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Help me pick the right bike - is a gravel bike right for me?

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Help me pick the right bike - is a gravel bike right for me?

Old 04-22-24, 06:53 AM
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Help me pick the right bike - is a gravel bike right for me?

I am an occasional biker who bikes on paved paths, some roads, and forest preserves. I am in the Chicago area, so, mostly flat terrain.
I like to go at good speed or effort.
I have currnelty a Bad Body Lefty. This is of course more a city commuter type of bike. It works fairly well on paved paths and light gravel. But I like something more optimized for my use case. Neither a MTB or road bike would be right. So, I was thinking about getting a gravel bike. Would this the be right choice?
If yes, what should I consider picking a gravel bike? e.g. gearing, suspension, etc.
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Old 04-22-24, 07:37 AM
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Gravel bike sounds like a good choice, very versatile given that you can easily swap tires. You'll need to choose between 1X or 2X. Wouldn't make much difference for your use. Some people have difficulty adjusting front shifting though it's a non-issue for most. Look for modern frame spacing, thru axles, etc and beware some budget offerings with weird or obsolete specs. Your use doesn't seem demanding, think you'll be fine with a lower spec bike around $1500. Check out the Giant Revolt and Cannondale Topstone range. However, nicer is always nicer so treat yourself if budget permits.
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Old 04-22-24, 07:48 AM
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Originally Posted by shelbyfv
Gravel bike sounds like a good choice, very versatile given that you can easily swap tires. You'll need to choose between 1X or 2X. Wouldn't make much difference for your use. Some people have difficulty adjusting front shifting though it's a non-issue for most. Look for modern frame spacing, thru axles, etc and beware some budget offerings with weird or obsolete specs. Your use doesn't seem demanding, think you'll be fine with a lower spec bike around $1500. Check out the Giant Revolt and Cannondale Topstone range. However, nicer is always nicer so treat yourself if budget permits.
thanks! I had to look up 1x vs 2x. I don't think I will be swapping wheels/tires. One thing I noticed: almost none of gravel bikes have front suspension.It still seems to be a nice to have on forest paths?
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Old 04-22-24, 07:50 AM
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I tried Googling "bad body lefty" and all I got was info about left-handed electric guitars.

My suggestion would depend on if you are planning to keep your current city bike for riding in the city. If so, you can shop for a more trail-oriented bike.
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Old 04-22-24, 07:51 AM
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Originally Posted by abfahrt
I am an occasional biker who bikes on paved paths, some roads, and forest preserves. I am in the Chicago area, so, mostly flat terrain.
↑ Do you bike on any gravel trails as part of the 'forest preserves'? If so, a gravel bike is a good option, especially when that fine crushed limestone gets a little soupy at times. If not and you're 90+% paved, you may be better served by an endurance road bike (or "All Road" bike, as they're called in the UK) with wider tires. Examples are Specialized Roubaix or Trek Domane. Endurance Road bike tires aren't generally as skinny as they used to be. For example, the Trek Domane line comes on 32 mm tires, where 23, 25 or 28 mm used to be the standard. It does gravel fine as long as it's not soupy or the stones aren't too big. An advantage of the endurance road bike is that it's a lot easier to go faster than 15 mph because there is less air drag on the tires due to not having knobby lugs. Below 15 mph, I don't notice the difference, but above that, I do. On the open road, I find myself cruising at 16-17 mph on the Domane and more like 15 on the gravel bike. When conditions are right, 20-25 mph is no problem on the Domane, but is a monumental effort on the gravel bike. Typical standard tire width on a gravel bike is around 40 mm now. You can run less pressure for a smoother ride on gravel or bad pavement than you can on the 32 mm road tires. It would be faster than your Bad Boy Lefty, but not as fast/easy as a road bike.

I like to go at good speed or effort.
Hmm. Speed and effort can be two different things. For example, at a given level of effort on your Bad Boy Lefty, you might be going 15 mph and with that same effort you might be going 17 on a gravel bike and 19 on a road bike. (with good road conditions) With bad road conditions or rough gravel, that same effort may yield faster speeds on the Bad Boy Lefty.

There is a wide range of options for tires on gravel bikes nowadays too. Some of them are more like mountain bikes with fat tires but less aggressive lugs on the tires, and some are narrower than the fatter road bike tires, but with a bit of knobbiness to them.

By the way, I'm just up in Kenosha, WI. If you're about my size and want to take a trip up here, you're welcome to try my endurance road bike and gravel bike. I'm 5'8", 31" inseam. We do a coffee ride from Kenosha to Zion, IL and back most Saturday mornings you could join us for that and try one of my bikes. The coffee shop in Zion is two doors down from an excellent bike shop, too! (PM me if interested)

I bought my gravel bike with the intent to make it a combination bike for commuting faster than a commuter can go, but can still handle gravel trails and bad roads better than my road bike. But when I'm mostly on pavement, the endurance road bike is the easy choice.

Last edited by Smaug1; 04-22-24 at 08:06 AM.
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Old 04-22-24, 07:53 AM
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Originally Posted by ScottCommutes
I tried Googling "bad body lefty" and all I got was info about left-handed electric guitars.

My suggestion would depend on if you are planning to keep your current city bike for riding in the city. If so, you can shop for a more trail-oriented bike.
He meant 'Bad Boy', not 'Bad Body':

https://www.cannondale.com/en-us/bik.../urban/bad-boy
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Old 04-22-24, 07:56 AM
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Originally Posted by ScottCommutes
I tried Googling "bad body lefty" and all I got was info about left-handed electric guitars.

My suggestion would depend on if you are planning to keep your current city bike for riding in the city. If so, you can shop for a more trail-oriented bike.
If I spelled better :-)
https://www.bicyclebluebook.com/valu...Bad%20Boy%201/
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Old 04-22-24, 08:31 AM
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that's the one with the single leg fork ! never looked right to me.

too much bending moment on the front axle.

/markp
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Old 04-22-24, 08:42 AM
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Originally Posted by mpetry912
that's the one with the single leg fork ! never looked right to me.

too much bending moment on the front axle.

/markp
they actually have less movement
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Old 04-22-24, 09:58 AM
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Gravel bikes generally don't get suspension forks, mostly to save weight and complexity. You can usually put upwards of a 44-45mm gravel tire and just run lower air pressure, 30-40 or so.

As I'm a fan of a 2X crank, gives you better gearing choices and you usually are not rushing to shift on a dirt road or trail, thus 2X works very well.

As well, many folk, myself included, add a 2nd wheelset with narrower slick road tires and maybe a less hill oriented cassette and use their gravel bikes as asphalt/road bikes. Double the bike for not a huge expense.
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Old 04-22-24, 10:16 AM
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I probably would just swapped to grippier tires on that bad boy, like Gravel King SS+ and call it a day.
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Old 04-22-24, 10:25 AM
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Originally Posted by abfahrt
I am an occasional biker who bikes on paved paths, some roads, and forest preserves. I am in the Chicago area, so, mostly flat terrain.
I like to go at good speed or effort.
I have currnelty a Bad Body Lefty. This is of course more a city commuter type of bike. It works fairly well on paved paths and light gravel. But I like something more optimized for my use case. Neither a MTB or road bike would be right. So, I was thinking about getting a gravel bike. Would this the be right choice?
If yes, what should I consider picking a gravel bike? e.g. gearing, suspension, etc.
What specifically would be more optimized for your use? What would a gravel bike provide that you want/need? Do you want/need drop bars? Do you want to go faster? Do you want to do longer rides?

Seems like your current bike is pretty well suited to the kind of riding you do and also benefits from the low maintenance of belt drive and internal gear hub. If I was in your position, I think I'd keep riding that until you have a defined need and then you'll know what kind of bike to get.
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Old 04-22-24, 10:28 AM
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You didn't mention a budget for this new bike or any real specifics of what you want, which will make a difference in what exactly to look for.

Suspension on gravel bikes does exist, but has been very limited until recently. It's still generally something being added to a few higher end bikes as the gravel suspension forks run about $1k. You may find that the larger tires at lower pressures gives you enough control & comfort for the riding you do.

It sounds like you have no intention of being a road racer so you probably don't need to worry about a second wheelset or different gearing for your different use cases. There are a lot of gravel tires that roll extremely fast on the road and are not nearly the speed penalty many roadies think they are so you don't really need to swap for your different uses. I think current 1x setups are the way to go if you live in a relatively flat area. 2x is great if you are a rider who is only comfortable pedaling in a very narrow cadence range, otherwise 1x can give you most of the same gear range in a cleaner, simpler package.
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Old 04-22-24, 12:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Ogsarg
What specifically would be more optimized for your use? What would a gravel bike provide that you want/need? Do you want/need drop bars? Do you want to go faster? Do you want to do longer rides?

Seems like your current bike is pretty well suited to the kind of riding you do and also benefits from the low maintenance of belt drive and internal gear hub. If I was in your position, I think I'd keep riding that until you have a defined need and then you'll know what kind of bike to get.
A couple of things:
1.) Tires (wheels). Would need larger, more gripping tires. I am not sure what my limits are with current rimms
2.) There are times I like to ride a bit lower (body position). For sure, some more options to alternate would be nice.
3.) It could use a faster gear for paved trail/street use
4.) There are times when I doubt the strength of the internal gear hub. Certainly is finicky and requires lots of adjustment to keep it noise free (BTW. I don't have the belt, I have the chain option)
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Old 04-22-24, 04:01 PM
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Only real limit on tire size is what kind of brakes are you using now, and can you squeeze a larger tire between the brake shoes (if rim brakes). That's one big advantage to a bike with disc brakes, is fewer limits on tire sizes. You still get limits at the rear chainstays and if using a front derailer that can hit a too wide a tire. Gearing is your choice really and is why I like 2X, more gear choices and on a road/dirt bike trail is noce to have those in between gears that you lose when going 1X.

Gravel bikes are kind of an ideal bike for your stated use, almost a road bike, yet able to take bigger knobbie tires useful on dirt/gravel trails. My Gravel King tires are a really good tire on pavement, as example, yet still do a very good job when I am turning on loose gravel trails.
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Old 04-22-24, 04:23 PM
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Originally Posted by abfahrt
A couple of things:
1.) Tires (wheels). Would need larger, more gripping tires. I am not sure what my limits are with current rimms
2.) There are times I like to ride a bit lower (body position). For sure, some more options to alternate would be nice.
3.) It could use a faster gear for paved trail/street use
4.) There are times when I doubt the strength of the internal gear hub. Certainly is finicky and requires lots of adjustment to keep it noise free (BTW. I don't have the belt, I have the chain option)
That provides a bit more detail and you should investigate some other bikes to see wether they would meet those requirements. My 2cents

1. If what I read is correct, your bike has 40c tires, which are pretty big. I suspect you could go wider, but you'd need to check for tire clearance. Generally a 40 tire is good enough for most people for groomed trails

2. Drop bars will offer more hand positions as well as a lower riding position.

3. You should check your current gear range in terms of gear inches and see how it would compare with a traditional drivetrain. In my experience, there isn't a lot of opportunity for high speeds on bike paths, especially in urban areas.

4. I've personally never had an IGH but from what I know, reliability and low maintenance is their big advantage. If yours requires constant tweaking, I would have someone look at it.

If you can, rent a gravel bike and take it out where you normally ride and see how you like it.
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Old 04-22-24, 05:15 PM
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A gravel bike is a great option to work over mixed terrain. Generally a gravel bike doesn't have suspension. It's not clear from the OP's description if front suspension is needed. If you want to ride trails with tree roots and rocks, you'll want suspension and you're looking more towards a hard-tail mountain type bike or at least a gravel bike with a suspension fork.

The larger tires of a gravel bike provide a lot of cushion, so simple rough ground is fine, it's larger chunky stuff that it's not great on. But also, you have to think in terms of just how much you'll ride on rough terrain. If it is just a small amount, and you're only looking at the odd tree root or a few rocks here and there, then I wouldn't worry about it. If you're going to ride 50% of the time on terrain better suited to a mountain bike, then I'd use a mountain bike.

For example, say you have a trail you like but there's that one spot that you have to get off and walk the bike through. So what. I have to do that with my mountain bike sometimes. But of course there's no one bike that is going to be a good road bike as well as a rough terrain mountain bike.

As for gearing, a 2X gravel bike generally has great gearing. Plenty good enough for road rides unless you have pro-rider power. You'll likely only run out of top end (high speed) gearing if you're making long descents. And there's really no such thing as having too much low end.

A typical gravel gearing with a 46/30 front and 11-34 rear works really well. You can generally pedal up to ~35 MPH at 100 RPM cadence. And there's no way you're doing that on the flat without putting out elite rider power levels.

And, as mentioned by others, with a gravel bike, there's always the option of having two sets of wheels. one with relatively narrow road tires ~30 mm or less, and one set with larger 40+ mm tires with more aggressive tread. And even wide tires, of good ones, can roll pretty well on the road.
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Old 04-23-24, 05:19 AM
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I was a little skeptical about the concept of “gravel” bikes, thinking that many of them seemed little more than old-school mountain bikes with drop bars attached to them. But I ended up putting one together for myself, and I am quite happy with it. I find it a smooth-riding, fast-pacing commuter, a long-haul bikepacking rig, and reaching the end of the pavement doesn’t mean I’ve reached the end of the ride.

A few things I would consider when putting together such a bike are the style of frame and wheel size. I chose a more conventional frame, as I like the style more, but a sloping top tube would make the bike a little easier to stand over and maneuver over rougher terrain. I installed 29” wheels on my bike, in hindsight, 27.5” might have been a better choice. Though I like the way the 29” wheels roll over the rough stuff, toe overlap has been an issue.

I am glad that I got a frame which has numerous places to mount bottles, racks, and accessories. I can remove the racks and accessories when commuting with the bike, but fit enough things to it to carry what I need for a weeklong adventure.
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Old 04-23-24, 06:16 AM
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As far as I'm concerned, Gatorskins on any bike makes it a gravel bike that can ride on gravel.

Someone that is used to upright and then throws couple grand on a drop down to use for the first time on a planned outing is going to have a lousy time.
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Old 04-23-24, 06:29 AM
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As a newly minted teenager in the early 70s, I rode the mostly unpaved Cook County Forest Preserve trails on a green 1960s Schwinn Sting Ray with a slick rear tire.

It looked just like this reproduction model.

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Old 04-23-24, 06:33 AM
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I live in the Chicago area, and yes it is FLAT!. And other than the DesPlaines river trail, which is under water 1/2 the year, there is no gravel roads or trails. I rode the Prarie Path, crushed limestone, for years on skinny sew-up tires, and that was 50 years ago when it was just starting to be developed. Lots of dirt, mud, and irregularities.

Now I ride the Green Bay Trail, mostly crushed limestone, on my old road bike with...skinny sew-up tires. No issues whatsoever. And they are nice and fast on the road.

Gearing, I find my low gear of 44/21 handles anything in a 50 mile radius and beyond. So a gravel bike with its ultra low gears is totally unnecessary in this area.

My recommendation, get an old steel road bike, glue on some skinny sew-ups, get some tall gearing, get out on Sheridan road....and ride like bloody hell !
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Old 04-23-24, 06:40 AM
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Originally Posted by abfahrt
A couple of things:
1.) Tires (wheels). Would need larger, more gripping tires. I am not sure what my limits are with current rimms
2.) There are times I like to ride a bit lower (body position). For sure, some more options to alternate would be nice.
3.) It could use a faster gear for paved trail/street use
4.) There are times when I doubt the strength of the internal gear hub. Certainly is finicky and requires lots of adjustment to keep it noise free (BTW. I don't have the belt, I have the chain option)

Put whatever width you want on the rims as long as the tires fit in your frame and give frame and brake clearance. For gearing you will need to count the number of teeth on your current gearing and compare that to whatever you are considering.

The best reason to buy a new bike is when you know exactly why your old bike is preventing you from doing what you want to do with it, and you know the new one will allow you to do what you want to do. Otherwise, any reason will suffice.LOL
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Old 04-23-24, 07:43 AM
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Originally Posted by t2p
they actually have less movement
Yeah, building a cantilevered house over a stream makes sense too...
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Old 04-23-24, 10:48 AM
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Originally Posted by abfahrt
I am an occasional biker who bikes on paved paths, some roads, and forest preserves. I am in the Chicago area, so, mostly flat terrain.
I like to go at good speed or effort.
I have currnelty a Bad Body Lefty. This is of course more a city commuter type of bike. It works fairly well on paved paths and light gravel. But I like something more optimized for my use case. Neither a MTB or road bike would be right. So, I was thinking about getting a gravel bike. Would this the be right choice?
If yes, what should I consider picking a gravel bike? e.g. gearing, suspension, etc.
I would begin with what your current ride does not do for you. Hard call as to what a gravel bike would bring to the party w/o knowing what's missing now. More riding positions from drop bars? Higher top speed? Lower weight? Handling?
Happy shopping!
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Old 04-23-24, 11:35 AM
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IMHO you do not need a new bike. The bike that you have is perfectly capable of doing every thing that you listed and then some. If you WANT a new bike though, a “Gravel” bike is a good choice. A mid range or even low end one is probably best. They are more comfortable than a racing “road bike”, lighter and faster than a MTB, more hand options and more “aero” than a hybrid. Most have chubby tires that are pretty cushiony. The lower-end ones might still have multi-clogged front chain rings that give a wider, more closely spaced set of gear ratios.
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