The Birth Of Gravel Bikes

Gravel bikes are all the rage, along with e-bikes, and why shouldn’t they be? Road bikes have become as use-specific as mountain bikes. Maybe more so. Today’s road bikes are created to do one thing really well and not much else. While bicycle companies would love it for you to create a road bike stable (next to your mountain bike stable), most riders, and their bank accounts, get burned out on this approach. And the garage gets too crowded.

Along comes the Swiss Army knife of bicycles; the gravel bike. These bikes are “designed to tackle a variety of surfaces, carry additional gear and are suitable for all-day riding on roads less traveled.” Aside from their versatility, the “road less traveled” might be key to their appeal. Gravel bikes get you out of automobile drivers’ target range and away from breathing vehicle emissions. While it is sad  that America’s gravel roads have decreased by around 43% since 1960, today’s 1.3-million miles of “unpaved” roads still offer a lot of less-traveled miles.

I remember seeing the gravel bike’s birth. It was at the 2010 North American Handmade Bike Show (NAHBS), held that year in Richmond, Virginia. NAHBS is hands down my favorite bicycle show. That’s because, like the name implies, the bikes on display are not mass-produced. They are handmade by artisans. Everything on display is art that you can pedal.

A beautifully executed 27.5-inch-wheeled hardtail mountain bike (a rare sight in 2010) caught my eye at the Shamrock Cycles display, but it was the bike behind it that held my attention. Shamrock Cycles called it their Monster Cross (because the term “gravel bike” had not been coined yet). I asked the Shamrock crew what this bike was all about?

“There is a 60-mile race in Indiana called the Gravel Grovel and the dilemma for racers is what bike to use? The race includes pavement, gravel and singletrack. We built this bike because the ideal bike for the Gravel Grovel is also the ideal, everyday do-it-all bike.” Man, was that an understatement!

The Monster Cross was ground-zero for today’s gravel bike explosion. If you are interested in what people will be riding 10 years from now, go to NAHBS (after COVID-19) or check out Shamrock Cycles today. They are planning your future.

This bike caught my attention, but the bike behind it is the one that stopped me in my tracks. It signaled the birth of gravel bikes.
Click on the image to enlarge.


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