Unpopular opinion: Gravel is over-rated

Gravel riding is all the rage right now, “on trend” as they say. Listen to the industry marketing machines and you’d think that councils around the world have been laying  thousands of miles of pristine gravel roads all of a sudden and people are flocking to ride them. You even NEED a specific gravel bike these days!

Canyon’s “gravel specific” drop bars? Hmmmm.

Flip through cycling mags or browse popular websites and they all go on and on about how gravel riding is the most romantic experience you can have on two wheels. Exquisitely picturesque and a fabulous way of escaping civilisation.

But really? I just don’t get it. Tasmania has no shortage of gravel roads and I’ve ridden a few. Sure the red gravel glistening in the summer sun and wide open country make for some great Instagram photos, but actually riding them? Not for me.

Yeah it’s Insta-worthy I guess – that romantic Tasmanian gravel…

Okay I’ll admit the lower traffic levels are nice. That’s a plus. Then again, any cars that do pass you on the gravel kick up a load of stones and dust in your face! Want to escape traffic completely? Head to the trails where there are NO cars!

To me, gravel riding is just, well, a little bit bland….

When I’m out road cycling I like to go fast. Head down, legs on fire, cutting across the tarmac at speed. You can’t do that on gravel. The nature of the loose surface means going 100% flat-out is not possible, the grip isn’t there. You’ve got to hold back on the descents too. Gravel is slower, no argument.

Give me deep carbon rims and smashing it north of 20mph!

Smooth tarmac and sunny skies!

Gravel riding also doesn’t offer the total excitement of real mountain biking. If I want to get the adrenaline pumping or escape the traffic, I’ll take the mountain bike out into the wilderness. Hit some fast flowing singletrack or downhill enduro switchback lines at half the speed of a road ride and it feels TWICE as fast!

Proper off the beaten path down and dirty adventures!

To me, gravel riding is the worst of both worlds. Much slower than actual roads and much less exciting than even slightly gnarly trails.

I’m a sucker for a slick marketing campaign but in this case no thank you, you can keep your gravel roads and gravel bikes and gravel specific groupsets. This is one bandwagon I’m steering clear of….

EDIT: Oh look, today Specialized just released yet another gravel specific tyre, this time offering ““the versatility that adventure-laden rides deserve: fast rolling, lots of grip, and a whole lot of fun.” Yeah, nah…

8 Comments Add yours

  1. twinbikerun says:

    Myself and my brother did a gravel race. I used a mountain bike. He used a gravel bike. I loved it. The suspension on the bike made the ride super comfy and fun. He hated it.Having no suspension meant he felt every bump. In my opinion a gravel bike is a bike that does everything….badly! PS – In the first 40 minutes of the race I counted 45 punctures for gravel bike riders, 0 for mountain bike riders!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They’re so niche that they end up being great at nothing! 😂

      Like

  2. stuwj_velo says:

    Totally agree mate. The ‘gravel bike’ is merely a 1990s hardtail MTB with drop bars, and any suggestion that ‘gravel bikes are different because of the geometry detail’ is just industry marketing semantics.

    Noteworthy: John Tomac rode his works Yeti in 1990 with drop bars. I read it was for ‘consistency’ as he was also riding road bikes for a road team at the time. The point though, is that it’s all been done before, years ago…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess they gotta keep selling bikes somehow! Glad to hear I’m not the only one unconvinced about this gravel trend.

      Like

  3. ericritter65 says:

    I don’t see the appeal of gravel bikes either. I’d rather ride the smooth roads any day.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. idlecyclist says:

    100% agree but then I also thought the same about Zwift and look at the way it has taken off! I think the marketing media have created genre and are cashing in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha true I too was anti-Zwift for ages, until I actually gave it a proper go on a smart trainer! 😆

      Like

  5. Steve Hellaby says:

    Road bike on the black stuff and MTB for anything with gravel on it. You never know how good the innocuous looking gravel track is going to be a 1 km further on.

    Liked by 1 person

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