|There is even a bike named "Gravel" now. (Image courtesy of Grannygear)|
My partner Ben was there and messaged me during the festival over the weekend to say that road bikes are dead. "Nail in coffin. Rotting", was the way he put it. Another press report from the festival by the esteemed James Huang of "Cyclingtips.com" echoed the same sentiment. Now, it should be pointed out that Sea Otter was, and is still, a mountain bike festival. Road bikes did feature in the event only due to the road races around the Laguna Seca Raceway there where the venue is. But if the vibe was that "road is dead", then that is saying something. Think about that for a minute......
Huang wrote in his Sea Otter coverage, "This is no fad; gravel bikes are clearly here to stay, and there’s a growing tidal wave of interest behind them." So, as he further went on to indicate, media outlets heavily weighted toward Pro road racing were now going to be covering gravel. And why wouldn't they? If consumer interests have swung over to doing gravel events, riding gravel, and especially when purchasing new gear related to gravel, then it only makes sense to, as they say, "follow the money".
|Niner's controversial full suspension gravel rig. (Image courtesy of Grannygear)|
People are leaving the organized, licensed crit/road racing scene in the U.S. in droves. Just a few years ago, USAC, the sanctioning body for such road events, reported a precipitous drop in license sales and participation numbers in their events fell drastically. Sanctioned mountain bike racing has shown little to no growth for years. So where were all the people going? Were they quitting cycling altogether? Many did, but most went somewhere else, and by the numbers of events seen on gravel, it would be apparent that gravel/back road events are where people are spending their time and money. Of course the industry is going to chase that. You can only blame yourselves for this, cyclists. Stop doing gravel and the industry will drop gravel like a hot potato.
But that said, has the industry gone too far with offerings for this niche segment of cycling, or will it continue to cannibalize mountain and road bike sales into the future? How does the electric motor figure into all of this? Hard to say. But one possibility here is troubling.
|Breezer Bikes has debuted a new adventure line. (Image courtesy of Grannygear)|
That "bubble" burst in 2014 and sales of fat bikes, once a sure thing for Mid-Western shops, became a tough sell. Everyone that wanted one had one. Many companies have dropped fat bikes from their lines in the last few years or have severely curtailed their offerings. Fat bikes were once a runaway sales hit, and while they will never go away, it will never be like it was for three years or so there.
One could argue that gravel-all road bikes are on the same trajectory. Companies with no background in "adventure" style bikes are now jumping in with both feet into this market. Mountain bike companies that never really pushed road anything have "gravel bikes" now. Get the picture here? It sounds a lot like the same song sung in 2011-2013 with fat bikes.
My sincere hope is that road cycling just becomes "any road cycling". That the road racing style bikes be cornered into the niche place they belonged in all along- for the committed crit racer only. The "common road bike" going forward should be what we are calling "gravel bikes" now and that silly moniker- "gravel"- should just go away. The whole point, at least for me, was that a bike with capable tires and slacker geometry with fittings to promote versatility would become the de-facto choice for most cyclists all over the U.S.A.
But the cycling industry and media keep getting caught up in traditional pigeon holes and in chasing trends so much that they cannot seem to see where this could go. That's the biggest problem I see. If it goes like it has been, I fully expect the bubble to pop, but it doesn't have to be that way.