Specialized recently unveiled its revamped Diverge 2021. Among the models that attracted attention (or raised eyebrows) was the Diverge EVO, as it is a gravel bike with a flat handlebar. Although it is not the first gravel with this feature, it is a fact that a renowned brand and the current moment that the modality lives, give a certain boost to this idea.
But let’s go back a bit. As in other cycling modalities, the gravel bike continues to evolve and experiment with new geometries and components. An example of this is the front and rear suspensions already seen on mass produced bicycles. I’m talking about the Niner MCR and the new Cannondale Topstone Lefty.
Regarding the flat handlebar, they certainly make it look even more like an MTB bike, fueling the eternal debate about which is better.
Specialized defines the EVO as a bicycle “designed to get aggressive and to go beyond the borders of what we thought this (gravel) discipline was.” This last statement makes sense since it is a fact that a flat handlebar allows greater maneuverability than a dropped handlebar.
The EVO also has a somewhat different geometry compared to that of its Diverge cousins. For example, it has a longer frame (30mm), a lower bottom bracket shell and a more relaxed head tube. In addition, Specialized adds the Future Shock 1.5 mechanism to dampen the steering.
With such features, and others that it possesses, the EVO certainly allows it to traverse technical trails faster than with a gravel with a dropped handlebar, but is one of the central parts of the essence of a gravel precisely its dropped handlebar?
EVO is not the first gravel bike with dropped handlebar
Similar bikes existed prior to the EVO. The best example is the Giant Toughroad SLR (following image), which since at least 2015 has been serving the same niche. This bicycle has a geometry and components similar to the EVO although it comes from the factory with wider wheels (50c compared to 42c), which make it look like an MTB but with a rigid fork.
Initially the Toughroad was promoted as a commuting bike, but with the rise of gravel, its promotion leans more towards off-road adventure. By the way, Giant also offers in certain countries the Toughroad SLR GX, which has a dropped handlebar.
Other brands with the same reputation offer certain models of their MTBs with rigid forks, which brings you back to basics or the early days of MTB in the 70s.
If none of these convinces you, on the Internet you can find countless suppliers of rigid forks of any price and material that you can mount to your current MTB and turn it into a semi gravel. In fact, by doing so, you will experience new sensations even on your usual routes, in addition to reducing the weight of your bicycle by between 700 and 1000 grams. And if you change the tires for a 38c or 43c wide, then you will be even closer to the “gravel world”.
On the other hand, some people having a “normal” gravel bike choose to remove the dropped handlebars and put a flat one on it, which for some orthodox “gravelists” would be sacrilegious. In the following image you can see the example of a Cannondale Topstone Carbon. The reason why this owner did such a thing, I do not know because he did not point it out in his post on Instagram, but in certain cycling forums I have read that one of the reasons is for back problems. Thus, the conversion is more than justified.
So, what is the answer to the question in this article? I do not have the answer, and I don’t think it’s worth it to wear ourselves out more to find it. For my part I celebrate that the brands present gravel-type bicycles with varied designs and characteristics such as suspensions, flat handlebars or whatever, just as MTBs and road bikes do as well.
The greater the variety of designs, the better, since that would approach the plurality of tastes that exist among those of us who enjoy riding a bicycle.