Tuesday, October 09, 2018

"Real" Road Bikes

Not a "road bike"? I beg to differ.
You know, I'd say since about 2011 or so I have been debating and thinking about what these fatter tire, slightly slacker road going bikes should be called. Many said "gravel bike", and at one time I offered this as a solution as well. However; even back seven years ago I understood that the term "gravel" was too limiting, and that another name needed to be used.

All sorts of things were offered up as a name for these bikes, which in my opinion, are more versatile and therefore more useful to the general cycling public than what was known as "road bikes". Road bikes, traditional road bikes", have skinny tires, limited usefulness, and foster an aggressive, "suffering" style of riding that isn't what most folks think of as "useful" or "fun". Type 2 fun notwithstanding, road bikes are generally a pain in the butt for most customers of the shop where I work. They want higher seated positions, they want a rack, they want a kickstand, fer cryin out loud. But they've been duped by marketing and have fallen under the spell of the siren call of carbon fiber.

There is a dichotomy here, a diverging trail- One leading to "the sale", where sexy marketing focusing on speed, lightweight, and technology get the customer hooked. Then there is "The Reality" when folks find out road bikes require a decent amount of physical fitness and don't have many features that they really want in a bike.

It has always been my belief that folks needed a bike that suited their needs, was reasonably lightweight, and wasn't beholden to staying on smooth pavement for the entirety of its lifespan. That bike, I have always reasoned, is what we call "gravel bikes". But that name is all wrong! The name these bikes should have is road bikes. That's right. The name for those skinnier tire, performance driven, singularly purposed bicycles should not be "road bikes". They should be called by their right name- racing bikes

Bred from competition. Made to look like a Pro's bike- Meet the "Racing Bike"
 I was struck by this totally obvious observation after having read this opinion piece on "Velo News". The entire search for a new name for these "gravel bikes" is not a wise thing to do. The "right name" for these bikes was right under our noses all the time, and it had been usurped by what the industry calls "road bikes", which really are not "road" bikes at all. "Certain roads bikes", yes. But not all roads are suited to racing bicycles. Not to mention all purposes......

When I was a kid, we knew these performance oriented bikes as "racers", or "road racers". Many of us called them "ten speed racing bikes", which became shortened to simply "ten speeds". It was understood that these bikes were "racing bikes", and not the kind of bike for everyday usage in terms of the average citizen. Somehow or another, in the late 90's, this got turned on its head when racing bikes became known as "road bikes". Probably due to the rise in popularity of "off-road", or "mountain bikes". The opposite of those would be "road bikes", but other than bicycles purposed for racing, what was there in the US market? Nothing, unless you went in for the hard-to-understand "hybrid" bike, which, if you didn't know, was an offshoot of fat tired "road bikes" which were purposed to go on any road. (Bruce Gordon's Rock and Road model, being the forebear of these.) Somewhere along the line those bikes got cross-bred with mountain bikes and ended up becoming 29"ers, but that's another story.

Marketers are a savvy bunch. Connecting the word "racing" to "road bikes" wasn't selling bikes. So.......drop the racing bit. Now they have become misunderstood as being "the road bike" and anything else isn't a "road bike". But that is just plain wrong. All the "sexy" attributes of these bikes- lightweight, speed, technology- were touted, but the fact that they were totally based on road bike racing geometry and rider positioning was swept under the rug. Not to mention the single purpose design philosophy which renders these bikes as not very versatile.

Road bike sales have suffered of late, and one of the reasons why is easy to see- road biking isn't safe. So, these "gravel bikes' have allowed folks to get off the dangerous paved highways. The aforementioned "Velo News" piece's author acknowledges this. The thing is, this isn't going to change anytime soon. That will take years to change. Maybe decades. Then the author offers that millennials  could be a solution because they don't do automobiles as much as their predecessors, (but......infrastructure!), and while they are bound by financial constraints, (but road racing bikes are expensive), they would rather look at their phones than drive a car, (Uh.....what?!), and on....

Obviously that is an odd defense of racing bikes. The author then goes on to say that gravel bikes are a "band-aid" solution and not the answer. I think that notion is dead wrong. The problem is, and always has been, that racing bikes aren't the answer to most people's road biking needs. "Real road bikes", the ones we pigeon hole as "gravel bikes", are the solution. The name needs to be what it should have been all along though. Not "gravel", not "all-road", just road bikes, because these bikes can do all the roads and more. Racing bikes.......not so much.


11 comments:

Tyler Loewens said...

Largely agree with the premise here. Most folks do not need a skinny (28mm or less) tire road bike. I would also say that calling those same skinny tire bikes "Racing Bikes" is too restricting. A Domane like your photo is excellent for group rides with your friends. Sure they can get a bit competitive from time to time (up hills and town line sprints), but most folks on that ride would never race. Calling those skinny tired bikes "Racing Bikes" and pushing them towards something with 35mm file tread type tires could make their experience on that group ride much less enjoyable.

On top of that, when people think "Road" I bet they generally visualize pavement in some form or another.

I really like the "All-Road" designation for what we currently call "Gravel Bikes". To me it more accurately describes what they can do. They can ride on any road: Pavement, Gravel, B-Roads, etc...

Either way, very interesting though process here. I wish there would have been the amazing selections we have now for all-road bikes back when my mom was shopping for one many years back. Now she has a Trek road bike that is not very confidence inspiring.


phillip Cowan said...

I think the rise of gravel bikes(oops, sorry) is being pushed along by the development of lightweight wheelsets that still put a decent amount of tire on the road. Even for a roady noob it doesn't take long to figure out that there's no use getting your ass pounded to pieces on 23's when for a small(and shrinking) weight penalty you could be riding 35's.

As for the name I think Allroad makes the most sense. It's like comparing a Rally car to a Formula 1 car. Both high performance machines but the Rally car can take on most anything that can be called a road. F1? Not so much. I see your point for calling them Road bikes but I think you're swimming upstream to try to get people to change.

Max T. said...

I like your thoughts. Just wanna add my two cents. Over in Europe (where I'm from), traditional road bikes are called race bikes (Rennrad germany,bici da corsa italy). I never really thought about this when talking with english speaking people. Funny enough, there doesn't really exist the term "roadbike". It's only used when trying to differentiate road and track riding. I think gravel bikes is of course only a marketing thing, BUT it makes sense to me nevertheless.Gravelbikes only exist cause the old 26" rigid steel MTB vanished with the evolution of MTBs. I converted my old 26" to a brilliantly riding drop bar MTB aka Gravel bike. So these new bikes are just doing what old bikes already did. But the sport of MTB changed so much, that it left a vacuum in that "no-fancy-suspension-just-a-little-off-road-niche" which a lot of people still like to do. I often see full suspension bikes on gravel roads, just because thats what the (mainstream) market had to offer when you told you're local bike shop, you want something to be able to ride everywhere comfortably. So with a mountainbike now being a different thing, something new had to fill the gap.
The term gravel-bike is here to stay for another reason. Thanks to marketing the term gravel doesn't only describe the kind of roads you can ride it on...no. It gives you that adventure FEELING that the avarage joe wants to have, when going outdoor nowadays. Buying a gravel bike means your an outdoor loving, wild camping, badass bikepacker, who travels all over the world. And this feeling which is connected to the term Gravel is so much stronger then just the description of the kind of roads and the reason why people want to buy them.
So, i think even though i get where you are going with this, i think you just don't have a chance in trying to change that name.

jkruse said...

I heartily agree. I recently had a friend buy a carbon racing bike off some website, and I tried as hard as I could to convince them to consider other options but they could not be dissuaded. People are truly convinced they need a skinny tire racing bike if they want to go "fast", as if that's the only thing worth doing on a bike?? Well, like you said, the bike has no features anyone would actually want in a bicycle and it hangs on a hook in the garage. They could have bought a Journeyman, saved a bunch of money, and joined in on all the fun grass roots dirt road riding that is taking off in our town. Oh well, I tried.

I don't think it would catch on with marketing types, but I always liked Grant Petersen's "all-rounder" label.

Skidmark said...

Tyler L. - I would say a bike designed around 25-28mm max tire size with short-reach caliper brakes is almost certain to be “race bike” in fit and geometry. Now that doesn’t mean you race it.

Tyler Loewens said...

Exactly Skidmark (love the name BTW). So if you call it a race bike, then you might actually be pushing someone to a bike they will enjoy less. "Well I don't race, I guess I should buy this All-Road bike". They then show up to the fast group ride and are frustrated.

Skidmark said...

Trek tried to offer an alternative “road bike”. Between about 2004 and 2010: they had Lemond Big Sky, Trek Pilot, and Klein Reve in 2006-7. Peoples didn’t want them, they weren’t “race bikes”. They ran 700/32c tires, and maybe clearance for fenders, I can’t remember ‘cause nobody bought any.

Guitar Ted said...

@Tyler Loewens- Most people we sell "racing bikes" to do not ride aggressively. They don't do "group rides". (You can verify this by just looking at whop shows up every week for the competitive group ride sufferfest. Known here by the name "Hammer Ride".)

MOST people we service don't race, don't want to deal with the peccadilloes of racing bikes, but buy them anyway due to marketing. So, when you say,"Racing Bikes is too limiting", you are right, but for the wrong reasons.

@Skidmark- Marketing of those bikes was non-existent and dealers had little to no incentive to sell them. Media largely ignored those models. So, saying they were produced is one thing, saying they were marketed with the help of cycling media? Quite another issue. plus- those were marketed as "pavement bikes"- not even close to what they could have been marketed as. Is it any wonder they failed? No, it isn't.

Guitar Ted said...

@Max T- Thank you for that perspective. I see what you are saying, and it is valid, for sure.

As far as "having a chance to change the name", well, maybe you are correct. But if I don't put it out there, there would truly be "no chance". ;>)

Skidmark said...

Thanks GT, -we also had good roads with much less traffic 20+ years ago. So skinny tired “race” bikes were a little easier to keep under control.

youcancallmeAl said...

If the ski industry can successfully market a model called the "all-mountain" for a ski that does it all, I feel comfortable with a bike called the "all-road" that does the same.