Oh Happy Day

10-19-2013

This morning–as I’ve been done nearly every day for the past couple of weeks–I stopped to see if the Mayhoffer-Singletree Trail had been reopened. This trail, along with several others, has been closed for almost a month due to heavy flood damage. Today was different, though. Much to my surprise, the barriers were gone, and the trail was open. Some minor damage was still visible, but for the most part, the trail was just like I remembered it. I wasn’t able to claim first tracks, but I was probably the only person riding on 25mm slicks.

Happy Accident

GRAVELBIKE.com Shimergo gravel grinder Campagnolo Centaur Veloce Athena Record Shimano Ultegra Dura-Ace Tiagra 105

One of these things is not like the others.

Look closely at the above photo. Notice anything out of the ordinary? I’ll give you a hint–that’s a Shimano 10-speed cassette playing nicely with an otherwise all-Campagnolo drivetrain. Big deal, you say. Shimergo setups have been around for years, and lots of folks use those methods to mix-and-match Campagnolo and Shimano drivetrain bits. In this case, however, I didn’t rely on alternate cable routing or spacer swapping to get everything to work. It just worked.

I stumbled across this particular combination completely by accident. I was swapping tires on a couple of bikes, and mistakenly installed a Shimano-compatible wheel in my Campy-equipped bike. It shifted so well in the stand that I didn’t even catch my error until it came time to mount the other wheel on the bike with with the Shimano drivetrain.

While internet message boards are littered with posts declaring compatibility between Campagnolo and Shimano 10-speed components, I’ve always been skeptical of those claims. I have successfully used the N-2 method (e.g. Campy 10-speed shifters with 8-speed Shimano cassette), but I’ve never been able to get a 1:1 combo to work consistently and reliably. This setup, however, shifted as smoothly as the homogeneous systems on both bikes.

On paper, this particular combination shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. I fully expected the shifting to suffer at the extreme ends of the cassette, but I never missed a beat, err, shift. By no means did I baby my shifting, either–especially when trying to match some much-stronger riders’ pace (which ultimately resulted in two Strava PRs). Try as I might, I couldn’t force a mis-shift, and believe me, I definitely tried.

For the curious gear-heads out there, below are the components that comprised this setup:

  • Campagnolo Centaur Ergopower levers
  • Campagnolo Veloce medium-cage rear derailleur
  • Shimano CS-4600 12-30 cassette
  • BikeHubStore.com SL210 Shimano-compatible rear hub
  • KMC X10.93 chain

It’s interesting to note that every one of those parts has seen plenty of miles on their dedicated systems before being thrown into the Shimergo mix. I plan on upgrading the cassette to an Ultegra-level model (to avoid gouging the freehub’s alloy splines), and I’m curious to see if introducing a brand-new component spoils the system’s shifting.

Stay tuned…

Post-Interbike Ramblings

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.