For a few years ORbike has promoted gravel rides for your cycling adventures—from the Cycle Oregon’s Gravel to The Art of Survival Century There are endless opportunities to find your own adventure on unpaved roads in Oregon and a growing number of supported rides. So much so that ORbike declared 2018 “The Year of the Gravel Ride.”
With increases in road traffic, no lack of gravel backroad options throughout the state, and a new style of bike to take you there, 2019 is shaping up to be event better as people seek out quieter biking spaces.
What exactly is a gravel bike?
Depending on where you live (and which bike company’s marketing you’ve read), gravel or “adventure” bikes are one and the same. Designed for comfort, versatility and the ability to get further away from modern comforts, it’s a road bike that came back to its touring roots with some modern tweaks to make them even more versatile.
Over the past few decades, bike companies somewhat started to realize that average riders aren’t road racers. They’re customers wanted a road (or drop bar) bike that wasn’t designed for racing and could handle longer fitness rides with more comfort for the rider. Eventually these developed into “endurance” style bikes that were very similar to road bikes but with a more stable geometry and slightly more upright position.
Simultaneously, as endurance bikes became more popular, routes and races that were further afield also grew in popularity. Many included gravel, so bike companies (and inspired custom builders) took notice and started designing bikes that could take riders farther, longer with less fatigue.
The rise in bikepacking (camping by bike) has led to an entire series of bikes that are suitable for going off road and carrying gear.
Thus, the gravel/adventure bike was born.
How does a gravel bike differ from a cyclocross, endurance or touring bike?
Gravel bikes combine aspects of cyclocross, endurance and touring to create one new magnificent style of machine!
From the cyclocross bike, the gravel bike borrows wider tires which create greater stability on rough, loose, sandy, or dusty roads to keep you from skidding or sliding out. The governing body of international racing limits cyclocross tire width to 33mm, but only the frame or fenders limit the larger tire sizes of gravel bikes, which can boast over 48mm tires. Gravel bikes have wider frame spacing to accommodate those tires, as well as wheels that are stronger to take those lumps and bumps and are compatible with tubeless tire technology so you can ride lower tire pressures without worrying about pinch flats.
From endurance bikes, the gravel bike borrows newer road technologies of light suspensions built into the frames, seat posts and handlebars for a smoother ride quality, as well as a more upright and stable geometry.
From the touring bike, the gravel bike borrows room for fenders and extra frame bosses and eyelets (the places where you can attach water bottle cages or other gadgets) to help you be out farther, longer, in any kind of weather without needing to re-supply.
From all three, the gravel bike often borrows the dependability and superior braking power of disc brake technology, A few lower cost options come equipped with cantilever brakes traditionally found on classic touring or cyclocross bikes.
Essentially, the gravel bike takes the best from the most popular modern bicycle types and combines them into one, super versatile dream bike. Can you go for a long (or short) fitness ride on it? Check. Can you race a local cyclocross race on it? Check. Can you go for a multi-day tour on it? Check. Can you comfortably ride on or off pavement? Check. How about the kind of rides ORBike promotes, from extended, supported adventures to fun rides around town? Picture perfect for those, too.
Should you own a gravel bike? The answer is probably yes. N+1…
As you’re getting your body ready for a season of riding, consider a DEXA scan to track your progress.
So if you’re in the market for a new, do-it-all ride, gravel bikes are the way to ride— no matter how far or what the road is made of.
Tori Bortman is ORbike’s resident bike mechanic. She is also an educator, consultant and the owner of Gracie’s Wrench. Tori is the author of The Big Book of Cycling for Beginners published by Bicycling Magazine.