Gravel Bikes: One Ride to Rule Them All

Out There Outdoors

Gravel bikes have taken the cycling world by storm over the past few years. Gravel bikes look like road bikes but are built to ride on more than the road. Why have gravel bikes become so popular so fast? We went to the local gravel experts at Mojo Cyclery in Spokane Valley to find out why more and more cyclists are putting more gravel in their travel.

Mojos’s short answer: adventure! According to owner Morgan Johnson, “Gravel bikes are the ultimate adventurist bike. Gravel bikes offer multitudinous riding adventures with minimal limitation. They also offer high versatility, which allows one bike to fill many needs. Millennials appear to be drawn to gravel bikes with their minimalistic (non-N+1) attitude.”

Gravel grinder rides and races have become popular events in amateur cycling throughout the world. Gravel races take place on a mix of trails and back roads with some single track. Amateur gravel grinders draw large crowds and have become weekend events with food and live music. Like cyclocross, gravel grinder culture is actively emerging as cyclists avoid the busy roads in the concrete jungles.

In comparison to road bikes, gravel bikes are built with a more relaxed geometry and longer wheelbase that creates a more supple ride. Gravel bikes allow for wider tire options with lower pressure tires that maintain speed on pavement while increasing speed and traction for off-road adventures. Gearing on gravel bikes creates a wide range of options, allowing for easier ascents when compared to a typical road bike. In addition, fenders are easy to place for those messy rides. (Keep your friends. Use fenders.)

Many mountain bikers are drawn to gravel bikes due to their versatility on terrain. Per Josh Hess, Mojo’s right-hand man, “Gravel bikes have a comfort geometry built for the cross country long-haul, minus the full suspension of mountain bikes. Mountain bikes are built to absorb shock, descend, and roll over obstacles. Gearing for mountain bikes has a “one-by” (single in front and 9 to 11 gears in back) whereas gravel bikes typically have a “two-by” (two bigger gears in front with 9-11 gears in back); however, more gravel bikes are coming into the market that are one-by. Two-by gearing is more versatile for both on and off-road riding.” Mountain bike bottom brackets also tend to be higher to tackle big rocks and dips on their larger 27.5 and 29-inch wheels and longer wheelbase.

Cyclocross bikes and gravel bikes are close cousins but appeal to vastly different riders. The geometry of cross bikes is a more aggressive crit-style with limited tire width options. Cross bikes are built for speed across trails. Frankly, gravel bikes are the chilled-out cooler cousin—the cousin likely to offer you a beer while riding across the trails. Both options are cool but with different personalities.

There is no shortage of trails or dirt roads within the Inland Northwest. It’s easy to take a bike and cruise around easy Spokane trails at Riverside State Park, Beacon Hill, and High Drive. The most important things are to have fun and be safe! Gravel grinder races in Cle Elum and Leavenworth are welcoming environments for the whole family to enjoy and test their skills.

The cycling world has always said that right number of bikes is N+1. However, the gravel bike has challenged that long-held belief. Whether you like road, trail, mountain or just cruising, gravel bikes are worth a look. Sometimes, the best way to see and feel the earth is on the dirt. Maybe a gravel grinder is in your future! Per Johnson, “The gravel bike is the One Bike to rule them all!”// (Kit Vogel)


Kit Vogel, PT, DPT, MS is an avid cyclist (former Cat 2 track racer), hiker, and climber with a newfound love of downhill skiing. She wrote about eliminating pain with bike fitting in the May issue of Out There.


[Feature photo: Justin Short]

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