|Whatever you do, don't call it a Cyclocross Bike|
Now you need a Gravel Bike.
It is not exactly clear how a Gravel Bike is different from the Cyclocross Bike you already have, or any other decent bike with drop bars and room for larger tires, for that matter -- but the bicycle industry very much wants you to buy one. Even if they can't agree amongst themselves how to define it.
From a VeloNews review of Raleigh's Tamland gravel bike: "The question of what exactly defines a gravel road racer is a legitimate one. Even some dealers on hand at BikeDealerCamp in Utah were asking the same question. Gravel road races have long been more about customizing an existing bike in one's stable, such as a cyclocross bike that can clear extra-wide tires, but with the number of races rising and more riders seeking out dirt-road adventures, so too has the demand for dedicated gravel machines."
Really? All those people riding on gravel roads with bikes they set up for the task have been demanding another special niche bike that will do exactly the same thing as the bike they've built up for themselves? Because simply fitting fatter tires alone wasn't expensive enough?
|I repeat: Not a Cyclocross Bike (from www.raleighusa.com)|
Nope. You simply cannot do any of that without a specially designed and marketed niche bike.
|CAUTION: You MUST have a specially designed bike to do this.|
According to the folks at Salsa, their Warbird Gravel Bike is designed "around stability and endurance. Meaning it has a longer wheelbase and slightly slacker head tube angles to give you a stable, at home feel." (from BikeRadar) I'm curious what that "at home feel" feels like. But what they don't want to emphasize too much is that the Warbird is pretty much the same as the Cyclocross Bike they used to sell, called the Chili Con Crosso. Add or subtract a couple millimeters here and there in the geometry, add disc brakes, and now it's a totally different bike, and you can't do without it, Right?
Salsa's marketers also say that "Comfort is key, and the reason we offer a model of the Warbird in titanium." (Bike Retailer) That's right -- because you simply cannot get comfortable on steel. So does that mean that if your Cyclocross Bike is comfortable, has disc brakes, or a titanium frame, then it's actually a Gravel Bike?
Of course, it isn't that simple. In the BikeRadar article, Dan Hughes, four-time winner of the DK200 (Dirty Kanza 200 "Gravel Grinder" in Kansas -- on a Specialized CruX Cyclocross Bike, by the way), says, "I would want the bike to be light and stiff, have a short wheelbase for fast handling, and the ability to run a fatish tire, with clearance for mud on top of that." OK, so a Gravel Bike has a longer wheelbase -- except when it has a shorter wheelbase?
|From Off The Beaten Path - The Bicycle Quarterly Blog|
In a BikeRoar article on the topic, they had the following, from Thom Kneeland of Service Course Velo, in Medford, Oregon: "Any road bike with relaxed geometry that accepts a 28mm tire will work pretty well." Yeah, that's what I thought. And 28mm isn't even that large of a tire! The BikeRoar article also has suggestions on how to turn a typical MTB into a perfectly serviceable Gravel Bike. Hint: it involves changing tires, and maybe adding some more hand positions to the handlebars.
Last year, I wrote about the old Bridgestone XO-1, which was incredibly versatile -- a relatively light road bike with 26" wheels -- suitable for all kinds of riding, whether on the road, or on dirt or unpaved paths. A bike for exploring. But instead of being designed for a particularly narrow niche market, the idea was almost the opposite -- to be a bike that could do anything its owners could dream up. It didn't sell well. Marketers, the bicycle press, some retailers, and even buyers apparently didn't know how to pigeon-hole it. They wanted a niche. Go figure.
|A Gravel Bike? Why not? Many comfortable and versatile|
bikes with clearance for fatter tires can be adapted easily for
use on dirt and gravel. You may already have a Gravel Bike.
But as some out there, like Jan Heine, are able to demonstrate, you don't need to go out and buy another bike that's designed for just one type of riding. A lot of bikes can be adapted easily -- often by doing nothing more than swapping tires. My Rivendell Long-Low has been ridden on all kinds of roads, including some that are only roads in the most generous of definitions. With 33mm tires and room for wider, it handles packed limestone paths beautifully, and is comfortable all day. Thicker, knobbier tires could easily be fitted for coarser, heavier dirt or gravel. Likewise, my vintage '84 Stumpjumper, with its long wheelbase and slack angles, has been equipped with mustache bars and narrower, smoother tires -- it goes swiftly from roads to trails and back again. It would make an awesome bike for heavy-duty gravel grinding.
So, do you need a Gravel Bike? You probably already have one!