Cyclehouse 2017Gravel riding is not new, I’m sure we’ve all cycled along or even driven gravel roads at some point. We’ve probably cycled along these on our hybrids or mountain bikes and avoided some gravel on our roads, so why not have a bike that excels on this quite common road surface?
Gravel riding has proven to be quite ‘on trend’ and as such, the first gravel races started over the pond. By 2006 the riders had their own endurance race, The Dirty Kanza 200, a 200 mile endurance ride (or race!) out in Kansas. Think hills, dust and heat, a form of torturing hell for some riders, whilst others loved it so much, a British version was setup (with much less heat and dust!) The Dirty Reiver.
It wasn’t long before that both riders and bike manufacturers realised that the bikes on the current market weren’t quite up to the job. They were good but not quite perfect!
What is a Gravel Bike?
Think of it as a mix of a road bike and a cyclo-cross bike, maybe a tourer but lighter. Lets break it down and see where we get to…
- Road bike generally have clearance for 28mm tyres (plus guards if you’re lucky) and uses standard gearing (think 53/50 – 39/34 chainset with a 32T on the rear)
- Cyclo-cross bikes generally have clearance for 35mm tyres (but if it’s a racing bike, then it will be designed around a 32mm tyre) and will have lower gears (think 46 maximum chainset – although 38 single rings are common nowadays) and the bikes have ‘racing geometry’ making them uncomfortable for distance rides
- Touring bikes tend to be heavy and made from steel, use triple chainsets and feel best when loaded up. Their geometry is relaxed and are great for distance riding.
So back to Gravel bikes, where do they sit? Roughly speaking (and only roughly as each manufacturer has different ideas on this);
- Frames, geometry wise, loosely based around the road frame. Some will be designed around Gran Fondo/Sportive geometry ensuring all day, comfort riding.
- Frames will be made from a variety of materials but carbon is certainly on the increase. The more niche manufacturers will use steel or titanium, whilst aluminium is still the firm favourite.
- Gearing will be close to a road bike, either a 50/36 chain-set paired with a 32 cassette or a 38 or 40 tooth chainset matched up with a wide range cassette (11-42 tooth).
- Tyre spacing will be wider than that of cyclo-cross bikes, most will take a 40mm tyre, whilst some riders think 50mm is preferable (this also allows the latest trend of 650b plus tyres to fit in).