Thursday, March 25, 2021

People Will Forget Until You Remind Them

In response to how folks perceived MTB's when they came out.
I read this bit of wisdom from an old dirt car racer on Twitter one day. He said: "People will forget until you remind them", and he'd proceed to talk about some accomplishment in racing he or his family achieved. It sounds like bragging when you read it the first time, but he's right, you know. People forget their history- or never knew it to begin with - and spout off some pronouncement that they probably wouldn't have with some perspective and knowledge of history. Such was the case earlier this week when Russ from the "Path Less Pedaled" was musing on why folks "hate on" gravel bikes. 

Generally speaking from my experience over the past fifteen years of talking about bikes for the purposes of riding on gravel, dirt roads, and bad pavement, I can say that most people's responses to the term and the existence of 'gravel bikes' lack a knowledge of history and a perspective on the subject. Sometimes the responses are near the mark, sure, but most times they lack any consideration of, or knowledge of, what has gone on before all this modern day 'gravel bike' nonsense. 

Now, you longtime blog readers all know this, more than likely, but my take on an all-terrain road bike is one drawn from history. Use bigger tires, like they used to, use slacker geometry, like they used to, and a lower bottom bracket with moderate length chain stays, just like they used to, only do it all up with modern materials technology. This was, and is, to my way of thinking, the any-man's road bike, with the 'man' part referring to humans as a species, okay? 

So, this all came up when it was pushed out on Monday on social media that certain groups of people were 'angered', (bent out of shape?), by the term 'gravel bike' and the question above was posted which you can see my answer to. Historically, no one I ever read, spoke to, or knew of thought that MTB's were just "road bikes with fat tires". In fact, if you thought that then, you'd likely not find many folks to ride with either in the roadie camp or the MTB camp. The gulf between the two was real, as crazy as it may seem today. 

Of course, this went further on in discussion until the term 'gravel grinder' came up, which is the other thing that seems to tweak some people off. But as I pointed out in that thread, and have pointed out numerous times here, that is not a construct of modern day gravel marketing. It existed as a 'thing' long before the popularity of 'gravel events' took off in the mid-00's. 

Courtesy of Richard Masoner's Tweet
I've often told the story here that Iowa and other Mid-Western roadies would often use rural roads to train on for late spring criterium racing. They referred to these early season training rides on crushed rock roads as 'gravel grinds', and going out for a 'gravel grinder' was understood to mean that you were going to go on a training ride on gravel roads for their higher resistance and more hilly terrain. 

This term was adopted by early race promoters who put on mountain bike races on gravel roads. Then, it became the obvious term to borrow for races and events put on gravel for any type of bicycle you wanted to haul out. It was a natural progression, and as such, was never meant to be a marketing term. It was adopted by the followers in the gravel event promoting ranks and then went on to represent the segment of racing and riding that was on gravel. This also probably explains why marketers adopted 'gravel' for the components and bicycles used at such events. I cannot say for certain, but that's a logical assumption on my part. Your mileage may vary. 

And as you can see, I'm not the only one that thinks this way about where that term came from. I know some folks might think we 'made that up', but we didn't. It was a term we borrowed that made sense to us in the mid-2000's. So, whether or not that 'irritates' you, the term has a history and means something that maybe you may not have considered. That may not make you feel any better about that term, but it isn't going away and for good reason. 

It reminds me of how 'mountain bikes' came about as a descriptive term for those types of off-road, fat tire bikes. That term- Mountain Bikes -was actually a brand name at first. It was what Gray Fisher and Charlie Kelly called their fledgling all terrain bicycle company. But the popularity of the name ended up becoming the term for the whole genre of off-road bicycles. Think about how dumb that is. I mean, you don't have to have mountains to ride those bikes, right? Surely "All-Terrain" should have won out. But, as we all know, it did not. 

So, there is a precedent for how a silly name becomes a term for a whole category of bicycles. I'm no fan of 'gravel bike', and you long time readers all know that. But I've been over-ruled and the market has spoken, so gravel bikes it is. 

And as far as 'gravel grinders' go, well, you can call your rides whatever you want to, but where I'm from, these crushed rock road rambles have been called that since long before I was big enough to ride gravel roads. So, it is a tradition we carry on with here. I see no harm in that term. I also don't see that term, as annoying as some think it is, going away either. Convince me otherwise....


MG said...

Amen, Brother.

Stud Beefpile said...


It seems we (in the U.S.A. at least) are in an era of willful ignorance of our history or outright rejection of it in many facets.

It’s right at our fingertips (via the internet or a local library), and now that it is, we don’t want to learn it or learn from it.

Unknown said...

So true, but all I can say about that is ebike.