Saturday, September 09, 2023

The "All-Purpose" Bike vs "Gravel Bike"

Trek's new Domane AL-4 (Image courtesy of Trek Bikes)
Back around 2010 or so, I was banging the drum for a bicycle that could be used from pavement to nearly mountain biking. A bicycle that could be ridden comfortably and easily on any road surface, maybe even smooth dirt paths. Most importantly, it had to be a bicycle that was versatile, more universally acceptable than not, and that it should have the flared, short reach drop bars. 

This bike would need bigger, more voluminous tires than the then current standard of 25mm for road bikes and it had to eschew any hint of "racing" geometry. It had to have accessory mounting points like rack and fender mounts. 

Since that time things like disc brakes, tubeless tires, and fancy electronic shifting at decent price points has also crept on the radar for my "all-purpose" road bike. But the majority of the things I mentioned above were what drove my ideas for the bike I wanted to see. Ultimately a lot of that was realized in 2014 when the Raleigh Tamland Two came about. 

Certainly these ideas were spurred on by my personal desires, but perhaps what is less obvious to outsiders is that I was sick and tired, as a mechanic at a shop, of trying to make road racing bikes do what the "every-human" wanted those bikes to do. The average cyclist was not of the same mold as Pro racers, and as such, that sort of bicycle design, which reigned supreme for road riding, was not right for 99% of the population. Yet we had boat loads of Pro racing geometry road bikes coming at us every year. Sure, there were exceptions to that, but almost none of those exceptions fit my mold for an "all-purpose" bike, and those bicycles still didn't do what a lot of people wanted to do.

My Raleigh Tamland circa 2014

And then "Gravel™" happened. Suddenly there was an influx of rebadged cyclo cross bikes, and eventually, many companies started actually building purposed geometry into their "gravel bikes". But then the versatility, the "every-human" aspect of "gravel bikes", started to disappear. 

Now we have "race rockets" and bikes that cost 5k and up for riding "gravel". That's cool, but hey! Are you really going to commute to work, go to the post office, or pay your water bill using a seven thousand dollar blinged-out gravel bike? 

I mean, you can do that, but really. C'mon! Most of those bikes are garage queens between training rides and events. I'm talking about bikes that are reasonably priced, versatile, and can ride any road. The new Trek Domane AL-4 seems, in my opinion, to hit on a lot of my salient points here. 

This is maybe just one example of many types of bikes like this, but you just don't see a lot of people pushing a bike like this on review sites that are "gravel oriented". So, many people probably are not aware that bikes like these are out there for your "every-road" riding. 

I gotta say a few nice things about Trek here, which, to be honest, I usually don't have a whole lot of anything to say about this company. However; they position this bike remarkably well in their marketing. They are careful to not call it a "gravel bike", to their credit, and as most of you know, I feel "gravel bike" is a very regrettable name choice for this category of cycling. Secondly, Trek mostly got the geometry and versatility points correct. The Domane AL-4 even has a flared drop bar with short reach! (Okay, it's only 4° of flare, but it's something!) The bike fits up to a 38mm tire, which is pretty good for many gravel roads. Not ideal, but we are not talking about the "ideal" crushed rock road bike here. 

Trek sells the Domane AL-4 for 1700 bucks with a ten speed, full Shimano Tiagra group. That's perfect for the every-human's needs. Not too expensive, but a bike that could be your commuter and adventure/country bike on weekends easily. Not so dear that you'd not want to run errands on it, but good enough for every purpose most folks want a bicycle for. 

Yeah, you kickstand freaks will cry foul, but otherwise? THIS is what "gravel" bikes should have been.


rth009 said...

Agreed. I rented and rode an older (2-years old??) Domane AL-3 for a week on the crushed gravel carriage roads in Acadia Nat Park earlier this summer and it was excellent. Now, when I get on my 2011 Vaya I'm bothered by its minor front wheel shimmy that I never noticed before.

grumbly_old_guy_on_a_bike said...

I wonder about the routing of the cables near the stem & headset.