QUESTION: Everywhere I look, people are talking about gravel bikes, and I see a ton of them in my local bike shops. Are there really that many people riding that far out in the country, on gravel roads, or are these bikes used for something else other than that? Andrew F
ANSWER: Sometimes it seems like the cycling industry has never seen a fad that it didn’t want to jump on. Remember fat bikes? Unless you live in a state with a lot of winter sports, you probably don’t see many of those riding around these days.
But I’d say that gravel bikes are more than a fad, for several reasons.
One big reason is that riding gravel has exploded in popularity. Famous gravel races like the Dirty Kanza 200 sell out in minutes, and new ones like SBT GRVL in Steamboat Springs, Colorado are popping up all the time even as traditional road racing in the United States is in decline.
Let’s face it, riding gravel is getting popular because it’s a lot of fun.
And aside from quite literally riding them on gravel roads, these bikes give you a ton of cycling options.
You can use them as a road bike 95 percent of the time, assuming you’re not a racer or trying to keep up on a high speed, competitive group ride. Just pop on some skinnier tires and you’re generally all set. Or ride the wider knobby gravel tires if you don’t mind a slight reduction in speed on pavement. You’ll be amazed by the increase in riding comfort that results from the additional cushioning of more air in a bigger tire.
I’ve personally used my gravel bike as a road bike, as a gravel racing bike, and even to race cyclocross. One time I even took it on some mountain bike trails when I didn’t have a mountain bike available. I couldn’t keep up with my buddy on a full suspension mountain bike, but I was able to ride the most of the trails without walking.
Some people like to put on fenders and use them for bicycle commuting because they’re a little beefier for hopping curbs and riding through potholes. I see century riders at bike rallies who have switched to them because of the increased comfort.
And what about adventure cycling and bikepacking? This overlapping group of cyclists like to ride off the beaten path, and gravel bikes offer a lot of benefits for this type of riding.
You’ve got plenty of cycling options with a gravel bike.
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