Monday, July 29, 2013

Maybe It Should Be Called "All Road"

White tires. Old school look.
Friday a commenter on this blog asked an interesting question:" I think a more interesting question is: can a gravel bike be a decent road bike substitute?"

I thought I'd take that one step further and ask, "Shouldn't a gravel bike be most people's road bike?"

As in an "all road bike" kind of bicycle. Let's think about it, shall we? Because I think most road bikes are not the right bikes for most people.

First of all, as I have written here before, traditional road bikes that are sold now are largely based off of expectations that a "road racing style bike" is "faster" and "lighter" which is obviously "better" for anyone. Right? It's the same type of bike, (and in some cases- the very same bike), that the "Pros" use, and why wouldn't you want that bike? Bike shop sales are largely based off of playing on this perception because it is easy, and the marketing machines make it seem that way. However; it is all pretty much snake oil. Most folks do not need such a bike. Most folks end up trying to make a road racing based bike something else,  and even the manufacturers have been trying to play off that fact for a decade.

Witness the rising tide of "endurance road bikes", as an example. This is just another repackaging of previous ideas that were foisted on us by the industry. These bikes are largely impractical since they are a road racing bike with only a slight nod to a relaxed seated position.

My take is that the public isn't really ready for "the right bike", but that it is already appearing. The "gravel grinder" bike, with bigger tires, more relaxed geometry, and more practicality built in really makes a lot more sense than the traditional avenues folks take for their two wheeled pavement satisfaction.

Raleigh Tamland 1- (Image courtesy of Cyclo Cross Mag)
Oh....wait a minute! Maybe you want to ride a smooth trail once in a while. Or maybe you ride on some really bad roads, and think you need "another bike" to supplement your roadie. you do not, if you have an All Road bike. The typical gravel specific rig, (like the Tamland, shown here), is going to have sufficient rubber that curb hopping, smooth dirt, busted up pavement, and riding it all at speed will be no big deal. Plus- the geometry will be more stable and less punishing than any road racing based idea for a bike, (save maybe Trek's Domane).

Oh yeah, maybe you need a rack, fenders, or a frame pack. try any of that on your fancy carbon shaped tubing. Uh-huh......  The gravel specific bikes will be way more practical in these areas. Areas that give traditional road bike owners fits because they can not make their racing bike fit their needs.

See, you don't need three different pavement bikes, (road racing, urban, hybrid), you just need one- the right bike for every road and need. That's why calling these new bikes "gravel specific" is probably a bad idea. Just like calling a fat bike a "snow bike" automatically limits the imagination, so does "gravel grinder bike".  I'm thinking "all road" is better, but maybe there is a better term than that. Whatever it is, these new bikes coming out, (and that are out), deserve a much wider audience.


Ben said...

Right on, and I totally agree! I've held on to just having my LHT for the past five years for a bunch of reasons, but one of the main is because I didn't want to deal with the compromises of a "specific" rig. I've come the closest to adding a Fargo as a second rig, but it got redundant with the LHT.

Like you, my bones just don't deal with racing bikes, and I'm too cheap to waste money.

Great post and I agree.. And know my next bike will be a "gravel grinder" rig, likely next spring and likely a Warbird.

youcancallmeAl said...

hasn't Grant Petersen been saying basically the same thing these past 25 years?

Dave said...

Apologies to Salsa, but why not "Adventure Bike?"

Everyone loves an adventure, right?

Guitar Ted said...

@Tony dadson: He's been saying that the manufacturers have it all wrong when it comes to what needs are and how the brands meet, (or do not meet), them.

His solutions are similar, but are mostly based on older standards and ways of thinking. (One inch head tubes, as an example, or threaded steer tubes and quill stems.)

So while I appreciate Mr. Petersen's overall philosophy, I do not necessarily agree with his answers to the problems riders have to deal with.

MG said...

I have three bikes I rotate among for gravel riding, and each is distinctly different. That suggests to me there's no one 'perfect' solution for gravel grinding. But that said, I do think a number of the bikes being developed and sold for gravel use are more practical, comfortable and versatile than 'typical' road bikes available today.

Would more people be drawn to the category if it was called something sexier, like 'all road'? Perhaps, but some riders, regardless of what is best for them, want to look exactly like their Tour heros... Even if it kills their back and limits the roads they can ride.

Cyclocross Magazine said...

"All Road" was a big push by Specialized a decade ago too, with that exact name, with their Tricross line. Note the low BB and long chainstays. Andy Jacques-Maynes was onto something then, just not idea for cx racing.

Calfee has adventure bike, I like that term too since it doesn't imply road and pavement.

youcancallmeAl said...

I MEANT the defining of the problem. Of course different folks will have different solutions to the same problem.

youcancallmeAl said...

I think "all rounder" is a fair label

Irishtsunami said...

MG, you are my hero. What are your three rides and what conditions do you have each set up for?

Denny Yunk said...

Hear hear. I have a steel Waterford with relaxed geometry, an 80mm BB drop, canti brakes, and 32mm Vittoria Randonneur Hyper tires. It's a blast.

As far as naming this category of bikes, I propose "ex-road" or "x-road".

MG said...

Thanks @Irishtsunami. My drop bar stable includes:
1) Singular Osprey -- their 'road' frame, but is one able to fit 32c tires. Mine is set up with a 32c Schwalbe Racing Ralph on the front (a tubular) and a 32c Grand Bois Cypres Extra Leger (clincher) on the rear. It's best on gravel that's not too chunky, but in the right conditions, it's my fastest bike...
2) Singular Kite -- reviewed on Gravel Grinder News recently. It's the bike I ride most. A great frame with an amazing ride quality.
3) Singular Gryphon -- my singlespeed. Set up currently with a 29x2.2 Kenda Kommando on the front and a Nanoraptor on the rear, it's a very versatile ride. I often choose the Gryphon for rides that combine singletrack and gravel, and it's also a fantastic long-haul weapon (though I typically set it up with gears for rides like TransIowa).

I also have a Ti Salsa Fargo... or well, it's a prototype of the G2 Ti Salsa Fargo. It's set up for singletrack rippin' with an 80mm travel Rock Shox Reba and full-knobby tires. It can be set up to rock on gravel, but given my current stable of Singular bikes, I really don't need it for gravel. Sadly, I don't ride this bike nearly enough.


'actual moutntain' biker said...

Eric Coury of Castle frames has building what he has called 'All-Road' road/dirt frames for years. You should look him up. He's been riding and building them for quite a while. He just doesn't do the blog thing so much so has been off the radar. The idea that this gravelness is new is kinda funny. Folks in MT have been doing for decades and Sam Braxton was building them in the 70s/80s. What was old is new again eh?!?!

PRBC said...

I disagree that "manufacturers have it all wrong when it comes to what needs are and how the brands meet, (or do not meet), them". If this were the case, they wouldn't be making so much money as they currently are. In addition, they seem to be picking up on some of the emerging niches (e.g. gravel racing), and coming out with bikes that have disc brakes, and that will take wider tires (though 28c is far from fat). I really like how the Tamland looks, and the idea behind it, but I think the lower-priced version should have an 11-32 cassette if it truly aspires to be a 'do everything' and 'all roads' bike, rather than just a pure gravel racer.

bwc said...

Right on, GT. This is why I bought the Vaya back in April. Since then I've commuted with panniers, rode smooth roads, rode rough roads, rode fire roads, double track, single tracks… it's handled all of this like a champ. My only complaint is it is seriously overbuilt… like built to take a 300 lb. man across a mountain range on bumpy gravel with 100lbs of gear strapped to the bike. I clock in at 135lbs, and rarely carry gear.

I want the same geometry, features, but with significantly lighter steel for an all-arounder.