What is a Gravel Bike?

For discussions about bikes and equipment.
slowster
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Re: What is a Gravel Bike?

Postby slowster » 19 Jan 2020, 12:17am

PH wrote:In the case of 531Colin, you can also go by what he does as well as what he says - the chainstays on the Spa Elan are shorter than on the Spa Tourers.

Indeed, and he obviously has to design Spa's frames with a firm commercial eye on what customers are likely to want and expect. The Elan is competing with a number of similar gravel/adventure bikes, and I suspect that tweaking the Elan's design to make it handle a lot more like a tourer than other such bikes would not make commercial sense: Spa already offer a titanium tourer and a titanium roughstuff bike to cater to that market.

As it is the Elan has a shallower seat angle (72.5 in 54cm) and I think 531Colin has also commented that he opted for a taller head tube to allow the bars to be higher, so it seems to me that he has sought to strike a careful balance between offering a bike that will appeal to anyone looking at a titanium/carbon gravel/adventure bike as well as having particular appeal to customers who want a shallower seat angle/more saddle set back or higher bars than might be possible on a competitor's bike.

PH wrote:You'd be hard pressed to find any bike from a mainstream retailer with a 72 degree seat angle. What's the STA on a medium Surly LHT, isn't that 73? There'll be a choice of Gravel bikes with that. Even from some of the specialists 72 is outside the norm, plenty of Spa bikes are 72.5 and the difference between that and 73 will be less than the difference between a Brooks and just about every other saddle.

You're right. I have not bothered to look before, but it looks like Dawes, Genesis and Ridgeback are all offering 73 degrees as standard in a medium size. I think the 72.5 Spa frames are generally the audax/sportive models, whereas the standard tourers are typically 72.

I've recently struggled to find a seat post with sufficient set back to enable me to get the right saddle position on a 73 degree seat tube, and even then I've pushed the saddle 5mm further back than the limit marked on the rails by the manufacturer. As you say the difference between 72.5 and 73 is less than the difference between a Brooks and most other saddles, but conversely the effect of a 73 or 74 degree STA is likely to be far more problematic if the saddle you want to use is a Brooks - a lot of riders would struggle to get a Brooks back far enough on a 73 or 74 degree seat tube.

PH wrote:Plenty of people are riding Audax of all distances and the new breed of self supported multi day races on these sorts of bikes, what makes you think you know better than them?

I think my response to that is 'it depends on the rider'. I guess some will arrive at what works best for them by experimentation and trial and error, to the extent that they can afford to do if that means buying and trying multiple different bikes, but I presume that the choice of many will simply be determined by what manufacturers sell (unless they get a custom made frame), and riders doing those events are probably more likely to be the sort that will put up with discomfort and even pain (as someone once said to me when I was suffering during an audax, "it's just mind over matter: if you don't mind, it doesn't matter").

We can all make 'appeals to authority' to justify our opinion by citing our own preferred authority, but I do have a lot of respect for someone like Greg Lemond who took a very analytical approach to his bike set up. One thing I find interesting about Lemond, 531Colin and Jeff Jones is that all of them to varying degree have gone - or are still going - against the tide of what is the fashion or what everyone else is offering. If all the mainstream brands are offering 73 or 74 (or even steeper for MTBs) seat angles and short chainstays it takes a lot of courage and confidence in your knowledge and experience to offer something different (even if you know you are right - it's not that unusual in the field of design for a superior product to fail to be commercially successful).

PH wrote:
slowster wrote:On a wider note, a recurring feature on this forum is posts from people who have purchased a particular type of bike and find that it doesn't meet their needs...

Outside of those buying expensive bikes from a handful of specialist suppliers, those questions get asked about many more bikes than get sold as Gravel bikes, including plenty of tourers.

Indeed, which was why I began my remark by saying 'On a wider note' and did not confine my comment to just gravel bikes.

The key point I was trying to make was that I think that many new cyclists would do better to start with a touring bike which can be ridden all day in comfort and which is a jack of all trades, and work from that benchmark to identify their preferences (experiment with position, narrower/better tyres, fit a rack, remove the rack, take some/no/less luggage, fit higher/lower gears, fit a closer/wider ratio cassette, try lighter wheels etc.) and use that insight to make their next bike purchase, rather than get an off the shelf race bike, endurance bike or gravel bike, only to find that it's likely to be more difficult, more expensive or even impossible to make the alterations that they might want (e.g. they can't get the position they want, it won't accept the tyre width they want, it won't take a rack or mudguards, fitting lower gears entails a lot of expense and trouble etc.).

andrewwillans49
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Re: What is a Gravel Bike?

Postby andrewwillans49 » 19 Jan 2020, 9:25am

I ought a Cube nuroad race gravel bike last summer as part of my n+1project.
I bought it not for gravel or racing. I bought it for an intended LEJOG bike as it has 4 point rack and mudguard provision. It's an overbuilt road bike and is a very stable platform. The shimano 105 7000 series gears 50/34_11/32,and hydraulic disc brakes are excellent. I replaced the original tyres for Continental GP four season 32 mm, 60/70 psi front/ rear. Very comfortable. Rear rack is Toppeack disc heavy duty, mudguard are stainless steel Giles Bertold.
In summary it's comfortable, stable, fit for purpose and relatively inexpensive.
When I cycle along the extremely muddy (at the moment) bridleways of North Herts I take a cyclo-cross bike with canti brakes. No gravel here.
I wasn't taken in by marketing, versatility attracted me. I posted as an owner and happy rider of such a machine in order that others may get fact info rather than a random opinion.

PH
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Re: What is a Gravel Bike?

Postby PH » 19 Jan 2020, 10:01am

slowster wrote:The key point I was trying to make was that I think that many new cyclists would do better to start with a touring bike which can be ridden all day in comfort and which is a jack of all trades,

My main point is that I'd rather be celebrating that people are riding than critical of what bike or it's label. The current fashions will change, but the choice of practical bikes in Halfords has improved with recent trends.
I've ridden with plenty of experienced cyclists who've chosen to change bikes to these current trends, these are riders who know what they want, they don't consider themselves to have been duped by marketing. What matters is that they're happy with their choices rather than what anyone else thinks of them.
We've had all the arguments before, it's the same sort of derision that greeted Mountain Bikes, they're no good for touring, they're only good off road... Yet millions of people have done millions of good miles, so what's the point of saying they could have had a better bike?

cycle tramp
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Re: What is a Gravel Bike?

Postby cycle tramp » 19 Jan 2020, 12:08pm

mercalia wrote:I was looking at the King Alfred's Way and it mentioned suitable for gravel bikes. The picture there was of a guy and lady, the lady seemed to be on an ordinary bike with fattish tyres. Is that it? fat tyres? how fat? 1,75"x 26" ok?


For me the above statement encapsulated it all.... the (western consumerist) ideal that you need a particular type of bike to do one thing and another to do something else, and yet another to....
Admittedly some bikes are better suited to some things than others.. but we should also be factoring the rider's talents and bike handling skills....
.....anyone whose ridden with me knows that I'm stupidly awful at handling any mildly technical off road obstacle. I'll crash into it, slip off over it, or somehow bring my bike to a sudden halt and just fall off sideways.... the 1.75 tyres i use exist solely to prevent damage to my wheel rims...
..so I watched in total awe, a small rider, riding his brompton over some tough off road track, seemly floating his bike between rocks the size of small dogs during a bike tour in 2007, without any undue concern or effort.
Rather than say 'this track/surface is suitable for x type of bike', we're so much better served by saying 'this track is suitable for x width of tyres at y size, or x width of tyres at a smaller size a, and you may need a low gear of b, depending on your bike skill and fittness'.
In answer to the above question yes, 1.75 inches (47 mm) should be more than adequate to handle any trail, designed for bicycle use.... if not then what is optimistically being described as a bicycle trail simple isn't.

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horizon
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Re: What is a Gravel Bike?

Postby horizon » 19 Jan 2020, 12:38pm

We've discussed it all before:

viewtopic.php?f=7&t=121616

But to be fair to the marketing people, there are such things as gravel roads in the US and they do demand (well,) a particular type of bike. Some people differ on this, but I don't think we have such roads in the UK so of course we find gravel bikes a bit mystifying. I would also just use an old-fashioned MTB.
The experience of travel is something that you have to pay for but can never buy. Ho Ri Zon Chinese philosopher

peetee
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Re: What is a Gravel Bike?

Postby peetee » 19 Jan 2020, 1:15pm

horizon wrote:We've discussed it all before:

viewtopic.php?f=7&t=121616

But to be fair to the marketing people, there are such things as gravel roads in the US and they do demand (well,) a particular type of bike. Some people differ on this, but I don't think we have such roads in the UK so of course we find gravel bikes a bit mystifying. I would also just use an old-fashioned MTB.


There are areas of the UK that would suite a gravel bike over an MTB. Here in West Cornwall most of the off road trails are granite/sandstone based so drain well. There is plenty of traction available and narrow tyres cope no problem. Likewise in the New Forest where the fire roads are everywhere and provide gentle gradients to boot. But that's not to say there is no place for an MTB there either. After all, what is an MTB anyway? There is a big difference between a 90's hard tail and a modern full suspension bike.
As to which sort of bike is best suited is down to the individual. Their style of riding, capability and which side of the bonkers/sensible fence they sit.
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Back on two wheels in deepest Pastyland and loving every minute. Mission: to enjoy big, bad hills again.

De Sisti
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Re: What is a Gravel Bike?

Postby De Sisti » 19 Jan 2020, 4:21pm

Mike Sales wrote:
De Sisti wrote:
Mike Sales wrote:
The suggestible are always gullible for a new N+1.

Mike Sales wrote:There is a strong market for shiny new gear.

Where? Give details.


https://road.cc/news

Not that I could see. But I don't really care. :roll:

Mike Sales
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Re: What is a Gravel Bike?

Postby Mike Sales » 19 Jan 2020, 4:41pm

De Sisti wrote:
Mike Sales wrote:
De Sisti wrote:
Where? Give details.


https://road.cc/news

Not that I could see. But I don't really care. :roll:


If you cannot see that a section of the cycling world are gear freaks who just love to spend their surplus cash on shiny new bits, and who read the advertorials in the glossy cycling magazines for advice on the latest electric components etc., then you are truly delusional.
Clearly no purpose would be served by my giving you details.

mercalia
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Re: What is a Gravel Bike?

Postby mercalia » 19 Jan 2020, 5:40pm

horizon wrote:We've discussed it all before:

viewtopic.php?f=7&t=121616

But to be fair to the marketing people, there are such things as gravel roads in the US and they do demand (well,) a particular type of bike. Some people differ on this, but I don't think we have such roads in the UK so of course we find gravel bikes a bit mystifying. I would also just use an old-fashioned MTB.


seems like I searched in the wrong thread :cry:

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foxyrider
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Re: What is a Gravel Bike?

Postby foxyrider » 19 Jan 2020, 5:51pm

horizon wrote:We've discussed it all before:

viewtopic.php?f=7&t=121616

But to be fair to the marketing people, there are such things as gravel roads in the US and they do demand (well,) a particular type of bike. Some people differ on this, but I don't think we have such roads in the UK so of course we find gravel bikes a bit mystifying. I would also just use an old-fashioned MTB.


Not just the US - Sweden has huge numbers of non tarmac roads - in some areas mothing below a B road equivalent has tarmac and sometimes not even them. I've been told its similar in Finland and a lot of eastern Europe hasn't got wide coverage of tarmac roads.
Convention? what's that then?
Airnimal Chameleon touring, Orbit Pro hack, Orbit Photon audax, Focus Mares AX tour, Peugeot Carbon sportive, Owen Blower vintage race - all running Tulio's finest!

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The utility cyclist
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Re: What is a Gravel Bike?

Postby The utility cyclist » 19 Jan 2020, 6:40pm

A 'gravel' bike is a hybrid bike, just with drops, except a hybrid can be used for more duties and more often than not can take wider tyres.

As others have said, it's a great way to sell a bike 'type' to people, they aren't gullible, I think that's incorrect and a bit too far, but they are duped into thinking they need this bike type for certain riding because they simply don't have the knowledge, understanding or even ability to convert a hybrid to drops, they also likelt ot be unable to locate a bike/frame that would fit the requirements of light/good handling/wide tyre that isn't already classed as a gravel type.
The traditional touring bike style would/could be classified as a gravel bike.

My current audaxy/touring/winter racer is a 2007 model Specialized hybrid, decently light frameset with massive carbon forks/seatstays plus alu triangle/chainstays, it'll squeeze in 55mm 700C tyres, most gravel bikes can't get near that, like the Sirrus Carbon ltd that I bought that also has V brake mounts, they both have proper guard and pannier mounts, again, most gravel bikes don't have these fitments thus rely on the less than adequate modular units that are expensive and a pain in the buttock to fit plus needing to 'bikepack'.

Oh and the price bump. I find it somewhat annoying that companies get away with bumping up the prices of what are really just fairly standard carbon frames and the bikes end up being boat anchors despite the reduced no. of spokes/tubeless and/or missing second c/ring+FD.

Canyon Grail SL 8.0 @ £3150 is 8.45kg without pedals, with pedals that puts it a full 1.3kg heavier than my 2010 Specialized Sirrus Carbon hybrid, the Sirrus also takes a wider tyre and as above has proper guard and rack mounts.

There are a few reasonable priced 'gravel' bikes, this genesis is £700 for an alu frame/steel fork and it has normal guard/rack mounts https://road.cc/content/review/268247-genesis-cda-20

The bike industry are very good at getting some types of cyclist to part with their money, the problem is getting more people on to bikes full stop, if we had 10% modal share for transport rather than the current 2% that would massively impact the cycle industry from shops on the high street onward. Whilst higher end and type specific bikes will always have a market, it's better for profits if there's mass cycling needing good quality bikes that can do a bit of everything without it necessarily being a 'sports' orientated bike with price tag to match.

cycle tramp
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Re: What is a Gravel Bike?

Postby cycle tramp » 19 Jan 2020, 7:07pm

The utility cyclist wrote:The bike industry are very good at getting some types of cyclist to part with their money, the problem is getting more people on to bikes full stop, if we had 10% modal share for transport rather than the current 2% that would massively impact the cycle industry from shops on the high street onward. Whilst higher end and type specific bikes will always have a market, it's better for profits if there's mass cycling needing good quality bikes that can do a bit of everything without it necessarily being a 'sports' orientated bike with price tag to match.


Very well said :-)

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Sweep
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Re: What is a Gravel Bike?

Postby Sweep » 19 Jan 2020, 7:24pm

gregoryoftours wrote:More capable off-road than a touring bike, less designed for full load bearing, greater tyre clearance than many touring bikes, disk brakes, often 1x gearing. Tyres fitted as standard will be more cyclo-cross nobbly tread pattern than semi slick touring style. More fashionable than a touring bike, of course. More likely to have a carbon fork. Arguably less suitable for all round use than a touring bike (and for touring) but it's better than a touring bike for what it's designed. Of course a large amount of faddery in the marketing and some aspects of design, but it's certainly quite different to a touring bike. I guess a large number of people won't put them to their best use.


Why more capable of off-road than a tourer? Or hybrid with fattish tyres?
And as for tyre clearance I didn't think tourers had an issue with suitably wide tyres - how wide are tyres on a gravel bike?

I tend to see gravel bikes (not that I am an expert) as bikes for whizzing along what the italians call strade bianche - white roads - semi surfaced - road "made" but not tarmacced. ie faster than most tourers would be inclined to/want to go.

I can see the attraction for racers who want to whizz along those sorts of roads but I don't think there are many in the UK.

I'd be interested to know what UK owners actually use them for.
Sweep

nsew
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Re: What is a Gravel Bike?

Postby nsew » 19 Jan 2020, 7:38pm

All the pics below from 1987-1991. The “gravel” bikes of today and their components sure won’t be around to be admired in 30 years time. There are some very nice big money niche builder examples out there but so much of the new product is soulless and throwaway after a relatively short period.

Excellent Steve Potts interview here

https://youtu.be/VoN1YJ0_Pxw
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Last edited by nsew on 20 Jan 2020, 6:32am, edited 3 times in total.

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The utility cyclist
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Re: What is a Gravel Bike?

Postby The utility cyclist » 19 Jan 2020, 7:52pm

Sweep wrote:And as for tyre clearance I didn't think tourers had an issue with suitably wide tyres - how wide are tyres on a gravel bike?

I tend to see gravel bikes (not that I am an expert) as bikes for whizzing along what the italians call strade bianche - white roads - semi surfaced - road "made" but not tarmacced. ie faster than most tourers would be inclined to/want to go.

I can see the attraction for racers who want to whizz along those sorts of roads but I don't think there are many in the UK.

I'd be interested to know what UK owners actually use them for.


I use 35mm Continental 'cyclocross speed' (folders), good for hard to firm ground, okayish when it's loose but if it's muddy and/or really loose they're not suitable, a wider tyre with a more aggressive tread is needed. I did buy a really wide slick, 2.1"/52mm that I was going to try out on the back of my Spesh but haven't got round to it yet, probably run it at 25-30psi and see what the grip is like off road but I was really wanting to see how it would feel pumped up with a 42mm slick front on a really smooth tarmac road like the local bypass and compare the speeds when using more race orientated tyres.

Some people are seeing a gravel bike as a betwixt and between for doing the commute, weekend riding on and off road, 'endurance' riding and bike-packing, a single bike or the +1 that covers more bases than the outright racing machine.