What’s In A Name?

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet”

While poking around one of the more popular cycling message boards, I came across a thread where readers were encouraged to post photos of their gravel grinders. As expected, many of the photos showed ready-made gravel rigs from the major–and not so major–manufacturers. There were also plenty of bikes that, while not officially marketed as gravel bikes (by the manufacturer),still saw plenty of unpaved action. One bike’s photo really stood out, because the owner didn’t consider it a true gravel bike for the simple reason that it lacked disc- or cantilever-brakes.

I carefully studied the bike in the photograph. It had a steel frame/fork, and was fitted with sturdy wheels shod with chubby, semi-knobby tires. The gearing looked suitable for the hills that often accompany unpaved roads, and the controls were set up for spirited-yet-comfortable riding. And the brakes? Long-reach sidepulls. All in all, it was a pretty sensible combo, and not unlike one of my own personal bikes (that’s ridden on- and off-road).

What exactly defines a gravel bike? The brakes? Geometry? Tire clearance? What about the simple notion that the bike–any bike–is ridden on gravel or dirt? Show up to an organized gravel event and you’ll see bikes of all shapes and sizes, each being happily ridden on terrain that doesn’t match the photos found on the manufacturers’ websites and in glossy sales brochures.

Isn’t this site called, GRAVELBIKE, though? Yes, but take a look at the tagline–ride everything. Dedicated, specialized (small ‘s’) gravelbikes are a blast to ride, and definitely fulfill very real needs for many riders and racers. Not having a specifically-anointed bike shouldn’t stop you from exploring different terrain. Is it a requirement than your fancy new endurance bike only be ridden on the smoothest of paved roads? Does the owner’s manual say that your 29er cannot be ridden to and from the trailhead? Labels should be guidelines, not limitations.

Free your mind, and your bike will follow.

8 thoughts on “What’s In A Name?

  1. So, so true. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking we need a certain type of bike to do a specific ride. A great reminder.

      1. thanks!I’ve nearly finished a rohloff road tourer that will take 38 tyres with mudguards, or up to 50mm without.
        To me gravel means so many different things that it’s good to have options open with a simple tyre swap.

  2. Well said. I’m not too familiar with what qualifies a bike as a gravel-grinder. I have a Surly Cross-Check – goes pretty good on gravel but it’s also a tourer, a commuter, my ‘road’ bike and my geared mountainbike.

    People look at you sideways riding a steel CX bike down here in New Zealand, they wouldn’t know what cyclocross is because it’s such a young sport down here. Most think my bike is a vintage roadie of some kind with weird brakes!

    On the subject of names, when I got my Pugsley 8 years ago the genre didn’t even have a name, ‘fat-bike’ came along later.

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