|So wrong on one end, so right on the other.|
I've been watching the trend with great interest, not just because I am involved with RidingGravel.com, but also because I have been beating the drum for what it takes to make a good gravel road bike on this blog for years. Long before these companies ever thought to make such beasts. That is important to note only because I have had these ideas for a long time and I'm not just coming around with criticisms made up recently. I have no horse in this race, but I do find how these bikes are coming out rather odd. It has more to do with corporate trappings and marketing than it does with what is going to actually make a good gravel road bike. What has informed these designs, many times, are things that just do not work well on gravel roads, or works poorly.
As an example, many bicycles companies are putting forth in this new niche have carbon fiber forks. Why wouldn't they? They are "road based" bikes, right? And what self respecting road bike designer wouldn't put a carbon fiber fork on a gravel road bike? Besides, they are lighter than the other options. You know, light weight sells. Well, the problem is that these are generally the same forks used on cyclo cross bikes, which value stiffness above all else. Sure, you get tire clearance for 40mm tires, but you also get the stiffest riding fork you can imagine. Not so hot an idea for gravel roads.
|That steel fork might be heavy, and ordinary looking, but it works.|
The trouble is that companies are designing these bikes using components already available via parts developed for other disciplines of cycling, (cyclo cross), or that exist in catalogs from the carbon factories in the Far East. Almost none of what we see masquerading as "gravel/adventure" bikes is actually a ground up design specific to gravel road riding. The Salsa Warbird and the Raleigh Tamland being notable exceptions. Usually what we are seeing are bikes with some tweaks, or out and out cyclo cross bikes rebadged.
Some other bikes, which are new designs, and badged as gravel/adventure rigs, don't have features or geometry that is even close to what actually works on rough roads with loose gravel. It isn't hard to figure it out, because, well..........it was figured out decades ago by the European road bike designers. The historical references and designs are all there to be seen and learned from, yet the bicycles I see headed our way for gravel riding don't seem to have any of these seminal influences. Things like low bottom brackets, slack head angles matched up with long offsets, and forks that actually work with the terrain instead of fiercely resisting it. Instead, we get designs informed by the road cycling trends of the day, which are ultimately derived from American Criterium geometry. Not a design house that makes a good bike for gravel road riding.
So, I see this and find it odd. There are some companies that have gotten it close to the ideal I believe is best, but most bikes I see for this category are missing it by a country mile.