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?
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