31 Oct 2021Fabio Strufaldi
The market has seen the spectacular emergence of gravel bikes in recent years. An increasing number of enthusiasts are opting for the purchase of this type, not to mention the increase in competitions or non-competitive events. Gravel road are dirt or non-asphalted paths, so the construction philosophy of these bikes starts from the assumption that they are suitable for such routes.
Everything was born, as very often in the world of bicycles in recent times, in the USA where the love for two wheels is combined with vast natural spaces with the presence of long dirt roads. And then the introduction of fascinating races in many American states characterized by paths in the boundless nature, without too many altitude difficulties and on rather compact eartyhy roads, which can easily overcome 100 miles up to the Ultra races such as the Trans Iowa that exceeds 500 km!
The stars and stripes manufacturers have therefore launched on the market a type of bike specialized for these routes, which however is also excellent for use on asphalt roads.
About 4-5 years ago the first gravels arrived in Europe and now it is a well-known product of many houses. Temporary fashion? Carefully planned commercial strategy? We believe not: the numbers prove it to us, but above all the constructive analysis of these bicycles.
In general, the basic concept to start from are road racing bikes which are modified in some basic elements to obtain strength and solidity without sacrificing too much speed. An eclectic two-wheeler that combines road bike, cyclocross and touring characteristics. Obviously on the market we find a wide range of gravel bikes ranging from 500-600 Euros for entry models up to over ten times as much for top-of-the-range bikes.
The frame, depending on use and price, can be steel, aluminum or even carbon. However, what differentiates it from its road-racing cousins is its geometry. A slightly more "comfortable" structure: slightly higher head tube, less steep down tube and longer rear stay (up to 20 mm), to ensure a posture that is not "lying down" as in road racing, but more raised on the saddle. This translates into comfort for tackling dirt roads and greater readiness on bumpy roads. The greater weight of the frame is needed for strength, but as mentioned, those who opt for gravel do not seek the exasperation of road racing bikes.
The wheels are 28 ”, the same size as the road, but what changes are the tires: larger section (30-35 mm) and you can opt for a more or less “clawed” tread pattern. The brakes are obviously disc brakes and the transmission is designed ad-hoc for rough routes with the presence of gravel, dust or mud (long rocker arm and high shifting fork). Furthermore, the ratios are more agile than the road cousins: the combination of 50/32 tooth chainrings is quite common, but the single chainring is becoming increasingly popular, with sprockets from 10-11 up to 34. In the case of the BMC URS 1 One, top of the range of the Swiss manufacturer, the largest sprocket is a frying pan-like 50-tooth!
The major manufacturers such as Trek, Giant, Scott, Cannondale, BMC, Triban all have more gravel models in their list. Let's see some proposals:
The Scott Speedster Gravel 40 has an aluminum frame, disc brakes and Shimano group with CS-HG500 # 10 11-32 cassette and double chainring at the front. An excellent mid-range vehicle at a price just over 1200 euros.
Moving up the category to the top of the range, we meet the Giant TCX Advanced Pro 1 model 2021. Carbon frame, sturdy Giant SLR-2 42 wheels fitted with 33mm all-terrain tubeless tires and the Shimano Ultegra group, 11x34 with single chainring. The price is 3799 Euros.
In conclusion, a bicycle that is easy to use and not exasperated, robust and solid. You can travel many kilometers on road and on unpaved paths, preferably with hard and compact surfaces: gravel, light mud, compact earth. Obviously they are not made for difficult off-road and/or with important altimetric differences: for these routes the various MTBs are still the most suitable. However, gravel bike has a versatile use: there are those who use it mainly on asphalt (with ad-hoc tires) to have more strength and maybe save money compared to a very special road racing model. There are those who use it for mixed routes, those for adventure or even short trips: some models can install luggage racks and luggage racks and even indicators and mudguards. Finally, those who opt for the purchase of these bikes for the numerous gravel events that are beginning to appear in Italy. These are the multi-day events halfway between cycle tourism, adventure and pure challenge: among the most popular we remember the Veneto Gravel (690 km and 3900 m in altitude), the BAM of Mantua and the Tuscany Trail Experience.
Cycling more in contact with nature, adventurous and with a touch of re-enactment of the past, when gravel or dirt roads were the norm, not the exception. A love for the heroic era of cycling, and perhaps more authentic, that the world of road professionalism does not disdain: just look not only at the success of the Strade Bianche and the classic-monumet Roubaix, but also at the fascination for the ancient of less known races such as the Paris-Tours which takes place among the dirt roads of the vineyards of the Loire, or the Tro-Bro Léon in Brittany which takes place on large stretches of ribinoù, characteristic paths with an earthy terrain.