Gravel Bikes - what exactly are you supposed to do with one?

Gravel Bikes - what exactly are you supposed to do with one?

Author
Discussion

nammynake

2,266 posts

120 months

Monday 21st October
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You seem to be confused by the term ‘gravel’ - as above, they are capable off-road, the surface doesn’t need to be gravel. Just like 95% of mountain bikes never see an actual mountain.

TCX

62 posts

2 months

Monday 21st October
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Just ride it?

yellowjack

12,193 posts

113 months

Monday 21st October
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I've got an old American market Cannondale Backroads...



...brought over by a US serviceman, and bought by me, on eBay, for £53. The photo was taken in Pembrey Country Park. A nice relaxing spin through fire roads and light single track, from "proper gravel roads" to sandy trails. The day before I'd raced it in the Battle On The Beach race.

It's a CAAD2 frame, so showing it's age. It also has a (wow! 25 whole millimetres of travel!) HeadShok suspension system. Very much a 1990s bike, and "of it's time". Converted by the selling dealer from flat bars to drop bars, with 9-speed Shimano 105 (triple up front), 'V' brakes, and a MTB rear mech. It's not light, not particularly fast, not very desirable, but I wouldn't be without it. I run it with 38c Bontrager LT-2 Hard-Case Light tyres.

I live near The New Forest, and plenty of Forestry Commission land, so there are absolutely heaps of "gravel" roads and light duty single-track about. My Giant Anthem is too much bike for most of it, and my road bike will cope, but not confidently. So I find I have a lot of use for a "gravel bike" (of sorts). There's also Salisbury Plain within an hour by car, so free run of all the gravel tank roads across it.

What I'd dearly love is a new, all singing-all dancing lightweight gravel bike with ~40c tyres, 1x gearing, and a carbon fibre frame with disc brakes. Something i can basically launch hard at any kind of off-road trail, and race a bit too. I'm part of a silly 'Gravel Time Trial' club on Strava, local to the New Forest, and my MTB and the Cannondale are generally too slow to compete, so I end up abusing my road bike. A modern gravel bike would cure that particular affliction. They definitely have a place though. Some "gravel bikes" err toward Cyclo Cross, some are more biased to fatter tyres and touring, others look more like MTBs with drop bars. I think the point is that, despite the industry hype, you'll know if you want a gravel bike, based on what is available to ride it on in your area. And you'll have a pretty good idea of whether you want light and fast, or chunky with luggage and 'guard mounts, or whatever.

If you're in two minds, see if a local shop can get a demo bike in for you to test. I'm "a cyclist". I'm not a "roadie", and I'm not a "MTBer", but I have put thousands of miles on both kinds of bikes. I was initially very sceptical about this whole new genre of bikes, and took some convincing, but the Gravel Bike is great for me because while it's not better on the road than a road bike, and a MTB is far more capable on technical trails, the Gravel Bike is a great middle ground that combines elements of both in a brilliant compromise that handles both extremes really rather well. Don't knock one until you've tried one, even a shonky old 1990s American import that shares the basic template of a modern gravel bike, long before the marketing men had invented the term... wink

Coolbanana

2,394 posts

147 months

Tuesday 22nd October
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Where I live there are plenty of dirt roads that are gravel bike friendly so they would make sense here.

I would consider one but my 29er MTB can lock its full suspension up at the flick of a switch on the handlebars. So, effectively turning it into a fat tyre gravel bike!

I do a lot of seriously technical off-roading too since we are also blessed with plenty of trails a gravel bike would be awful on so my MTB makes more sense for me but the case for a gravel bike is hugely reduced too by the ability to lock up the suspension to remove the loss of energy through the bouncy suspension.

I much prefer being able to go from no suspension to full suspension on the fly as I go from loose over hard pack dirt road to steep, rocky single track trail that is challenging even for a modern race MTB.





Edited by Coolbanana on Tuesday 22 October 06:50

chris4652009

1,293 posts

31 months

Tuesday 22nd October
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Tall_Paul said:
You don't need gravel fire roads as far as the eye can see to ride a gravel bike, have you not read above?

And they're not a specialist bike, in fact they're one of the most versatile bikes out there.

Road riding
Exploring back lanes and country roads
Commuting
Gravel/fire roads/random woodland tracks
Mellow singletrack
Bikepacking

Basically anything between full on mtb trails and serious road riding.

Forget the name 'gravel bike'. Here they're better names as an 'adventure bike'.
An excellent way of looking at it, thanks

Fluffsri

2,711 posts

143 months

Tuesday 22nd October
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chris4652009 said:
Tall_Paul said:
You don't need gravel fire roads as far as the eye can see to ride a gravel bike, have you not read above?

And they're not a specialist bike, in fact they're one of the most versatile bikes out there.

Road riding
Exploring back lanes and country roads
Commuting
Gravel/fire roads/random woodland tracks
Mellow singletrack
Bikepacking

Basically anything between full on mtb trails and serious road riding.

Forget the name 'gravel bike'. Here they're better names as an 'adventure bike'.
An excellent way of looking at it, thanks
Yep that's exactly what I use mine for. I had a cyclocross bike and used it for everything, the forks finally gave up so I bought a Cube gravel bike, still call it my crosser though. It just takes you back to riding as you did when you were kid. Ride anything, ride anywhere and it also makes you pick a line again. You seem to loose that ability with suspension smile. I have 2 sets of wheels for mine, road for commute and knobblies for weekend and a canal commute. The exploring bit always appealed to me, when out on my road bike I used to ride past tracks and bridleways and think, "where does that go?", now I go and find out smile

lufbramatt

3,531 posts

81 months

Tuesday 22nd October
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I think mountain bikes have evolved into something too specialist over the years, more travel, more weight, more aggressive tyres, so "gravel bikes" are just filling the space in the market that used to be filled by rigid/hardtail MTBs 20-25 years ago. The paths and trails haven't changed. It's like car models getting bigger each year so the manufacturers end up introducing new models at the bottom end as actually the market still wants the same thing it did before, just with a different name.

I have a rigid 26" MTB with flat bars that copes perfectly well on most of my local bridleways, so I imagine these "cx bikes with slacker angles and bigger volume tyres" would do just as well, and have the advantage of multiple hand positions for all day comfort.

ArnageWRC

986 posts

106 months

Tuesday 22nd October
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Tall_Paul said:
oddball1313 said:
I get the concept, just not where in the UK all these amazing gravel trails are?

America and Canada I imagine are not short of them and maybe France and Italy in and around the mountains but I genuinely have no idea where there is enough of the stuff (certainly in my patch) to justify a specialist bike
You don't need gravel fire roads as far as the eye can see to ride a gravel bike, have you not read above?

And they're not a specialist bike, in fact they're one of the most versatile bikes out there.

Road riding
Exploring back lanes and country roads
Commuting
Gravel/fire roads/random woodland tracks
Mellow singletrack
Bikepacking

Basically anything between full on mtb trails and serious road riding.

Forget the name 'gravel bike'. Here they're better names as an 'adventure bike'.
I think you've hit the nail on the head. Unless you race, then I'd argue they're almost the perfect bike for most people. Even then, stick decent road wheels/ tyres and you've got a pretty rapid road bike.

And by the way, we have plenty of gravel roads in the UK; most of the forests in the are full of it.

Daveyraveygravey

1,526 posts

131 months

Tuesday 22nd October
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This is a great question! I am lucky enough to live 2 minutes ride from the South Downs Way, so am spoiled for choice, great roads and great off roads.

I have a nice road bike, a Giant Propel, which is aero and can only take 25 mm tyres, no mudguards. It rarely goes off road, and in the winter, it struggles with the roads. I also have an ancient hard tail mountain bike, which is good for most parts of the South Downs Way.

I would love some kind of adventure bike, it would be better on the roads in the winter and could do most of the stuff I do off road. I don't do jumps but there are some bumpier parts where maybe even 40mm tyres aren't up to the job. I'd also love to try a full suss mtb, most people think they are overkill on the South Downs although there are a lot of them about.

TwistingMyMelon

5,620 posts

152 months

Tuesday 22nd October
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As already said Gravel roads are widely used in other countries around the world, USA has millions of kms of gravel roads as do the rest of the world

I bought a CX earlier this year, as like others I wanted to commute down gravel tracks instead of the main roads I was sick of

I love it, but it is quite aggressive and uncomfy , but focused, which I like. You are also limited in regards to tyre size

Gravel bikes seem more relaxed, less race focused gear ratios than a CX and room for bigger tyres, I imagine that 38c tyres + are well suited to deep gravel .

The trouble is as soon as you start including traits into CX bikes like the above, purists and CX racers get frustrated that CX bikes are less focused

Personally I just ignore all the buzz word bks and work out what spec suits my rideing and enjoyment

I have loved getting a CX and just bashing around local trails

CAPP0

15,465 posts

150 months

Tuesday 22nd October
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Tall_Paul said:
Is that Bredhurst?

lufbramatt

3,531 posts

81 months

Tuesday 22nd October
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CAPP0 said:
Tall_Paul said:
Is that Bredhurst?
Yes I think it is- the steep flinty bridleway that goes down from Scragged Oak Road? Certainly the style of gate is very familiar, there's one the same near Cobham.

Tall Pauls 2nd pic I think is north Downs way near Snodland?

I'm very local.. PH kent ride?

Edited by lufbramatt on Tuesday 22 October 13:30

Tall_Paul

1,711 posts

174 months

Tuesday 22nd October
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lufbramatt said:
CAPP0 said:
Tall_Paul said:
Is that Bredhurst?
Yes I think it is- the steep flinty bridleway that goes down from Scragged Oak Road? Certainly the style of gate is very familiar, there's one the same near Cobham.

Tall Pauls 2nd pic I think is north Downs way near Snodland?

I'm very local.. PH kent ride?

Edited by lufbramatt on Tuesday 22 October 13:30
Checks map...

Not Bredhurst but I am very close to there!

First one is here https://maps.app.goo.gl/8wJKYBNPnpwy8pfw7

And the second one is somewhere on pilgrims way to the west of Maidstone. Just north of Birling, so not far from Snodland yep.

Edited by Tall_Paul on Tuesday 22 October 13:59

lufbramatt

3,531 posts

81 months

Tuesday 22nd October
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The one near Cobham then smile The steep hill up through the woods where it gets really muddy. I often head over that way.

CAPP0

15,465 posts

150 months

Tuesday 22nd October
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lufbramatt said:
Yes I think it is- the steep flinty bridleway that goes down from Scragged Oak Road? Certainly the style of gate is very familiar, there's one the same near Cobham.

Tall Pauls 2nd pic I think is north Downs way near Snodland?

I'm very local.. PH kent ride?
Yes, they also have those gates on a set of tracks between Halling/Snodland/Luddesdown (near Cobham). I'm only a few miles away (ME19). I can't place the second pic.

The bikes I use on those trails, with the correct KCC permit, have a little more in the way of fossil fuel assistance than the ones on here! getmecoat I would add that I'm one of the responsible ones! I only ride legal trails (byways, BOATS, etc).

I used to do a fair amount of MTB years ago and still own a couple of elderly Treks but my fitness levels are at an all time low these days.

lufbramatt

3,531 posts

81 months

Tuesday 22nd October
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Yes the trail/MX bikes used to scare the life out of me on those paths near Luddesdown. Since the gates have gone in I find the motorbike riders much more courteous. Usually it's big KTMs and BMWs rather than the 2 stroke screamers ridden by a certain type of rider.

troc

2,337 posts

122 months

Tuesday 22nd October
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A gravel bike is like an old-fashioned mountain bike except you wear Lycra instead of jeans.

SamR380

412 posts

67 months

Tuesday 22nd October
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For me they fall in the gap left by 'touring' bikes. After a 4 day cycle touring (is that bike-packing these days? We carried tents, food etc..) holiday this year on a 40 year old Super Galaxy I started wondering what modern bike could do the same thing. Handle dirt roads, take pannier racks and mud guards, be reasonably quick on the pavement. Eventually I realised 'touring' bikes are gone but 'gravel' bikes are pretty much the same thing, just better in every way.

deadtom

1,389 posts

112 months

Tuesday 22nd October
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Tall_Paul said:

Is that the Pilgrims way?

I had great fun blasting along that at night on my old cyclocross bike when I lived around that way.



Edited by deadtom on Tuesday 22 October 15:13

Roger Irrelevant

1,373 posts

60 months

Tuesday 22nd October
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lufbramatt said:
I think mountain bikes have evolved into something too specialist over the years, more travel, more weight, more aggressive tyres, so "gravel bikes" are just filling the space in the market that used to be filled by rigid/hardtail MTBs 20-25 years ago. The paths and trails haven't changed. It's like car models getting bigger each year so the manufacturers end up introducing new models at the bottom end as actually the market still wants the same thing it did before, just with a different name.

I have a rigid 26" MTB with flat bars that copes perfectly well on most of my local bridleways, so I imagine these "cx bikes with slacker angles and bigger volume tyres" would do just as well, and have the advantage of multiple hand positions for all day comfort.
That's interesting. I used to do a bit of mtb riding but not so much nowadays; when I recently hired one to go out with some mates round my native North York Moors I was surprised at how big and heavy it was - I could only just get the thing in the boot of my estate in one piece which isn't a problem I've had before. Sure it was great if you just wanted to plonk your arse in the saddle and roll over anything in your path very slowly, and I don't doubt that on really rough terrain it would come into its own, but it seemed like overkill for 95% of the shooting trails and bridleways we traversed that day. I couldn't help but think that what I really wanted was something like the Scott Scale hardtail I had at the turn of the century, so if gravel bikes are something like that then I'll take a closer look.