Gravel–The New, Old Hotness
California’s Sea Otter Classic (SOC) has long been a major source of new product announcements (at least for North America). But with the demise of the Interbike trade show, Sea Otter can now claim the crown for the premiere cycling event in the United States. In previous years, the gravel segment was represented by a relatively small group of companies. This year’s event, however, saw a major increase in gravel offerings. And as gravel matures, we’re seeing more diversification in the types of bikes being offered. The traditional, road-inspired gravel bike continues to dominate, but specialized models such as dedicated gravel racing machines and bikepacking-influenced rigs are gaining traction.
While electric gravel bikes are not new, Donnelly and Yamaha showcased pedal-assist gravel models at this year’s show. Both bikes feature mid-drive motors, drop handlebars, and 700C wheels, but the two companies each implemented the features in their own unique ways. It’s still unclear, however, if the e-gravel segment will mirror the success of the electric mountain bike market.
Supple, high-volume tires generally provide plenty of comfort and traction, but some companies aren’t willing to stop there. Several brands displayed gravel models outfitted with front suspension, and Niner‘s full-suspension MCR model is expected to reach production-ready status. If you’re looking to add some additional comfort to your rigid gravel or adventure bike, Redshift Sports will be offering a suspension seatpost–in dropper and fixed versions–in addition to the company’s suspension stem (stay tuned for a review of the seatpost).
The majority of the gravel bikes that I saw were outfitted with 1x drivetrains. With the increasing availability of extended-range cassettes, you no longer have to sacrifice high or low gears when running a 1x crankset. While you’d be hard pressed to find a production bike sporting a triple-chainring setup, 2x drivetrains are seeing renewed popularity thanks to the availability of sub-compact cranks from Easton, FSA, and Praxis. It should come as no surprise that Shimano and SRAM continue to dominate, but microSHIFT is filling in the gaps with their affordable Advent components and making gearing nerds’ dreams come true with the company’s mountain-compatible bar-con and drop-bar shifters.
Big Names & Little Names
If there’s one takeaway from Sea Otter this year, it’s that gravel bikes are hot. When iconic, road-centric brands such as LOOK and Pinarello are offering dedicated gravel models, you know that gravel has been elevated from its also-ran status. It’s not just the big brands that are embracing gravel, though. Many of the newer and smaller brands are targeting gravel riders right out of the gate with carbon, aluminum, and steel bikes and framesets. In a refreshing move, we’re seeing a renewed emphasis on more affordable models, such as Marin‘s Nicasio and the Jamis Renegade.
In Part-II we’ll cover wheels and tires for gravel and adventure riding. Stay tuned!