Friday, February 17, 2017

Friday News And Views

What looks like a Fox prototype shock could be a gravel specific design. (Image courtesy of Bike Radar)
Fox Shox Prototype Gravel Fork? 
 Riding gravel roads is akin, many times, to being on  a two wheeled version of a paint shaker. The jack hammering action of the handle bar is really bad with the current crop of ultra stiff, cyclo cross/road racing carbon fork designs being foisted as "gravel forks". So things like ISO speed decouplers and Lauf "forks", (I hesitate to call that visual assault to the eyes a fork), are things deemed necessary to ward off the incessant banging hands take on chunky gravel roads and rougher pavement. Let's not forget that Cannondale went on its own path, (again) with the Oliver Lefty fork for similar reasons.

Now I see that yesterday "Bike Radar" broke a story about a possible gravel fork from Fox Racing Shox. (See their story here) I won't get into the technicalities of such a device. Telescopic front suspension forks aren't anything new. What is most important about such a possibility is the ramifications of the shock's mere existence. If this is for real, you can expect a major sea change in the volume and intensity of the marketing behind the gravel/all road/adventure bike segment. I say this based upon what we can learn from the past.

Before Fox Shox made a fork for 29"ers, the entire segment of wagon wheelers was doomed to be nothing more than a small niche market. This despite the fact that Rock Shox made a token Reba 29"er fork to give the segment some legitimacy. Once the Fox Vanilla 29"er fork came about, the 29"er segment found its legs and the rest is history. The second conclusion we can draw here is that some big brand, or brands, are behind this.

We can assume this with some certainty since Fox doesn't make anything unless they get orders for a fork or rear shock. The fact that we are possibly seeing a prototype gives rise to the question of who (which brand or brands) might be pulling the trigger on a line of gravel/adventure bikes featuring front suspension.

It will be interesting to see if and when things come to light regarding this.

Near record breaking temperatures are forecast for this weekend.
Spring Break In February:

Winter is drunk. Winter is AWOL. In its wake we are forecast to have Spring-like temperatures for this weekend and into the beginning of next week.

Because of the odd-ball break in Winter's normal program, I am scheduling some gravel travel. I am back to 100% health-wise and I need to get a couple review items out and tested. Plus, who wouldn't want to ride in February in 60 plus degree weather? So, it is a no brainer. I am going riding tomorrow. Maybe Sunday too. Probably......

This weather obviously will not last, but considering that March is right around the corner, any return of Winter's snowy and cold blasts are sure to be short lived. I think we are due to "swing back" the other way too. Nature has a way of balancing things out, so I expect that March will come in like a lion, and we will have some nastiness to deal with the first half of the month. All the more reason to hit the gravel roads Saturday and Sunday.

Long. Black. Pimped.
Big Dummy Gets Stares:

The XR-1 Bontrager 2.4" whitewall tires have really brought a new level of inquisitiveness from the natives here. I think the use of the aluminized tape for a rim strip on the Northpaw rims doesn't hurt either. A little "chrome" bling to go with the blinding white sidewalls.

I actually have to really pay attention to people when I ride this bike, or I would miss a lot of the reactions. Like the guy who rolled down his window and leaned out to get a better look at me and the Big Dummy the other day. Or the people that rubberneck as they see me roll by. People that are definitely non-cyclists are even walking over to admire the weirdness that is my Big Dummy.

Anyway, those big puffy tires are really a boon to the ride of this bicycle. I get a much smoother ride and better stability. Traction, despite the small knobs, is far better, especially since I have the 47mm wide rims and lower air pressure capabilities as a result. The bike has been such a huge benefit to me in such a short amount of time that I can say without hesitation that it will be getting a lot more use this coming year once the weather straightens out.

And I suppose it will draw a lot of eyeballs and comments too.

That's all for this week. Have a great weekend and enjoy riding in this weather we have if you are in the Mid-West!


Daniel said...

I'm definitely interested in that fork from Fox. It will be interesting to see what the industries idea of a suspension fork for a road bike is these days besides what Cannondale has done with the Slate. I've had my eye on the Slate ever since that came out and if I ever save up the money I'm definitely getting one.

Smithhammer said...

IF (and I think it's a somewhat questionable 'if') the gravel market is going to start dabbling in front suspension, then the Lauf 'Grit' is going to be the standard to beat, imo.. It provides all the travel one could ever need on a gravel bike (if one 'needs' it all) and comes in at 900g. Any gravel suspension fork that is heavier than that is going to be a hard sell, unless it's significantly cheaper, and even then it doesn't seem like much of a market to be tapping in to.

Of course, some will debate the aesthetics of the Lauf fork (personally I could care less, and actually think they look kind of cool), but it's not like a 'standard' suspension fork looks any more proper or complimentary on a gravel rig anyway, so aesthetics in this case seem pretty irrelevant.

I'll say it again - if you can't beat what the Lauf offers, don't bother.

Guitar Ted said...

@Smithhammer- Headshok/Action Tec fork. Boom.

Smithhammer said...

@GT - completely forgot about that option, but yeah, it's an idea that has potential application for gravel, for sure.

Brad said...

Some guy said on bike radar that the modern gravel rider isn't going to be happy until the bikes are lightweight cross country bikes. I agree, put one of those forks on your gravel bike with disc brakes and you have a xc bike with too steep of angles like the late 90s early 2000s hardtail 29er mountain bikes. Only at triple the cost. Round and round we go.

DT said...

Specialized is already putting springs into their Roubaix(TM) headsets!

Guitar Ted said...

@Smithhammer @DT- Yeah, see I think the more we can keep the bike not only light, but simple in operation and in aesthetics, the more we are going to see this type of bicycle take off. I don't think telescopic forks, (in the traditional sense) are what we need to get there. Could there be a minimal travel fork, say even 15-20mm of absorption, to come? I think that is all it takes to take out the "paint shaker" effect.

We aren't going mountain biking with these things, and that's where a lot of the recent "innovations" in drop bar bikes are pointing. We don't need to be able to run 2.1" X 650B tires with knobs. Nor do we even need 30mm of suspension travel. But this kind of stuff is what the designers of these bikes are pushing out there. I'll tell you one thing- these designers and engineers are not talking with the gravel grinders I know. If they were, we wouldn't even begin to speak of forks like the Fox or of big, wide, heavily treaded tires.

So,a subtle spring like the Roubaix, or an ISO Speed decoupler, as Trek is doing, is actually more where I feel this needs to go. The road guys that are designing for the rougher, cobbled rides in Europe have a better grip on where this needs to go than many others seem to. That's what I am seeing.

The road solutions make more sense, since, well........we are still riding on (gravel) roads. You want a mountainbike experience? Get a mountain bike.

Cory said...

Here's my take on the suspension gravel fork.......My newest frame set is a Soma Wolverine. It has a raked front fork similar to 80s road bikes. Coupled with some 42 Cazadero tires and this thing rides as nice as anyone should need. Plus no fluid to leak or maintenance to require.

Smithhammer said...

@ GT - I think there is a spectrum of what we think of as a 'gravel bike,' and though we may still just be "riding roads," that doesn't mean the same thing everywhere. In the Rockies, 'gravel' riding often means riding FS roads - many of which can be deeply rutted, potholed, steep and full of loose rocks, not just gravel. Is a Raleigh Tamland with 32c tires really a great choice for that? I don't think so, and I think the vast majority of riders would agree, other than a few masochists. Sure you can make it work, but it's not going to be fun. That's where a bike that is somewhere between a road bike and a mtn bike, with the capacity to run wider tires (with knobs) and hybrid mountain/road gearing, starts to make a lot of sense. Similar, but slightly different tools. Is it a "gravel bike" or is it a "mountain bike?" Who cares. But that's where I can see a minimal approach to some suspension could make sense for people riding "gravel" more on the "adventure" end of the spectrum, though personally I remain ambivalent about it, as long as I have a bike the room to run good, wide tires. Nothing wrong with options....

Guitar Ted said...

@Smithhammer- So, what is wrong with using a cross country style mountain bike for that? They already exist, and the technology is absolutely dialed for rougher fire roads and forest service trails.

As you say yourself: "Is it a "gravel bike" or is it a "mountain bike?" "

The industry calls it a mountain bike. It is perfect for what you are suggesting.

Thus I say, "Get a mountain bike".

Guitar Ted said...

@Cory Edd- I would agree with your sentiments, but in an industry that is desperate to create the "next big thing", I feel that the way they are going about that is going to put some form of suspension out there whether or not it is a good idea.

My feeling is that minimal suspension is necessary, if you are going to pursue that path. For this style of bike, I would rather see the things I have already written about in my comment above.

Smithhammer said...

@GT - not trying to argue, but the type of FS road situation I described above is not all that "perfect" for a true trail-oriented mountain bike. In fact, a lot of those types of rides would be pretty tedious on such a rig. Again, you could do it, but I don't think it's the ideal solution, any more than the Tamland with 32c's is - the ideal solution lies somewhere in between, and call it what you will. I'm simply describing dirt roads that can, in my experience, be rougher and steeper than typical rolling farmland gravel roads. It's the kind of terrain that doesn't really call for a true "mountain bike" - it simply calls for a gravel bike that has been somewhat adapted to the local situation - a drop bar dirt bike, with a largely still "road" oriented frame, and the ability to run larger tires (40c+) Absolutely still a "gravel bike" in my opinion - just a somewhat different one than what may typically be needed in the Midwest or elsewhere. Regardless, the labels are of little importance to me (and I'm not sure why they would be to anyone else, either...) - my original point, to get back to this post, was that I can imagine a light, minimal suspension option sometimes in these situations could be useful, and appealing to some. Doesn't disqualify their bikes as "gravel bikes" imo.

teamdarb said...

Just months ago a guy laughed at my vintage Judy fork. Well, laughed at me checking the air pressure.

Guitar Ted said...

@Smithammer- So a Fargo. You can slap a sus fork on it, take it off, run 40mm tires or 2.4's. Not light enough? Cutthroat.

These bikes that cross over from mtb to gravel already exist. And you should note all the XC racing hard tails that are used at gravel events, by the way. Those are a viable vehicle for anything rougher than gravel typically roads are. So, drop bar or flat bar, these bikes are all over the place and weigh less than 20lbs in many instances. (I tested an Origin 8 carbon hardtail 29"er that would have been perfect in this application and it weighed 2lbs.)

I don't know what you make of fat bikes on gravel, but there are a lot of people using those at gravel events now.

So, horses for courses. Don't have smoother gravel roads? Don't get the bike that works for there on those smoother roads. You have " rougher and steeper than typical rolling farmland gravel roads"? I see no problem there that a Fargo, Cutthroat, or super lightweight XC hardtail couldn't tackle. You have both types of courses? Get two bikes.

Most of us have at least two bikes, I would guess. ;>)

Smithhammer said...

Yup - thoroughly familiar with all those options, Ted. And those options (and many others) that have sprung up to address those needs embody to varying degrees what I'm talking about. I'm only responding to your comment that, "if you want a mountain bike, get a mountain bike.' That's not really what I was talking about. I'm still riding a 'gravel bike' in these situations, not my mountain bike - it's just that it's a gravel bike adapted to the kind of 'gravel' we often encounter where I live.

Come on out for JayP's 'Gravel Pursuit' some time and you'll get a good idea of what I'm talking about. It's still a 'gravel' race, but I'd recommend a slightly different rig...