Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Gravel, Dirt, or Pavement... the Song Remains the Same

On reading Jan Heine's useful recent post about bicycles for gravel riding, I was reminded once again that the industry still lacks a standard, shorthand term for the sort of bicycles he describes. For while gravel riding is part of what such a bicycle is suited for, so is dirt. And mud. And sand. And, for what it's worth, smooth pavement! For this reason some describe such machines as "mixed terrain roadbikes." Or "all roads" bikes. Yet somehow even these more inclusive labels are not quite right - or, rather, not quite sufficient, to communicate the full extent of what these machines are all about. For, in addition to handling paved and unpaved terrain, they are also performance-oriented: Designed with speed and agility in mind,  they "offer a spirited ride and encourage you to go faster and further" [Heine]. So for instance, a touring bike, mountain bike, or transport bike with all-terrain capacity, would not fall into this particular category. On the other hand, a cyclocross bike would. As would a traditional randonneur. Or a standard road-racing frame fitted with wider tyres.

Communicating this concept in one snappy phrase has proved challenging for lovers of such machines - myself included. Nevertheless, as I ride my own bike of this un-named type, I realise just how crucial of a role the whole concept has played in my own cycling experience over the years.


In the late 2000's, both the Rivendell and the Bicycle Quarterly folks introduced (their own takes on) the idea of the 650B fat tyre roadbike. And in 2009, as a fledgeling cyclist who had only recently mastered riding an upright city bike without veering into traffic, I was immediately attracted.

At the time, all the chatter about tubing and geometry was pure gibberish to me. What attracted me was how accessible and friendly such a bicycle seemed. I wanted to try road cycling and dreamt of flying along country roads on a speedy bike with drop bars. But the roadbikes then-available in shops, with their racing-oriented fit and razor-thin tyres felt impossibly scary. The fat tyres, I thought, would help me with balance, enabling me to master the drop bar position. I also liked the idea of fenders, light luggage, and dynamo lighting that went hand in hand with such bicycles. And so when Rivendell introduced its reasonably priced Sam Hillborne model, I snapped one up - in the beautiful metallic pea-green colour.

The 2-year saga of my Sam Hillborne ownership played out on this blog in a way that, in hindsight, I feel had been rather indelicate on my part - reflecting my then-lack of experience in writing for an online audience. What I will say about it now, though, is that this bicycle played an invaluable role in my development as a cyclist. At the time I got it, my balance problems were so severe that without the Sam Hillborne, I don't believe I would have learned how to ride with drop bars. This bicycle felt so stable, safe, predictable, and cushy, that with each ride my confidence grew exponentially. I started out riding it on paved roads, then gradually began to venture out on packed dirt, and finally gravel and even sand - which I had previously been terrified of.  As my cycling skills developed with the Sam's help (I even rode this bike on my first paceline ride with the local racing club!), it also helped me learn about my preferences - from the fit and position I felt most comfortable with, to which components and accessories I actually needed for my use case scenario, and which I did not.

In the course of owning and constantly riding this bicycle, I made some unexpected discoveries: For example, that I liked modern drivetrain components, that I disliked loaded touring, and, finally, that the more I cycled the more I came to prefer a fairly aggressive position, feeling compelled to set my handlebars lower and lower, until finally they "wouldn't go any lower" considering the frame size. It was this that led to my decision to sell the Rivendell. It was an excellent bicycle for the purpose it had been designed for. But with its 57cm virtual top tube, the frame was simply too big for the fit I had ultimately settled on (I now ride 53cm frames). And its relaxed, load-optimised geometry and tubing were wasted on me, since I seldom loaded it with anything heavier than a change of clothes, a camera, a snack, and a book.

In deciding what bike to get next for all-terrain riding, I tried a few cyclocross machines. But what I actually wanted was very similar to the Rivendell Sam Hillborne: a bike built around wide 650B tyres and equipped with fenders, dynamo lighting and a handlebar bag - only with a smaller, lighterweight frame.

At this time I was still living in Boston and was friendly with Mike Flanigan of ANT, who had just started offering framebuilding classes. A fan of the fat tyre roadbike concept, Mike encouraged me to replace my Rivendell with a bike I would build myself. And that was exactly what I decided to do. However, as I had an inkling that this process might, from start to finish, take a bit longer than planned, in the interim I replaced the Rivendell with the Rawland Nordavinden - an exciting new model with lightweight tubing and low-trail geometry that had just come out at that time.

When I started riding the Nordavinden, I felt it was really everything that I had wanted - except still a bit too big for me (they did not offer sizes any smaller). In fact I liked that bike so much, that I basically built my own frame to be its replica - only half a size smaller and with a few modifications, such as a slightly lower bottom bracket and shorter chainstays. To the extent of my ability, I also tried a few tricks to reduce the overall weight of the frameset, such as thinning out the dropouts and lugs.

As I had predicted, it was quite some time before the frame I built under Mike Flanigan's instruction was actually fitted with components and ride-ready - two years to be exact! What a relief that, in the course of that time, my riding position and other  preferences had not changed much. In addition to the all-terrain Rawland, I now owned an "ordinary" skinny-tyre roadbike for cycling on pavement. My ideal would be, for the fat tyre bike to be just as fast, nimble and lightweight, accounting for its extra accoutrements. The Rawland had come close to that ideal, and I was hoping that my DIY bike might come closer still.

And that it did. It was rewarding to discover that whatever subtle tweaks I'd made in sizing and geometry translated into (equally subtle, but nonetheless noticeable) improvements in performance and comfort. I brought the DIY bicycle ("Alice") with me to Ireland and it is now my second year of riding it here.

And I'll be honest: Even with my "optimised" design and best attempts at lightweightness - I cannot eek out quite the same performance out of this bike as I can out of my skinny-tyre roadbike with titanium frame, carbon fork and racing wheels. Were it my intent to take part in competitive unpaved rides, I might opt for a pared-down machine made with more contemporary materials. Happily, I have no such plans at the moment and use this bicycle for what I would describe as "spirited sight-seeing": Long-ish distance rides over paved and unpaved terrain, with my camera in tow. And for that purpose it is pretty much perfect - transporting me, and my camera equipment, wherever we might wish to go speedily and comfortably.

I have been riding a gravel bike, all-roads bike, mixed terrain roadbike, or whatever we might want to call it, for exactly 6 years now. And while the machine has changed twice, in a sense it really hasn't. When I ride the bike whose frame I built with my own hands to my own spec, I still see and feel the "ghost" of the Rivendell Sam Hillborne, and the tremendous influence it had on my development as a cyclist. It is a kindly ghost, neighing and smiling in the knowledge that I've found my own path.


55 comments:

  1. I've got two of 'em - a Ridley X-Trail and a Niner RLT 9 Steel. I like to call them adventure bikes. The Ridley is carbon and almost road geometry and it's my urban adventure bike - a lot of road mixed w/light to medium trail. I'll be using this one on the Belgian Waffle Ride next month. The Niner is, of course, steel and, since it has room for much larger tires, is my wilderness adventure bike - used on truck trails, singletrack and some road. But it's also very capable on the road if a little slower and very comfortable. I hope also to use it for bikepacking in the future. Personally, I very much dislike the gravel grinder label. Doug

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  2. I think those bikes are named already - either gravel bikes or adventure bikes. Unfortunately, those are not very good names. What Jan describes is his classic retro-rando. But he's always been skewed that way.

    To me anything that looks like a road bike but comes with fatter tires is essentially in this category. Starting with a standard classic touring bike or a cyclocross bike all the way to something like Salsa Fargo (which is a 29er MTB but with drop bars). All those other bikes, including yours, fall somewhere in-between.

    My own bicycle is also there. It's a heavily modified cyclocross bike:
    http://bostonbybike.blogspot.com/2016/03/one-bike-to-rule-them-all.html

    Interestingly, I wouldn't call it a gravel bike because I pretty much never ride on gravel (no roads like these here). Maybe an all-road bike, a dirt road bicycle? We need a better name...

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    1. Actually in the post I linked to, JH does not describe the "retro-rando." It's a useful general guideline regardless of what style bikes one prefers.

      > no roads like these here

      Have you ever done the Kearsarge Klassic in NH? Give it a try this summer if you want to experience gravel!

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    2. I've also happily found a single bike/set-up which meets my modest needs of road and off road riding. Sweetpea bikes calls it a pick-up truck sorta bike (Farmers Market) but it happens to be fun to ride, too, especially since I got it custom fit. Low BB, stable, room for 32mm tires plus fenders, Rohloff hub, drop bars and it's heaven. I commute, wander, and travel long distances with a single machine. Much of my wandering takes me on gravel and dirt roads which is no problem. It's a specialized versatile bike!
      https://www.flickr.com/photos/61932626@N07/25382301613/in/dateposted-public/

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    3. Ooh Sweetpea! That looks like a great bike.

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    4. And it 'loves me back' ;)

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    5. The Sweetpea bikes are beautiful.

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  3. If you ever want to do competitive unpaved events get Pacenti Pari-Moto or Compass Loup Loup Pass tires and leave it at that. A different bike will make little if any difference. Any current light carbon frame will be set up for disc brakes, which are a downgrade and heavier than what you already have. The only other performance part that could make any difference would be Mephisto "a blocs" 650B rims. If you can find them and afford them you should get them. No matter what you have to pay to get them it will be cheaper than a new bike.

    What you already have is a very good setup for unpaved. No reason to expect it to be as fast as the Seven.

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    1. There are no opportunities here to do competitive dirt/gravel riding, so no danger of that unless I visit new England deliberately for that purpose.

      Not sure I agree about the tyres vs frame thing, considering some of my experiences. But I agree about the disc brakes and don't want them on my bikes.

      The bike I already have is an excellent setup for unpaved. I love it because it suits the type of riding I do, and because I made it. No plans to replace it what so ever.

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    2. I'd decided I was never going to have disc brakes, then somehow fell in love with the Elephant NFE. This is a fat tyred 650b road/adventure/gravel bike of exactly the type this post is about. The shimano hydro discs I have on this are superb, and while they're heavier than rim brakes they work that much better that I don't even think about the weight. And who thinks about weight anyway on an all-steel bike with fenders and a front rack/bag?
      And to say that the frame makes no difference is a furphy. Sure nice tyres make a difference, but all else being equal would you rather a nice forgiving steel frame or a stiff-as-a-board alloy frame?

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    3. The more bikes I try and the more builders I talk to, the more I come to the conclusion that

      (1) a nice ride feel can be accomplished with any frame material (even aluminum!) if you understand how to work it for that purpose, and

      (2) perception of comfort is a function of the rider+bike dynamic, and not the bike alone.

      There are riders who are more sensitive to tyre characteristics than frame characteristics, and there are those who are exactly the reverse. Myself I probably fit into the latter category. Which is not to say I do not appreciate a good tyre or cannot tell the difference.

      I think the stiffness vs flex thing is still not all that well understood. In all honesty I cannot even say what level of it I prefer; it seems to depend on the bike. That is, Bike A can feel as if it is "fast because it is stiff," Bike B can feel as if it is "fast because it is flexible," Bike C can feel "slow because it is stiff," and bike D can feel "slow because it is flexible." So... My impression is that flex/stiffness interact with other factors rather than alone being responsible for the effects variously attributed to them.

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    4. Jonathan - I agree re disc brakes, for the first time I have them on my new mountain bike and they are great - my new road bike has V brakes which I am quite happy with and which are in keeping with that bikes aesthetics - but the performance of the disc brakes is superior. I looked up the Elephant NFE - that is a really nice bike.

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    5. It's nice to learn about new bikes. Never heard of Elephant before but I know them now. Thanks, and enjoy your adventures!

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    6. I have come across one Elephant that had made it to the East Coast USA. It was a 650B low trail bike with fat knobby tyres, powdercoated in an unusual brownish-pink colour; very nice indeed.

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  4. Considering your emphasis on light weight and speed, I am surprised you still prefer this setup to a cyclocross bike. Can you elaborate why? I notice that even the lilac Honey you once had is now ridden by your partner.

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    1. I dislike the high bottom brackets on most cyclocross bikes, and generally tend to find their geometry a little off. Also, the combination of 700C wheels and fat tyres, on a frame small enough to fit me, usually means considerable toe overlap. All this, plus how poorly suited the performance-oriented CX models are for mudguards, dynamo lighting and front bags, makes them sub-optimal for the kind of riding I do.

      The Honey is actually better in these respects than other CX bikes I've tried. But I already had one mixed terrain bike and my husband didn't, so it made sense for him to have it.

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    2. Yes! This is exactly what I am finding. I'm riding a Bianchi Volpe now, which I love in many ways. But I often find myself rearranging it in my mind: Wish the wheels were smaller, the bottom bracket lower, and so forth. I'd love to have something a little lighter too, but still steel. There's one thing I'd like that doesn't fit the retro-rando approach though: disc brakes. They seem to require less grip strength than the cantis on my bike, which I cannot operate very well from the hoods. They also work better in the rain, and we get a lot of rain where I live. A lot.

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    3. I gave up on cantis; even when set up in a way that was declared "perfect" by others, my hands were just not strong enough to achieve sufficient stopping power from the hoods. My current bike sports centerpull brakes, which I can squeeze a lot more power out of - but still not quite as much as I'd like. My ideal brakes on a fat tyre roadbike would probably be v-brakes (which are amazingly strong, but simpler and lighter in weight than discs); however last time I checked there were still none wide enough to accommodate 650Bx42mm tyres plus fenders, compatible with brifters.

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  6. I am glad to see you have overcome "frame builder's PTSD" and are enjoying the bicycle you made with Mike! I especially liked the stories of the trip to Ardara and the ride through Glenveagh. Seeing this bike alongside the CX Honey being ridden by your apparently fit gentleman friend makes it clear that it can hold its own, as can you.

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    1. Heh. The framebuilder's PTSD dissipated some time over last summer. I remember how, in the warm weather and sunshine, every time I rode this bike felt like a holiday. I stopped worrying about it falling apart and really began to enjoy it.

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  7. "This bicycle felt so stable, safe, predictable..."
    That is a minimum requirement for any bicycle. I've never owned a bicycle that failed to meet that standard. I've met very few that did not meet that standard. Most that did not meet the standard were conspicuously in need of repair. And rode fine after they were repaired.

    If if you have a bicycle that is not stable, safe, and predictable you should not ride it. Definitely you should not ride it in traffic or down hills. Sure, bicycles vary in how they corner. Some are more eager to corner than other. Any bike that corners unpredictably should not be used. Any bike that is unstable in any circumstance should not be used. Bicycles are not reserved for daredevils. Bicycles are for everyone.

    There are and have been a variety of Bicycle Shaped Objects that are not safe. Presumably no one reading here owns a BSO. Excluding BSOs and bikes in need of repair, unstable bikes are almost always due to rider error. Being able to balance and make the bike roll forward does not mean you know how to ride a bike. If your bike feels remotely unstable, ever, you have work to do and you want to do that work before you fall off. I have seen way too many crashes in my time and nearly all were due to riders without a clue.

    Bicycles are easy to operate. They are simple to learn. If your experience is otherwise you are fighting dragons that exist mostly in your mind. It is also easy to set up a bike so that the best handmade custom is a BSO. And then the rider gets emotionally attached to the problematic setup. If any bike you ever meet feels unsteady or unpredictable the first step is to start moving saddle and 'bars until you find that bikes' inherent stability. They are all inherently stable. They are all inherently safe.

    "...with each ride my confidence grew exponentially." That is the way it should be. It should be that way every time with every bicycle. Don't settle for less.




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    1. I guess you can call it user error. Or user shortcoming/ disability. I have stopped mentioning it over the past few years because, to a near-miraculous degree it has stopped being an issue, but I used to have serious problems with balance and this dominated the development of my bicycle handling skills for some time. Today I can ride pretty much any bike that is handed to me, and even if the handling feels unusual I find that "interesting" rather than scary. But I still remember 6-7 years ago, the sheer challenge of staying upright and controlling where the bike went; some bikes definitely felt "easier/tamer" in this respect than others.

      And while my case may be on the extreme end, you'd be surprised how many fledgling cyclists tell me things such as they "cannot balance" on a bike with skinny tyres. All things considered, a roadbike with wider tyres will certainly be easier for a beginner who lacks an intuitive sense of bike handling.

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    2. Wide tires and heavy wheels make a bike steer slower. That can be useful for a new rider, in exactly the same way that balloon tire Schwinns are good for new riders and impaired riders. Slow steering is different from stability.

      Manufacturers very seriously do not want to kill off their customers. They would seek to avoid lawsuits. They sell bikes that are stable, safe, predictable. It's the easiest thing to do.

      In the link Jan Heine mentions 'under biking'. I see a lot of over biking. If riding a bike is challenging, high price exotica is not the solution. In fact high priced exotica is a distraction. Simple bikes from Schwinns and Raleigh are a better answer. I also see a lot of new riders who have been to the fitter, get absurd fits, sabotage the learning process when what they need is a Schwinn Hollywood. Bikes are and will be unstable with very high and very forward fits, which are now the dominant fashion where I ride.

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    3. If you switch from a minivelo to a beach cruiser you can see the difference in the range that might encompass stable, safe and predictable, and while they might be fine if you are used to them, they can feel alarming if you are not.

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  8. I read that article too and Jan basically said touring bikes were overbuilt/too stiff for gravel riding, but then said Cyclecross bikes were a good choice. I was perplexed, because I would think the touring bikes despite being built for heavy loads would be better with their lower BB AND cycle cross bikes are not I imagine any less stiff then a Touring bike!? I have multiple multi-terrain bikes at the moment I would probably favor my Cross Check or My Green Gear Cycle cross bike for gravel riding, the Green Gear is more or less set up with that now, but neither would seem ideal! Maybe I should build that Kogswell that's been hanging a while!???
    I have been considering taking that frame building class!
    -masmojo

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    1. What is called a touring bike these days is designed to survive what customers think is a touring load. Tourists are packing the bike with sixty and eighty pounds of gear. That requires stout tubing. Surly Cross Check has dimensions of a proper CX bike but is designed to survive Clydesdales and a lot of abuse. Again heavy tubing. Real CX race bikes are, like any race machinery, lightweight to the point of being disposable. Racers would be surprised if a CX frame survived a whole season. That's not something Surly or Green Gear wants to sell you.

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  9. This is a very interesting description of your "all rounder" timeline. I owned a 56 cm Sam Hillborne for a year or so, and while I didn't care for it as a road bike, it would have been wonderfulll for dirt roads had it accepted fatter tires.

    Since I live within literally a stone's throw of the "bosque" that runs adjacent to the Rio Grand as it traverses Albuquerque North to South, I love to ride the scores of miles of old acequia -- irrigation ditch network dating back to Spanish colonial times and still in use -- ditch roads and trails. Valley soil is old river silt, yet riding these routes always involves pavement hops where the trails halt at private property. A typical bosque ride will thus often be half pavement and half sandy soil. A mountain bike is overkill and not as enjoyable for this riding, but you need at least 50 mm tires to negotiate the sand.

    I'm hoping for the delivery in the next 30 days of my long awaited "road bike for dirt" Chauncey Matthews custom (Matthews Custom Cycles, Belen, NM). The Matthews will replace a first edition Fargo which I had set up with Maes Parallel clones, very compact and tightish gearing (7410 derailleurs), 50-60 mm tires, fenders, dynamo, and so forth.

    8-5-8 tubes, all fillet brazed, with a "French curve" fork reinforced for disk brake, braze-ons for light wiring (K-Lite! With claimed 600 lumen low, 1,000 high, and 10 minute capacitor), and custom front and rear racks. The idea is to make a bike with clearance for 60s plus fenders that rides more like a road bike than a mountain bike but that can still negotiate soft surfaced trails. Chauncey charges all too little for his work, so all of this, with a single color powdercoat, is almost disgracefully cheap.

    With 430 gram Velocity Blunt SS's and 360 gram Furious Freds, you get road-bike wheel weight with mountain bike width and outstanding rolling on pavement and on dirt, including sand up to 3" deep.

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    1. I would love, love, love to see pictures of that bicycle when it arrives. Cannot imagine having enough 50mm-tyre-requiring terrain around to cycle on, but it's an appealing idea and I hope you enjoy the custom ride.

      {Off to look up Chauncey Matthews bicycles}

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    2. I will be more than willing to post photos; nay, you will have to hold me back. Within 30 days, God willing.

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  10. The change I find most interesting in that timeline tryptic is the shrinking chainstays! May I ask why?

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    1. Good eye, damn it : ) (I was hoping the small pics would discourage such noticings!)

      Personally I just like short chainstays. To me a bicycle's handling feels "funner" with shorter stays. When cornering there is a sexy tail-flick thing going on that you don't get with long stays and I just love it. It is said that long chainstays make a bicycle stabler on descents, but I have never felt any ill effects of the short ones in this regard on this bike: in fact it is already my best bike for descending. So... that, combined with he fact I do not plan to haul massively sized panniers on this bicycle (i.e. heel-strike considerations), I went as short as I could, considering tyre and mudguard clearance.

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    2. I am and have been a proponent of long wheelbases, but I am not thrilled with overly long OR short chainstays. It certainly seems like the longer wheelbases/top tubes are also correlating to slightly slacker angles!?

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    3. The DIY bike is your best descender because it's the closest thing you have to a normal bike. It says a lot about the fragmentation and niche building in the current market that to get a normal bike you had to spend some years in the vineyard and then build your own. You arrived at normal because your instincts were intact.

      Long stays absolutely make a bike a more stable descender. If it's only a matter of a centimeter or two it is not a game changer. It works for you, done.

      The Seven probably descends just as well as the DIY but it is basically a race bike. It won't show it's stripes until pushed hard. That is an observation, not a suggestion you should push harder. Race bikes are for racers, there are now millions of race bikes out there and not many owners who know what the bikes can do. Race bikes also want race rubber. The old Michelins and the current LGG are just barely supple. My own experience is the Cerfs you had are on the fragile side, but a racer would be getting new tires all the time and not thinking about it.

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  11. Unless you are attempting an unsupported tour down the Andes or the steppes of Asia, the relatively light tubed wider frame you describe is an excellent choice for long distance loaded touring as well.

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    1. When we did our mini tour last summer, it was I who carried most (80-90% I'd say) of our belongings, on the bike. The several changes of clothing, shoes, camera, creams, snacks and gadgets I managed to stuff into the handlebar & saddle bags seemed to have no impact on its handling or flex. I was actually surprised, because I had expected to feel *something*. But aside from the bike being heavier to lift, it seems to make no difference.

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    2. Of course if one is riding somewhere potable water is an issue or is subject to dramatic weather swings, planning is critical.

      Many of the rest of us over plan to the point we miss out on the simple pleasure of riding a light well sorted bike.

      Glad you guys took the bike centric approach.

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  12. I realize this is going to be the classic comment of the grouchy pedant, but the term for these bikes should be "Bikes". I think the idea of the "Standard" bike should include the ability to ride over anything we might want to call "roads" and a bike that is a little too narrowly focused to be really comfortable doing that is the bike that needs a special tag to let you know not to expect it to do everything a "Bike" ought to do.

    The reality is that bikes, like a bunch of other things, have been optimized for certain things at the expense of being able to tackle anything. I guess that makes sense in some of ways, but if you're not racing that approach is limiting rather than liberating. Who's the more useful person to have around? the Dude who runs a world class 1,500 meter time or the Woman who plays a good game of tennis, rides horses and motorbikes and knows how to swim across the lake without needing to make sure there's a lifegaurd on duty.

    Fast bikes with big fat tires that keep your snacks and camera handy and keep you dry in the rain are just so badass that I bet they take over the World. At least until something new comes along again. Sort of what happened with the early Mountain Bikes. They were AWESOME but got sort of un-awesome the more we worked to make them "awesome-er".

    Spindizzy

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    1. Grouchy Pedant Cycleworks, Ltd.

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    2. Hi Spin

      A story about a '69 Raleigh Competition I had for about twenty years. I got it used and dented and cosmetically challenged. It was a good bike, always liked it, but it was always second tier. In spite of the Comp name it had long 17-1/2" chainstays and it was crude factory production, no handbuilt. First time that bike got raced was at a CX in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. Three-time national CX champ Tyger Johnson showed up to race with four sets of wheels, enough spares and kit to stock a bike store, and no bike. Tyger was like that. So he borrowed my bike and raced. Only a last lap flat tire kept him from winning. He ran in for second place. He liked the bike enough he offered to buy
      it. The Raleigh frame was two inches too big for him, he had the saddle down to the top tube. Did not matter.

      A few years later I was spectating Chicago's Boul Mich Criterium. The crit was then the biggest money one day event on the race calendar, it was a fast race with a big field. Wayne Stetina had a mechanical right in front of me. I handed him my bike. I expected he would do a lap on it and grab one of his own spare bikes in the pit. He raced that bike fifteen or twenty laps and finished the race on it. What he had been riding was a Behringer/Pino that weighed twelve pounds. Absolutely cutting edge then and not shabby now. My Raleigh weighed maybe twenty-four pounds. Wayne said my fat oversize tubulars were enough to compensate the stretch limo effect of the stays. The only problem he had with the bike was I had a 14 small cog and he was used to a 13. I ride the same size frame as Wayne but the guy has long legs. My saddle was about an inch lower than his. He didn't mention that, it didn't matter. And he could have changed bikes any time, he stuck with the Raleigh.

      I did camping trips on that Raleigh. In the 80s it became my work truck. Definitely a "bike".



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    3. Well, that's what the French randonneurs had discovered 70 years ago. It had only been forgotten since then.

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    4. The question I have is, why did the French themselves abandon the 650B randonneuring designs after the 1960s?

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    5. Jim

      Two simple reasons. One, they started driving cars. Two, there was so much old and very good parts and machinery available to those who still rode that it made no economic sense to keep making more. There still is a lot of the old stuff available.

      My question is why are the French so enamoured of Treks and Cannondales?

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  13. You start trying to describe what an all road is and end up telling us what YOUR preferences for such a bike are meanwhile trying to tell us what an all road bike is not. There are plenty of early ninety non suspension mountain bikes with frame geometries and weights matching many modern gravel specific bikes which can be equipped to fill the bill as all rounders very well.

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    1. Yes, there are plenty of rigid MTBs from that era still out there. Definitely a wide variety in quality though.

      If you can snag an Ibis, Bridgestone, Fat Chance or Mountain Goat from that era you may have a gem. A lot of stuff bicycle stores was selling then only just came in above department store offerings.

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    2. I've just got an early 90s Shogun Trailbreaker MTB - for free! I'm intending to turn it into a commuter/general purpose bike. It's got a butt-welded cro-moly frame, 45mm tyres, a six-speed freewheel and a 40 tooth chainring from a Raleight, that's had the big ring cut off by what looks like a grinder. So I reckon that it has one of those trendy 1X setups that the kids are all talking about.

      It's got donor bearings and brakes from other bikes so I'm going to call it the FrankenShogun. I plan to put mudguards (fenders) and a rack and panniers on it.

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  14. I believe the word you're looking for is "Multistrada" as suggested by Padraig of Red Kite Prayer: http://redkiteprayer.com/2016/03/what-is-gravel/.

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  15. It's been fun to see the 650b wheel size make such a comeback of late, both on the road and for mountain bikes. It makes it much easier to get people on high-volume tires without having to make weird compromises in the geometry.
    It's not an issue for me at 6'3", but a huge difference for a lot of my customers who aren't quite so wookie-esque. We sell a lot of Surly bikes and we've recently been getting a few customers on their 650b Straggler, which seems to fit the bill of a great off-the-shelf "multistrada" bike on a reasonable budget. (my own current "do it all" bike is a Surly Ogre with 29x2" Schwalbe Big Bens, not as speedy but sturdy and wookie-friendly)

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  16. What I think needs a snappy name is the stubborn quest for the ideal ride through various iterations based on availability and growing experience, which this post describes so beautifully as it also echoes my experience. Alas, my current iteration possesses still way more stolid robustness than is called for, but the machine allows for riding farther afield, which allows for more discriminating priorities, and so on—I can see the light from here, truly!

    A variation might be the switching out of components one by one in a similar pursuit, so that by the end only the frame is the same, at about the time you realize how the frame is all wrong.

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  17. A bike by any other name would ride as sweet. Shakespeare knew a thing or two about, ahem, bikes!

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  18. For me (I'm a male with long arms and about 5-10 tall) the Surly Cross Check has turned out to be just about perfect. It is somewhat heavy, and more so since I ride a wide sprung Brooks saddle. But you can genuinely ride it anywhere except technical trails. I've had front and rear racks on it at different times. I set it up with half step gearing (Campy Super Record cranks). When I was fitter than I am now, I never had a bit of trouble keeping up with anyone reasonably comparable to me. It's got very little aesthetic appeal to it (no lugs, no chrome, no nice paint job, somewhat ugly welds, made in China), but it's truly my do-everything bike.

    Interestingly enough in this day of super-specialized plastic bikes with 4 spokes per wheel and similar silliness, the geometry of the Cross-Check is almost identical to my old 1980 Raleigh Professional, which was targeted at the serious road racer. Yet today the old Pro would almost fall into "light touring"!

    I once tried out a friend's "criterium" bike (and this was in the 90s). At the time I was in shape and in practice that I could put my track bike up on rollers, ride no hands, take my shirt off while riding no hands on the rollers, stand up and sprint out of the saddle on a track bike on rollers. I tell you this so you can understand that I had balance on a bicycle well in hand. Yet when I tried to ride the ultra-tight-geometry "criterium" bike no-hands to assess tracking, I actually fell! I had not fallen on a bike in 20 years at that point! That was an unsafe machine, yet marketed for racing.

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    1. Anon11:10

      Right on both counts. Cross Check is a great bike that's a touch heavy and rather stark. You could always get a fresh fancy paint job.

      Even the pros fall a lot more than they used to. Too many mfrs and riders trying to eke out some imaginary advantage from strange designs. There are and I have witnessed many bikes as bad as the one you test rode. They usually don't get raced much. The unfortunate owner buys another bike. And another. On the track you will still occasionally see a very old 'normal' bike being raced. No disadvantage at all.

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