The newest trend in bicycles is the gravel bike. It is a combination of a road bike and cyclocross bike. The gravel bike is the best of both worlds and is ideal for the person who wants to do some off-road exploring yet prefers to ride to the trailhead rather than drive. Gravel bikes are intended for dirt and gravel roads as well as trails that aren’t too technical and rocky that would require a mountain bike. This bike opens the door for endless adventures and countless miles exploring new areas. With that said, what exactly makes a gravel bike different from a mountain bike, cyclocross bike, and road bike?
Gravel bike frames are designed to accommodate a wider tire for more comfortable riding. The larger tire will soak up a lot of the vibration from the road or trail compared to a road bike tire that would shock your hands so much you would feel it through your entire body. Running a wider tire will also give more control in the corners whether on loose dirt or tacky trails allowing you to ride smoother and faster. Perhaps the biggest advantage to larger tires is the lower chance of flatting. Many riders avoid dirt roads because of the risk. With the right setup, you don’t have to worry. Tire choice is endless for gravel bikes as depending on how much off-road riding you plan to do, you can get anything from a slick tire for smoother dirt roads to tires reminiscing a mountain bike tire. Clinchers allow you to change tires in a matter of minutes, but they lack the ability to run a low pressure due to the risk of pinch flatting. A tubeless setup is the best choice for a gravel bike as it allows for a lower tire pressure for a more comfortable ride while the sealant in the tire quickly stops any small punctures. And then if you do flat a tubeless tire, you can simply install a tube for the rest of the ride.
Gravel Bike Geometry
A gravel bike’s purpose is to make off road riding more relaxed but still fast and exciting. The geometry is reflective of this goal as it is much more relaxed than a road bike but obviously not as relaxed as a beach cruiser. Many companies have began designing their gravel bike with a longer wheel base than a cyclocross bike to make road riding more steady. Gravel bike’s headtubes are longer than a cyclocross bike, and the bottom bracket is also lower.
Almost all cyclocross and several road bikes are now featuring disc brakes. You’ll find both cable actuated and hydraulic disc brakes but what you’ll find the most on a gravel bike is hydraulic. This gives the rider much more stopping power when off-road and will be more consistent when riding in challenging weather conditions. This Tektro Hydraulic Disc brake set for example is lightweight, yet will provide all the confidence a rider needs to rip down some single track or fast fire roads!
So Many Options!
Almost every major company in the bicycling market is releasing a gravel bike. There have also been new brands created entirely around this market. Specialized has released the Diverge line for this market; Cannondale has the Slate, and Giant has the Revolt. These are certainly well engineered bikes and have a name that will back them for quality. A few of the less well-known gravel bikes are the Ridley X-Trail, Niner RLT, and the Raleigh Talus. Even smaller companies have begun manufacturing gravel bikes that’s specific to a riders wants and needs. Some companies are offering custom geometry, and almost all smaller companies allow you to customize the wheels, drivetrain and groupset.
Gravel bikes are the perfect option for a rider looking for something different and looking to get out and explore! These bikes are also great for riding in the winter in less desirable conditions and sure beat riding inside. There are many gravel bike specific events popping up and becoming the new trend in racing. Most of these events provide a more fun, stress-free environment than traditional road racing and are less daunting to attempt. Yet, some events such as the Dirty Kanza, which is a 200 mile dirt road event, feature riders with road backgrounds to mountain bike. Even with all these newly found events, the main draw to the gravel bike is the challenge and exploration the bike allows for and is less about racing or exercise even.