Anatomy of a Graveur

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Photo via F&O Forgotten Nobility

I am a road cyclist, at heart. Even when I’m in a car, I’ll daydream about riding the same road I’m driving. I’ll imagine how the tarmac might feel as my wheels carry me across it, the wind, the smells in the air. I’ll imagine how my lungs are expanding and contracting, cleansing me a little with every exhale. In my mind’s legs, I’ll feel the pressure building as I imagine myself rising out of the saddle to power over a pitch. I know I would feel the pain of such a ride, but I can’t really imagine what it would feel like. I can never really imagine pain.

The paved road is where we are the closest we will ever be to achieving flight. To restrict ourselves to tarmac, however, is to restrict ourselves to those places in this world which are most travelled. The most beautiful places do not lie at the end of such roads; they are hidden away, where those with some element of imagination might venture to look for them. A two-lane dirt track, perhaps, or a forest road that winds off beyond the damp forest and on to places unknown.

On gravel and dirt, we find a completely different sensation from that on the road. Certainly, many of the elements are still there, but the terrain demands a different kind of harmony; we dart along from one side of the road to another, looking for the best bits where the holes are smaller and the gravel is held together more. The dust or mud kicked up by our tires hovers in the air about us and covers our lips, teeth, and tongue. Suddenly, we taste the road as much as feel it.

Being away from traffic and in the wilderness awakens something primal in our spirits. The smell of damp dirt, moss, and bark or the baking scent of dry pine needles flushes the city from your senses and immediately awakens a calmer Self. My soul is at peace when I return home from such a ride.

The road is where my heart lies, but gravel is where I find my soul.

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124 Replies to “Anatomy of a Graveur”

  1. Variety is the spice of life, and so often folk commit fully to one discipline only to lose the love (obviously speaking for myself here!)

    I am positively crackling with excitement at the moment, waiting for my Crux to arrive on the 1st September, and get out on some different terrain – the fact that I have already bought my new wheels before the bike has arrived evidences the hours spent trawling the web sucking in the new air of the Cx gear

    That said, I still have a bit of work to do, like adding some hubs and spokes…

  2. @Weldertron

    @gregorio

    During the last year I’ve collected enough parts from upgrading my road bike to assemble a build kit. My VMH has decreed that I MUST build my gravel machine with a frame that is less than $1000 – which to my mind means steel. Anyone out there in V – Land have some ideas for a steel frame of this price point?

    Any particular reason to stay away from Alu?

    Not especially. I’m open to that possibility, but also remember the ride quality of my first steel racer 30 yrs ago. I’ve read about recent innovations in forming and manipulating alu that have resulted in improved ride quality. Suggestions?

  3. @Dr C

    Variety is the spice of life, and so often folk commit fully to one discipline only to lose the love (obviously speaking for myself here!)

    I am positively crackling with excitement at the moment, waiting for my Crux to arrive on the 1st September, and get out on some different terrain – the fact that I have already bought my new wheels before the bike has arrived evidences the hours spent trawling the web sucking in the new air of the Cx gear

    That said, I still have a bit of work to do, like adding some hubs and spokes…

    I think the wood accents are especially nice…

  4. @ChrisO

    @frank

    @Moelstrom

    It’s so true. And thanks for not making this post about “us and them.” Fat tires in the woods are great. Skinny tires on smooth pavement in the hills are also great. When you’re moving yourself on two wheels across our Earth, you’re earning your spot in our community. Bravo for putting it so well.

    It’s not “us” or “them”. We are all part of the same mystery, trying to figure out why two wheels matter so much to us.

    Anything on two wheels… really ?

    IIRC you one posted a picture of your cat sat on that exact same tiling. You’ve been exposed as a recumbent rider that posts pictures of cats on the internet. Dodgy.

  5. @gregorio

    @Weldertron

    @gregorio

    During the last year I’ve collected enough parts from upgrading my road bike to assemble a build kit. My VMH has decreed that I MUST build my gravel machine with a frame that is less than $1000 – which to my mind means steel. Anyone out there in V – Land have some ideas for a steel frame of this price point?

    Any particular reason to stay away from Alu?

    Not especially. I’m open to that possibility, but also remember the ride quality of my first steel racer 30 yrs ago. I’ve read about recent innovations in forming and manipulating alu that have resulted in improved ride quality. Suggestions?

    I ride a Giant TCX for my cross rig, and have had no complaints about it at all. Ample mud clearance, fairly light, comfortable top tube for shouldering, handles very well.

    The frame with a carbon fork can be had for 750, or a complete TCX1, with full sram rival, can be had for about 1600.

    The only downside is you will be bantered for owning a Giant.

  6. However, this beauty was recently released. Don’t know how you feel about disk brakes though.

  7. @EricW

    Beautiful. I’ve found that the nuance of gravel is even broader than that of tarmac: the subtle tugs and pulls of the fireroad on the wheels, the quality of the grip offered by the loose rocks and dirt, the rhythm of the ripples in the surface all affect the riding experience

    Riding gravel at speed requires a constant dialogue between rider and machine, a give and take that’s not as much in road cycling, where the bike’s job is to respond to inputs with precision and efficiency.

    This is also true riding cobbles; its this second dimension to the harmony. Mind you, there is nothing – nothing – like smooth tarmac, but that extra dimension is really awesome and also cleansing in its own way.

    One of the really amazing and unique things about cobbles is changing from tarmac to cobbles. The cobbles are rougher than anything you can imagine, and that contrasted with long sections on pavement make this magical combination that I’ve never found anywhere else.

    Nor is the dialogue present in mountain biking, where the machine is designed to beat the terrain into submission.

    Might depend on your mountainbike..

    The original wheelmen rode only pitted gravel roads, so in a sense, gravel riding is the purest form of riding.

    I like the sound of this! Pavé Alex rides a classic, early 1900’s fixie and organizes a fixie Roubaix. Nuts.

    At Strade

    Here he is before Retro Ronde.

  8. @gregorio

    @Weldertron

    @gregorio

    During the last year I’ve collected enough parts from upgrading my road bike to assemble a build kit. My VMH has decreed that I MUST build my gravel machine with a frame that is less than $1000 – which to my mind means steel. Anyone out there in V – Land have some ideas for a steel frame of this price point?

    Any particular reason to stay away from Alu?

    Not especially. I’m open to that possibility, but also remember the ride quality of my first steel racer 30 yrs ago. I’ve read about recent innovations in forming and manipulating alu that have resulted in improved ride quality. Suggestions?

    You might be able to find some custom frames in that price range.  Look at All-City and Civilian for production steel.  Look for used “sport tourers” if you don’t mind older used stuff.  [rant]The sport tourer was basically the everyman’s bike before recreational riders decided they needed to “train” and have pro race bikes which led to the creation of the bastardized comfort and endurance race bikes of today.  Seriously, all this talk of gravel grinders and I see the ’81 Fuji Gran Tourer I started on in my basement which is basically everything a gravel bike needs.[/rant]

    This article has had me looking at CX bikes, curse you Velominati.

  9. @ChrisO Lets not get carried away.

    @Sauterelle

    The last time I had to ride down an enormous hill I nearly shit myself. I’m not a good descender. I kept thinking…”I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration…”

    Have a nice descend with a good descender. Follow them, and let them explain what they think about. Imitation is the best way to get good at descending partly because the less thinking you do, the better. Especially when its thinking of that sort.

    And remember, don’t stare at the mailbox. (8:19 if the link doesn’t jump to it.)

  10. @Nate

    Can we talk about tires? What do people like in the 27-28 mm range?

    FMB Paris-Roubaix.

    @Weldertron

    I mentioned it in “The Rides”, but the Dirty 40 is coming up in VT in a few weeks. Looks like a blast. and it’s a 10$ race!

    Sounds awesome! There’s also one in Montana that I can’t remember the name of. One year, I’d love to do them all. There are some in Oregon as well. And, of course, two at least in Minnesota; the Almanzo even got it’s own tire made by Challenge, which is basically a clincher version of the Dugast Pipisquallo I ride on gravel.

  11. @MattS

    Having grown up on mtbs, it’s no surprise I developed a love for unpaved roads after a few years of ‘road.’ In my area, most of the best roads are unpaved. I love 35mm tires for them, like Clement USH, tubeless. But for exploring new terrain, especially solo, I am digging my Niner MCR with drop bars and 2.0 Schwalbe Furious Freds. It’s a gravel grinder on roids. I can ride it fast enough everywhere to make it ideal Velo Tout Terrain (VTT). It was in fact inspired by a dented rim during last year’s D2R2.

    I’m hitting the Dirty 40 with a couple teammates; can’t wait!

    For 28s, my answer depends on surfaces. The Grand Bois and Challenge offerings are very fast, but can’t handle pointy stuff. Vittoria’s 27 is a bit more durable. Hutchy has a new tubeless 28, the Secteur 28, which I am most keen to try for races like Battenkill.

    A 29er with drop bars you say? Now that’s a mountain bike I can get behind! Johnny T – the closest thing Cycling will ever have to a Rock Star – was the coolest cat ever to roll fat tires.

    [dmalbum: path=”/velominati.com/wp-content/uploads/readers/frank/2013.08.18.10.38.44/1//”/]

  12. @gregorio

    @Weldertron

    @gregorio

    During the last year I’ve collected enough parts from upgrading my road bike to assemble a build kit. My VMH has decreed that I MUST build my gravel machine with a frame that is less than $1000 – which to my mind means steel. Anyone out there in V – Land have some ideas for a steel frame of this price point?

    Any particular reason to stay away from Alu?

    Not especially. I’m open to that possibility, but also remember the ride quality of my first steel racer 30 yrs ago. I’ve read about recent innovations in forming and manipulating alu that have resulted in improved ride quality. Suggestions?

    I think weight is a bigger concern than people give credit both on gravel and on CX; you’re lifting your bike a lot in CX and on gravel you want it light enough to bounce over the terrain. Its not very romantic, but I’ve heard people actually have had great luck with the Performance brands of Carbon frames – and Nashbar does a no-brand carbon frame that is actually an unbranded Ridley. Those can be had in your price point for sure, Rule #58 notwithstanding.

  13. @ChrisO Keep this shit up and you are on the path to banishment, Mr. You know this kind of posting only results in Marcus posting pictures of his prosthetic todger.

  14. @Nate I’ve used Conti Grand Prix 700x28s twice for Rouge-Roubaix.  They worked fine, and have the advantage of being decently fast on pavement.

  15. @frank

    @gregorio

    @Weldertron

    @gregorio

    During the last year I’ve collected enough parts from upgrading my road bike to assemble a build kit. My VMH has decreed that I MUST build my gravel machine with a frame that is less than $1000 – which to my mind means steel. Anyone out there in V – Land have some ideas for a steel frame of this price point?

    Any particular reason to stay away from Alu?

    Not especially. I’m open to that possibility, but also remember the ride quality of my first steel racer 30 yrs ago. I’ve read about recent innovations in forming and manipulating alu that have resulted in improved ride quality. Suggestions?

    I think weight is a bigger concern than people give credit both on gravel and on CX; you’re lifting your bike a lot in CX and on gravel you want it light enough to bounce over the terrain. Its not very romantic, but I’ve heard people actually have had great luck with the Performance brands of Carbon frames – and Nashbar does a no-brand carbon frame that is actually an unbranded Ridley. Those can be had in your price point for sure, Rule #58 notwithstanding.

    Something to note in using a road frame for this is that you may run into a problem with either the frame or the brakes constricting the size tire you can fit.  I ran the above-mentioned 700x28s on a Specialized Allez E5 frameset with Ultegra 6600 brakes, and they barely fit – the tires almost rubbed the underside of the brakes.  Width was no problem.

    Having written that, yeah, go with alu.  It’s lighter and doesn’t rust.

  16. Very nicely put, Frank!

    I’ve had a cx bike for two years now and I’m constantly reminded how wonderful it is to have the option to hit the woods or the fire trails. Nothing beats being in the woods at twilight or as the sun comes up. And, wow, it is so damn nice to not have to deal with cagers.

    Road cycling is wonderful, but I love having a second option of where to turn the cranks.

  17. @frank

    @gregorio

    @Weldertron

    @gregorio

    During the last year I’ve collected enough parts from upgrading my road bike to assemble a build kit. My VMH has decreed that I MUST build my gravel machine with a frame that is less than $1000 – which to my mind means steel. Anyone out there in V – Land have some ideas for a steel frame of this price point?

    Any particular reason to stay away from Alu?

    Not especially. I’m open to that possibility, but also remember the ride quality of my first steel racer 30 yrs ago. I’ve read about recent innovations in forming and manipulating alu that have resulted in improved ride quality. Suggestions?

    I think weight is a bigger concern than people give credit both on gravel and on CX; you’re lifting your bike a lot in CX and on gravel you want it light enough to bounce over the terrain. Its not very romantic, but I’ve heard people actually have had great luck with the Performance brands of Carbon frames – and Nashbar does a no-brand carbon frame that is actually an unbranded Ridley. Those can be had in your price point for sure, Rule #58 notwithstanding.

    My cx bike is an Al/carbon frameset, very nice ride and darn light.

    Yes, definitely not romantic but I have a ‘bar steel cross bike that I use as my commuter. I had the 2011 model until the ST cracked. Now I have the 2013 and it’s actually a nicer bike and the ride on 28s is pretty darn smooth and nice. Crappy wheels but mine gets locked up. A nice bike for the price, especially with the 5700 105 parts. Also, if you toss on some better parts in the cockpit you can shave a bunch of weight. Added bonus for me – the dark red color is the same as the Giant Boulder that I bought with my own lawn mowing money in 7th grade.

    Despite my inclination towards beautiful bicycles, it is nice to have at least one so-so bike that I don’t have to worry about banging, nicking paint, etc.

  18. @frank

    @gregorio

    @Weldertron

    @gregorio

    During the last year I’ve collected enough parts from upgrading my road bike to assemble a build kit. My VMH has decreed that I MUST build my gravel machine with a frame that is less than $1000 – which to my mind means steel. Anyone out there in V – Land have some ideas for a steel frame of this price point?

    Any particular reason to stay away from Alu?

    Not especially. I’m open to that possibility, but also remember the ride quality of my first steel racer 30 yrs ago. I’ve read about recent innovations in forming and manipulating alu that have resulted in improved ride quality. Suggestions?

    I think weight is a bigger concern than people give credit both on gravel and on CX; you’re lifting your bike a lot in CX and on gravel you want it light enough to bounce over the terrain. Its not very romantic, but I’ve heard people actually have had great luck with the Performance brands of Carbon frames – and Nashbar does a no-brand carbon frame that is actually an unbranded Ridley. Those can be had in your price point for sure, Rule #58 notwithstanding.

    I’m still wary of carbon frames in cross for the non-sponsored rider. One trip up on a barrier and you could be looking at a broken frame. I know aluminum and steel can dent, but I think it’s been proven a lateral impact to a lightweight carbon frame might have some adverse affects.

    That nashbar frame isn’t a bad deal for the starter. At that price it’s almost disposable.

  19. @Weldertron

    @frank

    @gregorio

    @Weldertron

    @gregorio

    During the last year I’ve collected enough parts from upgrading my road bike to assemble a build kit. My VMH has decreed that I MUST build my gravel machine with a frame that is less than $1000 – which to my mind means steel. Anyone out there in V – Land have some ideas for a steel frame of this price point?

    Any particular reason to stay away from Alu?

    Not especially. I’m open to that possibility, but also remember the ride quality of my first steel racer 30 yrs ago. I’ve read about recent innovations in forming and manipulating alu that have resulted in improved ride quality. Suggestions?

    I think weight is a bigger concern than people give credit both on gravel and on CX; you’re lifting your bike a lot in CX and on gravel you want it light enough to bounce over the terrain. Its not very romantic, but I’ve heard people actually have had great luck with the Performance brands of Carbon frames – and Nashbar does a no-brand carbon frame that is actually an unbranded Ridley. Those can be had in your price point for sure, Rule #58 notwithstanding.

    I’m still wary of carbon frames in cross for the non-sponsored rider. One trip up on a barrier and you could be looking at a broken frame. I know aluminum and steel can dent, but I think it’s been proven a lateral impact to a lightweight carbon frame might have some adverse affects.

    That nashbar frame isn’t a bad deal for the starter. At that price it’s almost disposable.

    Found a Specialized crux alu frame with carbon fork for $990 retail. No Rule #58 headaches and no worries with tire clearance. Looks like with a set of cantilever breaks I have the parts to build her up over the winter. http://www.specialized.com/us/en/bikes/road/crux/cruxe5osbbframeset  Thanks for the ideas!

  20. I’ve taken my maiden gravel ride tonight and I’m kicking myself that i haven’t done it sooner. I live right on the edge of the South Downs National Park and 200m from my house is a bridle path into the countryside that i’ve never investigated. I had an amazing time, rolling hills with chalk and flint farm track and grass all on my doorstep.

    I took some photos to add to the collective gravelbone:

  21. @gregorio

    @Weldertron

    @frank

    @gregorio

    @Weldertron

    @gregorio

    During the last year I’ve collected enough parts from upgrading my road bike to assemble a build kit. My VMH has decreed that I MUST build my gravel machine with a frame that is less than $1000 – which to my mind means steel. Anyone out there in V – Land have some ideas for a steel frame of this price point?

    Any particular reason to stay away from Alu?

    Not especially. I’m open to that possibility, but also remember the ride quality of my first steel racer 30 yrs ago. I’ve read about recent innovations in forming and manipulating alu that have resulted in improved ride quality. Suggestions?

    I think weight is a bigger concern than people give credit both on gravel and on CX; you’re lifting your bike a lot in CX and on gravel you want it light enough to bounce over the terrain. Its not very romantic, but I’ve heard people actually have had great luck with the Performance brands of Carbon frames – and Nashbar does a no-brand carbon frame that is actually an unbranded Ridley. Those can be had in your price point for sure, Rule #58 notwithstanding.

    I’m still wary of carbon frames in cross for the non-sponsored rider. One trip up on a barrier and you could be looking at a broken frame. I know aluminum and steel can dent, but I think it’s been proven a lateral impact to a lightweight carbon frame might have some adverse affects.

    That nashbar frame isn’t a bad deal for the starter. At that price it’s almost disposable.

    Found a Specialized crux alu frame with carbon fork for $990 retail. No Rule #58 headaches and no worries with tire clearance. Looks like with a set of cantilever breaks I have the parts to build her up over the winter. http://www.specialized.com/us/en/bikes/road/crux/cruxe5osbbframeset Thanks for the ideas!

    If i may make another suggestion, consider the TRP CX line of mini-v brakes. They are (in my opinion) a better option if you plan on using it mainly as a higher speed gravel racer. They aren’t as good as cantis in thick mud, but the stopping power is quite good.

    I use my cross bike as a winter training bike aswell, so they work well for the high speed road stops.

  22. @Weldertron I built my gravel/CX rig from a $500 carbon frameset from Ebay.  It works great, has the exact same geometry as the Crux. My LBS started building bikes and wheels with factory-direct unbranded stuff right around the same time.  Now all the cheapskates on our team ride incredible bikes.  Look into it.

  23. You mean roads like this? Had the Cogal gone off as planned, this was the “graveur” chunk. Took this last night after picking huckleberries.

  24. @frank That dude is absolutely hard.  Looks like a blast.

    oh and, @frank, I remember Travis Brown rocking the drop bars at Leadville a few years ago.  I don’t like Trek that much, and he was leading out COTHO that year, but still, it’d be fun to show up at a CX race on that rig.

  25. I also kinda like the idea of a steel CX bike but I dont know why that would be any better than say carbon or alu

  26. @RedRanger I’ve tried it on my old 26er hardtail.  Ran a rigid fork up front, and put the fattest tires I could fit on there (Conti TrailKing 2.4).  Honestly, besides the hipster rad factor, it wasn’t all that great.  I felt very iffy on descents and couldn’t get my arms wide enough on climbs, and I was using flared mountain drop bars.  The only place where it was nice was on fire road but then, I have a cx bike.

    And IMO there’s not a lot inherently better or worse about steel over AL or carbone on a cx bike since the big tires give you plenty of compliance and dampening.  I guess not having to worry about the frame in a crash as opposed to carbone is kind of nice.  I’ve found the main advantage of having a steel cx bike is that I can look at the other racers and say things that begin with “back in my day…”.

    Also it makes PBR taste better.

  27. @Weldertron

    I mentioned it in “The Rides”, but the Dirty 40 is coming up in VT in a few weeks. Looks like a blast. and it’s a 10$ race!

    Oh MAN!!!  This sounds AWESOME!!!  I used to road race in Derby through USCF when I was growing up.  I will have to mark this on the calendar for next year.

  28. Besides the obvious fact that it is an excuse to try to complete the infinite equation of n+1, why not use your road bike with a different set of tires for graveling?

    I have a Merckx Scandium frame which I often run HED C2 Belgium rims mounted with Vittoria Pave 28 mm tubulars that have fine fork clearance. 

    Any reason that this is not an okay rig for riding gravel?   The gearing?  Seems like with a 39 up front and a wide assortment of gears on the casette it should be okay.

    I have never tried riding her on gravel but I really want to and it seems like it should work just fine.

    Of course, I would prefer to buy another bike just for gravel but curious as to your opinions on running the road bike on gravel with beefier wheels.

  29. @ frank: I find myself in the same place you describe, driving roads and thinking…what must it be like

    In the ozark terrain around here however, a graveur (or graveleur?) is of necessity, in that, we have 3 category roads: a) nice roads and up kept ~10% b) crappy roads aka ozark pave’, typically shit-n-seal but at least low traffic and descent otherwise ~30% c) gravel roads, which are even less traffic but there are endless possiblities that exist as they are the majority of roads here

    There are killer climbs, some >20% where your front wheel lightly bobs up and down yet then your gripping the chicken bones for all your worth on the descent before you hit a switchback, where grass grows on the road due to low to no traffic, where ghost towns use to reside and dogs don’t have a clue as to who or what you are.  I will take some pics and add later when able

  30. @Buck Rogers

    Besides the obvious fact that it is an excuse to try to complete the infinite equation of n+1, why not use your road bike with a different set of tires for graveling?

    I have a Merckx Scandium frame which I often run HED C2 Belgium rims mounted with Vittoria Pave 28 mm tubulars that have fine fork clearance.

    Any reason that this is not an okay rig for riding gravel? The gearing? Seems like with a 39 up front and a wide assortment of gears on the casette it should be okay.

    I have never tried riding her on gravel but I really want to and it seems like it should work just fine.

    Of course, I would prefer to buy another bike just for gravel but curious as to your opinions on running the road bike on gravel with beefier wheels.

    I think it really depends on the type of gravel surface you plan on riding.  Your bike with the 28s would do fine on hardpack dirt roads or something like crushed limestone towpaths, but you’re going to want a tread with some bite on looser stuff.  That’s where road bikes with standard reach brakes fail as that addition of even a modest tread to a tire can cause clearance issues.

    @Ron

    @frank

    @gregorio

    @Weldertron

    @gregorio

    Yes, definitely not romantic but I have a ‘bar steel cross bike that I use as my commuter. I had the 2011 model until the ST cracked. Now I have the 2013 and it’s actually a nicer bike and the ride on 28s is pretty darn smooth and nice. Crappy wheels but mine gets locked up. A nice bike for the price, especially with the 5700 105 parts. Also, if you toss on some better parts in the cockpit you can shave a bunch of weight. Added bonus for me – the dark red color is the same as the Giant Boulder that I bought with my own lawn mowing money in 7th grade.

    Despite my inclination towards beautiful bicycles, it is nice to have at least one so-so bike that I don’t have to worry about banging, nicking paint, etc.

    As we’ve discussed I too have the 2011 Nashbar steel cyclocross bike and honestly, I think its much better suited for gravel riding than for cross seeing as that even with a handful of modest, yet weight saving upgrades (like new wheels/cockpit) the bike still weighs 24lbs in a size 58.  Its geometry isn’t pure cross either – its not the most nimble bike nor is it particularly stiff, but its very comfortable to ride.  Don’t get me wrong, I race cross on it (albeit not very well) and its a fine bike for the money especially if you want something to pull double duty (or even triple if you’re a commuter) .

    The generic Ridley Nashbar sells is definitely a nice frame, but seeing as its a 2010 X-Night its made strictly for racing – having Ridley’s standard high bottom bracket, relatively short top and head tubes, and doesn’t have bottle mounts.  You can pick up a Alu/carbon forked Kona Jake the Snake for less than $500 that would be more versatile in my opinion (and has a tapered steerer and PF30 BB if you’re into that kind of thing).

  31. @gregorio

    @Weldertron

    @frank

    @gregorio

    @Weldertron

    @gregorio

    During the last year I’ve collected enough parts from upgrading my road bike to assemble a build kit. My VMH has decreed that I MUST build my gravel machine with a frame that is less than $1000 – which to my mind means steel. Anyone out there in V – Land have some ideas for a steel frame of this price point?

    Any particular reason to stay away from Alu?

    Not especially. I’m open to that possibility, but also remember the ride quality of my first steel racer 30 yrs ago. I’ve read about recent innovations in forming and manipulating alu that have resulted in improved ride quality. Suggestions?

    I think weight is a bigger concern than people give credit both on gravel and on CX; you’re lifting your bike a lot in CX and on gravel you want it light enough to bounce over the terrain. Its not very romantic, but I’ve heard people actually have had great luck with the Performance brands of Carbon frames – and Nashbar does a no-brand carbon frame that is actually an unbranded Ridley. Those can be had in your price point for sure, Rule #58 notwithstanding.

    I’m still wary of carbon frames in cross for the non-sponsored rider. One trip up on a barrier and you could be looking at a broken frame. I know aluminum and steel can dent, but I think it’s been proven a lateral impact to a lightweight carbon frame might have some adverse affects.

    That nashbar frame isn’t a bad deal for the starter. At that price it’s almost disposable.

    Found a Specialized crux alu frame with carbon fork for $990 retail. No Rule #58 headaches and no worries with tire clearance. Looks like with a set of cantilever breaks I have the parts to build her up over the winter. http://www.specialized.com/us/en/bikes/road/crux/cruxe5osbbframeset Thanks for the ideas!

    Nicely done! And skip the canti’s and get some TRP Mini-V’s. They are a bit of a pain to set up (not like Canti’s aren’t!) but they actually stop the bike, which is always nice. (Make sure you get the right model for your brakes – http://www.trpbrakes.com/category.php?productid=1040&catid=185)

    @Weldertron Oh, yeah. What he said.

  32. @motor city

    I’ve taken my maiden gravel ride tonight and I’m kicking myself that i haven’t done it sooner. I live right on the edge of the South Downs National Park and 200m from my house is a bridle path into the countryside that i’ve never investigated. I had an amazing time, rolling hills with chalk and flint farm track and grass all on my doorstep.

    I took some photos to add to the collective gravelbone:

    That’s right out your door??? JAY-SUS, man! What a sight those roads are! How many K’s?

  33. @scaler911

    You mean roads like this? Had the Cogal gone off as planned, this was the “graveur” chunk. Took this last night after picking huckleberries.

    Oh man, dude! You’re killin’ me here! We’ve gotta get that ride done still this year.

    @EricW

    @RedRanger I’ve tried it on my old 26er hardtail. Ran a rigid fork up front, and put the fattest tires I could fit on there (Conti TrailKing 2.4). Honestly, besides the hipster rad factor, it wasn’t all that great. I felt very iffy on descents and couldn’t get my arms wide enough on climbs, and I was using flared mountain drop bars. The only place where it was nice was on fire road but then, I have a cx bike.

    And IMO there’s not a lot inherently better or worse about steel over AL or Carbone on a cx bike since the big tires give you plenty of compliance and dampening. I guess not having to worry about the frame in a crash as opposed to Carbone is kind of nice. I’ve found the main advantage of having a steel cx bike is that I can look at the other racers and say things that begin with “back in my day…”.

    Also it makes PBR taste better.

    Jacquie Phelan did OK with it on her Cunningham named Otto.

  34. @Buck Rogers

    Besides the obvious fact that it is an excuse to try to complete the infinite equation of n+1, why not use your road bike with a different set of tires for graveling?

    I have a Merckx Scandium frame which I often run HED C2 Belgium rims mounted with Vittoria Pave 28 mm tubulars that have fine fork clearance.

    Any reason that this is not an okay rig for riding gravel? The gearing? Seems like with a 39 up front and a wide assortment of gears on the casette it should be okay.

    It depends on your gravel and on your roads. Out in southern MN, the roads I used to ride were fine on a road bike, even with 25mm tires. The Almanzo gets raced on road bikes a lot. Here in the PWN, a lot of the roads I ride have quite large rocks and the gravel can be quite loose. I can hardly keep the wheels on the bus with 33mm tubs and at about 5 bar – not to mention I definitely want some knobs on the sides of the tires for cornering. I cannot imagine doing those on a road bike, and you’d peel out on the steep bits.

    Also, I’m running 38×27 and some of the steep stuff is scraping the bottom of the barrel on the gear inches, so a compact would not be a crazy addition if you’re doing lots of climbing on steep forest roads.

    Gravel basically adds about 20% resistance, so keep that in mind. Except when descending, when it basically means you’re riding on ball bearings.

    @Souleur

    @ frank: I find myself in the same place you describe, driving roads and thinking…what must it be like

    In the ozark terrain around here however, a Graveur (or graveleur?) is of necessity, in that, we have 3 category roads: a) nice roads and up kept ~10% b) crappy roads aka ozark pave’, typically shit-n-seal but at least low traffic and descent otherwise ~30% c) gravel roads, which are even less traffic but there are endless possiblities that exist as they are the majority of roads here

    There are killer climbs, some >20% where your front wheel lightly bobs up and down yet then your gripping the chicken bones for all your worth on the descent before you hit a switchback, where grass grows on the road due to low to no traffic, where ghost towns use to reside and dogs don’t have a clue as to who or what you are. I will take some pics and add later when able

    Sounds like heaven.

  35. @frank

     

    Nicely done! And skip the canti’s and get some TRP Mini-V’s. They are a bit of a pain to set up (not like Canti’s aren’t!) but they actually stop the bike, which is always nice. (Make sure you get the right model for your brakes – http://www.trpbrakes.com/category.php?productid=1040&catid=185)

    @Weldertron Oh, yeah. What he said.

    +1 to this.  Mini-Vs are the way to go.  Even Ridley is spec-ing them on their entry to mid level canti-mount cross bikes this year.

  36. Probably a good job you didn’t try them over the winter or even last summer – I can just imagine how deep the mud must have been.  Added to that, with a good soaking that South Downs chalk clay has a lower coefficient of grip than a wet bar of soap.

  37. @Teocalli

    Probably a good job you didn’t try them over the winter or even last summer – I can just imagine how deep the mud must have been. Added to that, with a good soaking that South Downs chalk clay has a lower coefficient of grip than a wet bar of soap.

    Not quite sure how I managed that but that was supposed to be in reply to @motor_city and the South Downs pics.

  38. My first post as I have discovered the Velominati. A great article that I will share. As a marathon runner turned road cyclist I am still enjoying tarmac and all the potholes and variety of surfaces it brings. And I am lucky enough to cycle in remote North Pennines in the UK. Sometimes not seeing another sole and occasionally for a minute worrying what might happen if I come off as I ‘fly’ down a descent. Immense freedom, immense pleasure, loving every moment.

  39. question, why did @G’rilla replace is Van Dessel G&T as his main cross rig? That frame is top of my list for a cx rig of my own some day.

  40. @frank

    That’s right out your door??? JAY-SUS, man! What a sight those roads are! How many K’s?

    There are a lot of routes in different directions but after around 10KM i can join the South Downs Way which is a famous 160KM / 4150M^  off road trail that can be cycled – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Downs_Way

    There is a fairly hardcore MTB challenge to tackle the whole route in one day so I’m going to investigate further to see how achievable it would be on a cx / gravel bike. It could make an epic cross-cogal.

    @Teocalli You are probably right about the weather, perfect for it this year but it must get sketchy at times.

  41. @RedRanger

    question, why did @G’rilla replace is Van Dessel G&T as his main cross rig? That frame is top of my list for a cx rig of my own some day.

    You’ll have to check with him, but his new rig is a fully custom TI dream rig. I’m not sure there was a good reason to relegate the G&T to the pit position other than that it was a bit heavier and there were a few things he didn’t like about it (I remember him saying he didn’t like the HT angle or the ST angle or both or one or the other. I don’t know, he talks so much, you have to zone him out after a while.)

  42. Not to bring attention back to dirt, but Merckx, this video makes a strong case for a full suspension downhill bike.

    Talk about a different kind of harmony.

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