|This is a gravel road. We have over 69.000 miles of it in Iowa alone.|
I have noticed of late that many bicycling companies have been bandying about the term "gravel grinder" again, and many media write ups of late have also been poking the badgers out in web-land with this term as well. I wanted to address this, (once again), and also point out what is and what isn't a bike good for gravel riding.
I don't mean to come off as some smarty-pants know-it-all, but when you are born and raised in Iowa, you damn well sure know what a gravel road is, and what isn't a gravel road. If you were like me, you didn't even bat an eyelash at riding a bicycle on gravel, but that isn't the point. Yes, you can ride any bike on a gravel road, Captain Obvious, but you also could ride any bicycle on the Porcupine Rim Trail in Moab too, but you use a mountain bike, because it works better. And guess what? We know something other than a road bike, or even a cyclo cross bike, could be a better bicycle on gravel. That is the point.
|It is great that the industry is listening, but you don't have to.|
I am stoked to see gravel bicycle design and components, for sure. However; it doesn't matter if it never happened at all. It just makes riding gravel better, and like I said, we all knew it could be better than using a cyclo cross bike, or a 29"er hard tail. In the end, it is just about riding though. That said, here we are, and companies are saying things about bicycles that are not really hitting the mark. They are using the term "gravel road", "gravel grinder", "dirt road", and other terms to describe bikes I wouldn't ever consider for any of the above here in Iowa.
Their tires cannot handle gravel here with aplomb because they are too skinny, or their geometry is so close to cyclo cross that it isn't "road-like" at all. Look, it is called a gravel road. We are not going to hop barriers, ride in ruts, or need to pedal through corners at high lean angles. But don't listen to me. I'm just some old, grouchy bicycle mechanic at a small shop in Iowa. What the heck do I know about bicycle design? You know those racer guys, they have a much better handle on geometry and what works and what doesn't, so let's see what one of the most famous racers in the world right now has done to influence bicycle design that is one small detail away from being the perfect gravel grinder bicycle.
|Design input by Fabian Cancellara- Trek Domane|
The Domane features a truly low bottom bracket. When you read about these other bikes pretending to be "all road", or gravel grinders, look at their numbers. If they are not below 70mm of BB drop, they are not really a gravel specific design. They are warmed over cyclo cross designs. The Domane has a BB drop of 80mm-75mm across the size range. Now that is a low bottom bracket! I totally agree with Fabian and Trek on that facet of rough road geo. It helps with stability, a major plus for a speedy, good handling gravel rig.
The head tube angle is another place a lot of these so-called gravel road/dirt road bikes say they are "slacker" at. Really? The Domane has a 71.1° to 72.1° head angle across the range. Many of these other pretenders have 72.5° head angles and steeper. I think the Domane is borderline too steep, by the way, especially on the large end of the range. That said, Fabian probably knows a thing or three about what he wants in a front end geo for rougher roads.
Then there is the brilliant de-coupler seat tube design which is an obvious advantage for the "paint shaker" gravel roads we have here. Even the chain stays aren't ridiculously short at 420-425mm across the range. (I'd go a bit longer, again for stability, but that's me.) That said, there is one area that the Domane, and many of these other so-called gravel bikes, fail at. That would be tire clearances. If the Domane could handle a 40mm tire, it would be dead on perfect for gravel. Of course, add in the disc brake option that future Domanes will have and we're really looking at a winner at the rough road game here.
So, there ya go folks. Measure these so-called gravel rigs from GT, Specialized, and others against the Domane, (keeping in mind we'd want bigger tires), and see how they measure up to Fabian's vision for a rough road rig. And oh, by the way- it's a race winning design as well.