Gravel grinding, dirt road touring, adventure riding - it's all the rage these days, but with so many cross bikes, high clearance road bikes and "gravel grinder tires" out there it can be hard to decide just what is right for you. Well it all starts with looking at your goals and deciding what exactly you need out of your bike.
Now keep in mind that this is coming from a major proponent of the school of "Run what ya brung", but as far as I am concerned these mid-size-tired bikes fall into three major categories. Could all of these bikes do most any riding well? Yes. But choosing a bike for yourself is all about priorities. I hope you will consider the following schools and where you might fit into the spectrum whether it be all in to one or somewhere in between...
The All Road
As far as geometry is concerned, the design of road bikes has stayed fairly static in the last century. Fit the rider, handle responsively, transfer power efficiently and we are good to go. This translates to the world of gravel just fine. You most likely want this bike if you come from a road background, or are looking for something to put on serious mileage. If your desire is to keep pushing on the road, but to venture onto dirt with the added comfort and control of a wider tire in the 28-40c range, then this design is for you.
My personal favorite All Road tires is the Compass Snoqualmie pass. At 47c (measures closer to 40) This lightweight tire can handle low pressures and give an unbelievably supple ride will still rolling super fast. Compass offers a number of great tires for gravel riding that are more on the road spectrum.
The Gravel Grinder
Slightly more upright and relaxed, the geometry of this bike is designed to handle it all. The slacker head tube and more upright position favor not only longer days in the saddle, but more stable handling when you find that secret singletrack off the side of the road. Clearance for 45c tires is standard. Hydraulic disc brakes make this ride capable of any singletrack you can find, thought it's certainly not a mountain bike. Want to race cyclocross for fun? This is the perfect bike to put some skinnier tires on in the fall for the weekend races, but ride every day year round. Gravel grinder bikes are a quiver-killer of a bike and a must have for any serious cyclist.
My favorite Gravel Grinder tire is the tried and true WTB Nano 40. While there are tons of new tires coming out in this range, I always fall back on the nano's! Fast on the gravel and grippy like a MTB tire when you need it!
Welcome to the future. Performance hybrids are here. Some folks call these rigs "Monstercross Bikes", but don't let that fool you, these bikes aren't just 'cross bikes with big tires carelessly slapped on. a 27.5" tire is nearly the same diameter as a 700c cross tire. With a 2.1" XC race tire, these bikes can ride just as nimbly as a cross bike, but when it is time to hit the trials, the added width and volume makes all the difference. I would never say that there is one bike to do it all, but if riding from home and riding drop bars on trails is your jam, then this is without a doubt the bike for you.
So which category do you fit into? These three schools help to organize your priorities, but with a custom built bike we can design the ride that fits your style wherever it may fit into the spectrum of gravel grinder bikes.
Have any questions? Feel free to drop me a line and start talking about your dream bike and where it can take you.