What exactly IS a gravel bike?
What started as a niche segment of cycling has, in the past few years, become a part of cycling vocabulary – gravel bikes. Known as all-road bikes, or adventure bikes, or myriad other names, these bikes, styled to resemble your fairly standard drop-bar road bike, are not at all your typical road machine.
A gravel bike seems to be a marketing ploy – just another name given to a cyclocross bike. But, they are more like a mesh of all the best things about a road bike – speed, smoothness, with everything we love about cyclocross – quick, effective handling in mud, mud, and more mud. The idea was born in the US, where forests have miles and miles of fire roads, dirt track roads used by their namesakes to navigate deep into the wild. They are often rutted, wash boarded, and muddy -- sometimes all at once and although you can technically ride them with a road bike with wider tires, the jarring will destroy your headset, wheels, and your body.
What makes a gravel bike ideal for fire roads and other dirt trails? For one, the geometry (shape) is more relaxed than that of a race bike and they feature a longer frame. This provides stability over rough terrain as well as a more comfortable position for long adventures. In addition, the head tube (front vertical tube that is located between the handlebars) is taller and angled to provide steering that is less twitchy than a road bike, but also less responsive than a cyclocross bike. Why “less” responsive? Less responsive on technical off-road is desirable to easily ride through obstacles you may find outdoors, while cyclocross bikes are designed to handle man-made obstacles such as stairs and barriers. The top tube is sloped to increase stand over height and the bottom bracket is often a bit higher than a road bike for clearance over obstacles.
Some gravel bikes feature a headset shock with helps to temper the chatter felt by your arms through the handlebars. Some frames feature seatposts with vertical compliance to provide additional shock absorption.
Disc brakes have their pros and cons when it comes to road and ‘cross bikes, but every true gravel bike features them. By ridding the fame of caliper brakes, you are able to use wider, more treaded tires adding to grip on slick conditions and comfort from the extra rubber between you and the ground. And disc brakes stop faster when needed!
Gravel biking is not one thing. There are races, rides, and tours. One subset to grow out of the off-road touring movement is adventure biking or bike-packing. It no different than a multi-day camping/hiking trip except that the mode of transport is two wheels. For this reason, some gravel bikes feature a variety of eyelets which may be used to attach racks to hold panniers or other bags for all of your camping gear.
Frames vary from more traditional steel to top-of-the-line carbon fiber with components of all grades. As gravel biking takes hold across the continent and into Europe, where bike-touring already has a large following, advances in frame design and capabilities are sure to be at the forefront of all major bike lines. Rondo – a name not known far outside of Europe until now, features an elegant, high performance line of gravel bikes for any rider of any skillset who dreams of riding into the sunset.