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I think I want a Gravel bike

Hi,

I am interested in a bike that I can ride from SF to the Marin Headlands on the road and then if I want, to be able to take it off-road.  I’m not a crazy mountain biker (I used to be, in my youth!) but I still like to be in the off road environment.  I don’t know how to choose.  Can you help?

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Re: I think I want a Gravel bike

@Beachi428 Thanks for reaching out!

The key to choosing the best bike for you is going to be striking the best balance for the different styles of riding (road and off-road) that you will be doing. Are you hoping for a fast and efficient road ride and the ability to ride some gravel if necessary? Or are you hoping to ride technical singletrack and are willing to deal with a slower and less efficient bike on the road? If you are looking for off-road performance as your higher priority, the most important question is what kind of off road environment you're looking for.

Gravel tires can run anywhere from 30-50mm, depending on the preference of the rider. 40mm seems to be the general range most cyclists are finding works well for them to ride gravel. 50mm is almost 2", so that width is on the brink of a mountain bike tire and is used by riders who are doing very long rides (like the Tour Divide, as an example) over varying terrain that includes technical singletrack. Generally speaking, the longer you are planning on riding over rough terrain, the wider your tires should be.

Additionally, if you're looking for a bikepacking/touring set up, that adds weight to your bike and wider tires will be preferable for a smoother ride, especially off road. We'll suggest some options here, but feel free to share some more of your plans so we can help you narrow down your choices. In the meantime, take a look at these bikes:

  • Co-op Cycles ADV 2.1 Bike. An adventure road bike designed to make the transition to gravel. Comes with 35mm tires.
  • Cannondale Topstone AL 105 Bike. 37mm tubeless ready tires come with this bike, it can accommodate up to a 42mm tire.
  • Salsa Journeyman Claris 700 Bike. Comes with 37mm tires and handle 50mm tires if you want. Also has braze-ons on the front fork for mounting cages for gear on longer tours.
  • Co-op Cycles ADV 3.1 Bike. A drop bar, off road, bikepacking machine. 650b wheels (27.5") with 50mm tires and a bunch of places to store gear when your bike adventures take you far from home and off the beaten path.

Most of these are the 'entry level' versions of these bikes by these brands. If you're looking to upgrade to a carbon frame or better components, those are also options as well.

Hopefully this helps get you started, please let us know what other questions you may have!

At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well lived.
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Re: I think I want a Gravel bike

Thank you so much!!

That was super helpful. So I just discovered road biking in both Marin and the headlands - so nice and pretty!  I do love China camp and parts of Tam for single track and fire roads but I’m not gonna be lightin’ it up in any measurable way at my age - I just want to be able to enjoy both kinds of rides without owning two bikes. 

The one upgrade I would give myself though is carbon over aluminum - unless you will tell me differently, in every sport I’ve ever participated in, the good stuff is made of carbon. Do you have carbon suggestions too?

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Re: I think I want a Gravel bike

@Beachi428 I can personally vouch for the Salsa Journeyman. I have one with flat bars that I ride on paved and gravel roads in Washington State. It's a great do-everything bike with lots of hauling options. Would make a good bike-packer.

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Re: I think I want a Gravel bike

Hi there!

Just curious - is the Journeyman a heavy bike?  Can you do road riding up hills? As you know, we’ve got a few of them here in SF...😱

 

Thanks! 

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Re: I think I want a Gravel bike

It's an aluminum frame, so it's not too bad. The Salsa website lists it as 24 lbs 10 oz  for a 55.5 cm bike. As for going up hill, I do plenty of that on the gravel roads of north central WA. It all depends on the engine, I suppose. 🙂

Every bike is a bundle of compromises. A do-everything bike will not be a light-weight racer or a full-suspension trail bike. That's why some of us are afflicted with Bike Acquisition Disorder (BAD).

If your intended use tends more towards pavement, you might also want to look at the Kona Rove.

Just another .02 from me.

Happy shopping!

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Re: I think I want a Gravel bike

@Beachi428 Thanks for the further clarification!

It sounds like a solid road bike with gravel/fire road capability is going to be the best fit for your needs. In terms of carbon fiber bikes, we've got three good options:

The Cannondale Topstone is going to give you a more road oriented performance, with the ability to go off road on gravel and be very happy with it's performance. The Warbird is a bike designed for gravel riding, that will also perform well on the road. The difference between the Warbird models is an upgraded set of components, with the second model using the new Shimano GRX groupset specifically designed for use on gravel.

Hopefully this helps, thanks!

At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well lived.
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Re: I think I want a Gravel bike

@Beachi428 

To clarify on thing:

If you did want to drop down to a 650b wheel and a wider 2" tire on any of these bikes, it will require purchasing a new set of wheels. However, once you do, you can swap one out for the other, depending on the conditions on which you are riding. 

Thanks!

At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well lived.
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Re: I think I want a Gravel bike

Embarrassed to say I did not understand your first sentence.  Completely got the second tho...😉

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Re: I think I want a Gravel bike

@Beachi428

I'm so sorry! Bikes can get unnecessarily complicated, and sometimes the lingo sounds like a completely different language. The most important thing you need to know is that long ago (60-70 years) there was very little standardization of bicycle components, so depending on the kind of bike and country you were in you could have dozens of different wheel and rim sizes (and frames and brakes and handlebars, etc). As bikes and nomenclature have evolved, we have hung on to legacy names of wheel sizes that are accepted as standard now, but almost have no relationship to their original meaning. Let me see if I can explain:

Road bikes tend to have wheels that come in two sizes: 700c and 650b, which refer to the diameter of the wheel (700 and 650) and the width (c and b). Mountain Bikes have the same size wheels, generally, but are referred to in inches as 29" (700c), 27.5" (650b), and 26" (no road equivalent). As such, almost all road bikes have 700c tires and come with narrower tires (ranging from ~25mm for a dedicated road bike to 45mm for a gravel bike). The extra width gives you more contact with the ground and allows you to 'float' over softer terrain (my fat bike tires are almost 5", as an example). Drop bar bikes that blur the line between a road bike and an off-road mountain bike generally have 650b wheels and tires that are 50mm+.

When you use a smaller wheel, you can increase the width of your bike tire. So, generally speaking, a 650b wheel can take wider tire because the wheel is smaller and there is more room between it and the fork of the bike. For a road bike that can handle almost all the terrain you can throw at it, it is quite beneficial to be able to remove your 700c wheels that are great for riding on the road (where you aren't encountering many obstacles) with a set of wheels that are smaller, 650b, but allow for a wider tire (enabling you to tackle singletrack and more rugged terrain).

Sometimes bike frame and fork geometry are not designed to allow this and the bike can only accept 700c wheels. This is why I called out in my last post that all three of the bikes I suggested have the ability to swap between 700c and 650b wheels.

As a real life example: Let's say you want to get a bike ride in from San Fransisco to Marin but you're tight on time and need to squeeze it between a couple of other things on your to-do list for the day. Your main goal is speed and efficiency and as such you are sticking mainly to paved roads and maybe a few miles of fire roads. That would be a perfect time to stick with your 700c wheelset with a slightly narrower tire. Now let's say that the next weekend you decide that you want to make full day adventure out of a ride and you're hoping to get some dedicated singletrack riding in at China Camp State Park. The goal is exploring new trails and because you're going for a full day you're loading your bike with water, food, some tools, and a little more gear. That would be a good time to swap to a 650b wheel with a 50mm tire. It will be slower going on the road, but once you leave the pavement you'll be glad you've got more tire under you when it gets rough.

Hopefully this helps you're understanding, in my last post I was mainly trying to call out how versatile all of the above bikes can be. Thanks and I apologize for any confusion!

At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well lived.
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