Well, any bike that you can bring to and ride on a gravel road is a gravel bike. Or, is it?
If you are in the market for a new bike, one important question to answer is about where you intend to ride. While road bikes designed for smooth paved paths are at one end of the spectrum, mountain bikes designed for technical off-road terrain are on the other. As riding styles and purposes get niche by the day, and there may be overlaps, this diversification has led to several genres and sub-genres of bicycles. Most folks new to bicycling, novice riders, and those limited by budgets, tend to look for a do-it-all bike. The expansive category of ‘hybrid’ bicycles has evolved over the years to accommodate varied interests. So, in this context, the most versatile one and the trendiest yet, can be called a gravel bike!
Gravel biking is still undefined and vague. Maybe, that is where its beauty lies because it means different things for different people. It makes complete sense, especially for riders who fancy a fluid cycling lifestyle. You can enjoy the slow pace of travel on a bikepacking adventure, or explore your competitive side during an exhilarating gravel racing experience, and everything in-between.
Taking cues from mountain bike geometry for a relaxed riding position, and combining advantageous features from their road-centric counterparts, gravel bikes are optimised for mixed-surface conditions that involve mild off-road excursions, mud tracks, and small pebbled roads with stretches of tarmac thrown in. They are made to be versatile without compromising on speed, agility and fun!
Gravel bikes have come a long way, since the first-of-its-kind gravel bike called Warbird was launched by Salsa Cycles back in 2012. Truth be told, cyclo-cross and all-road bikes existed well before 2012 (more on these later in the series!), but the Warbird was the first to be labelled as a gravel bike with clearance for even wider tyres. These days, you can expect lightweight frames, longer wheelbases, short travel forks, multiple mounting options, hydraulic disc brakes, dropper posts, and more. From popular mass market companies and premium establishments, to individuals and boutique brands who provide custom-build services, there are plenty of options to suit your gravel needs.
A few features of gravel bikes Geometry: Gravel bike geometry puts you in a more relaxed riding position for longer, all-day rides in varied conditions. It also distributes your weight more evenly (a little more to the rear than on road bikes) for better handling capabilities on off-road surfaces. The wheelbases are also longer to ensure that the bike is more stable on technical terrain. Drop-bar: Commonly seen on road bikes, the drop handlebars are a choice on most gravel bikes because they offer better comfort and three different handlebar positions for those longer days on your bike. Tyres: Gravel bikes are designed to accommodate slightly wider tyres than on road bikes, endurance bikes, cyclo-cross bikes and even all-road bikes. They also have lower-profile treads than on mountain bikes. So, you can ride on dirt paths and paved roads alike. Gears: Gravel bikes tend to have wider gear ratios since they are meant to cover myriad terrains and gradients. The newest development is the preference of 1x gearing on gravel bikes, which means you have a cleaner looking bike with fewer components to maintain. Surfaces: Gravel bikes can cover an array of riding surfaces, from smooth paved roads to moderately rocky dirt paths.