Gravel bike? - tell me you 'roady' experiences

So while I’ve been convalescing after an accident, and ordering many replacement (some upgraded :grin:) parts for my road bike to do a full rebuild being needed after the crash, I’ve been contemplating what I may but as a 2nd bike.

I was intending to buy an aero road bike this year (to use only for short course Crit racing and ‘best weather’ outdoor group rides) however since I’m not going to be doing any racing until 2021 at the very earliest plus my fitness has plummeted to new depths, I think I will park that idea for a while. Also, as part of my endurance bike rebuild I may invest in some aero handlebars and some carbon aero wheels given they are hardly that much more expensive than the straight replacement parts I need to buy due to the crash, which will sort of ‘cover’ the scratching of that particular itch.

Anyway … with that dealt with, my mind and heart are swinging towards a gravel bike as a second set of wheels. I’ve done a handful of rides this year that had some gravel sections, both short and longer, partly on purpose and some by accident.

I really loved the experience and it brought back lots of fond memories of my old school MTB rides as a kid during the mid to late 1980s. There are huge amount of MTB and gravel bike suitable routes and paths / tracks in the area I live so the opportunity for use is considerable.

A quick scan of the forum reveals a few threads on buying one, plus other aspects, but doesn’t really cover the ‘experience’ aspect I am seeking to understand (see below)

So my questions are open to anyone of you who went from roady to gravel …

  • How does a gravel bike ‘feel’ on the road, given many of the gravel routes around where I live require road routes to reach them and / or road sections - IE is is massively slower and noticeably different, or not so much?

  • Are the maintenance costs / issues similar / the same over the longer term of ownership?

  • What are the biggest transferable lessons you’d recommend anyone take heed of when moving from road to gravel - either in terms of broad ownership / riding risks and challenges / fitness and power delivery changes / equipment such as pedal and cleat choice / things to consider when creating a shortlist of bikes to try out before buying within my price range etc?

My aim here is to understand the ‘experience’ of ownership which will help me to better decide if I take the plunge or not, and if so what to gravitate towards.

Im tending towards a ‘Yes’ and pressing the button at the moment as it seems an attractive prospect, but I’d like to hear about what the downsides and other considerations might be that I wouldn’t have considered as someone who has (as an adult) only ridden road bikes .
Discuss :grin:

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I’m keen to hear where this goes too, as I’m also thinking along the same lines.

I know when I looked into this last year, someone said how they went Diverge, and it was not good on the road in, lets say, “fast paced road rides”.

Anecdotally, a recent discussion with a LBS owner revealed that they were selling about 7 our of 10 bikes as gravel, 1 as road and then 2 as longer travel mtb. Zero cross bikes, and zero xc bikes. So if gravel bikes are disappointing on the road over the long-term, then there’ll be a ton on the used market over the next few years.

The industry pushes some “new” bike style every few years to boost sales. MTB in the 00’s it was “you need a full sus”, then “you need a single speed”, then “you need a 29er”, then “650B”, then “modern low and long geometry”, now “e-mtb”

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I can answer at least in part, having just gone through the same thing. Similar to you I am enjoying the off-road riding bringing me back to when I was really into mountain biking in the 80’s and 90’s, and I am finding childhood trails we rode around the neighbourhood as kids before off-road riding was even a thing.

I pickup a used carbon CX bike, which turns out to have very similar stack and reach dimensions to my “on the aggressive side of endurance bike” so going back and forth between the two is easy. With 35c Gravelkings, it isn’t quite a smooth rolling on good tarmac and feels better over rough with 35c @ 60psi vs 25c @ 80psi (both tubeless). So far it is definitely not as fast but at the same time I don’t feel like I am giving up a lot either. I certainly have no issues running it off-road on local crushed gravel paths or even some firm to hard-pack singletrack. It would get dicey on loose or wet paths.

So far maintenance isn’t an issue although I got to the bottom of an issue where the chain would drop between the chainrings downshifting. Turns out the previous owner installed the small chainring backwards. I see overall maintenance as in between road and MTB just because of the grit and grind and occasional wet on components and the risk of a crash or stick getting caught up in things.

I use it with Time ATAC pedals, so a new pair of shoes was involved and I remind myself it isn’t a road bike and that I can’t hit PRs on Strava road segments and all those old rigid and hardtails MTB skills are coming back slowly although I did back down on some rougher sections and obstacles I would have charged through on a MTB. Other than that it has been a blast to get out of the wind, sun and traffic and discover new trails around my house, and rediscover old childhood ones.

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Soooooo I may of just bit the bullet on a semi entry level Wilier Jareen.

My main reasons for buying was:

  • I have a nice bike, then a just as nicer bike which is retired to the turbo and then another similar one which I rarely ride as I enjoy riding canal and trails mostly. on the MTB its slow going due to gearing etc and also for long rides on the flat just not that comfortable.

-When away with the family I can do take light trails with the kids and then I can sneak off on the road. for a couple of hours and only need to take spare pedals/shoes if I want power the tyres are called Kenda Happy Medium 700x40

-If I am working at a running event I don’t have to try and tear it up on a mtb to keep in front of the lead runner and it has mudguards and pannier holes to carry signs etc.

-I choses tiagra 10 speed as my other bikes are 105/ultegra 10 speed so I can do a turn on the turbo if I need too. I also got hydraulics too

I asked about the wheel choices, if you buy via LBS then talk to them about the wheels as trading in your unused wheels on the bike and including two sets of wheels etc at the time of purchase is the only way you are going to get this working. his suggestion was buy two identical wheel sets and set them up at the same time you should get everything indexed nicely from the start. this is not the place I bought it from, I went in for a saddle bag and larger spare inner tube.

another mechanic I know who I showed the bike to said that unless you are going to be living off road avoid the 1 x drivetrains. he’s been selling a lot of gravel bikes of late but they have been coming back as they don’t have the gearing for quick road riding. if you have a 2x setup you can convert to 1x, the the reverse is a lot harder. ( I can’t do on a tiagra groupset anyway :slight_smile:

I found the bike on www.bikebargains.co.uk and it came through Merlin Cycles, everything is working out the box and it took about 20 minutes of assembly (https://www.bikebargains.co.uk/wilier-jareen-race-tiagra-alloy-gravel-bike-2019/)

I have replaced the stem on it a little shorter and I am within millimetres of my trek, been trail riding on it and its fine and to be honest riding on the road at higher pressures I can’t really tell the difference.

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My gravel bike has give me more smiles per mile than any other bike I’ve owned. If you do “groad” rides then it transforms these road rides into adventures. You can do part road / part trail. It’s super fun.

I lived in Spokane for a while which is a full 4 season climate and my gravel bike was my winter bike - slippery leaves, patches of snow, sand left over from road control - all no problem. I really wouldn’t want to ride a skinny tire bike in that kind of fall, winter, and early spring conditions.

Gravel bikes are definitely slower than full on road bikes but it depends how gnarly your gravel is and what trails you ride. In some areas the gravel is rough and you want a knobby 45/50mm tires. Other places have smooth packed trails or packed pea gravel and you can get away with a smoothish 32mm tire. The smoother the tire, the faster the bike will feel on the road. I do think that with an aero set of wheels and 25mm GP5000s, my gravel bike (S-Works Crux) would be a fine road bike and 99.8% as fast.

Maintenance can be a little higher than a road bike but less than a mtb. You are dealing with dust and dirt and you need to keep on your chain so you don’t wear out cogs and chainrings. Really though it’s been a non-issue for me. It’s really dusty at this time of year for me so I hose my bike off after every ride and then do a quick cleaner/lube on my chain.

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So my questions are open to anyone of you who went from roady to gravel …

  • How does a gravel bike ‘feel’ on the road, given many of the gravel routes around where I live require road routes to reach them and / or road sections - IE is is massively slower and noticeably different, or not so much?
  • Are the maintenance costs / issues similar / the same over the longer term of ownership?
  • What are the biggest transferable lessons you’d recommend anyone take heed of when moving from road to gravel - either in terms of broad ownership / riding risks and challenges / fitness and power delivery changes / equipment such as pedal and cleat choice / things to consider when creating a shortlist of bikes to try out before buying within my price range etc?

I bought a Cannondale Topstone (alloy) at the beginning of the year. Its geometry is fairly similar to the Synapse which I believe is on the racier end of endurance. It also happens to mirror my road bike (Canyon Endurace) very closely. So fit wise gravel/road bikes feel similar. On the road it rides a bit slower than my road bike but unless your in the middle of a hammerfest its not enough to matter. I feel the difference the most in the slower acceleration and the climbs which is to be expected given the extra weight.

I’ve only had it for 6mos. so maintenance hasn’t been an issue, I wouldn’t reasonably expect it to be much worse than my road bike. More frequent drivetrain cleaning is required due to the nature of the riding.

Lessons learned - get shoes/pedals for SPD. I tried one ride with my SPD-SL’s and after putting my foot down prior to a stream crossing and getting the cleat coated in sand/grit I learned my lesson. Also, watch your speed. While bombing down gravel roads at 30+ mph is exhilarating in more than one way; you really need to be able to read your line and anticipate what’s coming ahead. The handling is different, especially if any loose material is encountered. Also, gravel roads are generally not graded the same way a paved road is. In my area, northern VA, gravel roads are pitchy (10+%) for short lengths of time so either short power or lower gearing is helpful. My bike came with 46/30 x 11/34 and its been great for seated climbs.

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I’m a MTB’er that rides road and gravel.

I have all 3 bikes. My “road” bike is actually a CX race bike frame, with slicks and road gearing. Been riding a gravel bike since 2016.

Speed on road depends on the tires used. I use Maxxis Rambler and Ravager as I ride more aggressively off-road than some others coming from a road background. Largely, it seems fine to me. It’s what you would expect. If you go for a file tread or a smooth tire, it’ll be faster. I also have an old MTB that’s running Compass Rat Trap Pass tires, and many other variations of trekking tires, and drop bars. That’s my commuter bike.

The geometry is more like an endurance bike these days unless you go for the Evil Chamois Hagar.

Maintenance costs, no different than my other bikes. Compared to road the only difference is cleaning off the dirt/mud, more similar to my MTB. I always clean and lube the chain each ride, so that doesn’t affect me.

Cockpit-wise, compared to my road config, I put wider bars on and a higher height. I had Salsa Woodchipper bars on (max width) and now have Salsa Cowchipper bars on, in 52cm. My road bike has 46cm bars. The bars are positioned higher than road config, as I ride more in the drops, in a more comfortable position.

Gearing, 42/28 SRAM XX crank with 11-32 road cassette. Useful for 2 purposes, just like a MTB. Long off-road climbs in a variety of terrain. Sometimes you need to grind and I don’t have the power to run 1:1 for steep extended climbs. It’s also necessary to modulate power in loose/technical terrain. But, as stated, I ride in more aggressive territory than what other folks might do, or migrate too. I have no problems taking it on technical single track, it’s just slower than a MTB, but faster in the smoother parts. The compromise is to take away from the paved experiences in favor of off-road.

I’ve always used SPD, don’t use SPD-SL, so can’t help you there. It’s sometimes necessary to hike or lift over some rocks. I also use SPD on road. I use flats on my MTB, don’t like to be that connected when you need to ditch the bike.

Some companies, like Thesis Bike, sells a bike with 2 wheel sets, for those more inclined. My bikes tend to be more purpose selected, so that would never work for me.

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I got a Cervelo Aspero at the end of January, and have really had fun riding gravel with it. I just wish I lived closer to areas where I can ride mostly gravel. I will say that when I am on road sections it is noticeably slower for the same wattage, but I kinda figure thats expected with 40mm tires pumped to 35 psi rather then a decked out Tarmac with cotton turbos at 80 psi.

I do find myself wishing that the road sections end a whole lot sooner because I hate going so much slower than I normally would be lol.

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Super helpful - thanks :+1:t2::+1:t2:

Thanks for the insight :+1:t2:

As far as maintenance costs go, it’s pretty similar to any other bike
Chains - I get about 1500 miles on a chain on my gravel bike vs 4000 on road bike
Tires - you’ll probably go through a few sets of different tires figuring out what works best for your style and terrain

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I bought a cervelo aspero to ride when I didnt want to ride the aero bike. I love it. Running a 50/34 and 11/34

If I could pick one bike its the aspero over my propel.

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My trek checkpoint is a little slower than my road bike but training value is the same because watts inputted are the same. It’s a heavier bike so acceleration is slower but the ride feels luxurious and my neck and back thank me for the wider tires that forgive the potholes and road bumps it encounters. I’m sure a light gravel bike would not be too far off the speed of a road bike of the same weight with the right tires.

I ride my gravel bike 95% of the time and love that I can hop between gravel, woodland path and road without thinking twice about it.

My carbon road bike is 10yrs old now (plus some recent upgrades) but I’m more likely to get a fancy gravel bike with 2 sets of wheels than a new road bike at this point

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Another Cervelo Aspero owner here…

  1. Your ideal gravel set up depends on what kind of gravel you will ride. Light gravel and rail trail can be done on road or all-road wheels and this will make the bike faster. A lot of the gravel bikes are coming with +/- 40 mm tires and wheel sets that will handle tougher gravel and easy single track. These set ups are noticeably slower on the road and make the bike harder to accelerate. The long term solution is a second wheel set.

  2. I love the flared drop bars as it makes riding in the drops more comfortable. I end up riding in the drops more on gravel rides than road rides.

  3. I agree SPD is a must for true gravel adventures and makes the off bike parts of the day much more enjoyable.

  4. Gravel bike gearing is great for short steep gravel climbs and rolling gravel terrain but can be limited once you hit faster road pace. I like the idea of using a 50/34 and 11/34 rather than a 46 or 47/32 and 11/32, especially if you are a lighter rider (I am not).

  5. I am slowing coming to the realization that my gravel set up is much more comfortable than my road bike set up.

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Helpful information thanks :grin:

This is so true.

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Where I live I’ve maxed out my tires to 45/40 (Spec Crux) and I would still like more tire. When the trails get bumpy or sandy I get stuck on 40mm tires. Friends on 65mm tire adventure bikes leave me in the dust (literally!).

This is happening now because many of our trails have turned to moon dust. I’m in southern NM. After we get some rains our trails will dry up hard again and I’ll be fast again. Unfortunately people in ATVs go out into the wilderness, tear up the roads and create the dust.

So in the end it really does depend on your local definition of gravel.

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Similar to @iamholland I ride road, XC mtn, and more recently gravel.

Gravel is an easy transition coming from XC riding. If I only had road experience, I would expect it to be a little trickier as you learn to understand traction limits, absorbing terrain, and picking lines.

I ride a Checkpoint on gravel and an Emonda on the road. The Checkpoint feels much bigger despite both frames the same 56cm size. I set up the cockpit and saddle on the Checkpoint to be similar to the Emonda, but did out Enve’s flared gravel bar on the Checkpoint. This bar has a lot of compliance in the drops and adds a lot to the comfort. The flared drops also help with control.

The Emonda is lighter and quicker handling. For a hilly road ride on pavement, it is hard to beat. On the flats, the Checkpoint can be fast too, but tire choice will be the difference. The Checkpoint comes to life though on the gravel.

There will always be compromises, but if I could only have one bike then would pick the Checkpoint with two sets of wheels. An aero set with 28s for the road, and then a set of Enve G23s with gravel tires for everything else.

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I wholeheartedly agree. I put together my gravel set up with the plan to fit 40mm tires (with some clearance for mud) based on being able to do long distance gravel rides at a comfortable but quick pace, as well as using the same frame to be my road bike. I mainly ride in Utah or Idaho. Of course, I’ve gone on a few gravel routes nearby and it has varied between moon dust, sand pits, chunky rocks, and nice smooth dirt. I think it would be nice to have something wider, in the 45-50 range. However, I put a lot of money into this bike and I really like riding it, so I’ll just make do.

I’m jealous of these people with beautiful gravel paths with only small crumbs and minimal dust.

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First, your questions are spot on. and I’ll give it a shot:

  • Road feel, I’m coming from an alloy crit machine VNYL road to an Ibis Hakka MX. 40c Semi Slick tires and I can hardly feel a difference between 25c and these 40c semi slick WTBs. I LIKE climbing and don’t feel held back on climbs, rollers, flats. Downhill obviously way better than the 25c I was limited to. The frames are so different that it’s not a fair comparison but obviously the Hakka is buttery compared to the VNYL. I still love the VNYL and will use it for shorter rides and for road segment hunting. Tire recommendation: WTB By Ways are awesome, by far my favorite dual purpose tire I’ve tried.

  • Maintenance cost are similar. Factor in servicing your hydraulic brakes. Group recommendation: GRX, I’m blown away by how good the braking is. Coming from older cross bike with mechanical disc brakes, it’s night and day. Every bit if not better than the braking on my XC bike.

  • I like using Shimanos “gravel” SPD pedals, but there is no reason not to run a road cleat/pedal combo unless you’re sure you need to walk. As far as riding style, learning how to counter steer on gravel, learning how to read traction conditions on the fly, braking modulation. Biggest thing for me is how you pedal on road versus off-road, I tend to push a larger gear off-road to help with traction. When I get back on pavement I try to increase my cadence.

For me having a drop bar bike that I can ride from my house to explore all the quiet country and gravel forest service roads has been a game changer, one that I missed. I’m a mountain biker at heart but being able to get away with no car is awesome. Get a gravel bike, I’m surprised by how often I reach for it even over the mountain bike.

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