Monday, December 04, 2006

Gravel Grinding: The Bikes

A Bit More Gravel Love: I had a couple more thoughts on the different aspects of gravel road riding that I wanted to share, so I thought perhaps I would just go ahead and do that now since the last couple of days have been about that subject.

The bikes that people ride on these long gravel rides are all over the place, design-wise. I've seen everything from full on road bikes to full suspended mountain bikes. Anything that has two wheels can and has been pressed into service, but here are my recommendations for what is best. This is going to work for long gravel rides. Like three plus hours.

My first choice would be a fat tired bike out fitted with 1.8 - 2.1 inch wide tires. Fully rigid, with maybe a suspended seatpost or perhaps a soft tail design for comfort on super long rides. Why? Because gravel roads can have a variety of surfaces, textures, and sometimes, no gravel at all! (In which case you might find yourself on an infamous "B" level maintenance road!) During the Dirty Kanza 200, I encountered everything from embedded bedrock, fist sized cobble stone like sections of rock, huge, chunky flint, all the way down to "moon dust" like powder. Even a 75 yard section of deep sand! And that was in the first 90 miles. (Since I didn't get any further than that! Next year!) I wouldn't bother with a suspended front fork. Just extra weight for a minimal benefit. Fat tires at reasonable pressures will do just as good a job.

Gears or not. Pick yer poison there folks. It's all good out on the gravel, although I might add that gravel does a wonderful job of chewing up drivetrain equipment at an accelerated pace. Be advised!

Some folks might argue that a cross bike is better suited to this task. I'd have to disagree there. For short rides, you can get away with it, but on longer rides the twitchy geometry, thinner tires, and seated position will all take their toll. Check out the stories from the first Trans Iowa. Sure, some guys finished well on cross bikes. They also complained of physical ailments well beyond the time of the finish. As in days beyond........weeks even. Numbness and tingling. No thanks! I'll sacrifice a bit of speed to have the comfort and the ability to ride again in a weeks time. Or in ten years time. Ya know, maybe it's got something to do with getting older, but I just do not see any wisdom in winnning an event and being physically destroyed for weeks afterwards with after effects that could last a lifetime. Just me, I guess.........

And finally, of course you would expect that I would say a 29"er is taylor made for such a task, but is! Better roll out, better angle of attack on bumps, and the generally higher handle bar posistion of most 29"ers lends itself to making a perfect gravel grinder. You'll just have to try one!

That's about it for the bike aspect of gravel grinding. Look for a couple more "gravel love" posts in the future.

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