Bicycling (South Africa)
GIMME THE GRAVEL!
“Gravel is the number-one thing for us, at the moment,” says Jarryd Haley from East City Cycles in Cape Town.
“But whereas people were originally interested in the racing side of things, there’s been a shift to self-supported adventure riding – multi-day trips with your friends, with an emphasis on fun rather than going fast.”
This is a sentiment expressed by many other shop owners and brand managers. Gravel riding is flourishing at the moment – the only surprising thing is that it’s taken so long. After all, South Africa has some of the best gravel in the world.
Head to the Karoo and you can ride for days and days, on empty roads that scroll through spectacular vistas. KZN Midlands? Gravel heaven! But you don’t even have to go that far – you can ride a fun gravel loop almost from your front door, in both Joburg and Cape Town.
The bikes for these kinds of adventures have evolved to accept wider tyres, and their frames are riddled with mounting points for bottle cages and frame bags. As with mountain bikes, the go-to geometry is longer and slacker for better handling in the rough, and for all-day comfort when loaded up.
Not all bike shops have seen a boom in adventure riding. Jason Lind from
Olympic Cycles in Cape Town still sees it as a niche category. For him, ‘gravel’ is all about a move towards versatility on the road.
“There will always be the ‘Euro pro’ market,” he says. “Super-lightweight, pure road bikes are never going to go away. But there’s been a definite move in the bulk road market towards wider tyres, which give you more options. You might still ride on tar 95% of the time, but at least you have the option to tackle some dirt.”
For Jason, the key factor driving this change is the evolution of gravel components, and how lightweight items such as wheels and wide bars have become. “Gravel bikes designed for racing are nearly as light as normal road bikes,” he says. “You can get one bike that basically does everything.”
So if you’re in the market for a new road bike, you’d be silly not to check out a gravel bike. It’s up to you whether you choose one that allows you to keep up with your roadie mates on the Sunday spin, or one that will take you all the way to Timbuktu. But now you have options.
And once you have the bike, there’s plenty of gravel gear available to make sure you’re safe and comfortable when you’re out exploring. Go chase that horizon! – Jon Minster