Everything you always wanted to know about gravel bikes but were afraid to ask...

Was du schon immer über das Gravelbike wissen wolltest, aber bisher nicht zu fragen wagtest…

Sometimes things are invented that seem so natural that you wonder why they weren't always there. Some of these things become trends. Or to hype. And then at some point they completely disappeared again. Or they stay. Because the idea is so good that it just has to stay. The gravel bike is one such idea. It will stay.

Name the baby

So what is a gravel bike? In short - a sporty and off-road bike with a racing bar. For many years in the original form as crosser, all-terrain or adventure bike At home in the niche, the jack-of-all-trades only really started rolling after it was given the catchy name Gravelbike in the USA thanks to domestic races. Of course, the question immediately arose as to what was so new and different about this bike, after all, the crosser type of bike has been around for decades. This has a high bottom bracket, short top tube and short wheelbase and is therefore a manoeuvrable, agile vehicle whose geometry is optimized for use on small, winding and obstacle-filled racing courses with rough terrain. In this context, agile can also be translated as nervous and is therefore the opposite of the smoothness that a touring bike with a long wheelbase offers, for example. A good gravel bike combines the off-road capability of a crosser with the smooth running of a touring bike and the handling and comfort of a long-distance racer. Which form is more in focus depends on the geometry and the combination of attachments, from the off-road bolide with wide studded tires to the sporty touring bike for every terrain to the everyday commuter dream with drop bar, the transitions are seamless and the models and concepts like that numerous as the possible applications.

And who invented it?

When the English of Genesis bikes more than ten years ago with the Croix de Fer, a bike that combined drop handlebars, disc brakes and wider tires, no fundamentally new type of bike was invented. MTB pioneer and inventor Tom Ritchey looked back to the 1970s, when as a young man with a crew of cycling enthusiasts around his mentor Jobst Brandt, he conquered the dusty slopes off the highways of California on racing bikes and was certainly not alone. Consciously or unconsciously, people fell back on ideas that French cyclists established around 1900 in winter training: with the bike over hill and dale, if necessary also in carrying mode. The origin of cyclocross racing. In German cross-country races, Swiss German Radquer, in the seventies thanks to Klaus-Peter Thaler and Rolf Wolfshohl welcome fun in the Sunday ZDF sports report. The American John Tomac should not be forgotten when looking at history. The all-round bike talent hopped from the BMX bike to the racer, swung onto the downhill machine or the crosser, was successful in all disciplines and in 1989 had no scruples about screwing a suspension fork and racing handlebars onto his downhill bolide.

Disk, tire, air pressure, sealant - more than one truth

The development of the gravel bike got a lot of impetus through the integration of disc brakes in sporty, light bikes. In contrast to the Crosser's cantilever brakes, they offer consistent braking in almost all weather conditions and the option of running significantly wider tires than with conventional rim brakes. Thanks to the larger contact area of ​​the 35 to 50mm wide tires, the existing braking power can be better applied to the road or other surface.

Speaking of tires: Countless discussions verging on religious wars on social networks deal with the perfect air pressure, the densest sealant, the only true tire size, the slickest tire brands and the most reliable puncture-clogging salami. Result: everyone recommends with full conviction what he/she drives. Fun to read, but not always effective. Low rolling resistance, good puncture resistance, massive grip and a reasonable service life often go hand in hand with tires, which is in the nature of things. Pragmatism and your own experience help to find the best compromise for your own requirements. To find out at the end that a lot of things can be driven, whether with or without a tube.

It looks light though – material and weight

As popular as the term gravel bike is at the moment, the ideas behind it are just as varied. While the commuter wants to leave his car at home in the future and cover the 14 kilometers to work with muscle power, the adventurer wants to take trips lasting several days over unpaved roads with light luggage. The bike hiker always has a tent, sleeping bag and coffee maker with him, while the endurance athlete wants to quickly explore the surrounding area and not be stopped by the different conditions of the path.

These requirements are faced with four frame materials with different properties: carbon, steel, titanium and aluminum. Blanket statements is to distrust the formulas aluminum is light carbon is lighter Steel is heavy and Titan somewhere in between have little significance when viewed on a bike as a whole. An equation that generally fails, however, can be firmly fixed: Light, cheap and durable are difficult to reconcile, and if the bike is also supposed to look nice, it is almost impossible.

How light then light when it comes to a gravel bike is another question that comes into play. The reduced, sporty steel off-roader weighing less than 9kg against the high-priced carbon gravel racer with all kinds of eyelets, which is significantly more expensive but not lighter - who is the winner here? Don't underestimate the so-called upper half, the person on the bike. The percentage of a bike's weight difference drops rapidly when you add your own weight, saddlebags and everything you want to transport. Sometimes 800 grams make more sense because stability is also an issue.

Wall thicknesses of down to 0.5mm for steel give an idea of ​​how high-strength alloys must be in order to reliably withstand the most varied of requirements over the long term on our bikes. A scratch in the steel or a quirk in the carbon have significantly different effects on the lifespan of the dream bike. Mounting points for lowriders and luggage carriers not only have to be present, but also firmly anchored. The forces of 20kg of luggage constantly shaking an M5 threaded sleeve should not be underestimated.

But that works great – the geometry in theory and practice

Compared to classic racers, the majority of gravel bikes are much more relaxed. Responsible for this is, among other things, a longer head tube, which avoids overly pronounced elevation. A few additional spacers under the stem ensure that the desire for a sporty seating position can be implemented in parallel with the experience with racing bars. Many beginners have concerns because drop bars are associated with uncomfortable seating positions, but the opposite is the case. Various breakpoints on the handlebars always allow for new seating positions. A property that is particularly noticeable on long tours, keeps the body flexible and protects against signs of fatigue.

Questions often arise because two frame sizes come into question. Reasonable advice is required here, because not only body dimensions, but also area of ​​application, mobility and proportions are factors that help determine frame sizes. Rules of thumb offer starting points, as do the manufacturer's size specifications, but they are far from fundamental decisions. We like to recommend that you listen to yourself and get on a bike in the liberty of asking yourself what feels good, likes and is fun. Additional changes to the handlebars, stem length and seat post always give options to optimize the frame along the anatomical requirements, should it fit beforehand. Professional bike fitters are happy to provide further assistance when it comes to complaints or optimizing the seating position.

Gravel bikes in the cap

In Germany, the long-running Croix de Fer by the British Genesis is still an insider tip. How successful the bike is internationally can be gauged from the countless versions that are available. In the original version as a steel wheel, pimped with an available carbon fork, as a titanium wheel, in aluminum under the name CDA, as a modern variant under the name Fugio or in a sporty version in carbon under the name Datum. What they all have in common is that they look good on a variety of surfaces and can be adjusted to personal preferences with little effort.

while in Croix de Fer – Year of Birth 2009 While bikes with racing handlebars tended to be used on 23mm wide, slick slicks with no tread, the CdF got 35mm wide tires at the time. The somewhat unwieldy English slogan “Drop bars don't always mean tarmac. 'Normal riding' shouldn't be a definition of accepted limits." immediately showed where the journey should go: everywhere. In 2010, Vin Cox, an adventurous Briton, took this as an opportunity to circumnavigate the world with the Croix de Fer in what was then a world record time. Even with a bike that is considered the pioneer of an entire movement, this is not a matter of course. But a sign that sporting success and suitability for everyday use are not mutually exclusive.

In the last ten years, the Croix de Fer has undergone countless small changes and improvements, the increased demand for the type of bike as such was also the background for an even more relaxed seating position, which was built accordingly and also offered a lot to beginners in the gravel bike sector from the very first moment Is funny. Even the first few meters on our yard produced countless broadly grinning faces, a circumstance that is certainly a great compliment for this long-running favorite among gravel bikes.

With the green Outback V2 from Ritchey , a high-quality and light steel frame set with carbon fork is now available that is in no way inferior to the Croix de Fer in terms of variety. Geometry and frame dimensions allow the use of different wheel sizes, whether 650B with really wide tires or 700C for the fast tires for the road, everything is possible. All kinds of eyelets for mudguards, luggage racks, bottle holders on the frame and any cages on the light carbon fork allow extensive luggage equipment. The Outback is well equipped for sporty off-road use as well as for extended bike tours with luggage.

Ritchey's second bike model for Gravel enthusiasts is the Swiss Cross, a modified classic from the Cross racing series. The geometry of the originally competitive crosser has been relaxed a bit in recent years, resulting in a wonderfully balanced, light fun machine that can be set up as a racing bike for all occasions, but is also suitable as a fast speedster for rough terrain. The frame with carbon fork holds 40mm wide tyres, dispenses with all brazed-on sockets and is an example of how agile, light, sporty and comfortable wheels made of steel can be today.

The creative and visionary brand Open is also on the sporty side of the all-rounders. They were the first to lower the chainstay on the drive side, which gave the frame a very unique design. The light and tasteful carbon frames of the developers Andy Kessler and Gerard Vroomen are intended for all purposes between racing bikes and gravel athletes, different wheel sizes such as 650B and 700C allow countless construction variations in connection with appropriate tires. The Wide is the sportiest and lightest interpretation of a racer for the really rough terrain that can scare some MTBs on their home routes.

If you want to go for titanium, you will find the Moots option in our cap in addition to the Croix de Fer Ti. The US company is one of the most renowned and experienced blacksmiths when it comes to processing the precious metal.

With bike hero Another company is coming this summer with a Titan Graveller. The Dresden-based company will soon be launching a frame set with a timeless, matt silver surface, based on the successful IconX, the in-house gravel bike long-running favorite, which can be specified in a wide variety of construction variants for all applications.

The Cologne brand also comes from Germany Bombtrack , a subsidiary of BMX giant We Make Things aka Cologne Bicyle Group. Originally with at least one leg in the fixed gear racing circuit, bikepacking and gravel racers have clearly had the upper hand in the brand portfolio in recent years. With their range of steel all-roaders, carbon bolides and monster crossers, Bombtrack blur the boundaries between the off-road genres right down to the very rough terrain.

The English manufacturer of offers two other great gravel bike models Brother Cycles from Kent: with the Kepler, a travel-ready all-rounder with a traditional look, optional carbon fork and a tire clearance of up to 45mm for the 700 or 48mm for the 650 wheelset, plus the steel gravel racer Mehteh from Reynolds 725 as a sportier version, also suitable for both wheel sizes. Both models come with flat mount brake mounts and thru axles. This duo is complemented by the Stroma, a racer for all occasions, which also allows wider tires and is something like the English answer to the all-weather racing bike. Our first contact with Brother was a long time ago. The stand of the two brothers with colorful bikes caught our eye at a bike show in Berlin. A Brother Allday, a single speed for all occasions, has also been part of the cap team for years.

Salsa and Surly are two brands from the USA that have been wildly crossing MTB and drop bars for years and must therefore be counted among the forefathers of the US Gravel scene. In view of the endless American dirt tracks, it is hardly surprising that thanks to gravel races and gran fondos such as Grinduro, Dirty Kanza or Barry Roubaix, an unconventional scene with so much fun and passion formed there that its development also became a motor for the European gravel community.

In Europe, events such as the Tuscany Trail, Pathfinder, Smugglers Path, Dirty Boar, Grenzstein-Trophy and many more invite recreational riders, while races such as the Transcontinental Race or the Atlas Mountain Race require semi-professional effort despite the self-sufficiency mentality . The scene is growing, even former professionals are joining the unconventional cycling circus of long-distance conquerors. The victory of Fiona Kolbinger from Heidelberg at the 2019 edition of the Transcontinental caused a sensation far beyond the usual circles, a victory that will hopefully motivate more women to devote themselves to the most beautiful sport in the world.

In recent years, the gravel bike has inspired countless other small and large companies that have covered all interfaces between racing bikes, crossers, MTBs and randonneurs with fun, creativity and competence, sometimes more in one direction, sometimes more in the other. In the cap we are happy to round off our gravel bike range with the brands All City, Soma, Rondo, Saracen, Ridley, Look, Pelago or Cinelli and can therefore certainly offer the right bike for every application.

And why do you need a gravel bike?

The gravel bike takes us from our own front door into the natural surroundings, without detours. We can escape the car traffic on the streets for a certain time, conquer farm and gravel roads, forest highways and single trails. Of course, always with consideration for all the others who are just as happy about these retreats as we are.

The gravel bike dissolves boundaries. It's the bike you can do anything with. Hardly slower than the thoroughbred racer, hardly less agile than the crosser, hardly less suitable for everyday use than the trekking bike and no less suitable for long distances than the touring bike. It's the Swiss army knife of bikes. Tom Ritchey's "One for All".

The bike that everyone should have.

The lighthouse, an interview with Tom Ritchey from ryan le garrec on Vimeo .

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