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  1. #1
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    Popularity of Gravel

    I've recently been enjoying riding gravel roads. I follow the guitar ted site and Mtb Bike radio and there are various opinions on gravel riding (not new...so what's the big deal), gravel bikes are silly, etc. was thinking of this on my ride yesterday and thought I would share my ramblings...maybe they will stir, or continue to stir your passion.

    I think it's gaining popularity, in part, because us roadies have been getting bored of the same old thing, and have sought adventure. I know I have. I use to try new paved routes and would have to re-route around the gravel. I sometimes went on those roads with my skinny tire bike with 100+ psi tires...I liked it, but felt beat up so didn't do it much. My steel frame bike with 32mm tires, and my cross bike with 40mm tires 'enjoy' that same gravel so much more.

    I like the idea of gravel bikes. In comparison, stiff and light road bikes are great on the road. And yes you can ride the same bike on gravel. Mountain bikes are great on trails...and they can do gravel, but it's a lot if bike for gravel. I've road all types of bikes on gravel. I find a steel frame with 32mm tires at the right psi is perfect on my areas roads. Yes I can ride almost anything on these gravel roads, but why not use something that enhances the experience...

    I like the sound the of these gravel 'races', and look forward to them gaining popularity. I do one in Ontario, Canada...Paris to Ancaster (very different from trans-Iowa, Kanza, etc.).

    That's it for now...looking forward to hearing about your experiences.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Pukeskywalker's Avatar
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    I don't count myself as a gravel-biker, but I'm excited about the trend because they're the bike I've always wanted to buy. What I want is a cyclocross bike built for 35mm tires, full fenders, and seat stays long enough for racks+panniers. Some would say "just get a touring bike" but most off-the-rack touring bikes are heavy, sluggish, and steel. I want something zippy since I don't plan on doing loaded touring, and want to commute on it too.

    Right now I've settled for building up a '90s Cannondale touring frame with cyclocross parts. Salsa Cowbell, Happy Mediums, Nashbar cyclocross fork. All parts available thanks to the cyclocross/gravel thing.

    Now it's looking like bikes I want will be available for purchase new.

    I'm not sold on the steel frames, though. Hoping for some future gravel-bike options that are aluminum and carbon.

  3. #3
    Mercrudgeon Bikedud's Avatar
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    IMHO-
    I think the seemingly new prevalence of gravel bikes and gravel rides has a lot to do with the cycling industry's continually evolving marketing strategies. Sometime in the nineties, the industry went to performance road bikes that offered little or no extra space for tires larger than 23mm. If you owned a road bike (steel of course) before 1990, chances are you could put 28's, 30's or even 32's on it, and ride just about anywhere you wanted. My 86 Ross Centaur traveled hundreds of miles on south Ga. dirt roads with 32's. Cyclist that came on board in the nineties or later were relegated to road bikes that came with 23's and perhaps didn't even provide room for 25's. So, for many of us it's a return to an earlier time when bikes were more versatile, and for others, it's all new stuff- a bike with larger tires and accommodating brakes that will go just about anywhere. Anytime the industry can "develop" a new style of bike for the market with new (maybe better) products, it's good for business and they certainly have jumped on the gravel band wagon when in reality, they have already been there.
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    Cross bikes are perfect for what the type of riding I am doing. I ride a lot of gravel roads and mud trails. But I am also riding 42mile, 70mile, and 100mile races. So I throw some Kenda Qwicker CX tires on for the off road days and then throw on some Conti Sport Contact for road days. The bike handles both well and is a touch more relaxed in design than a typical road bike. Its a great compromise for me. To top it off I have a trip planned for June which will be a 250 mile 4 day camping trip. Ill have racks and panniers on it for that trip....very versatile.

  5. #5
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    Following on what Bikedud said, the gravel bike really is in many ways a rediscovery of the old "sport touring" style of bike. On the other hand, I think there's more to it than that. I wasn't up on things during the hey-day of sport touring bikes, but looking back at the catalogs it seems that the sport touring bikes were mostly built with lower level components and cheaper frame materials. That's not to say anything was wrong with those bikes. It just seems that the "gravel" market has embraced the up-sell a bit more. Witness the Salsa Warbird.

    I think this is a good trend. I'd like to hope that the industry will explore this market enough to see that there are other possible directions for improvement besides lighter and more gears. My dream is that someone will introduce a high end 8-speed group targeted at this market. Yeah, maybe I'm a retrogrouch, but an 8-speed group using the latest technology could offer more reliable shifting than any 11-speed group while also being stronger and probably lighter and cheaper too.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Cyclosaurus's Avatar
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    There are a few trails that I ride which have gravel sections, most notably the Illinois Prairie Path. For some reason, I really like the feel of riding on gravel. Not sure how to explain it, but it feels "plusher" than the road. There's just something fun about tearing up a gravel path.

  7. #7
    Senior Member grolby's Avatar
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    As mentioned, gravel bikes are basically the new sport-touring bikes. A lot of the innovation in the bike industry over the last decade has been in market identification - they've realized that finding and selling specifically to lots of niches is more profitable than selling a more general-purpose product range. I don't mean that in a negative or cynical way, I think you can reasonably argue that it's a good thing. Anyway, while of course these niches require a new bike design, the kind of design you're likely to want for a gravel racing bike isn't exactly new. There's a lot of previously explored territory to draw from, in sport-touring bikes, cyclocross bikes, and so on.

    Quote Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
    Yeah, maybe I'm a retrogrouch, but an 8-speed group using the latest technology could offer more reliable shifting than any 11-speed group while also being stronger and probably lighter and cheaper too.
    There's nothing about 8-speed that would make it shift more reliably than 11-speed. Component precision and cable pull ratio are much more important than the width of the chain. And it sure wouldn't be cheaper, because there won't be enough buyers to make it cheap.

  8. #8
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by grolby View Post
    There's nothing about 8-speed that would make it shift more reliably than 11-speed.
    Sure there is. Narrower spacing between gears means tighter tolerances. An 8-speed system can have more slop in the tuning and still find its way to the right gear.

  9. #9
    Senior Member grolby's Avatar
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    The current 11-speed parts shift better than the 8-speed stuff did back in its day. Fair enough, I suppose you could have more robust shifting with modern precision in an 8-speed component set, but given that the 11-speed stuff we have is plenty robust already, it's hard for me to see a practical benefit.

    Overall, there's a strong trend away from super race-focused road bike that's been going on for a few years now, and gravel bikes are part of that trend. We're also seeing improvements in the race bikes, as professional and amateur racers are starting to realize the benefits of wider tires even on pavement. So we're getting bikes that are more rideable on more roads. That's pretty cool.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
    Sure there is. Narrower spacing between gears means tighter tolerances. An 8-speed system can have more slop in the tuning and still find its way to the right gear.
    Don't sram have a 7-speed downhill cassette. I wonder if that could be adapted for the road.

  11. #11
    Old. Slow. Happy. MileHighMark's Avatar
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    All of my road rides eventually include some unpaved sections. It's always nice to get away from the cars and explore.

    My 'road' bike is also my main 'gravel' bike. It's a steel road frame (56-square, 73/73) with clearance for 57mm calipers. Wheels are (currently) 25mm-wide HED with 28mm Panaracer Gravelking tires. Previously I ran Campy, microSHIFT, and Shimano in 9- and 10-speed, but am converting it to 11-speed SRAM (Force 22). It handles unpaved roads and trails quite well, and is a blast on paved roads.
    GRAVELBIKE.COM - ride everything

  12. #12
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dheorl View Post
    Don't sram have a 7-speed downhill cassette. I wonder if that could be adapted for the road.
    I had never seen that before, but YES! That's the kind of out-of-the-box innovation I was thinking of.

    Check out the side profile of this thing:


    Something like that would be awesome for cyclocross because of the built in chain guard and the spacing away from the spokes. It could save your derailluer in a muddy race. Now if only it didn't require a non-standard hub and didn't cost $300.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by MileHighMark View Post
    All of my road rides eventually include some unpaved sections. It's always nice to get away from the cars and explore.

    My 'road' bike is also my main 'gravel' bike. It's a steel road frame (56-square, 73/73) with clearance for 57mm calipers. Wheels are (currently) 25mm-wide HED with 28mm Panaracer Gravelking tires. Previously I ran Campy, microSHIFT, and Shimano in 9- and 10-speed, but am converting it to 11-speed SRAM (Force 22). It handles unpaved roads and trails quite well, and is a blast on paved roads.
    Sounds nice. It's a one-trick Pony.

  14. #14
    Mercrudgeon Bikedud's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MileHighMark View Post
    Wheels are (currently) 25mm-wide HED with 28mm Panaracer Gravelking tires.
    Perhaps the the perfect setup for some quality unpaved road riding.
    The ability to quote is a serviceable substitute for wit.
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  15. #15
    i'll probably break it 91MF's Avatar
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    gravel grinder = cx bike with pave cg.
    bike. throw. #MFDCR

  16. #16
    Old. Slow. Happy. MileHighMark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bikedud View Post
    Perhaps the the perfect setup for some quality unpaved road riding.
    Yeah, it's a really nice setup. Some folks are freaked out by the 25mm rims, but even on 23mm rims, the Panaracer tires are sublime.
    GRAVELBIKE.COM - ride everything

  17. #17
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Given, gravel roads would tend to be low traffic, since the cars are dominating the paved ones ,

    So a bit safer for bikes to make club rides upon.


    that SRam 1x11 10-42 t cassette is priced like a whole new entry level bike too ..

    If nobody buys it at that price , they may restructure the whole cost structure down .

    until then , paying a lot is how you indicate a higher status for the Owner..
    Last edited by fietsbob; 04-18-14 at 03:50 PM.

  18. #18
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
    that SRam 1x11 10-42 t cassette is priced like a whole new entry level bike too ..
    And that's without the cost of the new wheel you need to use it....

  19. #19
    Senior Member 1speeder's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post




    that SRam 1x11 10-42 t cassette is priced like a whole new entry level bike too ..

    The new Sram CX group does not use the 10-42 cassette, I saw the new CX group last week at the Sea Otter at the Sram booth and talked with the rep, the CX group uses the road bike 11 speed cassette's, which will work with most new wheelsets (setup for 11 spd.). The smallest cog on the cassettes are 11 tooth.

    Mike

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
    Given, gravel roads would tend to be low traffic, since the cars are dominating the paved ones ,

    So a bit safer for bikes to make club rides upon.
    I road some gravel on a morning rush hour this week. When I had ridden the paved roads in the area at this time I'm passed by around 100 cars. On mainly gravel, in a 2.5 hour ride, I was passed by about five cars. It was so much nicer and quieter on the gravel route. Bring on the potholes

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