I have enjoyed every bike I’ve owned, regardless of what I’ve used the bike for primarily. When they’ve ferried me to and from work they’ve been little pockets of enjoyment either side of work, and when they’ve been taking me out to explore the countryside they’ve been the perfect objects regardless of their quality – let’s be clear I’ve owned my share of BSOs – which has, fortunately followed an upwards trend.
I’ve owned hardtails, city-oriented hybrid bikes, road bikes, and I’ve had the pleasure of riding (and going over the bars of) full-sus monsters through my work in the bike industry. As above, I’ve enjoyed every single one, and I don’t regret any time I’ve spent in the saddle, but I’ve come to realise one thing in my time riding – and more recently working with – bikes: they’re not all as fun as each other.
Versatility is the key (for me, at least). Don’t get me wrong. I love riding fast on the road, and I enjoy going cross country. I like riding round town too – whether it’s for work or pleasure. But I also like being able to mix and match. I spend most of my time riding for fun in the roads and lanes near my home, but when I was on a road bike I always got curious about the bridleways, unpaved fire tracks, and common land (where safe and legal to do so). Likewise, when riding bikes with fatter tyres geared for hitting dirt I always found myself pining to go a little faster a lot easier when the rubber was on the tarmac. Fortunately the cycling industry has my back on this front: Gravel Bikes.
Borne from the miles of unpaved roads in the US, it turns out that they’re brilliant for the UK as well. Though our roads are more uniformly paved, it doesn’t always feel like it, especially on more bike friendly B roads which are often cracked, potholed, or just covered in mud (and gravel!) washed around by run-off. For the uninitiated, gravel bikes are essentially slightly longer, more stable road bikes with a few little tweaks:
Gravel bikes typically run lightly treaded tyres which are a bit wider – or a lot, depending on how much tyre your bike can handle- which give a bike with no suspension a lot more cushion on these surfaces. These tyres often are either lightly treaded or run a slick centreline with more aggressively treaded shoulders, which mean that they’re good for light mud or grass, or gravel without sacrificing too much performance on the road. Couple this with drop bars which generally at least a little flared to aid with handling confidence when things get a little more hectic, and you’ve got a machine which offers exactly what I want in a bike – something that’s no slouch on the road, while being perfectly capable off the beaten track.
This is the heart of why I love them, and why I think most people who ride them love them.
They can be exactly what you need them to be, and they can be tailored to suit every rider’s unique preferences. The frames are blank slates, and the world is your oyster when it comes to kitting them out. What matters most is what you need, or more importantly, what you want. They are the most fun I’ve had on two wheels since I can remember, and they offer the most fun for your money you can get in a bike, as far as I’m concerned. If you’re looking for a new bike get a gravel bike.
You won’t regret it.