Fair question. How about this for an answer? "Any bike you ride on gravel roads is a "gravel road bike".
Snarky- yes. But true. You can ride about anything on a gravel road. But the point really is, what would be the "fine tuned" option? What would be the rig if no holds barred enginerding could be applied?
The final answer, at least to my mind, is that no single "fine tuned" option would make "the perfect" gravel road bike for everybody. That hasn't stopped me from pontificating on the subject. And I won't stop doing that some more today. So, get ready for my current take on some of what I want in a gravel specific bike for my kinda riding. (Might not work for anyone else, but hey.....it's my opinion, that's all.)
First off, I really like my Black Mountain Cycles "Orange Crush" rig, but there are a few tweaks I would make for "the ultimate" gravel road riding rig. So, here goes....
- Material: No holds barred? Titanium all the way. Corrosion resistance, good. But the big thing would be ease of maintenance on the finish, and ride quality. Smoove. Nuff said.
- Geometry: Slightly slacker head angle than anything I've seen. 71.5 degrees? Yeah- maybe. Seat tube angle- 72.5-73. Chainstays, long-ish. Maybe 435mm. Yeah. BB drop? 70-75mm. Stability. Clearance for up to 45mm tires with no fenders. 42mm tires with 'em.
- Components: Probably disc brakes, just because of the mud clearances, but for normal riding, not necessary. Cyclo-cross crank set with a 11-34T out back, which should climb anything you'll ever need to climb on a back road. Titanium seat post for sure.
- 135mm rear spacing
So why bother with all of this? Just so ya'all have an understanding of where I am coming from with my gravel road bike musings. I believe a bike like I have described would easily be a great racer, or a great fun bike for long rides in the country. It has its roots in Pre-World War II road bikes, and touring bicycles meant for rough roads. Stability and durability are paramount. Being able to carry on despite disaster figures in too.
You don't have to agree, and you can cast me as a fringe freak. Whatever, but that is my opinion, and I stand by it. Hopefully it casts my views on some recent developments in gravel bicycle offerings in a light that makes more sense.