The King Is Dead, Long Live The King!

If you attended this year’s Interbike trade show, you may have noticed that the bicycle industry has distanced itself from the gravel bike moniker and replaced it with a term with more sizzle–the adventure bike. From the start, the gravel bike name has always elicited mixed reactions. People hear the word gravel, and they immediately think of poorly maintained back roads where they can’t get cell phone reception. Mention the word adventure, however, and the mind conjures up an abundance of two-wheeled Walter Mitty-esque fantasies.

Regardless of whether you call them gravel or adventure bikes, the genre continues to grow in popularity. In the three days that I spent at Interbike, it was rare to find a manufacturer who didn’t have at least one bespoke gravel adventure model in their lineup. While the interpretations and implementations may have varied, versatility proved to the common theme among all the bikes on display.

One positive side effect from the increased adoption of disc brakes (more on that later) is improved tire clearance. By removing close-reach brake calipers from the equation, designers can make room for fatter tires and/or fenders. It’s not just gravel rigs that are taking advantage of this new-found tire clearance, though. Several brands showed endurance road bikes with tire clearance that would have bested dedicated cross bikes from only a few years ago.

Riders who favor drop-style handlebars are no longer limited to mechanical disc brakes. Shimano and SRAM both offer several hydraulic disc brakes paired with integrated brake/shift levers. And if you’re not ready to ditch your cable-operated levers just yet, TRP’s HY/RD hydraulic calipers are compatible with conventional, cable-actuated brake levers. For those that favor the simplicity of mechanical disc brakes, Paul Component Engineering is upping the ante with their beautifully machined Klamper brake.

With disc brakes making the crossover from mountain bikes, it was only a matter of time before thru-axles made the jump to adventure and gravel bikes. Proponents of the larger thru-axles cite benefits such as increased rigidity and improved safety, while traditionalists argue that conventional quick release skewers are lighter and faster to operate. Both camps have their points, but it’s generally accepted that thru-axles all but eliminate the possibility of misalignment between disc brakes (rotors) and frames/forks.

Double-chainring setups continue to dominate gravel bike gearing. While the triple is by no means dead, expect to see more bikes spec’d with wide-range (compact) doubles now that SRAM’s 11-speed WiFLi technology has trickled down to the company’s Rival group (watch for our upcoming in-depth review). And if you don’t want–or need–multiple chainrings, the SRAM CX1 group combines a single-ring crank with an 11-speed cassette. Riders looking for an adventure bike equipped with an internally geared hub should check out Oregon’s Co-Motion Cycles, as they’re one of the few manufacturers offering Alfine- and Rohloff-equipped models.

Taking a cue from mountain bikes, wheels and tires for gravel and adventure bikes continue to grow in size. Leading the way are companies such as HEDRolf Prima, Velocity, and WTB, who prove that wider doesn’t have to mean heavier. On the road tubeless front, most tire manufacturers continue to concentrate on 23mm-25mm widths. Thankfully, 28mm road tubeless tires are available from Hutchinson and Schwalbe, with IRC expected to release a 28mm model in the near future. If you’re looking for something more dirt/gravel-friendly, WTB will be offering a tubeless version of their popular 40C Nano tire.

Even with the aforementioned minor identity crisis, the gravel and adventure bike market appears to be moving in the right direction. More bikes and components means more options for you and me. In an industry that’s often driven–and limited–by racing (real or imagined), it’s refreshing to see attention paid to a type of riding that takes place outside the limelight of competitive cycling.

Ride everything.

First Impressions: Octto Professional Gel Bar Tape

If you want a great looking tape job, you need two things: skill and a superior product. You may not be able to purchase good technique, but Octto’s Professional Gel Bar Tape ($29.00 CAD MSRP) will make any bike look–and feel–better.

Octto’s bar wrap is constructed from a high-purity foam material. According to the Toronto-based company, the foam is less susceptible to tearing when stretched. That improved flexibility, combined with the extra-long length (215 cm), accommodates a wide range of bars and wrapping styles. With fifteen colors and two finishes (smooth or textured), there’s bound to be combination for any bike.

Installing Octto tape proved to be trouble free. The wrap’s tapered profile enabled maximum overlap, which resulted in a thick, plush feel. If you’re looking for a thinner, more direct feel, simply increase the tension when wrapping. We usually forgo most companies’ finishing tape and bar plugs, but the included Octto accessories were a cut above those supplied with competitors’ bar wrap.

Octto blue

In use, Octto’s low-residue adhesive held tight even when we intentionally wrapped the bars in a way that would encourage unwinding. When it came time to change cables, the gel wrap left behind zero residue. Even the lever strips, which utilize traditional peel-and-stick adhesive, remained gunk-free after several months of hard use. Color fade was minimal, and the tape cleaned up quickly and easily with a mild soap and water solution.

Unlike other gel bar tape that compresses in a few weeks, Octto’s Gelicone™ Enhanced Comfort Foam retained its cushion after months of daily use (which included both paved and unpaved roads). While our testing was limited to the company’s smooth-finish tape, it remained surprisingly grippy during the summer thundershowers that are common along Colorado’s Front Range.

Octto’s Professional Gel Bar Tape may cost a little more than generic bar wrap, but the tape’s long-lasting cushioning will save you money–and time–in the long run. Plus, when the time does come when you need to re-wrap your bars, you won’t be faced with a sticky, gooey mess.

Disclosure: Octto Components Toronto provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.