Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Gravel Knowledge

So, you're thinking about participating in a gravel ride, or, as the kids call 'em, a "Gravel Grinder."

Maybe you're wondering, "how do I prepare?"
Or, "what are the best tires?"
Perhaps, "do I need a gravel bike?"
Well, read on to become enlightened...

I'm no stranger to gravel rides. I've ridden on gravel roads before it was a cool thing to do and before it was given a label(TM). I've even ridden on gravel roads in foreign countries! (Although, in Costa Rica, they're just called "roads.")

Back then, I used to simply call it, "riding my bike," or maybe sometimes I'd be more specific and say "riding my bike on dirt roads." But, that lacked branding and there wasn't a niche of bikes and other products to foist on consumers, so that had to change.

A couple of years ago the bike industry asked, "how can we take something that people are already doing quite well on the bikes that they already own, and convince the riders that they need entirely new equipment?" Fixies and fat bikes had already jumped the shark so "gravel bikes" were born.

If you have a gravel bike, good for you. Don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge anyone getting any bike, but I hope you didn't buy one because you thought that you needed it. Here's the kicker, you can ride any bike (and I do mean just about ANY bike) on gravel, and you will likely survive. Mountain bike? Yep. Even a full suspension mountain bike? Yep. Road bike? Yep. Cyclocross bike? Yep. Hybrid? Yep. Fatbike? Yep. Flatland specific BMX bike? Okay, probably not (but if you have one, let's ride).

Take, for example, these photos from the early 1900's (1920ish):

These guys are riding crappy dirt roads in the mountains on lugged steel frames nearly 100 years ago, and do you REALLY think you need a carbon frame, disc brakes and a biaxially ovalized downtube?

I have plenty of bikes and don't need any justification for adding more to the quiver, but I'm fully aware of the fact that my trusty hardtail mountain bike can do it all. I can ride it on the road. I can ride it off road. I can ride it on gravel roads. I can ride it on the road to the trails and can ride it over the river and through the woods. Contrary to all of the popular cycling media extolling the gravel bike as the "one bike" to have if you had to choose only one, I call that bullshit. This is NOT, finally the one bike to do it all.

So, bottom line, if you simply want to buy a new bike, go ahead, buy a gravel bike, but do NOT buy one because you think you need one to ride on gravel.

The following pics are from some of the gravel rides I've participated in, and look at the types of bikes being used:

Gravel bikes, fat bikes, full suspension mountain bikes, hybrids, 29'er mountain bikes, 26" mountain bikes... again, just about any bike will work.

And here's another dirty secret... just about any tire will work. Sure, 23c slick road tires pumped up to 120psi might not provide the best ride, but they'd probably work. The folks over at "Riding Gravel," say: Riding Gravel realizes that ANY tire could be used on gravel/dirt roads. This list reflects those tires that are either marketed/designed/universally known as “gravel” specific designs, or have a suggested use in that category by the manufacturer. So, yeah, the tire might be "marketed" as being a gravel tire, but if it's round, rubber, and holds air, you'll be hard pressed to go wrong.

You don't need a special bike, special tires or really anything else that's labeled as being "gravel" oriented.

So, grab whatever bike you have, and head out and have some fun. Don't stress about the bike, your tires, or any specific training. If you're able to ride, and your bike works (and fits), you're set.

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