When the subject of this concept for a gravel grinder specific rig came up, I got a few comments about some other bikes that would be good for the job, and wouldn't require a "clean sheet of paper" approach. On one hand that is a very good way to go about this situation. I mean, why bother with all the bother if you can just get by with something already being produced and save money in the process? It makes sense, and it deserves to be discussed. Finally, to be perfectly honest, I looked long and hard at both of the following bikes and nearly pulled the trigger on both. Still might do that for one of them.
What's Good: First of all, Salsa went with cantilever brakes, which make this an immediate contender. They added the front rack, which isn't necessary, but it is an interesting addition that I could make useful. The fact that it looks smashing doesn't hurt either. Cost could easily be contained by going with the frame set option, and using some old Campy stuff I already own.Finally, it has a relaxed, low-ish geometry.
So Why Not? Basically it boils down to the geometry and an unknown in tire clearance. I am pretty sure it falls shy of my 42mm ideal tire size, (web site states it can take 38's with fenders), so that isn't ideal for me. The geometry, while backed off from criterium steepness, isn't quite where I would like it either. Still a definite "maybe" here.
What's Good: The Cross-Check has some features that are spot on. Slacker head tube angle, big tire clearance. The new Robin's Egg Blue is stunning, and the frame is as reliable as tomorrow's sunrise. As with the Casseroll above, the Cross-Check supports a single speed option. Again, a frame only option leaves me with a cheaper alternative than going custom.
So Why Not? Again, the geometry isn't quite where I would like to see it. Another thing that I see as a strike against this frame is the heavier tubing used throughout. However; the tire clearance is enormous on the Cross-Check, and there is no denying its gravel grinding pedigree. Again, a definite "maybe".
A Note On Geometry: You'll notice I am being a stickler on the geometry deal. Why? Well, for two years running I have almost bitten the dust because the geometry of the bike I was riding down a really fast, loose descent caused handling issues I would rather not experience. I also have noted that over longer periods in the saddle, I like a more stable, "in the bike" feeling, and I can't find that in many of today's offerings.
The Cross-Check and the Casseroll both have elements of their design that I find attractive. If I could have an offspring of the two, I would probably go with that, but obviously, that isn't going to happen. So, I am exploring a custom bike that addresses my concerns and isn't a mountain bike. That was my mistake before: I insisted on single track-ability. Not so with this bike. I'm going for a pure gravel rig here.
So, stay tuned. I hope to hammer out some more details on this idea soon, and maybe, just maybe, I'll move on to actually having something made. And don't get me wrong- I may still end up with one of the two choices above. You never know........