Let me first start out by saying that I have been one of those riders that has been very against the idea of a gravel bike. I thought they were pointless and a waste of money. I literally could not see one reason why ANYONE would want to shell out several thousand dollars for one and here are several key reasons for this.
Gravel Bikes are the Worst and the Worst!
I have always seen them as the worst parts of mountain biking combined with the worst parts of road biking. For mountain bikers, we use gravel roads as quick access to link trails together. There are no features and it is INCREDIBLY boring. They really are a means to an end and serve a purpose in some rides to get to other parts of the mountain. Outside of that…they have no real use or challenge.
On the road biking side, riding on gravel is slower on both climbs and descents. The part of road biking that I used to really enjoy was the “sport bike without the motor” feeling. So again…a gravel bike ends up just being a less fun version of a road bike. It is going to be slower on the road than a road bike but not able to really go on trails. If you do go on trials…you are going to wish you had your mountain bike. But don’t worry…its faster than your mountain bike on gravel roads…where you really don’t want to spend most of your time.
So this is what you are telling me? I am supposed to take the parts of both sports that are my least favorite parts and buy a bike around that? No thanks.
Gravel Bikes Seemed Like a N+1 Need for the Bike Industry
Everyone knows…one of the easiest way for any industry to get you to buy something new is to open up a completely new segment of the industry. So you already have a road bike, a mountain bike, a single speed, an e-bike and a hard tail? Guess what you need? A gravel bike! It does things that your road bike can’t in places that you don’t want to ride your heavy mountain bikes! You’ll love it!
You want to use your cyclocross bike? No, you don’t want to do that. That bike’s geometry, bottom bracket height and components are designed specifically around that race discipline. You really need to look at getting a dedicated gravel bike.
The bike industry is notorious for this with all of the new wheel and tire sizes, new frame widths and axle formats…you name a component on a bike and there is a “new standard” every year. Part of that is due to innovation and part is just getting you to upgrade with built in obsolescence. It really looked like gravel bikes were just another step in that “progression” to get riders to buy another bike.
There has been a HUGE trend that changed everything for me
Several years ago, I sold all of my road bikes.
I wasn’t happy about it either. I really enjoyed going and riding in the north Georgia mountains. There is something special about leaning over the bike in a turn at over 50mph without the sound of an engine. As someone who has been a diehard mountain biker my entire life, it is another awesome experience on two wheels.
Another fantastic aspect of road biking is that I could do it straight from my driveway. We have some great roads in my area so I am able to get out and get a great ride in without having to pack everything up and drive somewhere. That is awesome for those days where you want to ride but you do not have time to get out and mountain bike. Those road bike rides also do great things for your mountain biking fitness that translates directly to the trail allowing for longer and more technical rides.
There was one really big problem with road biking and it is why I quit it all together…distracted drivers and driver attitudes.
Road biking has become a lot less safe than it used to be. The combination of distracted drivers staring at their phones and overall driver attitudes (they don’t realize they are driving a several thousand pound weapon) has made it so that I have personally seen several riders get hit locally which made the risk vs reward not worth it.
This is where I am luckier than most…enter the gravel bike…
So if you are going to take out road biking completely, the ability to ride straight out of the house is gone unless you have a series of gravel roads that are really easy to link together. Luckily for my area…we do. I live on the north side of Alpharetta, GA that is known for all of its horse farms. These farms are linked together with a nice network of gravel roads that…if you plan it correctly…require very minimal car engagement.
Is it going to be that same amount of fun and exhilaration that I got out of road biking? No…but I quit road biking so this is the next best thing if I want to get in a good ride from my driveway. With work life, family life, kids sports and everything else that fills the week, this will allow for a lot more riding than I would be able to do otherwise without having to play in a lot of traffic.
I really do think that is the underlying reason on why gravel bikes have caught on so much. Yes you can use them as a winter bike and go ride gravel roads an hour away from your house if you want to. I don’t know how much of that I will even do unless there is a big group ride or something. The real draw to a lot of people for gravel bikes is that – if you have the network available – you can get out and ride safely away from cars, trucks, landscaping trailers and Karen’s that can make your ride dangerous so that you can get in a great ride but also make it home for dinner that night.
So we’ll see how this experiment goes. I picked up a Cervelo Aspero from Competitive Cyclist (awesome that they actually had some bikes in stock) that will be great for the gravel roads in my area and it will be aggressive enough that it can pull double duty as a road bike if needed. This will also be used as rehab to see if I can get back on a mountain bike that is not an e-bike as I am still recovering from a second surgery from everything that happened almost 3 years ago now.