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  • Would I ‘benefit’ from a gravel bike?
  • PJay
    Member

    I’ve been riding ‘gravel’ for years, long before it was a thing; I’ve tended to do it on steel hardtails for no particular reason other than that’s what I started on; I’ve been perfectly happy doing so.

    My Wife and I are relatively low income and my bike has evolved over time (Trigger’s broom style) into its current incarnation as a rigid Singular Swift decked out in old, new & second hand parts; it’s really rather nice if somewhat portly (29lbs+). It’s not particularly fast but it & I are perfectly happy on the roads and on rough bridleways and tracks; we’ve had no problems getting up through Cheddar Gorge together on a regular basis (albeit slowly).

    I’m currently recovering from a heart attack which I had at the start of October (riding said bike up through Cheddar Gorge), the survival of which I’d quite like to mark; I had a birthday in November (52), Christmas is coming and my Wife seems happy to sanction a new bike (within our means of course).

    The thing is, I’m hesitating (both in terms of cost and also as to whether I’d still prefer my Swift). I started musing about getting something lighter after regularly being overtaken by ernest types on swish road bikes but I also realise that even on the most expensive, super-light road bike, I’d still get regularly overtaken. I don’t race or train, tend to ride alone (or pootle gently whilst cycling with my Wife) and simply going a bit faster for the sake of it isn’t a huge draw; I’d put my riding in the ‘fitness but still fun’ category. I’m also aware that when gravel bikes are discussed there’s often a fair bit of toing & froing between the pros and cons of ‘proper’ gravel bikes vs rigid 29ers.

    I thought a lot about the thread title & settled for ‘benefit’ after realising that I want, but certainly don’t need as new bike. I reckon that something like a Pinnacle Arkose D3 would save me about 6½ lbs (so not insignificant) bringing a speed gain but uncertain disadvantages.

    To be fair I know that there’s no definitive answer and, in any event, it’d be wise to wait until I’m back on the Swift with a sense of where I am post heart failure, but I’d be interested to hear folks’ thoughts.

    philjunior
    Member

    It’s nice to have something faster. You can go further for the same effort.

    It sounds like you have an event that’s worth celebrating, and I’m sure you’ll find something in budget (second hand perhaps if you’re prepared to wait out a bargain, there’s always a way!)

    I guess only you know whether you’d prefer it. Do you have a road bike? How do you get on with drop bars? It doesn’t need to be a super aggressive position, but having different positions is nice, if you’re comfortable in those positions (you get used to it, but not immediately).

    If you’re anything like me you’ll probably ride whatever’s new an awful lot, so you will ride it.

    I guess the question also is, will it replace or complement your current bike? If the latter, does your riding have enough variation to benefit from the two bikes?

    Buy carefully, buy once, and I think you’ll enjoy it as an alternative, particularly when it’s new, and it might open up longer rides.

    Premier Icon roverpig
    Subscriber

    You’re asking a bunch of bike addicts whether to get a new bike, so I guess you already know what answer you want 🙂

    I’m a recent gravel convert. Love the fact that I can go so much faster on the road and on tame trails than I can on the MTB but in so much more comfort than and “racer” I’ve ever owned. It’s a funny old niche though; spanning everything from what are basically race bikes with a bit more tyre clearance to what are basically rigid 29er MTBs. Finding where you want to sit on that spectrum can be confusing, but at the end of the day, they all do the job.

    Basically there is nothing wrong with your Swift, but there is nothing wrong with a new toy either, especially after what you’ve been through.

    Premier Icon rOcKeTdOg
    Subscriber

    i just put gravel tyres on my swift until i could afford a drop bar gravel bike, was just as much fun and very budget friendly. i run the UKgravelcollective on Facebook and we don’t stipulate having a gravel bike to join in, you can ride an mtb on our rides they’ll just be on gravel bike like routes, I always say there are #norules so run what ya brung or modify what you’ve got.

    Premier Icon swanny853
    Subscriber

    Can you borrow one from somewhere to try? A fair bit of preference for your riding really. I like mine- it’s my road bike rather than ‘another’ bike. it’s definitely taken over from my Solaris for a lot of the ‘longish exploring the countryside’ sort of rides though, as well as playing roadie. That jack of all trades character I like is equally another person’s ‘master of none’.

    Alternatively- Could you use the bits from the swift to build up a cheap or SH gravel/cross frame that saves a bit of weight to try it? Even flat bar would give you an idea of the difference you could expect. The downside there is that the completes from around 1k tend to come with proper hydraulic brakes which (ime) make a big difference and cost a lot separately.

    Alternatively alternatively- would a lighter, faster set of tyres get you enough of a taste to try it out? Something like the biggest set of gravelkings you can get, or some g-ones? What are you using at the moment?

    Premier Icon molgrips
    Member

    Gravel bikes have higher gearing, which makes them worse for heaving up some steep rocky trail. Depends on your terrain tbh.

    PJay
    Member

    The Swift is my only bike. Most of the cycling I do is on road but I’ve mean meaning to try a bit more off road. Tyre wise I’m using Kenda Kozmik Lites which just seem to work; they’re surprisingly good on road despite their chunky looks. The Kozmiks just seem to go on forever (I think that I’ve got 5000 miles on my current pair) but I thought that I might try the 2″ WTB Ventures at some point.

    Perhaps it would be wisest to wait until I’m back on the Swift and cycling regularly before making any decisions and perhaps I could rent a gravel bike for a try too. I’ve got a nice bike so there’s no rush but I do keep looking at the Arkose range.

    Love my Cannondale slate. It’s taken me further afield exploring more areas, and great for getting quick miles in.

    Premier Icon rOcKeTdOg
    Subscriber
    Premier Icon Cheezpleez
    Subscriber

    Well I’ve had a Swift for years and use it for bikepacking and the rougher end of gravel riding.

    I bought a Pickenflick early this year and I’ve got tons of use (and fun) out of it.

    It’s led me to do longer routes with a mix of road and gravel that I wouldn’t have contemplated on the Swift, so it’s expanded my riding options.

    Of course, you could just get two sets of tyres for the Swift and you’d be part way to the same result (but it won’t be the same).

    longsider
    Member

    Do it. I’ve recently purchased a gravel bike and love it. Sounds like you’ve had a thought time of late with your health, so treat yourself.

    Premier Icon footflaps
    Subscriber

    road.cc did a relevant article recently, they have quite a few reviews of gravel bikes.

    https://off.road.cc/content/buying/the-best-gravel-and-adventure-bikes-you-can-buy-for-under-1000-1907

    I ride a Specialised Diverge, but as a winter road bike rather than a gravel bike…

    smudgey
    Member

    If you want one then get one, as long as you can afford it. No point pontificating just get it.

    redstripe
    Member

    OP, similar age and similar position a couple of years ago, got a new Kinesis Crosslight Pro6 frameset in a sale and built using some new and existing used stuff, all in under a grand. Have used this bike now more than my old rigid mtb and road bike – it really is a good all-rounder, fast and comfy enough on road and able to cope well on the gravel tracks where we are. Gearing I used was 50/34 chainset and 11-34 cassette. It weighs just under 9kg. Love it, go for it if you can.

    Premier Icon stevious
    Subscriber

    OP – it’s clear that you want to treat yourself to something to make your cycling more enjoyable, and by the sounds of it you really deserve it.

    If you’re not sure if a new bike will do that for you* then ask yourself if there’s something else you could spend the money on to make bike riding more fun. Off the top of my head, a nice bike tour?

    FWIW I love my gravel bike, but if I’m honest it often just feels like a bike thats a bit lighter and harder to handle than my hardtail.

    *getting a new bike always feels great, but ‘new bike’ feelings wear off pretty fast.

    corroded
    Member

    What about spending the money going somewhere with the bikes? I’ve had some fun and affordable adventures in France this year, crossing by ferry. If going faster isn’t a motivation then maybe going farther is?

    Premier Icon Kryton57
    Subscriber

    I ride a Specialised Diverge, but as a winter road bike rather than a gravel bike…

    This.  Bigger tyres with more comfort and grip and in the main a heavier bike for stability is really good around the winter debris strewn lanes of Herts and Essex.   Plus, you can take a sanctioned shortcut through a forest path more confidently.

    I bought a discounted 2x compact geared Bergamont Grandurance from Westbrook cycles this time last year, it’s sitting constantly ready to go in the shed with lights and guards.

    kerley
    Member

    Dropping 6.5lbs of weight is really “going a bit faster for the sake of it” as once riding along the gravel that weight isn’t going to make much difference to speed. Even up a hill it will only make a few seconds.

    The main difference for speed will be the drop bars and the tyres. Tyres you could already change so really just the drop bars. Do you want/prefer drop bars over flat/risers?

    I have personally settled on flat bars as I simply enjoy riding the bike more with them even though I know they are slower.

    Premier Icon 13thfloormonk
    Subscriber

    I’ve had a lot of fun gravel-ifying my Trek Superfly. Basically slightly higher gearing, slick tyres and various experiments with handlebars.

    It’s great, and lighter than some bona-fide gravel bikes. My only problem is that having spent so long riding drop bars on my other bikes, I now find any variant of flat bars to be really uncomfortable!

    a heavier bike for stability

    Hmm…not sure I agree that a heavier bike is more stable, or that this is an important trait for gravel bikes!

    I feel there is a trend for gravel bikes to be un-necessarily heavy, Marin are marketing one for 13.5kg which is heavier than my MTB! Even disc braked road bikes are getting heavier, 9.5kg for £2000 seems acceptable now…

    My theory is that manufacturers think they can charge a premium for discs and even 1x, so can get away with cheaper spec elsewhere. Weight might make negligible difference to overall speed but a lighter bike is just more fun!

    Premier Icon kcal
    Subscriber

    I’m not sure – is the short answer. I have a Swift and love it. Just taken the front bouncy forks off it, back on rigid and had a lovely play – gravel really – on Saturday, flat bars but that’ll get changed too.

    I think the Swift is so adaptable – maybe another one, or a set of nice wheels for it? Even a nice set of bars for longer rides. I know I’m one to talk, as there’s an equally lovely Peregrine in the shed, it’s been used more for longer tarmac rides of late.

    Premier Icon Kryton57
    Subscriber

    Hmm…not sure I agree that a heavier bike is more stable, or that this is an important trait for gravel bikes!

    Well considering is use mine on the road it – at 10.2kg – feels a lot less scary downhill at speed than My 7.3kg good road bike.   That could be a combo of wheels, tyres rim brakes and brain though!

    kerley
    Member

    The bike I ride gravel on has been as low as 6.4kg in the summer and is currently nearer to 7kg as it has heavier tyres on it. I don’t find it scary going down gravel roads at over 30mph but it definitely feels more stable with the heavier 28c tyres over the lighter 23c tyres.

    easily
    Member

    I enjoyed the article on gravel bikes for under £1000 – lots of god bikes there.

    Is there a reason why articles likes this never have anything from Planet X? Do Planet X not give out bikes for tests/reviews? Or do their models change so often it’s impossible to keep up with them?
    I ask as their bikes seem like such bargains to me – I got an Arkose 3 in the sales a year ago, and I’m very happy with it, but if I’d known about Planet X before then I might have made a different decision. However, I don’t think I’ve seen a third party review of any of their stuff. Why is this?

    Premier Icon roverpig
    Subscriber

    I’ve never been a big fan of super light bikes to be honest. Always preferred the feel of something a bit more “substantial”. But it’s all personal preference and stability at speed probably has more to do with trail than weight (and tyres of course).

    Premier Icon 13thfloormonk
    Subscriber

    Well considering is use mine on the road it – at 10.2kg – feels a lot less scary downhill at speed than My 7.3kg good road bike. That could be a combo of wheels, tyres rim brakes and brain though!

    Gravel bike geometry is designed for stability at speed, longer wheelbase, more relaxed angles, more upright, etc etc.

    I am a little worried as I’m converting a CX race frame to gravel duties, designed for fast handling at slow speed, could get twitchy at speed!

    Premier Icon thisisnotaspoon
    Subscriber

    My tuppence……

    “Gravel” bikes rock.

    But there are a lot of types of “gravel” bikes (and a lot of definitions of gravel riding). Ranging from “I ride gravel on my road bike” as said by roadies convinced it’s a con because they ride a cycle path, shortly before being forced to turn around at the first sign of a pebble or mud or just getting beaten up by their bike. Right through to a Salsa Cutthroat with 29×2.8″ tyres.

    A flat barred MTB is almost as quick if you’ve got the legs for it, certainly not that much slower that an average rider couldn’t just work a bit harder to stay with an average group (i.e. keep up with the pace of the slowest). The problem comes when you try and do 100+ mile days in less than optimal conditions. My hands were numb for days and tingly for months after one trip over the summer!

    A CX bike, or lighter gravel bike on the other hand is undeniably faster, albeit more fragile and less capable.

    Big tyred gravel bikes…… mehh. I didn’t get on with it. Too heavy to feel nippy like the CX bike, not as capable as a rigid MTB, and no faster. I want to try a lighter racier one (if I could afford a cuthroat) to see how different it is, but at the moment I suspect they’re a massive compromise. A bike that’s rubbish to ride, but the quickest and most comfortable way to ride 2750 miles.

    So as a starter for non technical smooth-ish bridleway riding – CX style bike with <47mm tyres
    For rough terrain – mountain bike, suspension optional
    For extremely long rides or multiple day rides – drop bars (or at least Jones style bars).

    And compromise from there, a CX bike will get through a rough descent or climb, just slower. A flat bar can be used for 10 hour days, it’s just not as comfortable.

    For what you describe I’d get some On-One Geoff bars and lots of new bits for the Swift to give it that new bike feeling at a fraction of the cost. Maybe try some lighter wheels and tyres, CX wheels and 700x47mm tyres will add a lot of zipp if you’re more used to 29×2.2.

    I regret selling my swift about 6 years ago, but I needed the cash and could 90% replace it with a £120 charge cooker!

    Premier Icon kcal
    Subscriber

    tinas – I think that about nails it.

    It really depends how gnarly you’re likely to get — Scottish singletrack paths or cycle paths and compacted gravel ride roads. Was out with the local cycling club gravel / CX riders the other weekend – I didn’t fancy taking my Peregrine so took the light HT, but I was definitely at the back of the bunch, and not enough rocky / rough downs for me to catch up or at least feel slightly smug.

    Premier Icon footflaps
    Subscriber

    Quite a fun vid on Gravel vs MTB, plus two very nice bikes to lust over…

    Premier Icon thisisnotaspoon
    Subscriber

    Is there a reason why articles likes this never have anything from Planet X? Do Planet X not give out bikes for tests/reviews? Or do their models change so often it’s impossible to keep up with them?

    I suspect it’s multi factored.

    Speaking to Dave they’ve been selling A LOT of endurance/gravel/CX bikes, so perhaps don’t need to market them like that.

    That and being relatively niche I imagine one bad review (remember the C456 review in MBR that said it was too stiff to ride downhill?) could land them with a whole container suddenly unfashionable frames that are impossible to sell. And equally, if you get “bike of the year”, what are you going to do about it? You’re not Giant or Trek with your own factory to produce more in a hurry, or a global distribution system that can divert frames from some other region where MBOuterMongolia hated it, you’ve sold the batch and in 6 months when the next arrives the review will have been forgotten about.

    And advertising. Even if the reviews aren’t biased, I suspect the shortlisting is done from the magazines advertisers.

    kerley
    Member

    It really depends how gnarly you’re likely to get

    and what bike you like riding most across the whole set of surfaces. Always a compromise, faster on road, slower on rough off road etc,. I set my compromises around the bikes I like to ride and being faster on road and gravel but definitely slower on rough single track.

    Premier Icon Alex
    Subscriber

    I bought a Planet-X Tempest back in April. Specifically to ride the Welsh C2C. I fully expected to sell it on afterwards. My old Boardman CX bike never really did anything my other MTBs did. And I certainly wasn’t interested in racing it.

    But..I love that bike. I’ve ridden it on trails and know and got lost trying to find new ones. I’ve had some fantastic out the door rides I’d never do on the MTBs. I’ve enjoyed / been terrified on damp ‘easy’ trails by getting the whole 90s MTB vibe back!

    It’s a combination of Hydro Discs, long TTs, bigger tyres and maybe a bit of wanting to do something other than MTBing that’s sold it to me. Already planning a week long Belgium tour next year.

    I wouldn’t want it as my only bike. But I’m not selling it to make room for anything else!

    I wrote a bit more here just before the trip: https://pickled-hedgehog.com/?p=4403 – warning it’s a bit sweary! There’s also a blog entry for each of the 5 days a bit further up that page…

    TLDR: I would 🙂

    Premier Icon molgrips
    Member

    My only problem is that having spent so long riding drop bars on my other bikes, I now find any variant of flat bars to be really uncomfortable!

    For ‘gravelifying’ an MTB, try narrow high-sweep bars such as On One Fleegle Pro or Salsa Bend 2, coupled with Ergon style grips. This is what really makes my Salsa into such a brilliant mile muncher. That and rigid forks. My Trek is similar geometry but has a flat bar – whilst it’s better for technical and aggressive riding, and it’s not exactly uncomfortable on longer rides, it’s nowhere near as ‘right’.

    Fleegles are cheap as chips and given how much of a difference they make I’d suggest anyone try them. Mine are 660mm wide I think, which is also a significant part of why they are comfy for getting the miles in. Probably also a reason that people like gravel bikes tbh. Wide bars are great for control on tech, but not for covering ground.

    I rarely use the drops on my road bike, so I set the bar height so the hoods feel a comfy position.

    Premier Icon roverpig
    Subscriber

    I was the same (hardly ever used drops on road bikes). Then I got my Kona Libre. The front is higher, the bars are wider and they’ve got some flare. Suddenly I find the drops are a great place to hang out on those faster road sections and the extra position really helps comfort on a long ride. Who knew 🙂

    Premier Icon 13thfloormonk
    Subscriber

    Yeah, I would love to do the same, would require an insane number of spacers though! Experimenting with a 17deg stem might help.

    Fleegles

    Flegles with Ergons were still uncomfortable, numbness, pins and needles etc. I honestly think I just need to spend some time on the flatter bards, going to try one commute a week on the flat barred bike, see if I can toughen up!

    Premier Icon footflaps
    Subscriber

    I rarely use the drops on my road bike, so I set the bar height so the hoods feel a comfy position.

    Likewise, I just alternate between the top of the bars by the stem and the hoods, only use the drops for long downhills.

    Premier Icon TiRed
    Subscriber

    I’d also get some lighter wheels and tyres, and try different bars on your swift. I ran some Soma Sparrow bars that you can use with ordinary levers but feel more like flared drops. Lovely bike, lovely frame. A cross bike will be lighter and faster, but one step at a time. I’d also look at the possibility of using an electric assist front wheel for your recovery.

    philjunior
    Member

    I rarely use the drops on my road bike, so I set the bar height so the hoods feel a comfy position.

    Likewise, I just alternate between the top of the bars by the stem and the hoods, only use the drops for long downhills.

    I’m similar on my faster road bike, bars are low so drops are not the most comfortable position so I only use them when i’m in a hurry.

    The commuter has higher bars as my back sometimes plays up and I still want to be able to get to work unless it’s totally done in. Sit on the drops quite a bit, particularly into headwinds.

    (The commuter originally was sold as a “gravel” bike, erring towards the roadie side. Came with small 35 section tires on, now large 28 section tyres. It has been off road, handles OK but really larger tyres would help a lot. The fact the frame cracked and has been replaced with something with no toe overlap definitely helps the off road capability. Oh but it does weigh as much as my hardtail, if not more, due to a less weight weenie build, mudguards, rack and a dynamo light system.)

    PJay
    Member

    Thanks all. I think that I’m going to wait until I’ve got back on the Swift and see how I get on (I do have some heart damage) although I do like the look of the Pinnacle Arkose D3 (which is on sale at the moment). Perhaps a bit of excess weight isn’t worth fretting over.

    If I had the money I’d love to build something up but I get the feeling that something off the peg would be more cost effective. Perhaps they’re be some post Christmas sales.

    Only 53cm frame left now and it’s a big geo for size, but if you have some parts to transfer over, this £299 frameset https://www.merlincycles.com/merlin-malt-g1x-gravel-bike-frameset-2020-148101.html could possibly be built up for sub £1k.

    https://www.merlincycles.com/shimano-105-r7020-hydraulic-disc-sti-levers-r7070-flat-mount-disc-calipers-11-speed-119868.html are a cracking price for £239, or the https://www.merlincycles.com/shimano-rs505-hydraulic-disc-brake-set-stis-rs505-flat-mount-calipers-11-speed-89846.html for £199

    £60 for 11-speed compact https://www.merlincycles.com/shimano-fc-rs510-chainset-11-speed-109014.html isn’t bad, ~200g heavier than R7000 apparently, but latter doesn’t seem to be available anywhere for much less than £99

    Bizarrely, I’m not so sure it’s possible to buy the complete hydraulic r7020 groupset for cheaper than buying the individual parts right now, https://www.merlincycles.com/shimano-105-r7020-disc-groupset-119887.html £550 might be best price.

    As hydraulic groupsets go, £400 for Tiagra 2×10 is decent https://www.wiggle.co.uk/shimano-tiagra-4720-10-speed-disc-groupset/

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