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.

7 thoughts on “Post-Interbike Ramblings

  1. Great summary of things. I’ve wanted a fat-tire, and now I want a gravel bike. I guess it’s the ‘ol n+1 formula for me.
    In any case, I can’t really afford either. In time, I suppose.

  2. Let’s hope this trend will last a while. Except the introduction of new, dedicated gravel bike frames, which we witness right now, I would really like to see more gravel bike:
    1. cranksets with smaller chainrings (Sugino OX601D is a notable example),
    2. tires – like cyclocross tires but designed for dry conditions, not cyclocross mud (such as the Clement MSO).

    1. Agreed on both points/requests. I’ve been experimenting with 2×10 MTB cranks, and aside from the wider q-factor and chainline, they offer some very interesting gearing options.

  3. Gravel is absolutely addictive. I can see it gaining rapidly in popularity, especially since gravel bikes make great crossovers into cyclocross, touring (including rural, multi-surface roads), and general fitness/commuter duties.

    In MN alone, there is the mentioned Almanzo 100 at Rochester, as well as the Heck of the North around Duluth, the Woodchipper 100 at Rollag, and a few other gravel events that have recently popped up.

    You are seeing lots of Surly CrossChecks and Salsa Warbirds in the area these days.

  4. AND it provides a use for the tens of thousands of old non suspension mountain bikes gathering dust in so many garages! They make great gravel and dirt road bikes!

  5. Even if the trend stops I won’t stop riding gravel. I grew up in the country so it’s nothing new just easier to convince your friends to ride with you.

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