Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bikes for your next Gravel Grinder

The past decade has seen a surge in type of cycling event referred to as the "gravel grinder." The rides take place mostly on un-paved back roads with a gravel or dirt surface. The appeal of the gravel roads lies in their remote, uncrowded (i.e. little to no car traffic), scenic, and adventurous nature.

Some of the classic gravel grinder events are ultra-endurace races like the Dirty Kanza 200 in the Flint Hills region of Kansas and the Almanzo 100 in Minnesota. These events took off in the Midwest because of the seemingly limitless rural roads that the region has to offer, in contrast to the scenic mountain ranges that usually lure adventure-seeking rider to the west or east coasts.

Gravel grinders can be found all over the country now, including a couple right in our backyard here in Ohio, like the upcoming Amish Country Roubaix race in Millersburg, last month's inaugural Road Apple Roubaix ride in Middlefield, and the upcoming Funk Bottoms Gravel race in Lakeville.

The word "Roubaix" is often included in the names of these events as a reference to the Paris-Roubaix Race, one of the European "Spring Classics" known for extended stretches of rough cobblestone roads.

What kind of bike is best for a gravel grinder? Just about anything other than a traditional road racing bicycle works well. Road bikes are less than ideal because the smooth, skinny tires don't handle so well on the rough roads you'll encounter on a gravel grinder. Mountain bikes are an okay choice, especially those with larger 29er wheels.

A cyclocross bike works well on a gravel grinder because of its ability to accommodate much wider tires. A popular option available from Century Cycles is the Surly Cross-Check or Surly Straggler.
Surly Cross-Check Cyclocross Bicycle ($1,249.99)
Surly Straggler Cyclocross Bicycle ($1,774.99)
With the booming popularity of gravel riding, bike companies have stepped up to produce "gravel-specific" bikes. Some have taken to calling these bikes "adventure bikes" in order not to pigeon-hole them too much into a specific type of riding.

What features make a bike a "gravel bike?" Typically, these bikes try to combine the best of many worlds from a road bike, cyclocross bike, touring bike, and mountain bike. They will usually have a longer wheelbase and shorter bottom bracket height, which provides stability on rough roads. They might have a taller head tube for a more comfortable, upright position during those long endurance-type events. Look for a wide gear range for hill-friendly gearing. Most have disc brakes for better stopping power when those rough roads turn downhill.

At the entry level of Giant Bicycles' adventure bikes is the Giant AnyRoad 2:
Giant AnyRoad 2 Adventure Bicycle
The AnyRoad 2 features Giant ALUXX aluminum frame and composite fork for a light and smooth ride, Avid BB5 mechanical disc brakes, and a Shimano 27-speed (3x9) drive train with a triple crankset to tackle any climbs, all for $1,049.99.

Step it up a notch for the Giant AnyRoad 1, which features the same aluminum frame and carbon fork, but with a Shimano 20-speed (2x10) drive train for $1,249.99:
Giant AnyRoad 1 Adventure Bicycle
Getting your foot in the gravel bike door with Raleigh Bicycles is easy with the Raleigh Tamland 1:
2014 Raleigh Tamland 1 Gravel Bicycle
It features a Reynolds 631 double-butted chromoly steel frame and Raleigh's gravel 4130 chromoly fork, a 20-speed (2x10) Shimano 105 drive train with FSA compact double crankset, and the innovative TRP Spyre dual-piston mechanical disc brakes, all for originally $1,599.99, now at the closeout price of $1,349.99!

Of course, no discussion of bikes fit for any road would be complete without a mention of the Salsa Fargo, the true "one bike to rule them all." The Salsa Fargo 2 has a steel frame and carbon fork, and the Salsa Fargo 3 features an all-steel frame and fork. Both have the unique flared Woodchipper drop handlebars, and a SRAM 20-speed (2x10) mountain drive train.
2015 Salsa Fargo 2 ($2,299.99)
2015 Salsa Fargo 3 ($1,699.99)
What all of these bikes have in common is that whether you plan to train for a 200-mile gravel race epic, or are just looking for an extremely versatile bike to take you around town in Northeast Ohio, they are great choices. If you want one bike for go-fast group road rides, commuting to work, and exploring the Towpath Trail and other bike paths, or even a weekend or week-long excursion on the Ohio to Erie Trail or the Great Allegheny Passage/C&O Canal Towpath Trail from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC, these bikes are your go-to ride.

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