Thursday, September 03, 2015

All Roads Cycling

Starting out on pavement.
Over at the shop where I work we've been trying to impress upon folks that there are road bikes and then there are road bikes. You know, for any kind of road. Not just the nice, smooth blacktops or cement roads, as if there are really any of those!

Part of this "education" is breaking the mold of perceptions that skinny 23mm tires at 120psi are faster and that you should have the lightest bicycle possible. Quite frankly, the cycling brands that most folks are aware of push this concept and are continuing to foist these rigs on bike shops and consumers as "the bike" to have. In reality, there are very few folks that can really benefit from having the equivalent of an Formula 1 race car in their garage.

The standard racing bicycle is just as impractical as owning an F-1 car would be for the average person, and just as uncomfortable. Fast? Light? Yes, but at a cost that makes these bikes impractical for anything but smooth tarmac and the limber body of a fine tuned racer. That's unnecessarily limiting, and these bikes are so niche, in reality, that their glaring incompetence for average cycling needs should place them at or near the bottom of choices for cyclists. But they aren't and most of that problem is with perceptions and the brands that play on them.

So we end up slapping on racks where there are no rack mounts, tell folks kickstands don't work with carbon frames, and flip stems up or put on stem extenders. In the end, these bicycles, designed for racing or based directly off racing designs, are modded to be something they are not. Loads are carried on them that end up destroying rear wheels before their time, and of course, those hard, unforgiving 23mm tires at max pressure are not helping at all.

This silty climb would have been impossible on skinny racing treads.
 This is where the "gravel bike" comes in. Of course, this isn't really a good name for these bikes, but bikes designed to do gravel travel are perfectly suited to doing any road be it paved, rough, pot holed, gravel, or not paved with anything at all!

Four years ago there weren't many choices for this kind of bike, but now just about every company has one or more of these sorts of bicycles in their line ups. The big problem now is trying to get bike shop staff on board with this idea, and then getting that message out to the masses. This reminds me a lot of the struggles Fisher Bikes had back in the early 00's trying to get dealers to grasp the concept of 29"ers. The dealers that did get the message and translated it successfully reaped great benefits. Same deal with these "all road" bikes here. This could be big. It should be big.

One big mistake the companies that are putting these bikes out are doing is making them appear to be "like a mountain bike", or describing them by saying things like "this is a mountain biker's road bike." What does mountain biking have to do with any of this? Equating these new "all-road", go anywhere bikes with mountain biking is doing them a great disservice. The perception of mountain biking the industry puts out is one of machismo and is rather misogynistic in nature for the most part. That's just one thing wrong with this marketing plan. Many videos I have seen show these bikes in a "mountain biking" context.  Doing "rad" moves on the all-road bike shows these bikes are capable, but in the context they are shown in, it becomes a turn off. To the companies doing this sort of marketing for these bikes, it is a buzz kill, not a buzz maker.

The other mistake folks make in the industry is repackaging cyclo cross bikes as "all-road/gravel bikes". The cyclo cross geometry isn't the best for rough roads and loose gravel roads at all. Companies that don't use the easy way out, and do their own geometry have much better riding product and will have happier end users. Cyclo cross bikes, and straight up touring bikes, for that matter, are also generally way too stiff for comfortable cycling, which is paramount for getting these new bikes accepted in a wider arena.

Going where no road racing bike, and few vehicles, will ever go is a lot of fun. 

The big miss a lot of people are making is the "fun factor". These bikes can go places where "normal" road racing bikes can go, and where traffic is low to non-existent. Stressing about when you may become the next road cycling fatality? Maybe give this "all-road" cycling some thought. The sales pitch needs to be accessible to folks though, and if you listen to much of what the industry puts out, you may miss out due to how their messages miss the mark.

That's why I started doing the "Geezer Ride" in various places in Iowa. I wanted to focus on the social side, camaraderie, and all the while try to showcase how cycling on rural roads is not only accessible, but not all that hard and most of all- fun. Hopefully I was somewhat successful in that. It is something shops could do anywhere to promote safe, fun, adventurous riding and show off these new bikes that are extremely capable machines.


doug vlad said...

So what is consider a gravel bike? I went to the bike shop last year to get a gravel bike I was thinking about a Salsa vaya. The guys told me that it was heavy and ment more for touring. They said the waybird was probably the bike I would be looking was out of my price range so they had me look at a Trek Crossrip. It was light and had a carbon fork. But it is marketed as a commuter bike. If you talk to the trek guy's. They tell you that the Boone or Crockett would be their best bikes for gravel. But I have the Crossrip. And for the 7 months that I have had it. It seems to be a good ride anything bike.

youcancallmeAl said...

Crossrip? Impossible! You can't possibly ride a bicycle on gravel that has a head tube angle a whole 1 degree too steep and a bottom bracket drop a whole 5 mm too small.You'll kill yourself

Zach Bonzer said...

Amen! I've had several of my friends come to me in the past year or two saying they want a bike and asking what they should get. I try pointing to cross bikes capable of adding racks/fenders or touring bikes. While you do say that the geometry of cross-bikes and stiffness of touring bikes isn't ideal, it is much better than the one-dimensional road bike. Bigger tires at lower pressures on a touring bike will make it plush enough. After steering people towards these bikes, they look at the tires and say "But I want to go fast/I'll never go on gravel". Then I explain than you can put skinnier tires on these bikes. What if later on you do want to go ride gravel or hit some tame singletrack? The industry has been pushing the road bike for far too long making people think its the bike they want, when it's not the bike they need.

I myself ride a Fargo, and I know you'll agree, how awesomely versatile that bike is. My current set up is a traditional touring set up with racks and fenders and is my die-hard commuter. I run Clement Xplorer MSO 40s and easily cruise ~17-18mph. Strip the racks and fenders off and I've got a gravel bike. Throw on some 2.4 tires and let's go exploring.

Anonymous said...

lol, old man yells at cloud much?!?

Scott said...

GT. Wondering why you didn't extend your critique to Salsa who is arguably the gravel category leader. Gravel bikes are great all around bikes but they are marketed as a hardcore niche bike. The marketing from salsa seems to focus on extreme distances (tour divide), extreme suffering (ala dk200) on an arbitary circle of gravel roads that invovle hiking for miles through bike wrecking mud, racing, podiums, etc. That sales pitch is not accessible to folks.

Lots of people just want to go for a two ride on the weekends. They don't care about riding 200 miles while dehaydrated, halucinating, and turning themselves inside out. All that to say I think gravel bike marketing is the enemy of getting these bikes in the hands of the masses, not road bike marketing.
I can understand why salsa used that marketing to create their niche. It's because cx bikes already exist. While the geometry tweaks you suggest are valid, they aren't really necessary for what I consider a normal bike ride. ie 2 hours out on the pavement, trail, or gravel. A cx bike will handle that just fine.

Guitar Ted said...

@Scott & doug vlad: The thing I should state up front is this- ANY bike CAN be good for gravel/back road travel. ANYBODY riding a bike in most any capacity is good. YOU CAN MAKE ANYTHING ADAPTABLE TO YOUR PURPOSES.

Heck, my uncle ran away from his country home and pedaled 6 miles on a tricycle with hard rubber tires, so ANYTHING you can pedal could be a "gravel bike".

On the other hand- Do you see anyone using a time trial bike in a mountain stage? Do you see anyone using a cyclo-cross bike for crit racing? Do you see XC mtb's in down hill mountain biking?



Becausee there are specialized bikes for every purpose. Why shouldn't that be so for all-around bicycles meant for any road- paved, gravel, or dirt?

So, saying your CX bike is good for gravel isn't arguable, but saying that there is a better bike for the task- now- is arguable. Why is that?

Bigger tire clearances, even slacker geo than CX bikes, and lower bottom brackets. This ALL makes a BIG difference on back roads and gravel roads. Coupled with smooth, vibration damping frames and you have a much better experience than you could have on a CX bike, or any other bike.

So, what is "really necessary for gravel riding? Nothing. As I said, my uncle rode a trike on gravel with hard rubber tires. It is doable, but it wouldn't be fast, fun, and comfortable as it could be. See where I am coming from? Why "make do" when it could be a better ride experience?

@Scott: Agreed to a point- Salsa says the Warbird is a "gravel racing bike" and they do not apologize for that. I get it, and so I think where they are coming from is valid. I may not like that, or agree, but they aren't billing those bikes as something they are not.(But they could be so much more) That said, overall they are pigeon holing themselves to a small niche of the riding community with their message. I agree on that point totally.

youcancallmeAl said...

Scott is right on with his comments. These guys are doing exactly the same thing the road bike guys have done and their niche marketing excludes the majority of customers. As to the idea that 1 degree of head tube angle and 5 mm of bottom bracket drop (1/2% lower c of g) would make BIG differences to the two hour weekend rider????

Guitar Ted said...

@youcancallmeAl Lower your seat height by 5mm and tell me you cannot feel it. ;>)

And like I say- ANY bike will do, but we don't ride "just any bike", now do we? One reason is that we can make bikes dialed in to specific purposes, and if something works better to give a rider more security, (lower bottom brackets), and more stability, (slacker had angles with longer offsets), than why shouldn't you choose that option?

In the human powered realm, little differences make big impacts. Change a bottom bracket height on a motorcycle by 5mm, and yeah, who cares? The suspension and motor will more than make up for it, but when you are dealing with an organism with a finite, small amount of horsepower, then it does matter. A lot.

Irishtsunami said...

GT, can you name a bike that fits your exact specs? It seems that the shortfall always seems to be tire/mud clearance? I am not trying to be antagonistic but it seems like one doesn't exist. There are many close though.

Guitar Ted said...

@Irishtsunami: Might I humbly suggest the Raleigh pictured here? Perhaps the Twin Six Standard Rando, or a Rivendell Atlantis, or Jamis' new Renegade series, or the newer Black Mountain Cycles Cross bikes, (with lowered bottom brackets, and there are several others now.

Mike Spadafora said...

Well Said! The bikes you are talking about are the best all around bikes for most people...its a bike. You ride it where ever you want.

Steve Fuller said...

GT - Your comments about touring bikes being stiff personally caught me a bit off guard. I would think that anything properly built/designed to be a touring bike would be a bit more compliant. Would you be willing to name a couple of models and talk about what you think causes them to be stiff? I'm curious if it's tubing, straight bladed forks, or something else?

Guitar Ted said...

@youcancallmeAl: You didn't answer my question and didn't add anything you haven't already said.......

Steve Fuller: Typically bikes are built with heavier tubing, and stronger designs, to enable them to carry a rider and a heavy load if indeed they are designed up front as a touring bike. Raleigh's Sojourn is a great example of this. It is a seriously "over built" bike for someone who isn't going to laden it with touring gear in panniers. The Vaya is a bit less of a stout bike, but as a single bike for unloaded gravel roads, it could be better, but that bike has tubing built to keep it stable under a load.

An old school touring bike that was seriously under-built for loaded touring was the older 80's vintage Schwinn Voyageur models. I had a couple friends with those, and laden with panniers they were whippy and could develop a wicked shimmy if you didn't ride the bike very smoothly.

If you ever get a chance to ride T-6's new Standard Rando you will see what I mean in relation to a bike like a Vaya, (which I know you are familiar with), that was designed as a touring capable bike.

So, typically touring bikes have tubing that isn't very lively when ridden unloaded, but come into their own when you get them loaded, and that stiffness also helps keep the bike from becoming a noodle when it is fully loaded and you are trying to steer it and herd it down the road.

Darrin H said...

I personally ride a Salsa Vaya. This is due to these facts. 1. I am not a racer. 2. I can only have one bike. 3 I ride on pavement and gravel. No, the Vaya isn't perfect, but for me it is very close. So far this year I've done the Landrun100 and the dk100. This weekend I'm heading to the Gran Gable (pavement) and next month The101. I'll enjoy every minute. In the end I guess that all that matters.

Peter said...

Sorry. I have to agree with Scott. There is no need for a gravel specific bike, if you already own a 'cross bike. Tire choice will change that bike into a bike suited to any road you want to ride. Yes even 'crits, which I have seen done successfully first hand. Manufacturers are creating a need, and therefore a market. That's business. Sometimes it works-Dodge Caravan, and sometimes it doesn't-Pontiac Aztec. It will invariably be up to the consumer if "gravel" bikes are here to stay. Lowering your seat 5mm will make a big difference. Keeping your pedal to saddle measurement, and all other contact measurements the same and lowering the BB 5mm, and changing head tube angle 1 degree will not be noticed in the least, certainly not to the point that you need to lay out $1500+ for another bike. If you don't have a bike and you want to ride gravel, by all means buy a bike marketed as gravel specific, but if you already own a 'cross bike, you already have one. A road bike with 28mm tires will usually do nicely, or even better depending on the gravel in your area. I love to tell this story because. A local legend here named randy was paddling his kayak down the Grand River when he spotted and old department store mountain bike submerged by the bank. He went back later and retrieved it and to prove a point he sprayed it down with WD40, pumped up the tires, and rode it on our Saturday morning winter group ride on hilly gravel roads, with most of us on 'cross bikes, and beater road bikes. He destroyed us as he usually does, proving once again, that the most important equipment we have is free...our legs, and our heart.

Guitar Ted said...

@Peter: First of all, I agree- The most important part is the motor. However; with that reference you also bring out my entire point about specialized bikes and why we, (and I'm betting your friend in your reference), doesn't continue to ride just "any ol' bike".

Cross bikes, (well, typical CX racing bikes anyway), are made for a very specific purpose, no? Barriers, sharp turns, ruts, shorter racing- that's the CX bikes specialty, no?

Using your logic, why don't CX riders just use road racing bikes? Many current road bikes, like the Trek Domane and the just announced Canyon road bike can easily handle 30mm tires, and of course, many "old school" road bikes could take on even bigger rubber.

So, why was the CX geometry developed? Because it was BETTER, that's why.

Using your example, a slightly higher BB than a typical road bike has couldn't possibly make that big a difference, right? Oh yeah.....and let's not even bring up the fact that CX bikes have a slightly slacker head angle than road bikes do.

This line of thinking you present doesn't add up. If these very slight modifications to typical road bike geometry didn't make any differences, than the CX bike geometry wouldn't be necessary, but of course, we all know that, in fact, it does.

Just like your friend who pulled the stunt with the department store bike. Tell me he still rides that, right? I mean, if none of these things matter, than we'd all be riding identically laid out bicycles, just like that department store BSO. But.....we don't. Is it all just a "money grab"? I'm thinking no.

No, these nuances matter. And if they didn't, don't you think people would stop buying the bikes that are aimed at a specific purpose? Those bikes would quit being sold if they really didn't make a difference, or if something better came along. Sure, there is always an element of marketing and snake oil, but the really bad ones eventually get weeded out.

And you are right, a CX bike can be a great gravel bike. I've never said they weren't. However; I will always say they aren't the best tool for the job.

doug vlad said...

So educate me on the 1degree steep and bb to small. How will I kill myself?

Rannier Wolfcastle said...

I'd like to hear more about this gravel trike. How many water bottle mounts did it have?

Barry Tantlinger said...

The bike industry doesn't want to sell true all rounders, though, and I haven't found many bikeshops interested them either.

I've spent the past couple of months just trying to find a bike shop that stocks a steel bike that takes at least a 32mm tire. Turns out that, even in Southern California with a lot of bike shops within 100 miles, that's damn near impossible. That may be just the economics of bikes shops not wanting to stock too many bikes, but I think it's more that shops have drunk the kool-aid that the best way to make money is to sell expensive road racers or full suspension downhill bikes.

Finally found a mountain bike shop that would order me a Vaya, but they weren't particularly interested in me or it.

I've heard "the Tamland is too heavy," "the Vaya is too much of a gravel bike," "so, you're only looking for steel?", and have had Trek, Specialized, and Cannondale pushed down my throat until I've choked on them.

Buying a bike is unpleasant, which is probably the secret reason the bike industry is always in trouble.

youcancallmeAl said...

Right on Peter. The fact is that if someone needs a new bike, he has a point but your point that the industry is trying to convince everyone they need ANOTHER bike hits the nail on the head.They would love it if everyone bought the absolute best tool for every job as they would sell one hell of a lot more bikes.

youcancallmeAl said...

"Cyclo cross bikes, and straight up touring bikes, for that matter, are also generally way too stiff for comfortable cycling, which is paramount for getting these new bikes accepted in a wider arena."

And then you recommend an Atlantis (a full-on touring frame) and then say a CX bike can be a GREAT gravel bike. You're going in circles.

Guitar Ted said...

@doug vlad: I suspect you are referring to someone elses comment here. Be careful! It's not wise to poke the badger.....

@Rannier Wolfcastle - Most good ones will have three bottle mounting points.

@Barry Tantlinger- The Industry has many issus, but yes- Being force fed a steady diet of racing bikes, or bikes directly based off that sort of design is one. Companies that bully their dealers into stocking certain product is another, but that's a whole 'nuther kettle of fish......

@ youcancallmeAl- Of course the bike industry wants you to buy all sorts of bikes. Why wouldn't they? They are in business, which by definition means they want to do just that. It's up to the consumers to keep their money in their pockets or not. It isn't like these companies are doing anything illegal or forcing anyone to buy anything, (at least on the consumer end. This is less true for bicycle dealers.)

And you say I'm going in circles, eh? You are taking things out of context, but that's your general mode, so I'm not at all surprised. Obviously you ignored how I used the word "generally" in the quote, and you also misconstrued the cyclo cross reference in your comment as well. Funny.......I figured you'd at least have brought up my uncle's tricycle. ;>) I think you're game is slipping.....

doug vlad said...

So you guys make me feel as if I was steered in the wrong direction for what my intended purpose was��

Shane Buscher said...

The more I hear about what a gravel bike 'is' or what 'should be', by both marketers and riders, the more put-off I get. That pot of gold on the other side of the rainbow ain't gonna be found. You know why? Some people race gravel. Others ride it. Those that race might may focus on 50 milers, others 300+. A lot of racers do very well on CX bikes, others also do well gravel-marketed bikes. Hell, people win on road bikes. Those that ride may do short or long distances at varying speeds. Others might tour. Not all gravel is the same.

You can go on and on and on. Just like this endless commentary. At the end of the day nobody is incorrect. Run what ya brung.

youcancallmeAl said...

"Youre taking me out of context"!! lol. the politician's favourite go to weasel mechanism!! And feel free to provide details on the Atlantis's lack of stiffness.

youcancallmeAl said...

I wish there was a "like" button here. Well said Shane. And Doug, quit worrying. Your bike will be perfect for your intended purpose. I, for one, was being facetious.

doug vlad said...

Cool, sometimes, talk about angles and bottom bracket hight. Makes it seem that I may be uninformed in purchasing a bike. Anyways, I saved about five hundred bucks not getting the vaya. Enough to get myself a flask and flask holder for my bike. Not too mention the fine whiskey. Wait, this isn't the Drunk Cyclist site, is it😜🚡😎

Daniel Lemke said...

Cannondale is coming out with a new bike next year. Its called the Slate and it has a Lefty fork with an inch of travel. Also 650b wheels with enough clearance for 42c tires. I don't know what the geometry is, but isn't but something like that perfect for a do anything bike?

Guitar Ted said...

@Daniel Lemke- It is an interesting take on an "all-roads-all conditions" bike, but I feel it has two things going against it. One- The Lefty. This is a very polarizing look. (Not to mention the whole suspension on a road bike thing which was hashed over in the early 90's)

Secondly, the wheel size. Those who do not go tubeless and have to have the "specific tube size" spec'ed for their bike won't buy into that wheel size. You'd be surprised how many folks request this and won't buy a tube unless the numbers match up perfectly with their tire. Not many bike shops carry specific 584ISO labelled tubes that will fit a 42mm tire. Of course, any 26" narrow tube will work, but try to convince these folks that go by the number matching game that will work!

So, I think they created a unique bike, but the reasons why aren't overwhelming enough to overcome some of the philosophic, aesthetic, and technical objections I've heard some folks have with this bike. That limits its appeal unnecessarily, in my opinion.

Would the Slate work as advertised? Sure. I'm sure it is quite capable, but the oddities about it place it in a niche unto itself. That's my opinion on the Slate.