Gravel bikes on the rise

The tra­di­tional train­ing bike now shares the road with a new breed of burly go-any­where win­ter ma­chines, so which should you choose?

Cycling Weekly - - Contents -

Win­ter miles, sum­mer smiles, was how the old say­ing went. Rid­ing through the damp, dark months was some­thing to be en­dured rather than en­joyed, and if you looked at the av­er­age club­man’s ‘mud­guard bike’ it was ob­vi­ous why.

In 2017 it’s a very dif­fer­ent win­ter scene. The skinny-tubed, nar­row-tyred, thin-mud-guarded ma­chine is not such a com­mon sight. Now you might spot a dif­fer­ent ma­chine al­to­gether, one that has tyres up to 40mm wide, disc brakes, thru-axles, more up­right ge­om­e­try and a longer wheel­base. And you might not spot it for long be­fore it dis­ap­pears off down the near­est bri­dle­way.

“That’s what the in­dus­try are of­fer­ing peo­ple as an al­ter­na­tive and it makes per­fect sense to do that,” says Rory Hitchens of Ki­ne­sis UK, which of­fers more tra­di­tional win­ter bikes in the Ki­ne­sis T3 and 4S along­side the ‘next gen­er­a­tion’ type such as the new Ki­ne­sis Trip­ster AT.

“I think those bikes can add a big dose of fun for peo­ple who want to do some­thing new, and cer­tainly there are new events to take part in… and also just for new ex­plo­ration of their lo­cal area. Now there’s a whole wave of gravel bikes pre­sent­ing them­selves in var­i­ous dif­fer­ent ways.”

Gravel v win­ter road bike

How­ever, Hitchens con­cedes that for pure road riders who pre­fer to con­cen­trate on their win­ter mileage rather than al­low­ing them­selves to have un­struc­tured fun when the rac­ing sea­son is over, the gravel bike may not be the right one: “The tra­di­tional win­ter bike is still go­ing to be the one for the per­son who wants a road bike that feels like their sum­mer road bike that they can train on without trash­ing their good gear.”

Hitchens points out that ge­om­e­try is a key con­sid­er­a­tion: “If you’re rid­ing

pre­dom­i­nantly on the road, you want a win­ter bike to fit like your sum­mer road bike, whereas our Trip­ster ad­ven­ture bike has more re­laxed an­gles, a heav­ier, more ro­bust frame, big­ger tyre clear­ance and a longer head tube. So it’s not for ev­ery­body if a road bike is what you want.”

Tyres are the other fac­tor. “It’s all about the tyres in the win­ter,” says Hitchens. “It’s the only thing be­tween you and the road — un­less you make a mis­take and then it’s Gore-tex — but size of the tyre and the com­pli­ance of the side­wall… com­bine that with a frame that can cope with big­ger clear­ances and a mud­guard as well and then it’s happy days. Ev­ery day’s a dry day if you get your set-up right.

“If your win­ter road bike is also a bit more of a gravel bike it’s got to be able to take a 40mm tyre, not a 36,” adds Hitchens. “A 40mm tyre means you can get your­self down pretty much any bri­dle­way in this coun­try safely and I think 30mm is now the win­ter road size. So if you’re choos­ing a win­ter road bike you should make sure it’s got at least 30mm clear­ance with mud­guards, which is where we are with the 4S disc.”

Gravel bikes are built to take you off the beaten track

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