The bicycle industry is a ‘fast moving’ industry. Companies are pushing new technologies, new features, and a growth in options. One category that has hit the market by storm, is the new range of gravel bikes. Brands such as Giant, Norco, Apollo, and Trek have even gotten in on the action! But lesser known brands to the Australian market are becoming increasingly well-known, as they have finally hit the spotlight! Brands such as Curve, Salsa, Kona, and other’s, are putting out some incredible bikes, with new and improved geometry, improved capability, and more durable components to suit. Shimano, bringing out ‘gravel specific’ group-sets, is a great example, of the high demand of such bikes!
What is a Gravel Bike?
Gravel bikes, are basically a road bike, with disc brakes, and a greater carrying capacity (in a nutshell). Hence, that is why we see so many people converting road bikes into gravel bikes! But there is more to it, than that.
Usually, a gravel bike holds a few different characteristics. For instance, they will have a more relaxed riding position. This is because gravel bikes are designed for longer rides. Usually even days at a time. By raising the bar height a little, widening the stance, slackening the head-angle. and a more comfortable set of tyres, will all help to keep the rider comfortable, and able to keep pedaling for longer periods of time, in a larger selection of terrain. Because gravel riding is less about times, and more about adventure, the bikes can afford to be a little more relaxed, and versatile. Able to take on mild single track, long stretches of gravel roads, small rocks, steep inclines etc. By creating an efficient, and capable gravel bike, all places can be seen with ease!
Descending capability is another big factor to consider. Many gravel riders not only enjoy covering large distances, but they love hitting dirt single tracks, both up and down hill. Climbing to the peak of a mountain, and descending down some fast lines, most gravel bikes are set to do both! One of the key components to this capability is tyres! Ideally, a gravel rider wants 3 main characteristics in a tyre; efficiency, grip, and cushioning. By the gravel frame providing a wider wheel space, a wider tyre can be fitted, for greater traction, and bump absorption. Now with brands like Schwalbe, Panaracer, and Maxxis producing ‘gravel specific tyres, they have pretty well hit this nail right on the head!
Another component which allows for better control on descents, is the hydraulic disc brakes that most gravel bikes come equipped with. Hydraulic disc brakes allow a much stronger, and modulated braking experience, as well as improved overall feel and handling of the bike! There are many types of hydraulic brakes, but only recently have we seen Shimano bring out their GRX gravel-specific brake-set. And these brakes are all you’ll ever want in a brake! Firm, responsive, modulated, and manage to hold up to the demanding conditions that our beloved gravel bikes are subjected to each ride!
Why Buy a Gravel Bike?
The gravel bike, is the one ‘do-it-all’ bike. For the commuter, the adventurer, the fast racer, even the trail king! Being that it can tackle such a large range of terrain, there is no limit to who can, or should own one! Designed to go fast, and have as much fun as can be had on a bike, they rarely are shunned by anyone seeking to buy a bike.
When buying a bike, you have to ask yourself ‘what type of riding am I using it for’? If your wanting to hit a season of downhill racing, then this bike is obviously not for you. But, if your toying with the idea of purchasing a road bike, or a hard-tail, maybe consider the gravel bike. It holds many characteristics of both, compacted into one capable bike. Another major beauty of these bikes, is the ease of changing wheels! Some people keep 2 sets of wheels; one with road tyres, and gearing. One with gravel tyres, and a wider-range of gears. There’s another way to go about it!
All in all, the gravel bike is a more enjoyable road bike, in my eyes. Spending days out with friends, exploring your local suburbs, or even heading bush, into the hills. The gravel bike will rarely end in a bad day out!