|In 2005, a new era in cycling got started. What were the bikes like?|
This post attempts to answer that question.
I started this by mentioning in Tuesday's post that there weren't any gravel bikes in 2005 when we started Trans Iowa. In fact, there weren't any 'gravel bikes' at Trans Iowa, or anywhere, until about 2009 when Salsa Cycles sent Joe Meiser out to T.I. with a titanium LaCruz, which they said was a 'cyclo cross bike', (wink-wink), but we all know where that went eventually. So anyway.....what bikes were being used?!
The big 'cyclo cross vs MTB' debate for T.I.v1 eventually was won by the cyclo cross crowd. We never saw the sheer numbers of mountain bikes at Trans Iowa after v2, but mountain bikes continued to be used quite a bit up through the years. It probably wasn't until about Trans Iowa v8 when seeing a mountain bike line up for Trans Iowa was considered 'weird'.
|Jeff Kerkove (R) leads a gaggle of riders into a town during Trans Iowa v1. |
Here in the image above you can see that the vast majority of bikes in the event were mountain bikes, since this image is fairly representative of the 50-ish rider field that day. Keep in mind that this may have been due to a few factors.
- "Gravel®" wasn't a 'thing' yet. This was billed as a mountain bike event.
- Drop bar bikes suitable for gravel travel were rare. Road bikes were really not a good idea.
- Cyclo Cross bikes were rare.
- Randonnuer bikes were even rarer.
The amount of front suspension shown in the image above may be the most of any Trans Iowa even with the number of other front suspension forks in the other 13 events combined. And of course, there were other front suspended bikes at Trans Iowa v1 too.
The other thing of note here is the number of riders using hydration packs. That was really about the only way you could get more than two water bottles' worth of water along for the ride. "Adventure Warts®" weren't a thing yet, so you did not have the capability to mount more water bottle cages by way of using braze-ons.
Another notable thing- clothing. You can see Jeff's sponsored kit which is more indicative of later Trans Iowa looks, and toward the back of this group you see the more bulky, flapping-in-the-wind kind of get up that became more rare as the years went by. Riders realized that wind resistance over the period of a day's riding was something to contend with.
|What was old is new again? Or something like that..... A bike from T.I.v2 (Image by Jeff Kerkove)|
Now once Trans Iowa v1 happened and the blogs and internet forums had had the time to digest what had happened, there was a big seismic shift in what a bike should be like for riding on gravel for long distances. Given what was available in 2005-2006, riders were often forced to get creative.
The bike image above is pretty forward looking in many ways. Much of what you see there are ideas borrowed from the past and some ideas are new. I'm going to detail out what I see here and show how riders were really on to what would make gravel riding and 'bike packing' popular activities some ten to fifteen years later.
- The Bike: I've often said that the Surly Cross Check was the gravel bike of the early gravel scene. Here we see how it could make a perfect platform for any rider's desires. While it had its flaws, it was the cheapest, easiest to get, most modifiable, versatile platform for gravel riding available at the time. It was steel, pretty much indestructible, and reasonably light. Also of note- The drive train, being a single speed, is a traditional choice for gravel travel, and was popular from day one until the end of Trans Iowa.
- Water Bottle Mounts: It is pretty much a standard issue feature on gravel bikes to have multiple water bottle mounts. Even having three sets of mounts is somewhat too few now days. Back then? You had to improvise like this fellow had done. Note the "Wolf Tooth-like" double bottle mount up high on the down tube.
- Bags: Frame bags are no big deal in 2021. But in 2006? That top tube bag may seem a bit.....dumpy looking, but it took advantage of a space and made it useful for carrying stuff. The giant rear seat pack on a mini-rack is something that has a modern day equivalent in the Tailfin Rack and Bag system. Handlebar bags are not my jam, not traditional ones, but these made appearances in Trans Iowa throughout the years.
- Miscellaneous: Note the hydration bladder tube protruding from the handle bar bag.(Wait..... Now that I look closer that tube is actually coming out of the top tube bag!) This trick was one quickly adopted by riders to get weight off their backs and onto the bike. While hydration packs continued to be used up through T.I.v14, their numbers were very low by 2018. Fenders were seen as 'dorky' back in 2005/06, but various solutions ended up becoming refined and as companies paid attention, these clip-on fenders eventually became very useful and are now seen as a normal part of wet weather gravel travel.
|Greg Gleason's bike here from T.I.v11 is pretty indicative of a "go-fast", long haul set up.|
By the time we get into the mid 2010's the whole idea of a 'gravel bike' is well established and almost anything you can think of is 'gravel specific' if you want it to be. Materials technologies have advanced and drive train spec is amazing now. That said, there are some things that- while evolved- are fairly similar to that bike we see above from 2006.
I chose Greg Gleason's bike from his T.I.v11 effort because (a) it is a great shot of just a bike, and (b) it is kitted out well and very representative of a set up for a long-haul ride in any event these days. So with that, I will comment as above....
The Bike: Carbon fiber, room for big tires and mud, and designed for riding unpaved roads. TOTALLY different deal now. We've got plenty of mounts, but typically 'the fast folks' don't use a lot of the bottle mounts like you'd think, plus some still use hydration packs. (Easier to sip while riding versus pulling a bottle and replacing it) Electronic shifting. Just amazing how that works, and of course, everything is optimized for light weight now and a tip of the hat to rider comfort. This is far more advanced than any steel framed cyclo cross rig. Or so one would think, until you realize that in Trans Iowa v12 Greg won on a bike like this and shared the honor with Walter Zitz who was riding a ........wait for it........A Surly Cross Check!! So much for modern technology!
Mounts: Yes, we have lots of water bottle mounts, but honestly, not a lot of the Trans Iowa racers ever availed themselves of those, especially the fork mounted bottles. Not sure why that is, because early on, in T.I.v1, Brian Hannnon showed up on a Redline cross bike with water bottle cages hose clamped to each fork leg and we thought he was a genius.
Bags: So as you can see, Greg did not use an under-the- top tube bag, but many still do that. Otherwise he has it all nailed here with a big seat rail mounted bike packing style seat pack, the feed bags on the bars replacing the big, bulky, non-aero handle bar bag, and a sleek looking top tube tank.
Miscellaneous: One thing Greg used here that folks have used since 2005 is aero bars. I know- I know! Controversial and all, but these extensions have been part of gravel grinding since the get-go. One piece that is missing here is the rack idea, but that bike packing style, 'rackless' bag is a big deal and basically does the same thing without the added weight and complexity of a rack in the traditional sense. I did note the fenders Greg used here, which also hearkens back to the beginnings.
Final Thoughts: This all said, there are still experimental set ups, thinkerers, and tinkerers in the gravel scene. You'll see all manner of set ups at gravel events, which is part of the scene's charm. A lot of this is getting choked back by the "Marketing Machine" and the "Media" who are trotting out the "This Is How You Do It" articles, advertising, posts, and the like. To some degree, Greg's bike above represents that look. Racy, carbon this-and-that, minimalist, and expensive. It's certainly one way to do things, but it maybe is not representative of what most folks should be doing, or want to be doing. Not that I'm going to tell you 'what it is that they should be doing', because I like being surprised and unfortunately, too many people want to "follow the leader", so I don't want to drive things any certain way. I have what I think works, but that maybe is just for me.
In a healthy scene, the "set ups" vary depending on where you live, what rides you want to do, and how you like events, or not. Letting everyone dictate to you what is "best" leads to homogenization and the next thing ya know everyone is on some racy carbon rocket ship that is not the best bike for them. Basically "Lance Era v2". Of course, this means you have to actually think through a lot of stuff, try a lot of things, and do the work. It is not easy. But it is very rewarding.
But I digress.... This is what I saw, and see today, as the fly-over view of how things started and where they are now in terms of hardware for the gravel travel scene. Got any more questions? Topic ideas? Let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading!