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How unstable is a gravel bike?

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Cyclocross and Gravelbiking (Recreational) This has to be the most physically intense sport ever invented. It's high speed bicycle racing on a short off road course or riding the off pavement rides on gravel like : "Unbound Gravel". We also have a dedicated Racing forum for the Cyclocross Hard Core Racers.

How unstable is a gravel bike?

Old 01-12-17, 11:34 AM
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How unstable is a gravel bike?

I ride both a road bike (steel with 23mm Michelin Pro 4s) and a mtn bike (carbon short-travel f/s with 2.2" XC tires--Maxxis Ikons) and am wondering what I can expect when I take my new gravel bike out for it's first spin on dirt. It's steel with 30mm Kenda Kwick tires on it. I'd hate to take a digger right off the bat, lol. I'm assuming that soft stuff, even while going straight, could be an issue as would be general turning on loose-over-hard. Any input or tips? Thanks!
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Old 01-12-17, 11:38 AM
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What bikes? Most gravel bikes are Touring-bike stable. However, models based Cyclocross racing models are a little more sensitive/twitchy/response.
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Old 01-12-17, 11:44 AM
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Barrettscv is giving you good advice. It all depends on the bike geometry. Dedicated long-geometry gravel bikes are about as stable as it gets. Cyclocross and road bikes repainted and called gravel bikes can be kind of treacherous on gravel and sand.
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Old 01-12-17, 11:49 AM
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I haven't found anything that stops my gravel grinder

65778889-Almz16-00430.jpg

But I don't think this is really what the the OP was talking about.

So, this 'gravel grinder' does paved road centuries, commutes, dinner rides, CX racing, gravel centuries, local single track riding, icy winter rides ... I can't think of anything (except deep snow) that stops my "gravel" bike.

59861402-TMB_2082.jpg
(Hypno Toad has the open jersey with bottle mounted on the fork)

I do change tires for different riding conditions" 28mm T-Servs (paved); 35mm X'plor USH (non-paved); 35mm studded tires in the winter.
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Old 01-12-17, 12:04 PM
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My road bike is a Lemond Zurich, my mtb is a Kona Hei Hei Supreme and the "gravel bike" is a Soma Smoothie. It's steel and it's a road frame that I had bought to be a bad weather/stationary trainer bike years ago but never built it up until now--our so cal winters didn't require it, so it just sat. It has a 73.5 HT and 72.5 ST, similar to my Lemond. 59cm TT x 59cm ST and a 101 cm wheelbase. Probably not optimal for "gravel"(I'm not really sure), but it's what I have. I'm sure I'll mostly be riding my dedicated mtb on most off-road forays and this bike will be a combo of pavement veering off onto dirt when the occasion arises.
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Old 01-12-17, 12:06 PM
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Trail is the steering dimension , longer = more stability..

Bigger tire contact patch helps too.


Unknown is the instability of the Rider, you have a sliding boot on the foot of the one on the inside of the corner.?

Flat track Motorcyclists do, but they always turn to the Left, going CCW around the track..






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Old 01-12-17, 12:13 PM
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Not very. Every one I have ever let go of has fallen over. All of my bikes (not just gravel) require a ride, wall or stand.

I tried riding yesterday in 8" of fresh, unplowed and deeply rutted snow. Fell twice and walked about half the distance. Hard. And that was with a Raleigh Competition shod with Continental 37c (ha!) ice tires. ("Ha! because they are much skinnier than my 35c Paselas.) When they came out of a rut, they plowed though the either loose snow or semi-crust. Very challenging. Hypno's tires, top photo look much bigger ans would have faired a lot better.

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Old 01-12-17, 12:13 PM
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Originally Posted by bikeme
My road bike is a Lemond Zurich, my mtb is a Kona Hei Hei Supreme and the "gravel bike" is a Soma Smoothie. It's steel and it's a road frame that I had bought to be a bad weather/stationary trainer bike years ago but never built it up until now--our so cal winters didn't require it, so it just sat. It has a 73.5 HT and 72.5 ST, similar to my Lemond. 59cm TT x 59cm ST and a 101 cm wheelbase. Probably not optimal for "gravel"(I'm not really sure), but it's what I have. I'm sure I'll mostly be riding my dedicated mtb on most off-road forays and this bike will be a combo of pavement veering off onto dirt when the occasion arises.
The Smoothie will be functional on firm, well maintained gravel and all kinds of pavement. I'm assuming you will fit the biggest tire you can fit, which I expect is a 700x28. Once the gravel becomes soft or a mixture of materials, the Smoothie will be less than ideal.

The Smoothie is a classic sports geometry and is ideal for endurance rides. This geometry should not be twitchy on firm gravel. Tire size will be more of a limitation.

.
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Old 01-12-17, 12:28 PM
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choose your trail wisely grasshopper
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Old 01-12-17, 01:20 PM
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geometry- that should be fine.
stability- eh...i wouldnt ride it around me. 28s would be turrble on half the routes I ride. They would sink in vs float over loose spots and they would jump all over the place when bouncing on packed roads with sprinkled gravel on top.

If you have mostly hardpack dirt roads, then 28s could be great. Get an aggressive 28 tire and have a blast!
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Old 01-12-17, 01:33 PM
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Fun Fact: Hypno Toad is dyslexic. Pro tip: dyslexic Hypno Toad shouldn't read and post to BF while on a boring conference call... 'cause 'unstable' with be read as 'unstoppable'.

The Kona Dew Drop I ride for gravel is based on a trail bike frame (Dew) with drop bars. It's very stable on gravel, with the correct tires. Like stated above 28mm tires will dig into some soft gravel and be unstable and stressful.

On the other hand, 4" tires don't dig in.
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Old 01-12-17, 03:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Barrettscv
The Smoothie will be functional on firm, well maintained gravel and all kinds of pavement. I'm assuming you will fit the biggest tire you can fit, which I expect is a 700x28. Once the gravel becomes soft or a mixture of materials, the Smoothie will be less than ideal.

The Smoothie is a classic sports geometry and is ideal for endurance rides. This geometry should not be twitchy on firm gravel. Tire size will be more of a limitation.

.
Thanks, @Barrettscv ! I put Kenda Kwick knobbies on it which are labeled 30mm but mounted up 28mm--not much room for any mud hence my using it for dry conditions. I saw that Soma's CX bikes have a 72 HT (1.5 less than mine) so I would assume they'd be less twitchy than the Smoothie but oh well. I'll take it slow for sure to start.
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Old 01-12-17, 03:49 PM
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Originally Posted by rumrunn6
choose your trail wisely grasshopper
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Old 01-12-17, 06:16 PM
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that's the stuff I grew up on
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Old 01-13-17, 01:28 AM
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I can only compare my two bikes on gravel and stuff that barely qualifies as a road or path.

On my long wheelbase hybrid with simple spring suspension fork and 700x40 tires (nominal, they're closer to 45 wide), I can blast through stuff like sand washes, diagonal ruts on a camber, and potholes filled with loose pea gravel. The wide, soft tires and long wheelbase feel stable and the spring suspension dampens things just enough to minimize any drama.

On my faster rigid fork 1992 Univega mountain bike with 700x42 tires (again, nominal -- they're actually narrower, more like 38 wide), I have to pay closer attention on the same gravel roads and trails. Things can get sketchy on sand washes, rutted steep cambers and pea gravel fills. Running the tires a bit softer, around 40-50 psi, helps.
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Old 01-14-17, 05:29 AM
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Smoothie is more of a road bike. Smoothie ES would be better for gravel.
Where do you find well groomed gravel roads in So Cal?
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Old 01-14-17, 08:00 AM
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I had a Vassago Fisticuff that I loved for gravel. It was a cross geometry with more racy angles. The steering was pretty twitch. I found it nerve racking to ride fast and use one hand to get a drink or reach into my frame bag ESPECIALLY on loose gravel. I sold it and now have a Wolverine which has relaxed touring geometry and a swept front fork like the 80s bikes. This thing is night and day compared to the Vassago. I can be free to use my other hand to grab things while riding. The bike practically steers itself. It is very stable and very forgiving. But what you should pay attention to is what kind of gravel you will be on. I read a lot about gravel riding in these forums and on other sites and it has come to my attention that the gravel roads that some of you ride are what we call dirt roads around here even though beautiful. Our gravel is big chunky white rock and although having a stable bike helps, I don't think too may people are going to be brave enough to use their big ring on a long stretch. Every spring the DOT lays down fresh gravel on a lot of the stretches and it is like riding on a beach of sand although each grain of sand is about 1-2 inches big. Imagine that for a minute lol! It's just too much like marbles under your tires. So that in itself can have a major affect on how stable your bike "feels".
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Old 01-14-17, 08:04 AM
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If you can do a proper 650b conversion on that smoothie, you'll have a fine road/gravel bike. I'm with trial angel though. I think I'd sell the frame and find something more appropriate for your intended use.
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Old 01-14-17, 10:28 AM
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It's possible to use a road bike with 700x28 on gravel, but only if it's firm, well maintained trails under dry conditions.

In many communities that is exactly the kind of gravel riding available. However, once the gravel riding includes a range of firm and soft gravel, a road bike with 700x28 becomes a serious limitation.
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Old 01-14-17, 09:22 PM
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soft stuff can take you down but so can frozen ruts
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Old 01-15-17, 11:52 AM
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Now you know why pavement was invented..
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Old 01-16-17, 01:48 PM
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In general: longer chainstays + slacker head angle = more stable. This is why a bike with very racy geometry can be a bit of handful on gravel.
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Old 01-17-17, 12:40 AM
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Hi all, so I took out the bike for its maiden ride today--mine too, as I'd never ridden a gravel bike before. I rode it around Irvine Regional Park here in Orange County, CA. The trails are flattish/rolling and pretty much hero dirt right now--tacky and dust free due to recent rains. I kept reminding myself that I was not on my 29er f/s mtb and couldn't go crazy! I took it slow at first and increased speed a little bit as I went along. I was surprised how stable the bike actually was. Being steel, with a 72 degree ST, it was very compliant too. I got to ride over hardpack clay with imbedded gravel and cobbles, sandstone shelves, and a few softer greasy mud areas. Of course, I picked my lines very carefully. I accidentally got the rear to break loose on one turn and that surprised me but it came back under pretty smoothly and I kept going. Bottomline, with nothing to compare to, I had a good time and want to ride it a lot now. My biggest concern before the ride was that I might hate it and that building this bike was a mistake. I'm glad I was wrong. Thanks for all your input.
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Old 01-17-17, 07:43 AM
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Your biggest concern should be pinch flatting on those weenie tires. If you ever try to rock and roll on the trail you're in for a puncture.
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Old 01-17-17, 09:11 AM
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Originally Posted by bikeme
Hi all, so I took out the bike for its maiden ride today--mine too, as I'd never ridden a gravel bike before. I rode it around Irvine Regional Park here in Orange County, CA. The trails are flattish/rolling and pretty much hero dirt right now--tacky and dust free due to recent rains. I kept reminding myself that I was not on my 29er f/s mtb and couldn't go crazy! I took it slow at first and increased speed a little bit as I went along. I was surprised how stable the bike actually was. Being steel, with a 72 degree ST, it was very compliant too. I got to ride over hardpack clay with imbedded gravel and cobbles, sandstone shelves, and a few softer greasy mud areas. Of course, I picked my lines very carefully. I accidentally got the rear to break loose on one turn and that surprised me but it came back under pretty smoothly and I kept going. Bottomline, with nothing to compare to, I had a good time and want to ride it a lot now. My biggest concern before the ride was that I might hate it and that building this bike was a mistake. I'm glad I was wrong. Thanks for all your input.
I'm glad you had a good experience. Keep riding, you will develop good bike handling skills. You might eventually decide that you need a more versatile bike with larger tires. Time spent on this road bike will provide a basis for any future investment decision.


.
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