Last week’s Interbike trade show confirmed that the bicycle industry has embraced the gravel bike in a big way. When brands like Niner, Specialized, and Surly all release gravel-friendly models, it doesn’t take a Magic 8-Ball to know that things are blowing up big-time. And it’s not just these new introductions making news. Salsa, a longtime gravel proponent, continues to fine-tune their gravel offerings, as well as expanding the number of dedicated racing rigs.
What’s causing all the gravel-related buzz? Dollars, for one. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, and with several popular 2013 bikes/frames already sold out (with plenty of good riding weather remaining), the demand for gravel bikes is clearly there. To the skeptics who think that gravel riding/racing is a flash in the pan, think back 30 years ago when Specialized introduced a certain bike called the StumpJumper (and we all know how that turned out).
Sales and market share aside, much of gravel riding’s increased popularity can be attributed to events such as the Almanzo 100, D2R2, Dirty Kanza 200, Trans Iowa, and Rebecca Rusch’s recent Private Idaho. Bikes able to withstand those types conditions appeal to racers and non-racers alike. Any brand that can claim a victory in one of those events immediately elevates itself above the competition (win on Sunday, sell on Monday).
When you talk to people about gravel riding, there’s one common theme that emerges–it’s fun. Exploring dirt and gravel roads brings out the kid in everyone. Returning to that wide-eyed sense of freedom is a welcome relief from the rules and structure of everyday life (both on and off the bike). Not surprisingly, many riders report that they prefer unpaved riding because of reduced interaction with cars. Other riders–myself included–say they like the challenge of riding skinnier tires on unpaved roads and trails.
Looking at the GRAVELBIKE site’s explosive growth, it’s safe to say that gravel riding’s popularity will continue to rise. A natural side effect of that increased popularity will be even more organized gravel rides and races, and as a result, we’ll see the bikes themselves diverge into two camps–adventure and race models. If, for some unlikely reason, none of that transpires, you and I will continue to do what riders have done for over one hundred years–happily ride our bicycles on dirt and gravel roads.