Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday News And Views

With the end of the week at hand, I am heavily into "Interbike Mode", as I leave to attend the show Sunday. Here is a Special Rant Edition of Friday News & Views based on the coming show and trends. Enjoy!

NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

Just call it a "gravel grinder" and it'll sell!
 A bit of back story is in order for today's post. This Interbike, you are going to hear a lot about "gravel grinder bikes", or bikes designed for such, or good for that activity. On the surface of it, you'd think I would be pleased to announce this. Well, I am not. I am actually a bit annoyed by it. Here's why....

Several years ago I started talking about what I thought would make a good bike for gravel riding. Remember- most folks were of the mind that cyclo cross bikes were all we needed. (Many still hold to this idea to this day.) Many would say, whatever bike you ride on gravel is a "gravel grinder bike". You do not need a specialized bike for this. (Said as they roll away on their very specialized road, mountain, or urban bike that has been sub-divided into so many categories of specialties that I cannot keep count.) Whatever.... These people are not using their noggins. Anyway....

I began to discern, dissect, and theorize on what it would take to get optimal performance from a bicycle on gravel roads. I asked trusted friends what they thought, and I bounced ideas off of some industry acquaintances. I was going to pursue the custom bike angle, because, you know, why on Earth would anyone else even care about this? 

Along the way, a very bright and talented man I know also got the bug to do a custom design like this and he coined the idea we had "fat road". (Others have also used this terminology, we laid no claim to being original!) I liked it because it wasn't so specific as to exclude use on "any road". That's inclusive. That's getting a broader, more versatile mindset about this sort of design than "gravel grinder bike". But for convenience of conversation, I continued to use that term out of the thought that this wouldn't get anywhere anyway.

Something truly different.....
But I was wrong. The terminology and idea of such a bike took root and got sucked into the vernacular of the cycling industry and the next thing I know, and that I see, is a bicycle that comes out here and one over there that is a "gravel bike" in CX clothing. What? 

Yes, the marketing wonks are rebadging CX geometry and  calling the bikes "gravel grinders". Even the very few bikes that are truly different from CX bikes and would do well on gravel, (or I should say, "better on gravel"), are called gravel grinder bikes. Why? Because gravel road riding really is catching on, which is cool, and the marketing guys want their business, which is alright, but the "snake oil" is getting deep and it stinks of "nothing new here". At least in some aspects of the ploys I have seen of late.

So- first of all, calling these bikes, (even if they are different), "gravel grinder bikes" is completely wrong. Here's why: What do you think of when I say "snow bike"? Okay? That conjures up a certain image- maybe of a cold, windy, snowy landscape where you would be shivering, uncomfortable, and rather be snuggling in with a significant other and, well......you get the picture! You don't ride in snow so why bother with a bike that does that, right? Now call it a "fat bike". What does that do to the previous image? It is a completely different way to think about a fat tired, all terrain bicycle, isn't it?

Calling these new, all road capable, "go anywhere there is a path that resembles a road" bicycles "Gravel Grinders" does the same thing that calling a fat bike a "snow bike" does to those wonderful, fun, capable machines. It pigeon holes them into a certain mindset that discounts them as a possibility for anyone looking for a road bike that can do anything.

....or a rebadged CX bike.
And even worse, just tweaking a basic CX design isn't doing a "gravel grinder" bike. Not in my opinion. Yes- a cyclo cross bike does a fine job of cruising gravel. However, there is a better way to do it, just like a road bike is a better way to do pavement riding than using a cyclo cross bike. See? For sure we don't need a "gravel specific" bicycle, but you don't "need" a road specific bicycle either. However; it is nice that you have that choice.

So when you read about all the "gravel grinder" stuff coming out of Interbike, just be wary. Just like you should be wary of all the 27.5"er and fat bike conversations you'll be reading about. There is a lot of marketing "hoo-hah" swirling around these facets of cycling and the industry is pushing hard for "the next big thing" since 29"ers are milked out now.

I will be commenting and reporting on my thoughts about Interbike 2013 and what I see as trends there on this blog and on Mountain Bike Radio over the coming days and weeks. Stay tuned.....

3GR: Yes- there will be a 3GR Saturday at 8:30am at the starting point of Gates Swimming Pool parking lot in Waterloo. (The construction on the highway is ongoing, so plan accordingly.)  See you there!

Have a great weekend and Ride Your Bicycles!

10 comments:

Ari said...

Yes, the Gravel Grinder bike is the next Buzz word. I still think the gravel roads will be empty since the people that buy them will never ride out in the rural gravel roads of America.
Good luck in dealing with Interbike.
Say hi to everyone we know.
I will keep wrenching in the meantime.
Ari

Garrett Olsen said...

I'm with you 1000% on this. Bugs the living crap out of me.

RANTWICK said...

I hate most of the tripe generated by people visiting interbike and just gushing over every damn thing they see.

You, thank god, appear to be a critical thinker and I look forward to your observations on this year's circus!

Tim Ek said...

As I read your comments here I can't help but think back T.I. v5. I was bent on doing the best I could at all costs. I had a "black" bike (I remember that's what you called it in a post T.I. write up - so that's what I'll call it). That bike wasn't any thing special and there were no such things as "gravel grinders" then. I rode as hard as I could on that "black bike" for 25 hours to a 2nd place finish. It was as if I was the "gravel grinder", not the bike. Uh, who would've thought that it always comes down to the effort put out by the guy or girl on top of the machine that really matters? That silly "black bike" changed my life that year. I'll always have a hook for her in my garage. I don't think I've ever called her a "gravel grinder" either.

Eki

C.J. Ong, Jr. said...

Every year since triathlon became part of the "bucket list herd lexicon" I am asked by first timers as to what kind of bike they should get. I always tell them to buy a nice road bike and use it in the triathlons.

Instead they are sucked into the buy tri mentality, buy a tri specific bike, do a couple of tris, maybe even an Ironman and then never ride that tri specific bike again. It goes unridden for a number of years before being placed on Craigslist.

Thanks for getting people out there GT.

bill k said...

I guess i dont get how the niner RLT isnt a gravel bike. it would seem to have the 'endurance' geometry and a healthy BB drop

Guitar Ted said...

@bill k: Based upon Niner's own claims of having "gravel bike geometry", and "slacker head tubes", I have found that in reality, it isn't what they say. Take a look at their own geo chart for the RLT, which I will reference, and compare to many CX bikes: To wit- Niner claims slack head angle- True in the smallest sizes, but from 56cm on up, they are steeper than many current popular CX bikes. BB Drop: 65mm on 56cm up. That is not a low BB drop. That is not what I call out for in terms of what makes a good gravel bike. It is NOT gravel bike specific. Only in the area of chain stay length and tire clearances did Niner make any significant changes from current CX geometry. Go check it out and compare. I feel confident you will find what I have.

Guitar Ted said...

@All: I wanted to address "What Is Gravel Bike Geometry?" Because I am claiming the Niner RLT is not that. Essentially, the key elements are lower BB, slacker head tube angles, (slacker than you think), and more fork offset. It isn't just my idea either. Look at a Trek Domane and se the geometry table. It is almost to a "T" what I would do. 80mm BB drop, 71.5° head tube angle on average. Only tire clearances, chain stay length, and brake style are not what I would do. In fact, if Trek did these and used the ISO Decoupler, it would instantly become the gravel bike of choice for endurance length and fast gravel races and rides. The Niner RLT is not even in the same ballpark as this in terms of geo.

rideonpurpose said...

I may be parsing it into even smaller segments... but for gravel races where I can get away with a low BB (which is the same type of roads that usually go with skinny tires) I'm plenty happy on my SL3 S-works...

Often though gravel races are won and lost on sections that very closely resemble cyclocross.

I've got 14 bikes for specific purposes and still don't see any room between my road bike and cyclocross bikes that's worth filling.

Newb Biker said...

Do you have a post about the geometries that you would recommend for CX, road and commuter? I know that these would be different but would like to know what to look for in each application.

I see that you like 80mm BB drop, 71.5° head tube angle on average for CX. How much fork offset should one look for? Would chainstay length be a factor, too?