19 Jul 2016
WHY DO I NEED A GRAVEL BIKE?
What is a gravel bike and why do I need one? At first glance not that different from a cyclocross bike, gravel bikes are actually distinct – and often closer to an endurance road bike. In truth, they sit somewhere between the two. And that can mean a lot of fun and a fresh look at where and how you ride.
A gravel bike can raise a smile in so many ways… there are lots of different ways to spec a gravel bike, but they all add up to fun!
What is a gravel bike?
The design has grown out of gravel racing, which is particularly big in the US with its thousands of miles of sometimes very smooth gravelled farm tracks – terrain that’s ripe for racers and adventurers. In other countries canal towpaths, fireroads or even the country roads themselves are a similarly-loose-surfaced way to escape the traffic. Thanks to their versatility, gravel bikes have really taken off.
A well-equipped gravel bike can easily become your favorite ride!
What’s different from a road bike or CX racer? Foremost is frame and fork clearance for wide tires – sometimes up to 55mm. This gives plenty of mud room and a fantastic breadth of tire choice (endurance bikes rarely accommodate anything beyond 32mm, while the more race-orientated road bikes can still max out at 28mm). The bike above is wearing 40mm-wide tires that can handle most surfaces you throw it at!
They also have more relaxed head angles, taller headtubes and longer wheelbases for greater stability (especially in a slide), plus low BBs for confident cornering, and strong, compliant tubing rather than ultimate stiffness.
Gravel bikes also feature either cantilever brakes like on the black Surly above, traditionally found of cyclocross bikes or disc brakes, as seen on the titanium NDVR below, for several reasons: they stay powerful in mud, allow big tire clearances very easily. Discs also remove weight from the wheel rims, and are unaffected by wheel warps.
Gravel bikes allow mud clearance for wide – or narrow! – tires, and disc brakes are becoming more commonplace
Fit yourself a decent crankset and drivetrain – investment here will pay you back comfortably. Fit and maintain a good chain.
Why do I need one?
For everything! With many manufacturers including eyelets for mudguards and racks, gravel bikes are fantastic do-it-all machines for all-day – or multi-day – adventures and events.
Can I convert my road bike?
Yes you can – in fact, you could probably take in some gravel without changing a thing. However, a few subtle changes can make the experience far better. Here’s our top five:
1. Fit large tires. Bigger volumes give greater compliance, comfort and rim protection, though clearance is the limiting factor. Go for the largest that will fit – not the largest you can buy! A reinforced casing is probably just as important as any tread, as the contact patch is still small. The 40mm x 700c ‘cross tires on our Surly above are ideal.
2. Go tubeless. It’s an excellent way to gain pinch-flat protection and extra compliance – plus tubeless tires already have tougher sidewalls.
3. Fit a padded saddle and thicker bartape. Consider also a carbon seatpost and carbon bars for even greater comfort (and to mitigate weight gains elsewhere).
4. Use strong wheels. A shallow rim with a high spoke count is ideal, to reduce the stress on individual spokes. Happily such wheels needn’t break the bank, and double well as training wheels.
The Vision Team 30s on the Surly pictured above are ideal – the all-alloy wheelset shares many features of our high-end wheelsets, including: aero bladed spokes, an asymmetric 2:1 rear lacing pattern, CNC machined braking surfaces, sealed cartridge bearings and hand-built quality.
Options for disc or cantilever brakes mean they’re suitable for any gravel bike build. You can step outside the traditional 700c road wheel selection, and look to 27.5” wheels where the dirt-orientated MTB models are more robust – such as the K-Force Light MTB 27.5”
Light, hand-built and highly versatile, the tubeless-compatible K-Force Light wheels mate advanced carbon fiber rims with ceramic cartridge bearings– and weigh just 1414g a pair
5. If you’ve got a choice of bikes to convert, go for the longest one with the most relaxed geometry – it’ll be more stable and easier to control in a slide.
Get kitted up, then go have some great adventures!