravel bikes are like Nick Nolte and Gary Busey, they look pretty similar, they both do the same job most of the time, but at the extremities of their skill set there are differences that set them apart. If you want something a bit prettier that takes the more serious road then you’re probably looking for a Nick Nolte, the road bike, sure it can crack a joke but it’s sense of humour is limited. If you’re looking for fun, someone not afraid to laugh at themselves, take on whatever role and probably take a bit of box office beating from time to time then you know where this is going - best order a couple of meatball sandwiches.
I am going to stick my neck out here and suggest that actually unless you’re a card carrying BC race licence holder then actually no one needs what we’d traditionally call a road bike. For the majority of people doing the majority of riding, road bikes suck. I don’t own a road bike, I don't race, I have no use for one - but I do plenty of road riding.
Put the title aside a Gravel bike offers much more in terms of riding experience,
1. For a start (and the most important part) the frame shape is better, the slacker angles between the tubes (the geometry) make for a bike that is more stable, more comfortable and equally as fast. Road bikes are focussed on adding as much stiffness as possible and then coming up with stupid ways to reduce that impact on the rider, best is actually not to add that stiffness in the first place and make it nice to ride.
2. Tyre clearance is better, being able to run 30mm tyres with some clearance will give you infinitely better ride than running 25mm tyres, they roll faster, they’re more comfortable and they grip better in all conditions. Sure you can go bigger but I find 35mm is about the limit if you want to enjoy the road sections.
3. The brakes are better, if you are currently thinking “I am happy with my caliper brakes” then you need to watch The Matrix, you need to take the red pill and you need to WAKE THE F*** UP. Disc brakes are the only option in a modern civilised world, if you’re embracing the caliper brake then you’re doing the evolutionary equivalent of sucking on the exhaust pipe of a 1974 Ford Granada, we’ve moved on and so should you.
3. Finally, you can actually ride it off road. The single biggest tool that is used to market Gravel bikes is that you can ride them on gravel but who wants to ride a Gravel Bike on gravel? The very same stupid notion that you’d be riding along on the road and then decide to ride down a gravel track is eclipsed by obvious idea that you could be riding along a gravel track and then decide to ride down a Black Run downhill trail - at which point the gravel bike would suck. Better to accept that actually it’s the perfect bike for our crap roads and if you end up on some gravel track then whatever.
Here’s some Gravel Bikes that we sell that also make even better road bikes. We sometimes also call then touring bikes, adventure bikes, maybe even a cross bike but they all do the same job well.
1. Kona Rove, alloy frame and fun from £699
2. Kona Libre, carbon frame and similarly fun from £1899
3. Ritchey Outback, a firm favourite custom builds from around £2000
4. Vielo V+1, light and possibly better than any road bike, from £3500
Bikes in 2018 are awesome, they have come such a long way and as the people that sell bikes to make part of our living we often fail to point out that whilst your 2014 Specialized is actually still a really great bike, just like you, in the last 5 years things have changed and they have changed for the better, that's not marketing toss.