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When gravel becomes 29er territory

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When gravel becomes 29er territory

Old 03-04-19, 10:24 PM
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When gravel becomes 29er territory

I love gravel grinding that is my favorite cycling discipline but some roads become 29er MTB with front suspension roads. Big Bend NP jeep roads are definitely MTB Iím not saying that canít be done on a gravel grinder but IMO a MTB would be a far better option. There is a point when the road gets too rough for the gravel bike and the ride is miserable but smooth when opting for a front suspension MTB. Or just maybe Iím getting to old and canít take it Any of you gravel grinders ever find a similar scenario?
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Old 03-05-19, 08:00 AM
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Originally Posted by Hondo Gravel
Any of you gravel grinders ever find a similar scenario?
no.

Our gravel roads are just that- gravel roads. There are Level B roads here too, which are considered by the counties as minimum maintenance roads. They are typically just a bulldozed out 2 vehicle wide path so the ground is often times hardpack and subject to rains as to whether its smooth, bumpy, washed out, etc.
But none of that requires a front suspension MTB. A front suspension MTB could certainly be used, but its hardly required. A quality 40mm tire(or there about) has comfortably handled all gravel Ive come across in Iowa and 4 of the surrounding states.

I see more fatbikes on gravel around here than MTBs with front suspension.


We dont have the extreme roads that exist in TX, CO, WY, AZ, etc etc.
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Old 03-05-19, 08:20 AM
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past cpl years been exploring trails like this. started w 45mm gravel tires but then got a cheap "29er" w cheap spring front fork. gotta say, the suspension shows use & the extra width in the tires is a real pleasure. used to go 4wheeling on the powerlines on the cape w my Chevy Citation but it was waaaay better in my 4Runner












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Old 03-05-19, 08:21 AM
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Only occasionally and almost always while descending a rough road. I've had a couple occasions where the ride up was just fine but coming down required heavy braking to keep myself at a manageable speed for the washboard, potholes, and rocks along the way.

Titus Canyon in Death Valley was probably the worst. A slow descent of over 1 hour on a rigid gravel bike. Between the hand cramps from braking hard and the numbing sensation of the constant jarring from the road it wasnt much fun at all. I could have easily cut that time in half on my FS MTB. But the climbing efficiency of the rigid frame bike on the way up was very much appreciated.
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Old 03-05-19, 09:26 AM
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In So Ca we don't really have gravel roads....... just rocky, sandy fire roads. Go to is a MTB. I've seen some riders on gravel bikes with 650b wheels and drop bars, but it's not for me.
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Old 03-05-19, 09:44 AM
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We have some roads that the Pennsylvania DNCR says are only suitable for 4wd. Descending on those can be a little much on a full rigid bike. Football size gravel is one thing if you are going slow and it's not too close together, but downhill is a bit tougher. There is one 10 mile stretch fairly close to here where it is pretty bad and the further along you get, the more obvious that there is very little through traffic. People drive out far enough to get to where they want to hunt deer and stop, then turn around when they are done. I find it's really hard to take a representative picture of those roads.

My current design for a gravel/adventure bike looks a lot like a full rigid 29'er. Not sure how I feel about that really.
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Old 03-05-19, 10:31 AM
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I converted my drop-bar hardtail specifically for the north georgia mountain gravel/dirt roads. I found the ~20 minute descents more taxing than enjoyable on a regular 40mm tire gravel bike. There's generally large embedded rock, washboarding and enough loose gravel and directional changes that the speed difference ends up being significant. On the flatter, smoother gravel in the other parts of the state the bike obviously gives up some speed but it's still acceptably fast for all but aggressive racing. Also a blast on singletrack and works great for the hyrbird races here in the southeast that often have 20 miles of singletrack and 20 miles of gravel.

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Old 03-05-19, 01:24 PM
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Originally Posted by Hondo Gravel
Any of you gravel grinders ever find a similar scenario?
Without riding on some sort of trail? Rarely. At least locally to me in MI, our paved roads are mostly within city limits or high speed roads with next to no paved shoulder for a bicycle. Most of the acreage of my county seems to be covered by dirt/gravel roads. The roads aren't necessarily smooth, but most of these roads are easily driven by any regular car, except possibly after a deep snowfall when at least snow tires may be needed (plowing is sparse on many dirt roads). There are some seasonal use roads or hunters access around the state rec areas where 4WD or an ATV would be needed, but generally the area is covered by standard residential lots between 1-20+ acres and the roads reflect that.

So for me, while I do enjoy my drop bar 29er and love the look of monster tires on drop bar bikes, I got a Warbird because it's the best bike for the largest amount of roads near me.
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Old 03-05-19, 03:52 PM
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Colorado here.

I think I'm in the ignorance is bliss category. The last full suspension bike I had was a Pro-Flex 855 in high school. The last bike I had with any suspension was a GT Xziang I had when I was about 20. It's been road ever since.

So last year when I got a gravel bike, I never considered it lacking in the suspension category. I thought the 38's were plush compared to my 23's.

I've taken it riding all over the trails at Pueblo Reservoir and the only sections I can't do on it are the same I can't do on a rigid 29er.

It's much faster most of the time. I will admit to not catching air on it.

​​​
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Old 03-05-19, 04:28 PM
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Had some 650b ThunderBurts on last weekend. I tend to ride quite a bit on paved roads until I get to the gravel/rough stuff, and back again.
Found some fairly smooth hiking trails in the hills, but also went down a couple of long quite rocky (fist sized and larger) sections in a valley.
I just rode down those slowly/braking, picking my way through the worst of the rocks. Don't mind doing that as I enjoy working on my lines/balance/clipless.
Same with going uphill. I kind of enjoy 'rockcrawling' up a steep gradient.
I'm in no hurry.
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Old 03-05-19, 07:58 PM
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If your riding position is fairly upright, and your handlebars are high at about the same level as your saddle, then I agree a lot of bumpy feedback comes from the front wheel and is transmitted into your hands, arms, neck, shoulders, and back.. In that situation I'm sure a suspension fork is helpful in achieving greater comfort, but I've also found that if you keep the front end of the bicycle as low as possible by using a rigid fork with low fork crown height, and by using a frame with a short head tube, and by keeping the handlebars as low as possible, and by using 2.1" tires instead of say 40mm tires, that combination also reduces LOTS of riding fatigue. In this latter scenario your arms are kept on the bars with a light touch and they serve well for a front suspension. A low front end also helps with steep extended climbs, keeps more weight on the front tire which improves bike handling and prevents that zig-zag motion when climbing hills. This kind of setup where you keep the bars as low as possible also requires a shorter top tube, and shorter reach, so you generally size down one frame size or two. If you have a "too-small" bicycle it might be worth experimenting with a setup like this. I did and it has revolutionized my personal bike fit theory.

Last edited by Clem von Jones; 03-05-19 at 08:10 PM.
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Old 03-05-19, 08:36 PM
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Originally Posted by Clem von Jones
If your riding position is fairly upright, and your handlebars are high at about the same level as your saddle, then I agree a lot of bumpy feedback comes from the front wheel and is transmitted into your hands, arms, neck, shoulders, and back.. In that situation I'm sure a suspension fork is helpful in achieving greater comfort, but I've also found that if you keep the front end of the bicycle as low as possible by using a rigid fork with low fork crown height, and by using a frame with a short head tube, and by keeping the handlebars as low as possible, and by using 2.1" tires instead of say 40mm tires, that combination also reduces LOTS of riding fatigue. In this latter scenario your arms are kept on the bars with a light touch and they serve well for a front suspension. A low front end also helps with steep extended climbs, keeps more weight on the front tire which improves bike handling and prevents that zig-zag motion when climbing hills. This kind of setup where you keep the bars as low as possible also requires a shorter top tube, and shorter reach, so you generally size down one frame size or two. If you have a "too-small" bicycle it might be worth experimenting with a setup like this. I did and it has revolutionized my personal bike fit theory.
This post is a head-spinner. Pretty much everything you posted is wrong.
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Old 03-05-19, 09:54 PM
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Yeah.. I would think if those things improved handling or reduced fatigue they would be used in mountain bike design (opposite direction) and, in the end, every improvement for uphill riding discussed comes at a cost for downhill control. What that positioning does though is improve speed, and the balance between gravel speed and comfort is the divide being discussed.

I see it as a spectrum between full suspension and basically a road geometry bike with gravel tires. Seems like there are three ways to meet in the middle:

  • Tire size/volume
  • Hardtail with front suspension and/or sprung saddle
  • Stem and/or seat post suspension
I've been talking about this idea in the touring section for an off road bikepacking build and thinking about the pros and cons of front suspension. Having never used one before I just put a cheap low travel Suntour fork on my rigid mtb and can tell the difference when riding over rough ground. It smoothes out the harsh ride. At the same time it weighs a ton and I can feel a reduction in speed over the rigid fork. My thoughts have been to look for a low travel light xc fork but then I also started thinking about using a suspension stem instead (have also never used one before). A decent Redshift suspension stem would probably run less than a decent fork and could be used on an otherwise road geometry gravel bike to reduce vibration fatigue. Combined with a dropper seat post and sprung saddle there is a lot of room for variation without an undue weight penalty or reduction is fast riding posture.

Anyone using a suspension stem instead of a suspension fork and if so, what is the feedback?

Last edited by Happy Feet; 03-05-19 at 10:13 PM.
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Old 03-06-19, 07:13 AM
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I agree. There are just roads/trails where a 2.1 on a FS 29 is going be faster - a LOT faster - and more comfortable. I've done rides with buddies on mixed rides - a few on gravel and a few on mtn bikes. As expected, the guys on the mtn bikes suffered on the slow grind to the top... and put minutes on the the gravel bikes on the decent. The big question is: What's the aggregate advantage or disadvantage. And it'll never be quantifiable - too many variables.
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Old 03-11-19, 04:43 PM
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They way I look at it, not one bike is perfect for all conditions. I'm happy with 90%. I find my gravel bike is great on mixed surface rides with country gravel & paved sections. In the mountains on forest service roads - lots of guys do ride 29'ers. I make due with my gravel bike - still good more 90%; just so of the rough descents are a problem for me. Some of that is technique - I have a buddy that can fly down this stuff on his gravel bike. I have no idea how he does it - it feels like I'm trying to hang on to a paint-shaker, its' really hard to see as I try not to hit anything too big. But he does destroy more wheels than I do!
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Old 03-12-19, 09:07 AM
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Well, I pick tire and bike for the road conditions.

At near race pace, my speeds are
10mph - mountain biking
15mph - gravel grinding
20mph - road
25mph - track.

At 10mph average, drop bars are not going to do me any good - and a mountain bike is a clear choice. I do like to throw some single track in on my gravel rides. I swap out front tire/wheel based on the conditions.
28mm - road only
32mm - smooth gravel
40mm - typical gravel
50mm - some mountain bike like riding (ridged).

54mm Thunder burts are a ball, and make my bike feel like a ridged mountain bike with narrow handle bars. They will take much bigger hit than 40mm gravel tires - handy for rocky and rooty rides where I don't want to be quite so ginger in picking out my path...
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Old 03-12-19, 02:03 PM
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Suspension forks and shocks have to be rebuilt every few years. I hate 'em. Use your tires, arms, and legs for suspension the way god intended.
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