I’d appreciate input from you good folks on the following, as a bit of a sanity check…
I’m looking for a style of bike - a compromise bike - capable of being ridden satisfactorily on the off-road stuff near to me, plus a few tarmac lanes linking up the off-road stuff.
Now, I’m in the UK’s peak district, and this off-road stuff ranges from manicured cycle trails along disused railway lines, easy canal towpaths through to so-called bridleways. These bridleways vary, but they often can be pretty rough & rocky and very steep, many being 18th/19th Century packhorse trails that have slowly deteriorated.
99% of my adult cycling has been on road bikes, but I started to ride this local off-road stuff over the spring and summer with a pal when the weather was fine and the trails were bone dry. I started off on my (all-)road bike using my existing 32mm Gravel King slicks, enjoyed that, so then fitted some 35mm Gravel King SKs, being the widest tyres the frame would take. Like this:
On the flatter, smoother (non-rocky) stuff, this was good, and on-road obviously it was great. And compared to the slick 32mm tyres, it was great on the rougher stuff.
But on the downside, though, position on the bike remained less than ideal, being too low on the front; the 42mm drop bars were a struggle in terms of control particularly going down rough, steep descents; more grip and more bump absorbency were needed; 1:1 gearing was insufficient.
To help, I decided to resurrect an old hybrid bike that I’d been using as a turbo trainer bike: fitted the 35mm Gravel Kings to it; lowered the gearing by nearly 25% vs. the road bike down to a bottom gear of 0.76; fitted a RedShift suspension stem. Sort of like a very old skool rigid MTB, I guess. Like this:
This was much better than the all-road bike: not materially slower on the short road stretches but plenty better off-road: much better control from having wider, flat bars (although they’re v narrow by modern MTB standard being just 540 or 560mm if I recall); substantially lower gearing meant less hike-a-bike on the steepest/rougher uphill sections; suspension stem meant more comfort or more speed on the bumpier, rockier stuff.
But, for the MTB-type trails (the rough, steep, rocky or very loose gnarly bridleways) this is clearly still a long way from being the ideal machine, meaning it feels pretty iffy (dangerous!) on some of this stuff, and still requires a good slug of hike-a-bike. I don’t mind being “underbiked” - in fact, that’s part of the appeal here - but on this setup I’m still too underbiked for a chunk of the stuff I’m trying to ride…
What I think I need is: more grip, more bump/shock absorbency, lower gearing still.
While I don’t know a huge amount about MTBs, from kicking the idea around and speaking to a few people I think what might work well for me on what I’m riding would be:
- a light-ish, 29er, hardtail, XC bike, with 100-120mm front suspension, with tyres that are narrower than most people might use (maybe use Gravel tyres?), and with narrower bars (~600+ mm? )than is today’s norm, to help me remain faster on the flatter stuff or on the tarmac bits, but which to me with my roadie background will still seem pretty wide and give decent control.
Because of how rough some of the stuff I’m trying to ride is, I think a gravel bike - as I’ve pretty much shown myself with my existing setups - is too compromised in terms of steering control, insufficiently low gearing, grip and shock absorbency. Also, because of where I live (being right next to these trails meaning I can be off-road within minutes) and my desire just to ride local loops, the amount of tarmac I need to ride on linking up the off-road stuff is low to very low, and so the road-bike characteristics, such as top-end gearing/speed and aerodynamics, of a typical gravel bike (vs. MTB) aren’t such a draw for me.
Does this line of thinking make sense? Or am I way off mark?
As I said, any input welcomed - Cheers!