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Building a "Let's see if I like 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.

Building a "Let's see if I like gravel" bike...

Old 11-19-22, 07:15 PM
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kjarrett
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Building a "Let's see if I like gravel" bike...

Hi everyone,

Just read the entire thread, "Moving on from the “let’s see if I like gravel” bike" and thought I would post here as I am probably close to where that poster was some time ago. Would love some input.

I'm a 60 year old male that enjoys trail riding (Instagram:@twozerodeltathree) on my vintage 26ers. I also buy and resell vintage 26er MTBs and parts (Instagram: @the_mtb_recyclist). My collection is entirely 26" with the exception of my road bike (Trek 2100) and the bike I recently got after being inspired by Spindatt's video, "Dirt Cheap Gravel Bike Build," a 2007 Jamis Coda hybrid.

The plan right now is for me to take the low-cost, no-budget Coda on some gravel adventures this year and into next, to see how I like gravel. Maybe try a grinder or two, some overnight bikepacking (nothing too crazy).


Full disclosure, I'm a rim-brake-loving, square taper, steel-is-real (hence the Coda) boomer with no desire to go ultra fast or be concerned about weight. (That said, my '97 Trek Y11 is 22 pounds and I love it, lol). So light weight is nice, just not a requirement for my "see if I like gravel" build.

The Coda is almost ready to roll, I'm trying to get it done for as little money as possible, doing a "parts bin" build (like Spindatt). I've already converted to 1X (the double cranks were a disaster) and have a 38t up front with the stock 11-32 8 speed rear cassette (fine for around here, it's flaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat as heck.) I have some Kenda Boosters (700x40), will add new cables and throw on some other parts, then should be able to start blasting some gravel trails. The Coda has some Tektro V-brakes and enough pads are left to make the bike safely ridable, I think.

I'm sticking with the flat bar for the first iteration of the Coda, but looking seriously at a set of Surly Moloko's, if I find the gravel experience fun, and that there are enough places to ride near me (gravelmaps.com has been helpful.) Want to keep trigger shifters if I can, just my comfort zone.

Here's the thing ... I'm already wondering if a bike like a Kona Rove (steel, 650b) might be in my future, though certainly not NEW, as the max I'd want to spend for a used adventure bike would be $1,000. I definitely want steel, and think 650b is probably wise, but I can't say right now what the terrain I'll be on will be like. I can say that it likely won't be much in the way of singletrack. I have multiple bikes for that. Just not super excited to get into all the latest bike tech, as all my tools (and skills) are 90s vintage. I have one bike with mechanical disc brakes, that's as modern as I get, lol.

Thanks in advance,

-kj-
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Old 11-19-22, 11:15 PM
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You can try riding gravel on a rigid vintage 26" MTB if you have one.

I started multi-day touring (Pittsburgh to DC on the GAP and C&O towpath, C&O is similar to the D&R path in NJ) on a 1999 or 2000 Hardrock. It had some suspension fork which I replaced with Surly Big Dummy fork.
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Old 11-20-22, 05:30 AM
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Thanks for the reply, I have five actually, but all are set up for trail riding with aggressive tires (Smoke/Dart) and I'm specifically looking for a different experience, more upright, slightly higher speed (but not much, lol). I know many folks are happy with 26er gravel bikes, and lots of the frames I have resold have gone on to become gravel bikes. That is why I'm building up the 700C Coda, to see how it feels compared to my 26ers, at least generally.

One thing I am considering is turning my single speed Univega Alpina into a gravel bike. I just built it as a single speed and it's fun but it's the most logical choice to convert one of my 26ers. The others are all basically pristine and set up for / dedicated to trail riding.
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Old 11-20-22, 05:28 PM
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Originally Posted by kjarrett View Post
Hi everyone,

Just read the entire thread, "Moving on from the “let’s see if I like gravel” bike" and thought I would post here as I am probably close to where that poster was some time ago. Would love some input.

I'm a 60 year old male that enjoys trail riding (Instagram:@twozerodeltathree) on my vintage 26ers. I also buy and resell vintage 26er MTBs and parts (Instagram: @the_mtb_recyclist). My collection is entirely 26" with the exception of my road bike (Trek 2100) and the bike I recently got after being inspired by Spindatt's video, "Dirt Cheap Gravel Bike Build," a 2007 Jamis Coda hybrid.

The plan right now is for me to take the low-cost, no-budget Coda on some gravel adventures this year and into next, to see how I like gravel. Maybe try a grinder or two, some overnight bikepacking (nothing too crazy).


Full disclosure, I'm a rim-brake-loving, square taper, steel-is-real (hence the Coda) boomer with no desire to go ultra fast or be concerned about weight. (That said, my '97 Trek Y11 is 22 pounds and I love it, lol). So light weight is nice, just not a requirement for my "see if I like gravel" build.

The Coda is almost ready to roll, I'm trying to get it done for as little money as possible, doing a "parts bin" build (like Spindatt)....
....
Here's the thing ... I'm already wondering if a bike like a Kona Rove (steel, 650b) might be in my future, though certainly not NEW, as the max I'd want to spend for a used adventure bike would be $1,000. I definitely want steel, and think 650b is probably wise, but I can't say right now what the terrain I'll be on will be like. I can say that it likely won't be much in the way of singletrack. I have multiple bikes for that. Just not super excited to get into all the latest bike tech, as all my tools (and skills) are 90s vintage. I have one bike with mechanical disc brakes, that's as modern as I get, lol.
Thanks in advance,
-kj-
Not sure what your Q is. You have it all scoped out and working already.
So just go ride your bike and see how you like the idea...
Depending on where you're riding, the tire width of 'gravel' may affect how you experience it. If you're riding in the pine barrens, and encounter longer sections of sand, then the narrower tires will be at a disadvantage. So conditions might dictate whether mtb or gravel are best.
If its equal sections of road and 'dirt'/gravel, then gravel might be more fun.
depends...
Ride On
Yuri
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Old 11-20-22, 06:52 PM
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Thanks, Yuri. It’s not built yet, hopefully finishing tomorrow.

Your points are well taken, I guess my main questions now have to do with how this bike will feel as opposed to something modern with 650b wheels, and if others were in my shoes, if they’d recommend a visit to my LBS. I just don’t want to waste the shop's time…
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Old 11-21-22, 10:33 AM
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Originally Posted by kjarrett View Post
Thanks, Yuri. It’s not built yet, hopefully finishing tomorrow.

Your points are well taken, I guess my main questions now have to do with how this bike will feel as opposed to something modern with 650b wheels, and if others were in my shoes, if they’d recommend a visit to my LBS. I just don’t want to waste the shop's time…
Taking it a little further, if your Coda can comfortably fit the 700x40s and a flatbar is comfortable for you, then you're about as close to modern low to mid-range gravel as needed.
The 1x, if well implemented, will make a difference in ease of use.
The geometry of the coda is very close to what are the quicker side of 'gravel' - a personal choice - which I like...
Things which make a difference ...
8 spd is plenty range for the kind of riding one can expect in So Jersey, but the newer gearing of 10,11 and 12 will shift smoother, faster, and a bit more reliably.
Disk brake is more workable in wet and mucky conditions. But for terrain, since there isn;t any really strong downhill work, v-brake should not be a hindrance.
Wheels - make a difference. If the Coda hybrid had wheels which accommodate wider tires, then likely the 700x40s will fit fine. If the wheels were for narrower roads tires (23-28), then you won't get the same feel or ride as a modern, wider wheel intended for the 35-44 mm tire widths.
All that said, a 700cx1.5 in wheel will make a large difference in the 'ride', as compared to a 26x2.1 in+ mtb wheel, especially over terrain that is slightly irregular and benefits from 'rollover'.
I would think that, except for the deeper sandy roads (which of course is NOT all of what So NJ is about), 'gravel' would be a great choice for non-paved riding.
Ride On
Yuri
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Old 11-21-22, 10:55 AM
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Originally Posted by cyclezen View Post
Taking it a little further, if your Coda can comfortably fit the 700x40s and a flatbar is comfortable for you, then you're about as close to modern low to mid-range gravel as needed.
The 1x, if well implemented, will make a difference in ease of use.
The geometry of the coda is very close to what are the quicker side of 'gravel' - a personal choice - which I like...
Things which make a difference ...
8 spd is plenty range for the kind of riding one can expect in So Jersey, but the newer gearing of 10,11 and 12 will shift smoother, faster, and a bit more reliably.
Disk brake is more workable in wet and mucky conditions. But for terrain, since there isn;t any really strong downhill work, v-brake should not be a hindrance.
Wheels - make a difference. If the Coda hybrid had wheels which accommodate wider tires, then likely the 700x40s will fit fine. If the wheels were for narrower roads tires (23-28), then you won't get the same feel or ride as a modern, wider wheel intended for the 35-44 mm tire widths.
All that said, a 700cx1.5 in wheel will make a large difference in the 'ride', as compared to a 26x2.1 in+ mtb wheel, especially over terrain that is slightly irregular and benefits from 'rollover'.
I would think that, except for the deeper sandy roads (which of course is NOT all of what So NJ is about), 'gravel' would be a great choice for non-paved riding.
Ride On
Yuri
Thanks so much, Yuri. I am finishing the build right now. Pretty excited to get this thing out for a spin! Other than tires, I have maybe $100 into this project so far.

I had a Deore 9 speed drivetrain on another bike and have swapped the cassette, rear mech and shifter over. Have a 38t ring up front.

The wheels seem to accommodate the 700x40's just fine, see the photos. The front mech has since been removed. More about the project here: https://www.instagram.com/the_mtb_recyclist/

If I find that I like gravel enough, but need more range, I'd go with the same Deore 1x10 setup I have on one of my mountain bikes. IIRC, it's the M5120 rear mech, M6000 shifter, 11-42 rear cogs. That would give me plenty of low range if I find myself on a trip outside the area and need to climb some hills.

I do wonder about the ride, and pinch flats, the latter of which I've never experienced while riding off-road. Hence my wondering out loud about a possible move to a bike like the Kona (instead of investing in the drivetrain above.) But I won't know until I start riding.

Thanks again!

-kj-

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Old 11-21-22, 11:35 AM
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Originally Posted by kjarrett View Post
Full disclosure, I'm a rim-brake-loving, square taper, steel-is-real (hence the Coda) boomer with no desire to go ultra fast or be concerned about weight. (That said, my '97 Trek Y11 is 22 pounds and I love it, lol). So light weight is nice, just not a requirement for my "see if I like gravel" build...
So what really is a gravel bike? Gone are the days where the bike ya just happened to ride on gravel was called a gravel bike. Now days it is a category of bike that appears to be getting more and more specific. Oddly these new off the shelf gravel bikes look and function closer to non-suspension Mountain Bikes. Years ago I had to quit my road biking and do shorter neighborhood trips. I live in a rural area where roads are torn up asphalt and light gravel with nice paths of single track through the pines. I used my UNIVEGA because I needed a strong frame for my weight and riding style/abuse. Gradually things started wearing out and failing and I just replaced components with stronger parts. It started with a stronger wheel set and wider tires, but not too wide at 1-3/8. I changed out my derailleur to a cheap long cage after hanging it up on a tree. Changed out my freewheel to one with 34T on the bailout gear. Built a compact crank with 34T on the small... Slowly my UNIVEGA changed personality and longevity. You still can't call it a gravel bike per say, but it is very much a Torn Up Asphalt bike for sure.

So you are going to build a Gravel Bike, BRAVO! I understand that some people don't get as much enjoyment out of tinkering around on thier bikes as I do. For them grabbing an off the shelf gravel bike and getting out there on the trail ASAP is the only way to go. But really, my ole UNIVEGA has been fun Fun FUN!

81 UNIVEGA Brush Paint
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Old 11-21-22, 01:30 PM
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I tried the 'conversion' to offroad/gravel on an older Spec carbon Roubaix I have, which doesn;t get ridden much. Figured I could 'test' the 'gravel' idea with a conversion. Not that I wasn;t ridding offroad on an older mtb. That was ok, but the mtb always feels a little 'slow', being about 30 lbs and with 2.25 in. tires (on 26). The mtb worked fine, but was a bit 'heavy' riding on the easier stuff.
Turned out the widest tires I could get onto the Roubaix were 30mm CX tires - but I gave it a go for a couple weeks.
Was great fun on the easy stuff. Quicker handling, more like the old CX days, but still a bit harsher than what I'd enjoy for 1 hour+ rides. Riding under at least 1 to 1 1/2 hrs just doesn't seem to happen for me. I just never seem to make it 'back' much under and hour and a bit more... LOL!
Anyway, 30 mm, even at my weight, needs 50+ psi to not bottom out on small hits/rocks/roots and pinch flat... 50+psi on CX tires is pretty hard/harsh.
Decided to get the 'New' gravel bike, now using 40 mm tires - huge difference ! at 30 lbs front and 34 lbs rear. Still fast rolling, but very compliant...!
Ride On
Yuri
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Old 11-21-22, 02:12 PM
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Originally Posted by zandoval View Post
So what really is a gravel bike? Gone are the days where the bike ya just happened to ride on gravel was called a gravel bike. Now days it is a category of bike that appears to be getting more and more specific. Oddly these new off the shelf gravel bikes look and function closer to non-suspension Mountain Bikes.
I have found the exact opposite to be true- the gravel category continues to widen further and further.
You have some that fit 50mm tires, come with dropper posts, and have a slack HTA.
You have some that dont have mounts for bags/racks,73deg frame angles, and are basically wide tire road bikes.

Both styles are quite popular and are quite different. There are a ton of gravel bikes with trail numbers between 58 and 68mm that are have aero shaping and are designed to mimic paved road riding as much as possible.
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Old 11-21-22, 02:21 PM
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Originally Posted by zandoval View Post
So what really is a gravel bike? Gone are the days where the bike ya just happened to ride on gravel was called a gravel bike. Now days it is a category of bike that appears to be getting more and more specific. Oddly these new off the shelf gravel bikes look and function closer to non-suspension Mountain Bikes. Years ago I had to quit my road biking and do shorter neighborhood trips. I live in a rural area where roads are torn up asphalt and light gravel with nice paths of single track through the pines. I used my UNIVEGA because I needed a strong frame for my weight and riding style/abuse. Gradually things started wearing out and failing and I just replaced components with stronger parts. It started with a stronger wheel set and wider tires, but not too wide at 1-3/8. I changed out my derailleur to a cheap long cage after hanging it up on a tree. Changed out my freewheel to one with 34T on the bailout gear. Built a compact crank with 34T on the small... Slowly my UNIVEGA changed personality and longevity. You still can't call it a gravel bike per say, but it is very much a Torn Up Asphalt bike for sure.

So you are going to build a Gravel Bike, BRAVO! I understand that some people don't get as much enjoyment out of tinkering around on thier bikes as I do. For them grabbing an off the shelf gravel bike and getting out there on the trail ASAP is the only way to go. But really, my ole UNIVEGA has been fun Fun FUN!

81 UNIVEGA Brush Paint
Great story! Univega's from the late 80s and early 90s are fantastic bikes, especially the steel ones. I have an Alpina 503 that I've set up as a single speed. Love it.

Finished the build today, TOMORROW - WE RIDE!

-kj-
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Old 11-21-22, 02:23 PM
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Originally Posted by cyclezen View Post
I tried the 'conversion' to offroad/gravel on an older Spec carbon Roubaix I have, which doesn;t get ridden much. Figured I could 'test' the 'gravel' idea with a conversion. Not that I wasn;t ridding offroad on an older mtb. That was ok, but the mtb always feels a little 'slow', being about 30 lbs and with 2.25 in. tires (on 26). The mtb worked fine, but was a bit 'heavy' riding on the easier stuff.
Turned out the widest tires I could get onto the Roubaix were 30mm CX tires - but I gave it a go for a couple weeks.
Was great fun on the easy stuff. Quicker handling, more like the old CX days, but still a bit harsher than what I'd enjoy for 1 hour+ rides. Riding under at least 1 to 1 1/2 hrs just doesn't seem to happen for me. I just never seem to make it 'back' much under and hour and a bit more... LOL!
Anyway, 30 mm, even at my weight, needs 50+ psi to not bottom out on small hits/rocks/roots and pinch flat... 50+psi on CX tires is pretty hard/harsh.
Decided to get the 'New' gravel bike, now using 40 mm tires - huge difference ! at 30 lbs front and 34 lbs rear. Still fast rolling, but very compliant...!
Ride On
Yuri
You've hit on my main, let's say, area of interest/curiosity. Now that the build is finished, I will see how it feels and explore the whole tire pressure issue. But I will be carrying two spare tubes at all times, lol. And I have considered going tubeless, though I really, really don't want to...

-kj-
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Old 11-23-22, 05:48 AM
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Originally Posted by kjarrett View Post
You've hit on my main, let's say, area of interest/curiosity. Now that the build is finished, I will see how it feels and explore the whole tire pressure issue. But I will be carrying two spare tubes at all times, lol. And I have considered going tubeless, though I really, really don't want to...

-kj-
I had a similar journey getting into gravel. Been riding mountain bikes the last 30 years, and my current one is a rigid 26 ". Pretty much road that bike everywhere, and eventually swapped it out for some semi-slick 26x1.75" tires. It did a pretty good job on local gravel and roads, and I even took it to the mountains a few times to take on some rides that were maybe 60-70% gravel, and on the rougher side (mostly forest service roads). It did pretty well, and I kept up with a friend who had an all carbon gravel bike without much trouble. That said, eventually a 30 lb Specialized Hardrock got to be pretty heavy and slowed me down.

Bought a 2019 Carbon Warbird. The Warbird came set up with tubes, and that has been really nice. It cut 8 pounds off my bike (there's not too much to cut off of me lol). It rides super comfortable, but honestly, felt like another bike with tubes. After converting to tubeless, it felt totally different. It has a softer ride quality to it, and feels pretty fast at times. With the stock WTB i23 wheelset, I had the tubeless setup with fairly little trouble. I know you don't want tubeless (there are tire incompatibility issues too, not all tires work with all rims-i.e. Panaracer Gravelkings don't work on the i23s anybody want to buy a Gravelking? ) , but honestly I think tubeless is really worth it. You can see shiny places on your tire where a rock punctured your tire, and be thankful not to be changing a tube somewhere in the mountains when a sudden rainstorm comes. Food for thought.

As far as the tire compatibility issue, I have poked around the internet, and also got some help at a local shop who recommended the Specialized Pathfinder Pro. It mounted right up to my wheel, and has been cranking out the miles ever since. Long story short, I would suggest considering tubeless. Maybe not DI2 or AXS or hydraulic disc brakes, but tubeless made a tangible difference in my everyday gravel (and a lot of singletrack!) riding.

Dave

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Old 11-23-22, 05:55 AM
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Originally Posted by bonsai171 View Post
I had a similar journey getting into gravel. Been riding mountain bikes the last 30 years, and my current one is a rigid 26 ". Pretty much road that bike everywhere, and eventually swapped it out for some semi-slick 26x1.75" tires. It did a pretty good job on local gravel and roads, and I even took it to the mountains a few times to take on some rides that were maybe 60-70% gravel, and on the rougher side (mostly forest service roads). It did pretty well, and I kept up with a friend who had an all carbon gravel bike without much trouble. That said, eventually a 30 lb Specialized Hardrock got to be pretty heavy and slowed me down.

Bought a 2019 Carbon Warbird. The Warbird came set up with tubes, and that has been really nice. It cut 8 pounds off my bike (there's not too much to cut off of me lol). It rides super comfortable, but honestly, felt like another bike with tubes. After converting to tubeless, it felt totally different. It has a softer ride quality to it, and feels pretty fast at times. With the stock WTB i23 wheelset, I had the tubeless setup with fairly little trouble. I know you don't want tubeless (there are tire incompatibility issues too, not all tires work with all rims-i.e. Panaracer Gravelkings don't work on the i23s anybody want to buy a Gravelking? ) , but honestly I think tubeless is really worth it. You can see shiny places on your tire where a rock punctured your tire, and be thankful not to be changing a tube somewhere in the mountains when a sudden rainstorm comes. Food for thought.

As far as the tire compatibility issue, I have poked around the internet, and also got some help at a local shop who recommended the Specialized Pathfinder Pro. It mounted right up to my wheel, and has been cranking out the miles ever since. Long story short, I would suggest considering tubeless. Maybe not DI2 or AXS or hydraulic disc brakes, but tubeless made a tangible difference in my everyday gravel (and a lot of singletrack!) riding.

Dave

​​​​
Thanks for commenting, Dave! I am open to the idea, since carrying multiple spares is a PITA, and I haven't patched a tube since the 90s, lol. (I do know how...) Anyway, I'll definitely consider it, and these Alex rims are fairly tight. Pretty sure the Kendas are tubless ready. Worth considering, especially if the ride quality difference is that much.

Kevin
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Old 11-23-22, 05:57 AM
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For anyone curious, I posted about my first ride on this bike yesterday:


tl;dr - I like it. I like it a lot.
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Old 11-24-22, 09:04 AM
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"Gravel" means so many different things to different areas I think building your own is often the best solution.
The LBS and their gravel offerings vary and might not be the best.
My area has many miles of crushed limestone rail trails, so wider tires really are not needed. I built mine on a cx frame with a 1x and 35mm tires. For my wife's I used an older hybrid and left the 3x7 drivetrain. We like the drop bars for the longer rides, more comfortable for us.
They are not Mountain Bikes, or Road bikes. Plenty of room to build what you want in the middle ground.
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Old 11-24-22, 09:58 AM
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The convergence of so many cyclists due to our similarities is still amazing to me, though I suppose it should be expected. Right down to the change to 26x1.75" tyres of bonsai171 !

But throw in that kjarrett also has a Trek Y11? What an incredible coincidence.

Here's my 1998 Klein Pulse evolution towards gravel.

Gravel Bias: Evolving the Klein Pulse MTB

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Old 11-27-22, 06:38 PM
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Originally Posted by daverup View Post
"Gravel" means so many different things to different areas I think building your own is often the best solution.
The LBS and their gravel offerings vary and might not be the best.
My area has many miles of crushed limestone rail trails, so wider tires really are not needed. I built mine on a cx frame with a 1x and 35mm tires. For my wife's I used an older hybrid and left the 3x7 drivetrain. We like the drop bars for the longer rides, more comfortable for us.
They are not Mountain Bikes, or Road bikes. Plenty of room to build what you want in the middle ground.
Well said. It's all about experimentation.
I've enjoyed the initial experience so much that I've gone ahead and ordered the same Deore 1x10 drivetrain that I have on my 2007 Gary Fisher Marlin for use on the Coda: M6000 shifter, M4120 Rear Mech, M4100 11-46t rear cassette. I'm convinced that will give me all the range I'll need.
I've also got a set of Surly Moloko bars on order. Pretty sure those will go on in December, and be exactly what I'm looking for. We'll see!
Meanwhile, I'm scoring GravelMap.com for places to ride...already built some routes. Psyched!
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