What’s this type of bike, anyway? And why has the whole cycling world gone crazy about it over the last few years?
Imagine the Frankenstein among two-wheelers. A gravel bike is an MTB for road cyclists and a road bike for mountain bikers. It's a bike that isn’t afraid of a quick coffee ride and a bike that’ll keep you up to speed with the rest of the group on. At the same time, when the mud, forest paths, and gravel appear on the horizon, you won't have to get off it and wring your hands.
So basically, it’s a bike for everything.
Sounds too good to be true, right? Of course, this isn't entirely the case, but you could certainly chance saying that a gravel bike is one of the most versatile types of bikes out there.
Genesis - where did the gravel bike come from?
It originated from a specific need and, contrary to popular belief, it’s not an artificially driven trend. There was a particularly strong niche for it in the USA, a country full of long forest, gravel roads.
Terrain like this is too tough for a road bike, but it’s also easy enough to be ridden on that an MTB is an overkill, and because of that we can find a much faster, more practical solution.
Long adventures, intended to be roadlike by nature, usually result in us having to deal with short sections of mountain bike riding at the same time. The first idea that springs to mind to tackle such terrain is a cyclocross bike. Thicker tires? It has. Disc brakes? It has.
However, the geometry of these two-wheelers is not entirely suitable for longer trips. After all, they were created for fast muddy races with lots of sharp turns, not for multi-day adventures with luggage.
As usual, people began to experiment, rebuilding their old road bikes, installing thicker tires, and changing the drivetrain. Endurance road bikes for long-distance races (the so-called Audax) started to mutate and more and more "off-road" details started to appear on them. Another category slowly began to emerge.
From the need to own a bike that would be suitable for tarmac, but also able to cope well on light terrain or simple singletracks, the gravel bike was created.
Gravel bike - characteristics
The easiest way to characterize this type of bike is probably by referring to categories we’re already familiar with. Imagine something between a cyclocross, a road bike, and an MTB.
Comfortable geometry for those long routes, maximum durability and functionality combined with stability, and even some damping capabilities, without substantial losses in speed, these are the features of a gravel bike.
Gravel bike geometry
What makes this type of two-wheeler stand out from the crowd? The taller head tube, reminiscent of those known from endurance road bikes, and slacker angles than cyclocross bikes, make gravel bikes comfortable on very long routes, and even suitable for ultra-marathons and spending several hours in the saddle.
Another feature of the gravel bike, compared to road bikes or CXs, is the low bottom bracket. Thanks to this treatment, the bike copes well at high speeds on heavy terrain. Combined with long rear forks, which provide a larger wheelbase, gives us reliable, predictable steering and stability, even when loaded with heavy luggage.
Due to these features, gravel bikes are great for adventures, when we often can't quite predict exactly what type of terrain we’ll encounter on the way or when we’re reckoning with the fact that we won't only be riding on tarmac. The cyclocross bike is much more specialized and it works best on short, winding, muddy trails.
Gravel bike = functionality
Gravel bikes have to adapt to various conditions and be as versatile as possible. That’s why they’ve drawn many solutions, e.g., from touring bikes.
Gravel bikes usually have plenty of them. Places for fenders and racks are standard. There are often as many as three bottle mounts—two in the main triangle of the frame and one under the down tube. A solution like this can be really useful if we know that, e.g., for the next 100 km, we may not find any water source.
Forks dubbed "utility forks" are becoming the new trend, aside from bosses for racks and fenders, they even have a three-boss configuration for bottle cages on one side, allowing you to mount accessories such as the Anything Cage and carry even more luggage.
Disc brakes are a staple in gravel cycling. They provide sufficient braking power for more technical terrain and when you have, for example, an extra 10 kg in your bikepacking bags.
Some people who go on long expeditions prefer the mechanical models because of simple maintenance, but we think that if you’re not going on an around-the-world adventure or to a completely remote area, hydraulic disc brakes will be a great choice, and we mostly install these on the Loca Bikes gravel bikes. They provide much better modulation and braking power, and the chance of them failing is very low.
At first glance, gravel bikes have ordinary drop bars. But, when we look closer they’re actually quite different. Gravel bars usually have a so-called flare, i.e. the lower grips of the bar gradually flare outwards. This design gives us reliable and stable handling off-road, even at high speeds.
One of the first things that catches your eye when it comes to gravel bikes. To the layman, a gravel bike is just a road bike with big tires. How big? There’s a very wide selection. Typically, most frames allow you to fit tires around 35 mm - 45 mm. These sizes allow you to ride comfortably on heavier terrain, but they’ll also do well on tarmac.
There are also models dubbed "monster cross", which are more like MTB bikes without suspension and they even accommodate thoroughbred mountain bike tires. On a two-wheeler like this, you can practically go anywhere.
Gravel bike gear ratios
Road cassettes and chainrings provide a gear range that’s too small for the conditions gravel bikes usually ride in. CX solutions aren’t quite up to the job, either. On gravel bikes, we usually find a 2x11 or 1x11 drivetrain with a large cassette and small chainrings at the front. Even 42 teeth at the back with a single chainring drivetrain allow us to easily overcome the toughest climbs with a lot of luggage. In the new range of Loca Bikes gravel bikes, we leave this decision up to you. You can choose between a 2x11 or 1x11 drivetrain.
Do you need a gravel bike?
If for you the road simply isn’t enough, you want more comfort, or you’re looking for a bike that’s faster than an MTB, and one that retains its off-road character, a gravel bike may be for you.
On smooth tarmac, it’ll, of course, be a bit slower than a road bike, and it won’t be able to cope with the most technical single-track, but this is a price worth paying for in terms of its versatility and comfort, even on long adventures.
A gravel bike is robust, functional, and effectively capable of covering a very wide range of terrain types. It’ll be a great companion on a long forest trip, but it’ll also perform well on the road. It can even be your two-wheeler of choice for those commutes to work or trips to the store.
And ultimately, a gravel bike is by far, a bike you can just have fun on.
On our website in addition to fixed gear and city bikes, you can also find the latest range of Loca Bikes gravel bikes. Write to us, we'll happily answer any questions that you have, and what’s more, we'll put a nice bike together for you.