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Can A Gravel Bike Be A Good Road Bike?

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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Can A Gravel Bike Be A Good Road Bike?

Old 09-24-18, 12:11 PM
  #26  
MKahrl
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A gravel bike can be a great choice for the type of enthusiast recreational riding you describe.

The one shortcoming I find in many road and gravel bikes is a lack of mounting points for racks and fenders. It's a minor point and you may not be thinking about it when you first make the purchase but bicycles often have long lives and there may come a day when the type of riding you do includes carrying stuff. (Small tools, food, a camera, the jacket of someone you're interested in.)

Look around at other cyclists and you'll see a great many have some sort of provision for carrying stuff and depending on the bike's design the solution varies from elegant to god-awful.
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Old 09-24-18, 12:11 PM
  #27  
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Originally Posted by rms13 View Post
Gravel bike is just another marketing term for road bike. Yes they fit wider tires and have disc brakes (but so do most road bikes now) but it's a road bike. And of course the owner of an LBS will tell you the correct number of bikes is n+1

The only thing I'll say about the linked bikes is the gearing is pretty low for riding in a flat area like NYC. Obviously if you are racing you'd want a lighter bike and steeper geometry but for the average road rider I don't think there is much difference between road, gravel or cross bikes. All can be set up for road. If you want one bike to do it all then I'd go with one with better off road ability
Having owned a range of "road" bikes from crit bikes, endurance, cross, gravel, and bikepacking all of which get ridden on pavement regularly I'd say even if you don't race on the road there are substantial differences in how they feel cornering, sprinting and climbing etc. to say they are all the same.
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Old 09-24-18, 12:18 PM
  #28  
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Originally Posted by redlude97 View Post
Having owned a range of "road" bikes from crit bikes, endurance, cross, gravel, and bikepacking all of which get ridden on pavement regularly I'd say even if you don't race on the road there are substantial differences in how they feel cornering, sprinting and climbing etc. to say they are all the same.
Yes, but for the average rider there isn't a significant difference. The average recreational rider today is being sold a endruance geo bike with discs that takes 700x28 tires. The average "gravel" bike has close to if not the same geo as a endurance bike, has same disc brakes and can fit 700x28 road tires but can also fit 700x37 or 40 tires or 650b. If you want to race crits AND go bike camping AND race cross then sure maybe 3 dedicated bikes are for you but that's not the impression I get from OP's post
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Old 09-24-18, 12:30 PM
  #29  
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You only need the one (gravel) bike. I also have a GT Grade, and it's the commuting and rain bike I wish I always would have had. With 30mm Schwalbe S-one tubeless I don't really notice any speed difference from my Scott CR1 (on 23s) I used to commute on--but it is soo much more comfortable and pleasurable on crappy pavement. The reduced attention needed because you're not scanning for every crack in the road was a revelation. The handling is a bit slower, but it turns out I prefer that in town for dodging obstacles. It's heavier than my 16 pound CR1, but unless I'm going for an uphill PR or hilly weekend ride I still prefer to be on the GT for the comfort (and hydro discs). I anticipated immediately swapping out the flared handlebar but on gravel and descents the extra width in the drops gives a nice measure of control--the hoods are in a narrower position and is your most aero position, so if I want to get small and low I feel that I can. Definitely try before you buy: I test rode a Diamondback Haanjo and it was a snooze, giving that front-of-a-tandem feeling another mentioned. I also went a bit down in size to a 55 rather than 56 (5' 11" with longer legs).
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Old 09-24-18, 12:33 PM
  #30  
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Originally Posted by JayNYC View Post
Assuming you have a separate wheelset with 25-28mm tires, can a gravel bike be a decent road bike?
Yes. If the gravel bike fits and it's set up in your normal road posture, if it provides the gearing you need for road riding, and if the tires are fast, then it's pretty much a road bike. Depending on what you're doing and what the particular fat tires you're using are, this can be true even if you don't bother with a separate wheelset.

My gravel bike is a cheap drop-bar conversion of a 1984 Stumpjumper. Very far from a traditional road bike: absurdly high mechanical trail, 475mm chainstays (!!!), full-length fenders...
But it's fit like my road bikes. While it's 3x7 drivetrain provides me with bailout gears for mountainous gravel riding, it also gives me gears up to 113 inches and - through a 1.5-step scheme - tightly-spaced gears for fast road riding. And although the 53mm Rat Trap Pass ELs that it wears most of the time are a very wide tire, they're built like a high-performance road tire.
Because the bike is very heavy (33lbs!), and perhaps also slightly because of the completely ridiculous front-end geometry, it climbs dramatically worse than my Emonda: about 6-7% speed deficit (!!!) up steep hills. But otherwise, although it feels nothing like a road bike to ride, it performs surprisingly closely in line with my "real" road bikes: plenty of my paved PRs and even a few KOMs are on the Stumpy, and when I take it to the same group rides, for the most part I ride with similarly-composed pacelines. During the winter time, when people start busting out their tough urban tires, the Stumpy actually becomes a stronger performer than a lot of road racing bikes.

The bikes you're looking at are fancier and far more road-like than my Stumpy. They'll still feel a little different from a pure road bike, but if you fit them roadishly and use tires that roll fast on the road, I don't think the performance will differ very tangibly at all.

Last edited by HTupolev; 09-24-18 at 12:56 PM.
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Old 09-24-18, 12:39 PM
  #31  
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My old commuting rig was one of the early "gravel grinder" bikes, and I found it to be extremely versatile. Mine was tailored for commuting (internally geared hub, racks, lights, etc) but I could have easily set it up for a little lighter recreational duty with a conventional drivetrain and more svelte wheels.
FWIW when I lived in SLC my daily commute varied from about 10 miles to 18 miles each way (moved locally during my time in that city). The longer commute also entailed an 800 foot climb from the valley to the neighborhood I lived in.

Even mine, with all of its extra stuff, was a wonderful bike to ride. At the time, it was my only bike. I've since sold it, but to date it is the most practical bike I've owned

In my opinion, unless you are racing or needing a dedicated bike for road riding, a modified gravel bike / cx bike is a great choice. There's less flexibility with a full-on road bike.

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Old 09-24-18, 12:47 PM
  #32  
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Originally Posted by rms13 View Post
Gravel bike is just another marketing term for road bike. Yes they fit wider tires and have disc brakes (but so do most road bikes now) but it's a road bike. And of course the owner of an LBS will tell you the correct number of bikes is n+1
I'm not saying you a dedicated bike for every type of ride you do, but ^that^ is not accurate. Among other things, there are significant differences in the geometries of road vs gravel bikes.
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Old 09-24-18, 12:52 PM
  #33  
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As someone who spent late spring experimenting with a gravel racing bike used for road race training, running either 650bx47/42 and 700cx28 - there's almost no point is bothering to switch between them. 650bx47 is so close that unless you are actually racing for the podium it's good enough. The additional capability on rough/off road, in rain as well as better tubelessness and it's a much better general purpose wheel/tire combo.

The downside to a gravel bike as a road bike is that the former is almost always going to be overbuilt and much stiffer than necessary for road riding. It's a tradeoff as most frame/forks built to a road-focused level of compliance aren't going to accept larger tires. Gravel bikes are not road bikes - the frame and fork are designed much stronger to meet CPSC requirements and this shows in how they ride and feel on pavement.

You need to start test riding some bikes and stop looking at measurements and ratios.
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Old 09-24-18, 12:58 PM
  #34  
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First I want to say thanks to everyone who responded. Most of the comments were right on target with personal experiences that were the kind of thing I needed to hear. The consensus seems to be that for the type of riding I'll be doing, the gravel bike will be a completely decent road bike (after I put a different set of wheels on it).

Gearing was a common comment and to that point. NYC has hills, they're not as bad as some places (e.g. I rode in Vancouver last month and suddenly couldn't ride as far as I usually do because of all the hills), but we've definitely got hills. My current bike has horrible gearing for hill climbing (lowest gear is 36 gear inches), which makes hill climbing unpleasant. Meanwhile I'm not (yet) at the skill level where I speed down hills. I doubt there will be many times when I spin out on the gravel bike gearing. And as one of you pointed out, I'm only really missing the 50x11 gear – the Felt tops out at 48x11.

Originally Posted by Colnago Mixte View Post
Every concession a gravel bike makes in order to improve off-road performance, will negatively impact its performance on the road. So you need to ask yourself which kind of riding is most important to you. You can't have the best of both worlds, but you can decide which kind of riding matters most to you, and then make accommodations.
Originally Posted by Zaskar View Post
In addition to a few road bikes, I have a Canyon Grail gravel bike with a 50/34. It's light for a gravel bike - around 18 pounds. And, I have a second set of narrower wheels with an 11-28 cassette and 28mm road tires.

It is "good" road bike, but not a great road bike. As Colnago Mixte pointed out, everything that makes it a great gravel bike, detracts from its road bike chops. It may only be noticeable because I ride both, but compared to the road bikes, the Grail really feels long - standing and hammering/sprinting it can feel like I'm on the front of a tandem (the dynamic, not really that exaggerated). BUT... if I had room for only one bike, it'd be a gravel or cx bike.

A CX bike with two sets of wheels and a compact crank may be a good balance - geometry more similar to a road bike, room for wider tires.
Can someone be a bit more specific and technical in quantifying what's meant by those two statements. Zaskar hinted that one of the criteria might be wheelbase. But on the specs I laid out above, how exactly do they differ from an endurance road bike? Wheelbase? Head tube angle? Rake/Trail? And how much of a difference are we talking about?

For example, Felt is just released the Breed and the Broam – the Breed is a "gravel" bike, the Broam is an "adventure bike". I suspect that the Broam's geometry has more of the compromises you're talking about, where the Breed is closer to a road bike. Even among gravel bikes there's a lot of variation. The new Cannondale Topstone and the new(ish) Trek Checkpoint both have pretty low bottom brackets (75-76mm drop). Not as low as the Diverge (which is crazy low – 85mm), but low enough that you can't really swap out wheelsets without running into problems. I ran into one sales guy who had just purchased a Checkpoint and thought the Jari was too CXish / sporty – he liked how relaxed the Checkpoint was. The point being tell me exactly the specs you see that aren't road-like and how much variation we're talking about and I can re-evaluate the various gravel options based on those criteria… Or point me to your idea of an ideal endurance road bike, and I'll figure out the differences myself.

Originally Posted by FlashBazbo View Post
Depending on how and where you ride, a gravel bike can be a BETTER road bike than a lot of road bikes -- even if you always ride on pavement. And there's no need to have two different sets of wheels! The gravel bike will be more comfortable and more versatile. On other than glassy smooth pavement, it may even be faster than most road bikes. (I once set a road KOM on a rolling paved segment on my gravel bike with 38mm Challenge Gravel Grinder tires on it. I and the bike still hold second place on that segment.) If you're not doing very rocky or very sandy roads, there's no need for any tire wider than 38mm. 47mm tires are slower on roads -- including dirt roads -- without providing any benefit.

I always ride my road bike if I'm doing a lot of climbing on smooth roads with a fast group. I ride the road bike if I'm KOM hunting on smooth roads. But on chipseal, the gravel bike is better every time. And if the pavement is sketchy, pot-holed, or unpredictable, the road bike stays home and the gravel bike is better suited and a lot more fun. In between those extremes, the bikes are pretty much interchangeable.
Occasionally I do encounter some pretty rocky trails. Unlike some places our gravel options are pretty limited around here, and at least one one of the trails I'm most interested in is rather challenging on my current bike with 700C x 42. But yeah, much of the time 700C x 40ish is a perfectly good choice. That's what I have now and it's given me the opportunity to experiment a lot with different types of riding (a jack of all, master of none sort of scenario).
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Old 09-24-18, 01:05 PM
  #35  
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Generally, more wheelbase, less BB drop, and more trail compared to an endurance road bike.
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Old 09-24-18, 01:12 PM
  #36  
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Originally Posted by Spoonrobot View Post
As someone who spent late spring experimenting with a gravel racing bike used for road race training, running either 650bx47/42 and 700cx28 - there's almost no point is bothering to switch between them. 650bx47 is so close that unless you are actually racing for the podium it's good enough. The additional capability on rough/off road, in rain as well as better tubelessness and it's a much better general purpose wheel/tire combo.

The downside to a gravel bike as a road bike is that the former is almost always going to be overbuilt and much stiffer than necessary for road riding. It's a tradeoff as most frame/forks built to a road-focused level of compliance aren't going to accept larger tires. Gravel bikes are not road bikes - the frame and fork are designed much stronger to meet CPSC requirements and this shows in how they ride and feel on pavement.

You need to start test riding some bikes and stop looking at measurements and ratios.
That was helpful. Thanks.

And yeah, I need to do some test rides. Problem is some of the bikes that are top contenders are so new that no one has them in stock. Or, despite the fact that everyone I know who wants a new bike wants a gravel bike, the LBSs just aren't ordering them and stocking them. Partly because of the struggles of being an LBS these days (they want to keep their overhead low), and partly because they don't really understand gravel bikes well enough because they're a rapidly evolving category and there's very little actual gravel around so they don't understand how gravel relates to an NYC rider. Now that Interbike is over and all the 2019 models are released, I'll start calling around in a week or two to find who's got what in stock.
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Old 09-24-18, 01:13 PM
  #37  
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Originally Posted by Maelochs View Post
I looked very hard at the Jri .. actually ordered it and then cancelled the order---because no matter what anyone here says, I think you would want different wheels and tires for road use.

Don't Need them ... but for a (relatively) heavy bike with lumpy, fat tires .... swapping in lighter rimes and narrower slicks could remove some to the drawbacks that low gears and fat rubber might bring for pure road use.
I don't disagree with wanting different rims and tires for road use. Here is a little info on the Carbon Jari coming soon. https://www.velostreet.com/en/produc...-carbon.26527/
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Old 09-24-18, 01:18 PM
  #38  
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Originally Posted by Zaskar View Post
I'm not saying you a dedicated bike for every type of ride you do, but ^that^ is not accurate. Among other things, there are significant differences in the geometries of road vs gravel bikes.
Significant enough that the average (non competitive race) rider will notice? A gravel bike may be more stable and have slower handling which may be preferable to someone that's not racing.
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Old 09-24-18, 01:19 PM
  #39  
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Old 09-24-18, 01:33 PM
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Functionally there's no difference between gravel and road geometry when riding on the road. There's preferences but that's it. Even for highly competitive racing, which the op is not asking about, the differences are small and much less relevant than several other variables.

For road riding it's a wash. For pretend racing road riding it might be important, I don't know.
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Old 09-24-18, 01:48 PM
  #41  
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Originally Posted by redlude97 View Post
Generally, more wheelbase, less BB drop, and more trail compared to an endurance road bike.
Thanks for quantifying it. I just did a quick check looking at the Specialized Allez (Elite) that I rode in Vancouver last month, and the Tarmac Comp (which at least sounded like a decent pure road bike) and…

"More wheelbase" is definitely true - about 4mm.

"Less BB Drop" – eh, there's so much variation in BB drop with gravel bikes I don't think anyone can say that. You've got CX bikes with a pretty moderate drop and stuff like the Checkpoint, Topstone and Diverge with tons of BB drop. The Allez Elite felt pretty low to me (BB height was 256), whereas the Tarmac Comp has a BB height of 262. I've read the "ideal" road bike BB height is ~265, so those numbers don't surprise me. But the two gravel bikes I mentioned above match those numbers – 260 to 265 with 700x25 wheels on.

"More trail" – here you're spot on as well. The Allez & Tarmac were low to mid 50s, where gravel bikes (with skinny tires on) tend to be 60ish to 70ish. The rakes/offsets are comparable, but the head tube angles are slacker with gravel bikes.

Originally Posted by Rock71 View Post
I don't disagree with wanting different rims and tires for road use. Here is a little info on the Carbon Jari coming soon. https://www.velostreet.com/en/produc...-carbon.26527/
Thanks. With some gravel bikes the carbon versions are only a half pound lighter than the aluminum version. With the Jari it seems they've got quite a weight savings (18.5 lbs vs 21). But, for me, aluminum is probably "good enough".
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Old 09-24-18, 03:51 PM
  #42  
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Originally Posted by JayNYC View Post
"More trail" – here you're spot on as well. The Allez & Tarmac were low to mid 50s, where gravel bikes (with skinny tires on) tend to be 60ish to 70ish. The rakes/offsets are comparable, but the head tube angles are slacker with gravel bikes.
There are a lot of interpretations of what a gravel bike is and how it should ride. Most are somewhere between road and MTB in front-end geometry. Some that are trying hard to feel like road bikes, like the Open U.P., have trail figures very similar to traditional road bikes. There are a few people out there who are even doing the vintage gravel randonneur thing and using a low-trail geometry (like 40mm) in an attempt to get the bike to handle more road-bike-esque when it's using a handlebar bag.

The choice has a gigantic impact on how a bike feels, although I think the actual performance implications for paved road riding are very subtle.
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Old 09-24-18, 04:15 PM
  #43  
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Originally Posted by HTupolev View Post
There are a lot of interpretations of what a gravel bike is and how it should ride. Most are somewhere between road and MTB in front-end geometry. Some that are trying hard to feel like road bikes, like the Open U.P., have trail figures very similar to traditional road bikes. There are a few people out there who are even doing the vintage gravel randonneur thing and using a low-trail geometry (like 40mm) in an attempt to get the bike to handle more road-bike-esque when it's using a handlebar bag.

The choice has a gigantic impact on how a bike feels, although I think the actual performance implications for paved road riding are very subtle.
I agree that you can adapt quickly especially if its a primary bike. Since I rotate between 3 very different bikes with huge trail number differences(sometimes I'll even be hopping off the commuter/gravel bike right onto the cyclocross bike) its very obvious the differences. Performance wise is probably a lot smaller, I show up to group rides on my gravel bike regularly
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Old 09-24-18, 05:16 PM
  #44  
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Any increased trail, wheelbase etc on a gravel bike may make it feel a bit more sluggish on the road but won't actually make it any slower.
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Old 10-01-18, 11:52 AM
  #45  
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Fuji Jari

+1 for Jari! I have the 1.5 (2017) with 1x11 and it's the most versatile bike I've owned.

Compared to my Transonic 1.5 di2, it's a bit slower and responds a bit more delayed as expected, but is more comfortable and sturdy to ride.

With a more upright riding position, you have to put a few more watts into your pedals on group rides, but it's my go to bike for hill repeats (I use a Stages power meter). Also great for coffee shop, super market, work and winter riding. Living in Norway I use tyres with studs during winter which works great!

You can use the Jari for bikepacking also - lots of mounting options on the frame.

And the handlebar makes the bike more stable on the downhill because the bars point outward.
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Old 10-01-18, 11:58 AM
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Of course it can

A gravel bike with smooth supple tires like Compass brand or WTB Horizon will handle city streets with all the lumps and bumps, trolley tracks, bricks and cobblestones and other urban terrors. Would it be as fast in a typical peloton and racing? No.
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Old 10-01-18, 12:26 PM
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The droid your looking for

Have you looked at like Trek Domane SL 5 disk? it comes with 32mm slicks which are ok on mild gravel. Then you can get some Schwalbe G-1 35mm tires for gravel if you want to get rowdy.
Only mentioning it because I was looking for the same thing and I just got it last week, love it so far.
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Old 10-01-18, 12:51 PM
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Move

My first thought was: move out of Manhattan to someplace decent for bike riding. For what you must pay to live there, you could buy a house with a three car garage in a lot of great places in the West and have as many bikes as you want!
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Old 10-01-18, 02:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Scoreboy View Post
Have you looked at like Trek Domane SL 5 disk? it comes with 32mm slicks which are ok on mild gravel. Then you can get some Schwalbe G-1 35mm tires for gravel if you want to get rowdy.
Only mentioning it because I was looking for the same thing and I just got it last week, love it so far.
My criteria are 700C x 40+ and 650b x 47+. The CAADX is on my secondary list because it comes close – 700x38 and (according to WTB) it can handle a 650x47. But I don't want to go lower than those numbers. It will just result in an N+1 scenario when I want what I wanted all along a couple years later.

Originally Posted by drdave18 View Post
My first thought was: move out of Manhattan to someplace decent for bike riding. For what you must pay to live there, you could buy a house with a three car garage in a lot of great places in the West and have as many bikes as you want!
Manhattan is one of those places where (in the long run) you can live for free if time your real estate purchases right (by getting everything you spent on mortgage, etc. back in appreciation when you sell). Plus, my husband's (tenured) job is in downtown Brooklyn, so there are only so many places that are even possible. And Manhattan is actually pretty incredible for cycling. I'm close to Central Park, not far from the GW Bridge (for good road cycling and some gravel), and it's not hard to get up to Westchester County for some great trails (paved and gravel). And when I do want to get out of the City, I'm just a few blocks from a MetroNorth station. About the only thing I'm missing is miles and miles of gravel farm roads like I just rode last week in Michigan.
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Old 10-01-18, 02:53 PM
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Originally Posted by JayNYC View Post
Manhattan is one of those places where (in the long run) you can live for free if time your real estate purchases right (by getting everything you spent on mortgage, etc. back in appreciation when you sell). Plus, my husband's (tenured) job is in downtown Brooklyn, so there are only so many places that are even possible. And Manhattan is actually pretty incredible for cycling. I'm close to Central Park, not far from the GW Bridge (for good road cycling and some gravel), and it's not hard to get up to Westchester County for some great trails (paved and gravel). And when I do want to get out of the City, I'm just a few blocks from a MetroNorth station. About the only thing I'm missing is miles and miles of gravel farm roads like I just rode last week in Michigan.
It's funny how different people can be. All the things people say they love about NYC, the easy access to downtown, the big buildings, the tons of people, the ability to do things 24/7.....are all the things I hate about NYC and what makes me happy to live far away from a city.

I'm not dissing you for liking NYC. I just think its' funny how massively different 2 human beings can be, yet we still find common ground on how fun gravel farm roads are to bike on.

It's kinda cool.
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