Road bike vs Gravel bike
A colleague recently asked me "What's a gravel bike and do I need that?" when bike shopping. This is a fair question as most new bicycle buyers only know about road and mountain bicycles - not the world in between. Specialized, one of the largest bicycle companies in the world, is focusing their attention on a lineup of new ebikes and gravel bikes. So they are getting quite popular. Lets find out why! There are many choices of bike you can get depending on your riding style and needs for the bike. For example, if youre commuting a long distance to work buying a full-suspension MTB with shocks that do not lock is probably a bad idea ( unless you live on a mountain ). Generally if youre new to cycling you want one bike that does it all. A steed thats good for paved road commuting and offroad fun on the weekends. This is where a bunch of fun sort-of-road-bikes come in. Traditional road bikes have evolved with trickle-down technology from the pro racing scene. They generally start at the top with full on racing bikes, then relax into an exercise bike geometry and price point, commonly referred to as road sport bikes. At the foundation level are just your regular run of the mill commuter roadbikes. With a few exceptions like unpaved or pothole ridden roads these bikes do great. How ever, once you get into the country terrain can get quite tricky. This is where cyclo-cross and gravel bikes come in. As any adventurous rider will tell you, theres plenty of moments when a traditional road bike cant do the job or is downright unsafe. Thin wheels plus sandy firetrail climbs or steep gravel descents can make it quite challenging to keep your balance. Rough and tumble trails can shake you to bits, while muddy fields can make any progress an exercise in misery. Long descents on winding trails can strain your grip on road hoods to where you loose all strength and plenty of obstacles will keep your hands there when you may not necessarily want to be in an aero position. Lots of weird stuff gets thrown at you too, like how this author went down descending a mountain on a road bike, only for the rear tire to catch on a dry cut water channel, turning the descent into more of a graceful barrel roll. Cyclo-cross bicycles are purpose-built for mud-log filled obstacle courses and put together to take a beating where a regular frame may snap in half from repeated abuse. However they are more of a half-way point to a mountain bike in some respects. Usually featuring shorter frames with high BB clearance, big knobby tires and disks - these bikes leave a lot from their road heritage on the cutting room floor when it comes to speed on the open road. Gravel bikes are essentially a midpoint between road and cyclo-cross bikes. Maybe one can say 75% road and 25% mountain? They still have disc brakes, thic wheels and a sturdier geometry than regular road bikes but they sacrifice very little to get there. Some newer gravel bikes not only feature a plethora of mounting points but also other MTB innovations such as thru-axles ( which are harder to break on jumps/potholes. In fact these bikes do so well on gravel, tarmac, cobbles, farm roads and single track trails that in many ways they are 'better' than racing road bikes. See the thing of it is, an average rider does not need a professional racing machine but they do need one that is versatile to handle all sorts of underpaved and unpaved terrain in and out of the city. A gravel bike is the perfect combination, eliminating the need to buy two bikes or having to plan rides in such a way as to avoid ever going offroad. Most importantly as new riders are not pros and dont need to shave seconds, theres essentially no speed loss from riding a gravel bike on tarmac as opposed to a road bike for them. Its as if new advancements in technology have produced a new category of bicycle with all upsides, and no downsides for a new rider :) So next time you're checking out your local bike shop ask to check out or test ride a gravel bike. You may be pleasantly surprised!