Off-road Gravel Bike Limitations

Trips, adventures, bikes, equipment, etc.
kupukupu
Posts: 1
Joined: 13 May 2020, 12:17pm

Off-road Gravel Bike Limitations

Postby kupukupu » 13 May 2020, 1:58pm

Hi hi

I recently got a good deal on a 2019 Croix De Fer 20. Most of my experience cycling so far has been riding a 1970s steel road bike I bought for cheap several years ago. Since I do not drive, I liked the idea of being able to explore further with more comfort and safety, both in the evenings and on multi-day bikepacking trips. The CDF 20 seemed like a well-tested "go anywhere" option.

So far, I have greatly enjoyed it for lockdown exercise and seeing nearby villages. However, as I have found myself more and more off-roading, from rocky bridleways to singletrack, I am regretting not getting a bike with larger tyre clearance. With a good deal of mountaineering experience and a dislike of traffic, the backcountry and side roads is where I prefer to be - it just usually takes a lot of pavement to get to new places. I don't mind the discomfort, so much as I don't want to damage the bike or plan a long trip that ends up being impossible.

So my questions are:

1. How big can I go on the tyres? Genesis lists the max as 38mm but was shipped with 37mm already. Since I have an XL, can I go larger (or does frame size not matter)? Is there any chance (and benefit) of getting 650b wheels with wider tyres on instead?

2. Have I bought the wrong bike? I naively didn't realize how limited and important the tyre clearance would be. I regret not spending more for a Vagabond with its 29x2.1, but I guess I got better components (and a lovely Reynolds 725 frame).  What is the advantage of the CDF 20 over a more "monster-cross" style adventure bike or a rigid mountain bike?

3. What is your experience off-roading or bikepacking with the CDF or a similar gravel bike? I'd love any suggestions for longer UK routes!

To sum it up: should I sell the CDF and get the "right bike", try to get bigger tyres or suck it up on what I've got, and/or keep the CDF as a road/gravel/intercity/commuter/exercise beast and save up for a mountain bike (a hardtail?) for backcountry bikepacking? I don't like to own a lot of stuff, but am willing to invest in the things I often use.

Sorry for the manyyyyy questions - I am slowing learning and appreciate any insights!

User avatar
LinusR
Posts: 438
Joined: 24 May 2017, 7:27pm
Location: London
Contact:

Re: Off-road Gravel Bike Limitations

Postby LinusR » 13 May 2020, 2:55pm

I found the same as you. Once I'd started going off-road (35mm tyres in my case) on my cyclocross bike I enjoyed it more and more and came up against the limits of the tyres. So I bought a hardtail 29er MTB with 57mm (2.25in) tyres which is great fun for more challenging terrain. Of course the CX bike is a lot quicker for the sometimes long stretches of tarmac between bridleways. It's also a lot quicker uphill when off-road. You will probably find that you cannot fit bigger tyres even if they are 650b in your frame. You always need another bike.

Richard Fairhurst
Posts: 1597
Joined: 2 Mar 2008, 4:57pm
Location: Charlbury, Oxfordshire

Re: Off-road Gravel Bike Limitations

Postby Richard Fairhurst » 13 May 2020, 3:31pm

kupukupu wrote:2. Have I bought the wrong bike? I naively didn't realize how limited and important the tyre clearance would be. I regret not spending
more for a Vagabond with its 29x2.1, but I guess I got better components (and a lovely Reynolds 725 frame).  What is the advantage of the CDF 20 over a more "monster-cross" style adventure bike or a rigid mountain bike?

3. What is your experience off-roading or bikepacking with the CDF or a similar gravel bike? I'd love any suggestions for longer UK routes!

To sum it up: should I sell the CDF and get the "right bike", try to get bigger tyres or suck it up on what I've got, and/or keep the CDF as a road/gravel/intercity/commuter/exercise beast and save up for a mountain bike (a hardtail?) for backcountry bikepacking? I don't like to own a lot of stuff, but am willing to invest in the things I often use.

Sorry for the manyyyyy questions - I am slowing learning and appreciate any insights!


I've had a Croix de Fer since 2012 and have recently bought a Vagabond. I tend to treat the CdF as a super-capable tourer and weekend bike. If I'm going for a week's tour, it's the bike I'll use, no question. Last summer on the Loire I found myself wanting to go further and further every day - it's just such an enjoyable bike for that. If I'm cycling out for the afternoon or weekend on roads or NCN-style paths like towpaths and rail trails, it's ideal. And insofar as we have gravel in the UK, it's good on that too - the glorious Claerwen track, from Rhayader to Teifi Pools, is still one of my all-time favourite UK bike rides, and the Croix de Fer just soaked it up.

Where the Vagabond scores is comfort and handling on the bumpy stuff. Bridleway riding round here on the CdF was always a bit of a fraught experience, whereas with the Vagabond I can hurl it round corners, and take the descents without forever clutching the brakes. But at the same time it's an enjoyable ride for the 10 miles of road riding to get to that bridleway, more than a traditional MTB would be.
cycle.travel - maps, journey-planner, route guides and city guides

meejozzz
Posts: 75
Joined: 16 Jan 2016, 5:55pm

Re: Off-road Gravel Bike Limitations

Postby meejozzz » 14 May 2020, 11:00am

I feel your pain. It's the old n+1 conundrum I guess.

Over the years I've discovered that any bike is a compromise. I have a lovely road bike but there's usually a point in the ride when I wish I'd taken something with slightly wider tyres, the potholes are unforgiving in my area. Similarly on my full suss mountain bike, there's always a fair bit of flat surface when my Superbow hardtail would have been better. My Dawes Galaxy touring bike is shod with 32mm tyres at the minute which are suitable 90% of the time, but when out on an expedition, my gravel bike, Giant Revolt (which for all intents and purposes could be used as an ugly tourer) would be perfect with its 45mm rubbers when you get sidetracked onto some bumpy back lane or farmers track. It's probably the reason I have way, way too many bikes. According to my wife...

I guess what I'm saying is that there's no perfect 'one' bike. It sounds like your Croix de Fer, which is lovely machine BTW, is ticking most of the boxes.

hamster
Posts: 3614
Joined: 2 Feb 2007, 12:42pm

Re: Off-road Gravel Bike Limitations

Postby hamster » 14 May 2020, 3:44pm

I agree - either you find something a bit beyond your bike, or it's over-qualified for the terrain, draggy and slow.

The art is route selection.

PH
Posts: 9530
Joined: 21 Jan 2007, 12:31am
Location: Derby
Contact:

Re: Off-road Gravel Bike Limitations

Postby PH » 14 May 2020, 4:12pm

meejozzz wrote:I feel your pain. It's the old n+1 conundrum I guess.

It's also exasperated by do-it-all bikes, what do you get when you realise it doesn't do it all? I think a lot of people, myself included, can end up with too many bikes and more overlap than if we'd started with an empty rack and a blank sheet. I've ended up with four and have a hankering for a fifth, if I started again it would be three.
To the OP - Yes, unless you have something else pressing for the money, get the second bike.

mattsccm
Posts: 3461
Joined: 28 Nov 2009, 9:44pm

Re: Off-road Gravel Bike Limitations

Postby mattsccm » 14 May 2020, 9:26pm

Always another bike. n+1 is not enough. I run 4 that overlap, all with a cx origin. The Ti is my road bike but with 30mm tyres it is fine for gravel. The steel has 36mm slicks so a touch tougher for reliabld road 0a gravel commuting. The carbon has 40mm semi knobblies for the rougher gravel and the alloy has cx knobblies for wet off road. All runninv tibeless. As many pairs again of wheels hanging in the roof so that one bike coul take anothers tiny niche with just a wheel swap. When i am bored i do some wheel or even transmission swapping just the ring the changes.

mattsccm
Posts: 3461
Joined: 28 Nov 2009, 9:44pm

Re: Off-road Gravel Bike Limitations

Postby mattsccm » 14 May 2020, 9:29pm

OP. Those tyres will be more than big enough. You may go a bit slower down hill than could might feel comfortable one bigger ones but anywhere you need to pedal will be fine.i take my 30mm tyres anywhere my MTB goes, although wet rock grip maybe less uphill.

tenbikes
Posts: 85
Joined: 11 Jan 2009, 6:41pm

Re: Off-road Gravel Bike Limitations

Postby tenbikes » 22 May 2020, 10:53pm

I'm in the process of dropping from ten bikes to one carbon fat bike and three wheel sets, though a fourth wheel set might come in handy. Tyres from 4.8 down to CX 38 mm covers everything I do. Some tubeless , some tubed for ease of changing tyres.

I never use dropped bars now due to a neck injury, so one bike covers it all.

If you have clearance you can go thinner. If you don't have clearance you can't go fatter.......

cogwomble
Posts: 6
Joined: 18 May 2020, 9:10am

Re: Off-road Gravel Bike Limitations

Postby cogwomble » 26 May 2020, 8:06pm

You'll find with a bit less pressure you can probably do far more than you imagine.

I own three "proper" bikes (and a couple of bmxes an old 20" Raleigh.).

The Charge Plug 3 I own is a steel frame bike very similar to your Genesis CdF, with 38c tyres set up tubeless with relatively low pressure I find it far more capable than it has any right to be; it's also absolutely brilliant for munching the miles between the fun off road bits. I considered doing a 650b conversion and figured I can get a 650x42 in mine, but that's not an indication of what size you can get in your frame.. you'd need to measure, you'll probably find you can go low pressure high volume with a wider tyres on a smaller rim though.

If I know I'm going to be finding some off road bits then I tend to take one of the mountain bikes;. Although the gravel/all road bikes are wonderful on smaller gravel, when you start finding boggy rutted bridleway, larger rocks or root ridden trails, it's just nicer on bigger rubber.

Marcus Aurelius
Posts: 1605
Joined: 1 Feb 2018, 10:20am

Re: Off-road Gravel Bike Limitations

Postby Marcus Aurelius » 26 May 2020, 8:29pm

‘Gravel’ bikes are essentially ruggedised road bikes. So if the majority of your time is spent on trails, and going over really rough uneven surfaces, you’d probably be better off with a MTB to be fair. Most gravel bikes don’t fair well on anything rougher / tougher than a bit of a field, or a fire trail. The majority of people I know that have gravel bikes, rarely go anywhere rougher than a canal path on them.

andrewwillans49
Posts: 72
Joined: 11 Aug 2018, 7:38am

Re: Off-road Gravel Bike Limitations

Postby andrewwillans49 » 27 May 2020, 8:28pm

What he said. I bought a Cube Nuroad race 105 7000 series, changed the 50/34 for 46/30 chainset. Now fitted a pair of Stainless steel Giles Bertauld mudguards and 4 point topeak heavy duty rack and it will be pressed into touring/winter bike use. It was OK off road but too jarring for anything over two hours. My hardtail mtb is the tool for off road. I've come to the conclusion that no bike does it all "well".

Tangled Metal
Posts: 7145
Joined: 13 Feb 2015, 8:32pm

Re: Off-road Gravel Bike Limitations

Postby Tangled Metal » 27 May 2020, 10:29pm

I've got a planet X London road bike. It was once marketed as a CX, road, commuter, do it all bike. Basically that was before the adventure bike and gravel bike tags came along. It had CX tyres on which had fairly smooth centres with a bit more highly in the edges/ sides. All in 37mm X 700 tyres with tubes.

I use those same tyres on anything from tarmac to lake District bridleways. I even did MTB trails at a bike trail centre near me. I was on the thinnest and least highly nobbly tyres but that didn't stop me enjoying it. I've even taken it off road in 32mm Vittoria hypers. It was fun but slid around a bit. Not as bad as 32mm racers on a recumbent riding a muddy towpath though. You take your fun where you can I guess.

I find 38mm at a lower pressure perfectly ok for me on MTB trails. I really don't care if I'm going slower than the MTBs around me. I'm certainly quicker up a hill than the keen MTBer on his expensive, full suss, carbon MTB even though it was rocky and loose stones. I might have had some wheel spin but I was cruising easily when he wasn't, a younger and fitter cyclist than me.

The CdF is a nice bike that has been around quite some time. It was probably right at the start of this idea of a road plus bike capable of off-road action. Things I suspect have moved on and you can basically find drop bar bikes that probably look like rigid MTBs from before. It's a differentiation in the drop bar / road bike type of bike. Decide what's most important, road, off road gravel or more serious off-road I guess. As you move through those you'll reach your point where you're comfortable. It's whether you go past the point that the CdF is comfortable. You could be trying to justify a new bike though. :lol:

I'm also wanting a gravel bike but in my case to replace my bike but as an addition. I have to use my bike for anything I want to do on a bike. I can't afford the expense or space for more bikes? I've got one bike I use, one recumbent tourer and my first proper road bike bought at 16 or 17 years old that I'm unable to get rid of. Two sit in the loft unlikely to see much action. Other than those two it's one out before any new one comes in.

Peter F
Posts: 143
Joined: 25 May 2020, 8:16am

Re: Off-road Gravel Bike Limitations

Postby Peter F » 28 May 2020, 12:16pm

All bikes have limitations, the question is, is that limitation an irritation or a show stopper?
If it's the former then just get on with it. If it's the latter then change the bike or alter where you ride.

User avatar
RickH
Posts: 5192
Joined: 5 Mar 2012, 6:39pm
Location: Horwich, Lancs.

Re: Off-road Gravel Bike Limitations

Postby RickH » 31 May 2020, 10:43pm

Last autumn we took a trip to Vancouver in Canada to meet our latest grandchild, produced by our son & his partner. I wangled taking my bike, a Kona Sutra Ltd (this one) so I could keep riding during the 3 weeks we were out there (hire charges seemed a bit OTT if you wanted more than part day hire).

A cousin of Mrs H's, who also lives there, is a keen mountainbiker so he took me off to do some mountainbike trails nearby at a place called Burnaby Mountain. Now cousin Tim knows the trails well as he's been riding them for years & was on a full sus MTB.

I was pleasantly surprised at what my Kona could handle, beyond my level of confidence at times - where I realised I was getting onto something a bit "gnarly" & I had to decide to haul on the anchors or just go for it. Mostly I chose the go for it option and found it all went well. I even got a few "Oo! a gravel bike!" comments from other riders, who were either impressed or thought I was completely nuts (or both) seeing this grey haired old guy riding an drop bar bike on the trails.

Locally there are a few particularly rough & rocky tracks that I haven't (yet) tried letting it go quite as much. But experience in Canada has taught me that it is generally going to be my nerve that goes before the bike's capabilities.

Put slick, supple tyres on & it is also a capable machine on the road. I did 87 miles yesterday (highest day's mileage of the year & only the 3rd day over 50 miles in 2020), an out & back route, including about 10 miles of canal towpath, & my moving average speed was 15.4mph on the way out & 13.6mph on the way back (bear in mind as well as some tiredness my start/finish for the day was over 700ft higher than the lowest point on the route).