Why Gravel Is On The Rise.
Riding off-road has become so evolved. You have guys backflipping 90-foot drops at Redbull Rampage and other guys defying what is humanly possible through rock gardens at breakneck speeds in UCI world cup races. The bikes have become almost space-like compared to what they were in the 70’s. This is no longer an underground sport that it once was when Gary Fisher and Tom Ritchey sent it down Repack on steel hardtail klunkers. I love to watch this space show, but it has become unrelatable to me. I like to relate to things.
History repeats itself.
Gravel bikes feel like a reincarnation of what Gary and Tom were exploring, and pushing, the limits of back in the 70’s. I have been riding Mt. Tam on my gravel bike obsessively since I moved to San Francisco this August. I can’t help but think of the founders of MTB’n as I’m exceeding the limits of my fully rigid bike with 38mm tires down these descents. Gravel is history repeating itself. Gravel is relatable.
Gravel races get 1,000 plus riders in attendance who race the same course and leave the start line at basically the same time. Can you imagine if 1,000 people tried to do Redbull Rampage? Carnage.
This new bread of racing is relatable because pro racers and the novices can do the exact same course. The difference is that the top guys just go a hell of a lot faster. At the finish, the pros and novices will drink the same beer and share stories of their adventures with huge smiles on their faces.
The future and technology coincidentally brought us to this point. 11-speed drivetrains, long cage rear derailleurs, and hydraulic disc brakes to name the culprits. 11spd and long cage derailleurs allowed us to be able to put a wide enough range cassette on our cross bikes to be able to actually make it up these steep climbs that before were more suitable for a mountain bike. Disc breaks brought us proper stopping power and tire clearance options to our formally known cross bikes so they could handle the types of conditions that used to be unacceptable on a cross bike. Add 650b wheels and tubeless comparable wheel/tire combos and it's hard to tell a gravel bike from a mountain bike. All of this has allowed the consumer to feel more comfortable pointing one of these bikes down a trail on Mt Tam instead of a full suspension mountain bike.
Gone are the days of needing three bikes to fill a specific riding disciplines need. This is a single quiver world now. Save some space and buy a gravel bike. You can ride it on the road and on the single track. Send it down a steep ass fire road then kick out that rear tire and slide through a switchback just like Tom Ritchey did back in the day. It will make you feel like a kid again.