Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Gravel History With Guitar Ted: A Snapshot From 2011

 Welcome To Gravel History With Guitar Ted! This will be a random series here on the blog where I will give you my take on the history of gravel riding and racing in the modern era.* 

There may be a "Ted-terview" or two where I speak with those from the early days of the Modern era of Gravel as well. 

Today in "Gravel History With Guitar Ted" we are going to go back to the year 2011. This was at the zenith of the "Discovery Era" in terms of gravel riding. The time where we as gravel riders had sussed out many things that did or did not work for us and set-ups on bikes were reflecting this. 

It was also a time where some bikes started to be designed with a bent towards usage on gravel, but were not marketed as "gravel bikes". That term and that category were not in use yet, but within a year of this image I am about to share, "gravel" as a category was definitely being utilized by several brands. This means that at this time in 2011, plans were being laid and products were in development already which would change the face of cycling forever. While all that is true, Steve Fuller, the owner of this bike at the time, tells me that this same bike, in largely the same form, finished top-ten at the 2009 DK200 event. So, it represents the then "state of the art" in gravel travel.

That's why I felt the following image from the inaugural "Gents Race", then known as the Renegade Gents Race, was of particular interest as it clearly shows a few things that were rather common by 2011. So, while I apologize for the saturation of Gents Race subject matter over the past five days, please excuse me for that and take a close look at the following image. 

"Captain" Steve Fuller on a Salsa Cycles La Cruz during the 2011 Renegade Gents Race.

This is a great image and maybe at first glance you may think, "Well, this is no big deal", but the devil is in the details, as they say, and when you really drill down into this image, several things jump out at you. Let's take a closer look then, shall we? 

  • The Bike: Let's start with the obvious. The Salsa Cycles La Cruz disc brake bike was never marketed as a gravel bike, but the unsaid intention was for this to be a "catch-all" bike model which could be a road bike, a single track bike, or used on gravel. Salsa marketed it then as a "split-personality" bike. Ostensibly sold as a disc brake cross bike that could use "up to 42mm tires", the La Cruz represented the cyclo - cross bike's dominance in the gravel cycling world at this time. Note the large, open front triangle for shoulder portaging, necessary for cyclo - cross racing. The geometry also was cyclo - cross based with a high bottom bracket. Disc brakes were still kind of odd, but they were the way forward not only for gravel bikes, but eventually road racing style bikes as well. Lastly, this represents the height of steel as a frame choice for gravel, which many riders at the time preferred due to its toughness in extreme conditions and also due to the perceptions that steel was okay to "sacrifice to the gravel", as this sort of cycling is hard on paint jobs and frame materials. 
  • The Tires: This might be the perfect example if only for the tires this bike has on it. The Schwalbe "Marathon" series of touring tires were THE tire of choice in the gravel scene from about 2008-2013 after which time the Clement MSO and Challenge Tires models took over the gravel cycling marketplace. These Schwalbe tires weren't easy to track down at times since importers did not understand that gravel riding was even a thing. So getting your hands on a tire that many in the cycling business world thought was a niche tire for the rare market of touring cyclists wasn't always easy. However; it performed admirably in the most severe gravel conditions and warded off punctures well. It wasn't perfect, as it was a heavy, ponderous tire with a stiffer casing, but it would do the trick. 
  • The Handlebars: Take a look. No flared drops! The bars are also a bit narrowish looking. This is because many riders were using typical road bike drop bars for gravel riding back then, and that is also based in cyclo - cross where flared drops were not in wide usage either. So, where did the whole flared drop bar thing come from? Actually, I may have had some influence on that, since I was a big flared drop bar advocate for 29"ers back in the 2000's and I also asked for that sort of bar on the 2014 Raleigh Tamland. The Salsa Cycles Fargo development was also heavily influenced by those of us that had Salsa's ears at the time who were flared drop bar converts. That bike became a big influence on the gravel scene early on as well. So, there may be a case to be made there, but this image doesn't lead us to that conclusion. Instead, it is a reference to when things weren't so flared and points to today's renaissance of road bars on gravel bikes in narrower widths. 
  • Of Note: Besides those three big things I noted the Jaand Frame Pack, a triangular little bag that was immensely popular in the 2000's gravel scene, but quickly gave way to the "half-frame bag" idea which was most perfectly exemplified by the emergence of the use of Revelate Designs' "Tangle Bag". Also- you can see the spoke card-cum-cue sheet navigation tacked to Steve's stem here. GPS files were coming, but cue sheet navigation was still a big thing back at this time. Finally, note the lack of "adventure warts"- the ubiquitous accessory mounts found on most gravel bikes now, which were not commonplace in 2011. Especially on a cyclo - cross based design which were always minimalist in that regard.

That's a look at a time capsule from 2011. Is there anything you see that I missed? Let me know in the comments. I hope that you enjoyed this look back at gravel history!

* The "Modern Era of Gravel" started when Trans Iowa was concocted by myself and Jeff Kerkove in the Fall of 2004. From that point forward what became known as a new niche of cycle-sport and cycling culture was born.


Jon Bakker said...

It's not necessarily specific to "gravel" but the use of "road" clothing from head to toe still fits, especially for gravel racing. As does the 2x drivetrain, though I'm guessing cassettes have increased in range since then. I can't see what he was using for pedals, but based on the shoe covers, I'm guessing it involves some kind of pedal/cleat system? That still checks out, too - almost all of the people I ride with use some kind of two-bolt mtb cleated pedal systems. All that said, that whole system would work fine on the dirt today. Maybe not the pointy end of the racing, but it'd be a fun ride!

fasteddy said...

Doubles were still the standard for drivetrains. (Thanks for continuing the good fight for the right to shift with both hands!)
Also, those wheels have a lot of spokes by today’s standards, I’d guess.
Thanks for the memories as always!

Guitar Ted said...

@Jon Bakker - Given that "gravel" anything did not exist at this point, the clothing choices, shoes, etc, were all necessarily re-purposed from either road or MTB given the individual's tastes and comfort with the kit.

None of that is really gravel specific today either, although it is marketed as such, and I think that's what your comment says to me.

I struggled a bit with addressing 2X/1X drive train parts, but both were in use back then as well. Additionally, I feel like there were a lot more single speeds on gravel in that time also. That probably owing to the prevalence of 29" hard tail single speed bikes in the 2000's.

Guitar Ted said...

@fasteddy - Right on!!

Skidmark said...

Greets GT, 2011..still had plenty of stem to mount Cue-sheet

Guitar Ted said...

@Skidmark - Ha ha! :>) Touche'!

Derek said...

The shoe covers/ booties and the cassette range definitely look roadie all the way. I'm glad fatbikes allowed more innovation in cold weather cycling footwear. And how the larger cassette cogs from mtn and fatbikes trickled into the road side is also nice.

S.Fuller said...

As far as the components went

105 10 speed shifters
Ultegra front
Dura-Ace rear
Shimano MTB pedals
Stronglight Pulsion carbon crank running either 48/34 or 46/34 rings
11-32 rear cluster

After a while, I swapped out the rear mech for a 9 speed XT so I could run a cassette with 34 or 36 teeth (can't recall what I switched to)

Derek said...

Perfect, smart setup for back in the day! Curious what setup you run now, gearing/ tires/ etc, "then vs now" :-)

S.Fuller said...

Derek - I have two main gravel rigs now.

Salsa Warbird - GRX DI2. 2x 46/30 in the front with an 11-40 cassette. carbon wheels
Salsa Ti La Cruz - 1st gen eTap w cantis. 2x 46/34 with an 11-34 cassette. carbon wheels

I still have a steel La Cruz that I use as a commuter. SRAM 1x10 with a front basket

Derek said...

Nice, thanks. Not super different compared to your ride back then, just updated.

Owen said...

The Jaand frame bag dates to the late 80s and was developed for mountain bikes. They're cheap compared to many of today's "boutique" gravel bags, are reasonably light and work well--I still bust one out from time to time when I need an extra ~3 liters of storage. It's aged much better than the Schwalbe Marathons...those things were great if you wanted to ride across Asia--especially the TourGuard versions--but Jesus they rode like bricks. Switching to newer tires with supple casings was a borderline epiphany in both speed and comfort.