[Editorial] Gravel is Not a Fad – Repost

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This is a repost of a piece I wrote back in March 2014. It discusses the debate of whether the current popularity of the gravel riding scene is a fad. We did discuss a lot of what is written below in the first episode of the Riding Gravel Radio Ranch, so you can have a listen here to get the inside details on my thoughts, as well as Guitar Ted’s thoughts on the current and future gravel scene.

Do you agree or disagree? Do you have a topic that you’d like to see covered here on the News and Reviews section or the podcast? Feel free to contact us.

Thanks again to all of you who have been following Riding Gravel from the beginning and thanks to all of the new followers. We really appreciate all of the support!

– Ben

FROM MARCH 20, 2014:

Riding Gravel

This website started last fall after some coercing from Andy at pedal of Littleton to get a gravel ride going in the fall after interest in the spring AntiEpic. It was a last minute decision to get the Pedal 50 and the Greenland Gravel Grinder going after another push be the guy behind Nord Bicycles contacted me about doing something. Those free rides, led to a website, which led to a forum, and then a new website, news, tshirts, and more. Great supporters (see the right sidebar) jumped in and Ridinggravel.com was off and running. It was a function of what others/you wanted. It has never been me pushing anything on anyone.

You may or may not have noticed that we’ve (by we I actually mean “I”) been compiling whatever gravel related news comes across my “desk” during the last couple weeks. I will continue to do so, but would like to add in some editorial pieces every once in a while. We (again….by “we” I mean “I”) welcome other guest editorials as well. You interested? Contact “us.”

As I eluded to, this website is a one-man show that would not continue to grow without the support of all of those who send info, spread great word of mouth, advertise (please check out the companies on the right sidebar – they are all an active and giving part of the industry), and participate in all of the things that Riding Gravel has going on. I really appreciate all of those who have helped in any way so far. I can’t thank you all enough. The word “community” is sometimes overused, but it also is a good way to describe any group of common interest – running community, cycling community, etc. It’s even more useful in describing the gravel community as it’s a common ground for a very large group of people. I’m proud and excited that you are all coming to the site.

Bike Snob

I recently came across a post called “NAHBS: Niches Have all Been Sold” by the Bike Snob about how NAHBS has seemingly lost it’s way, with the niches that it previously filled being eaten up by the big guns. It’s now becoming a place where components makers are releasing new goods. It’s a good read, check it out.

The prototype Enve Mountain Fork and the new Challenge tires are two examples of components showing up.

Photo courtesy of Bikerumor.com (click for more details)

Photo courtesy of Bikerumor.com (click for more details)

Photo by Iain Banks. (Click for more details from CXMagazine.com)

Photo by Iain Banks. (Click for more details from CXMagazine.com)

I think that there is one piece in the post that doesn’t really accurately portray the “new” “gravel” scene.

I mean, gravel bikes, for fuck’s sake! It’s a niche within a niche within a niche, yet there are 20 off-the-rack models you’ve got to wade through before you’d even think of ordering one from a builder–and if you do, by the time it’s finished half the shit on it is going to be obsolete. – Bike Snob NYC

A “niche within a niche within a niche” only glances over and trivializes what is really going on. You may be thinking….”yeah, but you run a f’ing site called Riding Gravel, it’s in your best interest to promote it.” Fair enough. I wouldn’t be doing this if there wasn’t interest in bikes, components, events, products, stories, pictures, and all the other stuff that goes along with the gravel niche and I didn’t eat and sleep bikes. I know that, in the above quote, Bike Snob is pointing out that the industry has piled in that area and crowded out the small guys. True, but I’m not on board with the niche within a niche within a niche line.

The thing is, while it’s funny and all that gravel bikes are laughed off by some as being pointless and just another attempt at people selling things they don’t need, it’s clearly not. There are too many comments on all avenues of social media to reference, bagging on those who use the term “gravel grinding” and are in the market for a new bike to #crushgravel. As is the case with a lot of things in life, it’s easy to be an arm chair quarterback. It’s easy to get on a forum and pick apart stats from a website until the conversation ends in pictures of obese women and foolish nonsense. A lot gets lost in the fast paced, off topic banter. It’s hard to actually be out doing it.

#Gravelgrinder in Colorado

#Gravelgrinder in Colorado

You can use whatever you’d like

You can use any bike to ride and complete most of these gravel events. I don’t think anyone is going to argue that. Sure, there was one guy who rode the 2013 Pedal 50 and the Greenland Gravel Grinder on a dedicated road bike on 23’s. The courses are fairly smooth and he did have at lease a couple flats. But, he did it, and faster than a lot of others who were on “gravel bikes.” The truth is though, the guy probably could’ve finished on a bmx bike too. He could’ve finished on a full suspension mountain bike or a triple chain ring “recreation” bike (yes, someone rode a Cannondale Quick CX and it proved to be a very good and relatively inexpensive option by the way) and been fine.

He could’ve finished on a full suspension mountain bike or a triple chain ring “recreation” bike

But why? Is that bike that works ok, really going to be the tool for the job? You can use a regular head screwdriver to unscrew a phillips head screw, if it’s not secured too much and the space in the top fits. If you’re focus is to ride with a lot of your friends in a lot of these gravel events, why not have something that will maximize your pleasure and give you options to test out different variations that work for you? Why is that bad? Why is it bad that the “bike industry” make some money off filling those needs? Bike Snob makes money off of selling you entertaining writing, we sell some ads and tees, and others sell bikes and goods. You make money by the company you work for selling things too, don’t forget that. The fact is that thousands are riding in these races. The Almanzo series of rides is approaching 2,000 riders, the Barry-Roubaix was almost 2,200 riders last year, and there are several others that are filling up and seeing numbers in the hundreds. The Gravel Grinder News Calendar is well over 200 events. That’s 200 hundred, people, come on. It’s not a fad.

Gravel is not a fad

Numbers aren’t the main reason I say it’s not a fad. It’s not a fad because there is already a huge group of people out there doing it. Gravel grinding is only the far extreme of the whole group in between mountain biking and road cycling. It means that those going into a bike shop are no longer asked “road bike or mountain bike.” They are asked about the ride. Guitar Ted has definitely been a large part of the discussion on this for a long time. He has some great thoughts about the topic, but I especially like this post.

Yes, it would be a great gravel grinder, but it is more than that. It can be ridden anywhere save for “real” mountain bike trails and should be more stable, more comfortable, and more fun than a “real road bike”, which is designed to be raced. Last time I checked, most people buying bicycles at the shop where I work do not race. Nothing wrong with racing and those who do it, its just that you are in the minority of cyclists. So again, why should these folks even be on a bike designed with a limited use? It’s stupid, really. – Guitar Ted

For many post-Lance years, road bike has meant fast, stiff, light, expensive carbon bikes that will make people think that they are a racer. Thousands of cyclists have plunked down $3,000 (I’m being conservative here…), done some training rides, and hopped in with their club for a century, only to quickly realize that the fancy new fast bike beat the shit out of them. Then they read about the new “endurance” road bike modeled after the cobble classics in Bicycling Magazine. It tells them to keep it light, keep the edge off, and if you spend another $5,000, it’ll be the ride of your life. Damn. Who the fuck rides cobbles anyway? What that guy or woman needs is to spend less money on a more comfortable bike that maybe is a little heavier. It might be steel and have a little more relaxed geometry, be set up with a little wider tires, rack mounts, and NOT be most choices of a “recreation” grandma-style bikes.  You know the result? A happier rider who has some more money to travel and then come back to the shop to get some cool accessories.

To get to a happy place in the middle, sometimes we need to have some extremes first. Hell, 99% of you with gps units mounted on your bars, would be missing that quite a bit had satellites not been launched into freaking outer space. High powered zoom on phones for riding pics? Did you know that a long time ago the government was flying planes around with optics that filled up the entire plane to zoom in thousands of feet? Now they just use the internet, but that’s another discussion….

The popularity of gravel is that extreme. It brings a shift in thinking and a range in between to be addressed. It’s no longer about the lightest carbon this or that. It becomes more about the ride, the next adventure, the functionality of having one bike that can be used for commuting in the winter and then, with a few small changes, be used all summer as the primary racing bike or maybe that new bike made just for gravel. Touring cyclists, commuters, those who ride really shitty roads all winter, those who have been riding gravel for years, and everyone in between now has a growing, more united community with more options (from big and small guys) that cater to them and, for that, I would like to thank “gravel grinding” and all of those involved for believing that it’s not a fad.

What is a gravel bike to you? Read what others think and add your thoughts on the Riding Gravel Forum.

,

15 Responses to [Editorial] Gravel is Not a Fad – Repost

  1. Rod C December 25, 2014 at 11:31 am #

    Agreed. The very earliest TdFs where run on gravel roads, see “A Race for Manmen:The History of the Tour de France. “http://www.amazon.com/Race-Madmen-History-Tour-France/dp/1613210787/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top/176-7881659-4192438 I consider “riding grave” a renaissance, rebirth, a return to our roots…however you’s like to call it.

  2. ayjaydee December 25, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

    These guys build perfectly good “gravel bikes” for far less money AND feel good about recycling still perfectly good equipment.

    http://www.bikeforums.net/classic-vintage/828426-show-your-vintage-mtb-drop-bar-conversions.html

  3. Guitar Ted December 26, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

    @ayjaydee: Nice bikes. I’ve done this with an old mountain bike or two. I’ve ridden with several others that have done similar builds and had them out on gravel rides. It was apparent to myself and almost every person that I’ve spoken with on a ride with a 26″er that they are at a disadvantage to 700c wheeled bikes on gravel. That isn’t to say no one should do that, or that “it doesn’t work” for someone out there, because it probably does. That’s awesome.

    The thing is, the geometry, frame tubing choices, type of construction, and wheels with the smaller rubber that most folks try on gravel with these machines typically are slower and far less comfortable. There are a lot of things I could go on with to illuminate those points, but that isn’t my aim here.

    My point is that “perfectly good gravel bikes” are in the eye of the beholder, to some degree, and the bicycle that would work best is, in my opinion, something most folks have not experienced, so why would they know any better? They wouldn’t. Heck- many haven’t even been on a gravel road ride. That’s part of Ben’s point here as well. Many pundits that are commenting on the gravel scene are doing so to “raise hell” and get big stat numbers for their respective sites. So far, I’d say they have been largely successful in doing just those things.

    But again- if you have a bicycle you like to ride on gravel – please ride the hell out of it. The bottom line is riding bicycles and enjoying life. As Ben is saying here, and I agree- “It means that those going into a bike shop are no longer asked “road bike or mountain bike.” They are asked about the ride”. So whether you are “recycling” an old steed or looking for a sharper tool for your quiver to tackle gravel and dirt on, it’s the adventure, the state of mind, and the folks doing likewise that bring us all out in the country to ride.

  4. ayjaydee December 27, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    there are plenty of vintage mountain bikes with geometry in the same bracket as these “gravel bikes” and the phrases “far less comfortable” and “at a disadvantage” are no more accurate than “perfectly good”. And your statement “Last time I checked, most people buying bicycles at the shop where I work do not race. Nothing wrong with racing and those who do it, its just that you are in the minority of cyclists.” is just as applicable to gravel as it is to asphalt. So the fact that an existing bike can be set up to provide a means of riding on all surfaces at minimum cost is far more important to many folks who ,like me, cringe at the concept of “a quiver of bicycles”.

  5. Guitar Ted December 27, 2014 at 5:24 pm #

    @ayjaydee: Let’s take a look here…. You say..

    “there are plenty of vintage mountain bikes with geometry in the same bracket as these “gravel bikes”….”

    However; you miss several key points in making that assertion. For one- I haven’t seen many vintage mountain bikes that have 70mm or more bottom bracket drop, 71 to 72 degree head angles, and 700c wheels, and weren’t built with tubing that was too stiff for the purposes of gravel roads. (Of course, there were some, but they are rare.) The biggest difference though, is wheel diameter, which has been demonstrated to not favor 26″ers on almost every ride I’ve seen them used at for the last ten years or so of being involved in gravel road events. But that’s just me. Okay then……

    My descriptors, “far less comfortable” and “at a disadvantage” are based upon real feed back from riders. See what I wrote above, copied below here………..

    “It was apparent to myself and almost every person that I’ve spoken with on a ride with a 26″er that they are at a disadvantage to 700c wheeled bikes on gravel”

    You see, this isn’t just my opinion, it is something I have been made aware of by experience- both mine and others.

    And your last statement:

    “So the fact that an existing bike can be set up to provide a means of riding on all surfaces at minimum cost is far more important to many folks who ,like me, cringe at the concept of “a quiver of bicycles”.”

    Doesn’t that get covered in my last paragraph in my response above? “if you have a bicycle you like to ride on gravel – please ride the hell out of it.”

    Yes- it does, so thanks for agreeing with me there. However; for those who want a better tool for the job, and want a new bicycle, why shouldn’t they be availed of that choice? You say that this is a small percentage of the market? I would submit that the percentage of folks seeking to find a vintage mountain bike to convert to drop bars and ride it on gravel is just a wee bit smaller than that yet. But again- if that’s your thing, and you see that as a better way to tackle all roads, by all means- do that.

    The fact of the matter is that all this about “gravel bikes” gets blown way out of proportion. It doesn’t have to be called a “gravel bike” at all. That’s another thing that folks get hung up on. So, when you grabbed my quote Ben used above, you are taking it out of context.

    What the bike I envision is, and what Ben is talking about above, is that sort of bike that is not a racing bike, is not a mountain bike, and until recently wasn’t really available at all in main stream bicycle shops. As a bicycle shop employee having over 15 years of shop experience, I can say that my observation is that if people had the tool to use on gravel roads, dirt roads, and other places in between paved roads and single track, and if the cycling industry pushed that sort of riding, it would be what most folks would get a kick out of doing. I know for a fact that looking at the lines that the shop carries where I work, there are only a small hand full of bikes I would even recommend for that sort of riding, and that 5 years ago there were even less.

    Back in 2004 there were about a half dozen gravel/back road events that anyone had even maybe heard about. You’d have been hard pressed to find anyone to talk to that had done anything like that. Now there are thousands of riders going to these types of events and having a blast. Literally thousands. That isn’t an opinion, that is a fact. So, the point is that this isn’t a fad. It might even drive some folks to look for a better bicycle to do this sort of thing on. And if that should happen, (and it has), why is that a bad thing? It isn’t. Just like using an old mtb converted to drop bars isn’t a bad thing for some folks either.

  6. ayjaydee December 27, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

    no one said its a fad. you seem obssessed with defending this niche youve carved out for yourself and as a result are always putting words in other peoples mouths. and I can find opposite opinions to yours from people with equal experience to yours so spare me the “i know better than you because” stuff. I made a simple statement in reply to an editorial. I have opinions about bicycle types and the industry in general. In many ways they are contrary to yours. I intend to express my opinions and you listing your credentials as a counter to my opinions won’t alter that fact.

  7. NDTransplant December 28, 2014 at 8:49 am #

    Good stuff as always, Ted. Your efforts convinced me to take a closer look at this gravel-road-thing…lol, and it’s become the perfect sport for me. It’s true, we are ‘blessed’ with a plethora of choices given our preferred genre of riding. Just ride, I say!!!

  8. Guitar Ted December 28, 2014 at 11:05 am #

    @ayjaydee: Obsessed? That’s an opinion you have. Passionate? Definitely. Putting words in other people’s mouths? No. Expressing opinions? Yes. Presenting my side of the story based upon my experience and opinions gathered from others? That’s valid. You have a different opinion? That’s valid too. Other people don’t feel the same way? Obviously. Many others do feel this way about it? That’s true.

    Thanks for the discussion. I don’t have any issues with your position if you have an enjoyable time doing things your way, The debate is cool and illuminating for showing others those different ways. I hope you have a great 2015.

  9. ayjaydee December 28, 2014 at 11:58 am #

    And good luck to you in 2015 as well and I look forward to reading your daily ruminations. At the same time, I will continue to remind anyone who will listen that this IS gravel RIDING and as such is far more varied than a narrow focus on Gravel EVENTS and the bikes best suited for them. Fire roads, logging roads, rails to trails, decommissioned canal paths, jogging and walking paths, hiking trails, city bike paths and the variety of options to enjoy them. These are the areas of interest to so many of us and I hope to see that they are not forgotten in the rush.

    • RG December 30, 2014 at 9:51 am #

      The riding will likely be overtaken by the events in terms of coverage, just from the fact that there are 1000’s of new people out doing this and their first experience is some sort of event. From my personal perspective, over the last few years, I have put together several rides/events/races in Colorado and 100’s have come out and done them. A large portion of those riders had never ridden those roads before even though there are 100’s of miles of gravel within 30 minutes of the Denver metro. Some have lived on the roads and never ridden them. I know because I talked to many face to face. They’ve told me that their view on riding has changed and so has their bike preference. They also ask whether it’s a fad or something that will continue. You can’t substitute talking with all these people with emails, messages, and social media discussions. I’m a fan of hitting up some rail trails when I’m back in Wisconsin visiting family and enjoy the 100’s of miles of gravel I currently live on. You dig the riding vs. event aspect. Many look forward to the events. I’m pretty certain that all of the terrain you mentioned will still be there regardless of the direction of events and the industry. As far as Guitar Ted pushing an agenda and defending a niche he’s carved out – he spends an enormous amount of time and energy creating something (Gravel Grinder News, Trans Iowa, and now Riding Gravel) that makes relatively little money. He could spend that time towards another job that is comfortable and pays a regular paycheck. For him to put himself out there day in and day out like bringing together people selflessly like this should speak to the fact that he is not pushing a fictitious, industry-driven movement to make himself seem smart. There is a reason that the site was created in 2013 as “Riding Gravel” and continues to be Riding Gravel. While, there will likely be a lot of the specific event type stuff, there is always a place to share all the other aspects. We’re happy to share stories, pictures, etc. about any of it. There are forum threads set up for general riding, pictures, etc. The content on the site will only be a reflection of what people want (that includes us), not us driving some agenda. Thanks for chiming in and sharing your thoughts. It’s great to have people giving feedback and sharing their perspective.

  10. ayjaydee December 30, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

    well you may feel that this forum will always have room for the other aspects, but the fact is I wrote a simple post suggesting an alternative approach to looking at entry into the activity and his nibs was very quick to trot out his superior experience and knowledge to pooh pooh it in a slyly passive-aggressive manner.i tend to disagree with you on his motives but that is beside the point. the real point is, your emphasis on “events” will very quickly turn your blog and the activity into the same narrow,fred infested entity the road bike scene has become. good luck with that. meanwhile I’ll return to my search for a more inclusive forum.

  11. Jason January 17, 2015 at 4:35 pm #

    It’s not a fad for the people that ride gravel because in most cases riding gravel or in my case dirt roads (Michiganderburgh “gravel” is more dirt and sand than gravel), is born from the fact that the roads surrounding our towns ARE gravel or dirt roads.

    Where I live in central Michigan, I have to go out of my way to put together a loop that doesn’t have several miles of dirt roads. The result is that I ride my CX bike, hard tail mountain bike & fat bike in the winter for nearly every ride I do. My road bike see very little milage off the trainer.

    For me personally the ride experiences is better out on the dirt roads: WAY less traffic, friendly folks, waves from most cars that pass me, and ample opportunities to snap some photos which is my new thing since I’m no longer concerned about “training” etc.,

    The MARKETING of gravel is the fad, not the riding of the gravel. Marketed just as mountain bikes, 29ers, 27.5″ bikes and now fat bikes were/are. Yeah, I get tired of seeing every company come out with their gravel bike, gravel tires, etc., when I am more than content just to ride my HT, but it will go away in time but not before a host of better tires, bikes and components are developed in the name of gravel. I’m OK with that, ’cause long after bike companies have exhausted gravel, those roads will be there being ridden by the likes of you and I. Because that’s just what we ride and enjoy.

    As far as Bike Snob’s comments on gravel, who cares what a dude in NYC thinks about gravel roads? Last time I checked there were none there. There’s credibility in the statement from him. That would be like me talking about urban riding. I don’t do it (since my move to MI four years ago) so I don’t talk about it. Same with cross. I don’t like racing cross (preferring to race in the woods) so I don’t do it and don’t judge the folks that do it. You ride what you want. Fad or not, people riding bikes is all anyone should be worried about, no matter what those bikes are marketed as.

    A site and forum like this despite any fad. People having been doing these rides like this for years, but now we have the interweb-o-sphere and what not to share the rides and experiences. If that’s a fad, so be it, enjoy the fad.

    • RG January 17, 2015 at 4:44 pm #

      Did you mean to say no credibility from the snob? I hear the farmers around your area can smell you coming their way.

  12. Jason January 23, 2015 at 8:54 am #

    My odor is stronger than the cows in the fields RG! It’s a formidable scent for sure. And yes, I mean’t no credibility in that particular view from Snob. Fingers were flying, making mistakes (as per usual) and couldn’t/didn’t correct.

    • RG January 23, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

      ha

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