Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Gravel All The Things

Slap the word "gravel" on it, and you're good to go. Image by Grannygear
Bicycling was fun- then the bicycle industry got a hold of the activity. I tell, ya..... It's crazy now with the e-bikes and "gravel-all-the-things" mentality. It would seem that marketing speak would be something that most folks would have a good sense of rejection for. You know- the ol' "BS" meter kicks in and you just toss that out with the other 9,000 tons of informational garbage that is hitting your brain everyday. However; I am afraid that I have heard evidence that some of this polished up tripe is actually sticking. People are believing the hype.

I remember ten years ago when I was thinking about building a custom gravel bike. Some tool a bit sharper for the job. But that said, I had been having a blast on a 2003 Karate Monkey on gravel for years up to that point. I had a Fargo 29"er, which I still have, that is my all-time favorite gravel sled. You don't need a gravel bike. I've said that for years. However; it has reached my ears that now people think that they do. Not only that, but many think it has to be carbon and that it has to be expensive.

My friend Grannygear just filed a report for RidingGravel.com where he covered the Sea Otter festival. It used to be a mountain bike festival, but this year it was a gravel and e-bike affair. So, they lose the "MTB" part of the name now. It just doesn't fit. But anyway, the bicycle industry was falling all over itself once again inventing reasons you need a 9K titanium gravel bike, or some doohickey labelled "gravel" that in any other era would have been just some pedestrian bicycle part or accessory.

Now on one hand, sure- I think this stuff is cool. But....I am a bike nerd. This does not bring in any folks who previously were not cycling. It just alienates them more than ever because the Industry is making everyone feel that they "are not doing it right" unless they buy all the stuff. Well, listen up, Industry- people do not need "the stuff" to do gravel. 

My hope was always that gravel cycling be "all inclusive" of anyone on any bike. To that degree that people want to ride in rural areas, I feel that is the simplest way to put it. I get it- not everyone will want to try this. But I have always thought it was an opportunity to persuade folks too fearful to ride in urban areas or on paved highways and secondary roads for fear of being murdered by a motorist to get out and ride a bicycle. Too bad the Industry hasn't caught on to that. Now they are just converting roadies and mtb'ers, folks they already had in their pockets, to thinking they need a "gravel this-or-that". It's just really sad.

Well, that said, I do see hope here and there. N.Y. Roll leads a beginner's gravel ride every Monday in the area. I see the "Gravel Scouts" doing similar things in the Iowa City area. I aim to continue the Geezer Rides for beginners going forward. Many events are now offering "beginner distance" courses. So, the grassroots folks get it. C'mon, Bike Industry. Get yer head out. It's not about "the gear". It's about the people. Get the people involved and the gear will sell itself eventually.


Phillip Cowan said...

In March 2018 CX Magazine had a interesting article about finding old road frames with generous clearances and setting them up for gravel. The gist of the article was simply that you don't need a bazillion dollars to get out there. I liked the article because I like to repurpose things and my inner scotsman likes doing things on the cheap. The article was billed as Part I with Part II soon to follow. Part II never came, prolly their advertisers had a fit. "What the hell are you doing telling our potential customers to just get an old steel bike?". "Are you nuts!!!?". Yes Virginia, I'm afraid you really do need a bazillion dollar plastic bike or the other kids will tease you and say ugly things.

Rydn9ers said...

Never really got bit by the ALL THE THINGS MUST BE CARBON bug, but to me gravel seems like the least suited environment for a material adverse to repeated strikes with hard,sharp objects. Even the ED coating on my Pugsley's down tube is showing the signs of how harsh gravel can be on a frame after 4 years of riding it on gravel. If it's doing that to the ED coating, it's doing that to the laminate on a carbon frame, I know that several manufactures put clear tape or rubber layers on the down tube and that is all well and good if you can convince the gravel to just strike the frame in those spots only. Carbon gravel bikes just seem like they are the disposable gravel option, ride it a few years and hope someone else is willing to buy it for 70% of retail to help fund your next Bic Razor.

youcancallmeAl said...

As Riding Gravel and Guitar Ted spend so much time reviewing all these expensive new products, I find your complaining a tad hollow.

MG said...

@youcancallmeAl: Troll somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. You just saved me a lot of money.