As a result of the COVID19 pandemic, millions of people are riding bicycles for the first time or after many years of doing so. And in the process, they are discovering that there are endless types of bikes they can buy.
And to help a little in your bicycle buying process, which will largely define the type of cycling you will practice, as well as to answer questions that any novice or veteran cyclist may have, below we present a list of questions & answers about gravel biking and gravel bikes.
GENERIC QUESTIONS ABOUT BICYCLES
1. What are the most common types of bicycles today?
There are many, many types. If you visit the websites of any of the main manufacturers such as Giant, Trek or Specialized you will see that they offer at least 10 types of bicycles. To facilitate your understanding, we will tell you that the main ones are: City, fitness, MTB (Mountain Bike), gravel and route. Each has its own purpose.
2. What are the purposes of these five types of bicycles?
- City: Pedal around the city in a comfortable way.
- Fitness: Pedal around the city in a somewhat comfortable way but also to exercise.
- MTB: Pedal mainly on trails in the mountains, although nowadays people also use it in the city.
- Gravel: Pedaling mainly on dirt roads, but also for cycling trips. In city they can also be used. It is a combination of a road bike and MTB.
- Route: Pedal at high speeds where you can, but always on asphalt.
In each type of bicycle there are different models with higher or lower quality components. For example, on city bikes there are bikes with a different frame design and smaller tires. In those of MTB there are them with double suspension, that is, front shock absorbers and rear shock absorbers (in the image the MTB only has front shock absorbers), etc. etc. etc.
3. Which of the five types of bicycles is best?
It depends on what and where you will use it. If you’re primarily using it on mountain trails, then the obvious choice is MTB. If you will use it in multiple places and surfaces (trails, dirt roads, city), then the gravel bike is your best option. Define well what and where you will use it, and then decide.
4. How do types of bicycles compare to types of cars?
To make it a bit easier for you to understand the types of bicycles that exist, we make the following analogy with automobiles:
- City: Family wagon. Comfort is the priority.
- Fitness: Sedan. Agility in the city.
- MTB: Pick-up truck. The mountain is its best environment.
- Gravel: SUV. The most versatile of all.
- Route: Sports car. Speed at your disposal.
5. What factors, components or elements determine the speed at which a bicycle can go regardless of its type?
They are at least the following factors:
- Geometry of the frame, that is, its design.
- The chainrings, that is where the right pedal is supported. The bigger it is, the more speed you can acquire, as long as you have enough strength to move it.
- The cassette, which are the various rear gears and connects with the chainrings through the chain. The smaller the rear gear, the more speed you can acquire… as long as you have enough strength to use it.
- Physical condition of the cyclist.
The tires are also a factor. The thinner, in theory, the less resistance to movement.
There are many more generic questions & answers about bicycles, but for now we leave it here. If you have questions write to us and we will be happy to answer them. Our emails are firstname.lastname@example.org (Spanish) and email@example.com (English).
BASIC QUESTIONS & ANSWERS ABOUT GRAVEL CYCLING AND GRAVEL BIKES
1. What is gravel cycling and a gravel bike?
There is no official definition of both concepts. The most basic thing is to say that gravel cycling is practicing cycling on dirt or gravel roads, usually with appropriate or designed bicycles. A gravel bike is a non-motorized vehicle that has a design, geometries, and components appropriate for gravel cycling.
2. Can you do gravel cycling with MTB, road, or hybrid bikes (half MTB, half Fitness)?
Yes, but there are downsides. For many, gravel cycling can be done with MTB or hybrid bicycles, however the expenditure of energy and calories by the cyclist will be greater since they are bicycles of greater weight than a gravel bicycle. Also, it will go at a slower speed. As for road bikes, these will not last many kilometers as they will most likely flatten out due to their unsuitable tires for rocks and rough roads. Also, it is possible that its frame suffers some kind of damage; the frame is not reinforced to withstand constant vibrations and shocks.
3. Is it safer to do gravel cycling than MTB or road cycling?
In general, yes, due to the absence of vehicular traffic on the gravel roads and their flatness. However, when pedaling at high speeds, you must ride carefully due to changes in the road surface, which can lead to falls.
4. Can I use a gravel bike in the city?
Of course. A gravel bike is stronger than a road bike and lighter than an MTB, so you’ll ride around town without worrying about potholes or damaged pavement and at good speed.
TECHNICAL QUESTIONS & ANSWERS ABOUT GRAVEL CYCLING AND GRAVEL BICYCLES
1. What is the geometry of a gravel bike?
Today there is a wide variety of gravel bikes. Some have a geometry very similar to an MTB, the main difference being the handlebars (in MTB it is flat, a gravel one is a drop bar). Others have a geometry more similar to a road bike, so the rider’s posture is more aero, that is, it is more inclined to the front. The most common gravel bikes have an intermediate geometry.
On the 99 Spokes website you will be able to consult hundreds of gravel bicycles from numerous brands and compare their geometry, among other aspects such as components.
2. What is the tire width of a gravel bike?
From 32c to 45c, with 38c or 40c being the most common. As a reference we have that the tire width of a road bike is between 23c-28c and MTB between 50c and 58c. The symbol “c” represents millimeters. When shopping for a gravel bike always make sure to check the maximum tire width that the bike frame can hold.
3. What is the best cassette and chainring combination on a gravel bike?
There is no one combination better than another. It depends on each cyclist, their pedaling cadence and their leg strength. But the most common are: 11 / 34t in cassette and two chainrings 48-32t or a 40t chainring (t of teeth). You like speed? So, choose two plates.
4. At what maximum speed can I pedal on a gravel bike?
It depends mainly on one component: the size of the chainring. An MTB today has one chainring (30t or 32t) or two chainrings (22t in the minor and up to 36t in the major). A road bike will always have two chainrings (the most common combination is 52-39t) and a gravel bike, like an MTB, can have one or two chainrings (with one chainring: 40t and up to 44t; and with two chainrings one common combination is 48-32t). The bigger the chainring, the more speed, but the more force you will need to move the bike. This assuming that in the cassette you use the same smaller sprocket in the three types of bikes, which is generally 11t.
After having said all of the above, if you use a 48-32t two-chainring set, you can achieve a downhill speed of around 55km / h. After this speed you will begin to “float”, that is, your pedaling no longer makes the bike move. With a 40t chainring the maximum speed before “floating” will be approximately 45km / h.
Do you want to know with more certainty the subject of speeds? Visit this website where you can make your cassette and chainrings combinations to see the speeds, you can even add tire sizes.
5. What is the minimum pedaling speed on a gravel bike uphill?
It depends on the chainring or chainrings the bike has, but it is generally about 6km / h with a 48-32t combination, using the 32t chainring. You may be able to slow down to 5.5 km/h but it will require more leg strength. Lower than this speed you will not be able to continue pedaling. You will go sideways, or your legs will no longer be able to pedal. With an MTB, which has a bigger cassette and a smaller chainring, you can go as low as 4.5 km/h.
6. Is the posture on a gravel bike uncomfortable?
If your current bike is an MTB, urban or fitness or you are new to cycling, then it is a yes. Your body and back are not used to such an “aero” position. But we suggest you don’t get discouraged and try it for at least two or three weeks. If after this time you still do not settle, then you have two options: a) Do not buy a gravel (if you already bought it then sell it) or b) change the dropped handlebar for a flat one, which is becoming more common among some cyclists (older adults or cyclists with back problems).
7. Can I change the dropped handlebar for a flat one on a gravel bike?
Yes, but you will have to change the brake levers as well, which is not cheap. Nowadays some brands are already selling gravel bikes with flat handlebars, for example: Specialized Diverge Evo. Read an article about it here.
Note: This article will be enriched to clarify as many doubts as possible about gravel cycling and gravel bicycles.
Last update: September 2020.