|Not a "road bike"? I beg to differ.|
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"|
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.