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Can Gravel Bikes Really Do It All?

Can Gravel Bikes Really Do It All?


– [Simon] The new breed of gravel bikes promise to do it all. But can they really? I mean can they be fast and fun on-road, and fast and fun off-road? It seems like a tall order, but we’re going to try and find out. To do so, SRAM have kindly supplied their new Force Group set, and 3T, a frame that I’m going to race, in both on-road and off-road events. And I’ll also talk you through, just what you need to look out for, from a do-it-all bike. (dramatic music) Oh my god! Nerves going through the roof right now. My first road race, in
six-and-a half years. – [Voice On Phone] Just
don’t attack at the start, save your energy. – Okay, don’t attack at the start, right. This is the Battle on the Beach. And I’ve been wanting to do it for ages. Part mountain bike race, part beach race. You start on sand, tearing down one of
Wales’ longest beaches, before then looping back to the start, through the forest behind, on like a mixture of double
track and single track. No one seems to know what the best type of bike
for this race actually is. A lot of 29er mountain bikes here, a fair few cyclocross bikes, and a couple of fat bikes. So this seems like
quite a good first test. (atmospheric music) Let me give you a quick
overview of my bike, we’ll go into more detail in the tech a little bit later on. But my start time is rapidly
approaching, but anyway. This is my do-it-all bike. SRAM have very kindly supplied their new Force eTap AXS group set, so that’s wireless member. Also got a chain management system, built in to this rear derailleur. Plus, I’m running it two-by
as well, as you can see. Now it’s hung on a 3T Exploro frame set. That kind of made the
headlines when it was launched, for being the first aero-gravel bike. But it’s fair to say, it’s won
a lot of praise since then, for actually just being a great frame. Now, crucially, in the GCN show, we asked you whether one
bike still counts as one bike if it has two sets of wheels? And you said, resoundingly, yes it does. So, here is wheelset number one. It’s an aluminum set of Zipp
30 Courses, set up tubeless. And you got 40-millimeter-wide
tire on there. That’s the fattest I
can get into this bike. Hopefully, it’s going
to be enough to keep up with the mountain bikes
through the forest. But we will see, I got to
get my skates on now though, ’cause I definitely don’t
want to miss my gridding. (ominous music) I’ve managed to get myself
gridded, which is great news, because there’s a hundred
of us on this start line and there’s another 900 people
about to come and join us. A little bit of pressure
on to get a decent start. (air horn) Oh my god! Nerves going through the roof right now. It’s the first time
I’ve had a number board on the front of my bike
for about 10 years. Not used to being on a
mountain bike start line again, but anyway, so tight. (percussive drone music) (air horn) (electronic percussive music) – [Male Voice] Well done, dude. – Thanks, Greg. That was bloody good fun, that. That was awesome! So much fun! I wished I’d done this years ago. In terms of my bike, I think I pretty much nailed it! I think, maybe, a 29er mountain bike might have been a little
bit quicker in the woods, but that’s not really surprising, is it? ‘Cause a mountain bike is probably faster on mountain bike trails. But the key thing was, I definitely didn’t feel
like I was at disadvantage. Had I had better legs I
definitely would have gone faster. It was a lot of fun riding smooth, single-track on drop bars. And then when we got to the beach, I was able to absolutely wang it in that massive top gear. For the first lap anyway, and after that my legs gave out. I did finish 16th in the end, which I’ll take that these
days, to be quite frank. Not we got to head back to GCN HQ while I get the bike
cleaned up and prepped for what’s going to be my
first road race in seven years. And then we can also delve
into a little bit more about the tech behind why I think now we have got to the point where you can have a
genuine do-it-all bike. The 3T that I’ve just been racing is one such example of a do-it-all bike. And this is another. It’s an Orbea Terra. And during this halftime show I’m going to use it to
talk through the tech that give a drop-bar bike the versatility that you might be looking out for. You don’t need the latest and greatest kit to have a do-it-all bike but that said there is tech on here that I think is really important, actually, in helping to close that performance gap between bikes like this and
those that are more specialist, both on the road side
of things and off-road. The frame and forks is a
logical starting point. Firstly, tire clearance. You need plenty of it. To really venture off-road
you’re going to want at least 40-millimeter-wide
tires, probably more. As you can see, I’ve got clearance to fit bigger ones up front here. Then, when it comes to bike handling, I think you still want a
bike relatively nimble, so that you get that thrill
when you’re riding on-road. But not at the expense of
leaving you utterly terrified when you hit dirt. So things that I look out
for are chainstay length. Shorter makes a bike a
little bit more agile. Lower bottom bracket height actually makes a bike more
stable but also more fun, both on tarmac and on dirt. And then I’d also want to make sure the head angle isn’t too slack. Some gravel bikes can be a
little bit slow in the steering. So something that’s nicely balanced with the rest of the bike. And the other thing, I’m afraid to say it, it’s got to have disc brakes. It does, it’s got to have disc brakes. It is of course more nuanced than that. There is a lot to separate a
good frame from a great frame. But let’s also not overlook
those less obvious, but equally significant, performance gains that you can get from your group set. Now I will start with
that hydraulic damper, I mentioned it earlier. You can, of course, use
a standard road group set for riding off-road. But it’s not ideal. The chain can be a bit noisy, flapping around, bouncing
off your paint work, as well as potentially
coming off entirely. Whereas, when you’ve got
a damper like this one, then it keeps the chain
under close control when going over bumps. Previous generation Force one-by has a different type of clutch in there, which is equally effective. But SRAM only recommended
it for use one-by, because it makes shifting
between chain rings feel quite laborious. Whereas, as you can see,
this one can be run one-by and also two-by as well. When running that two-by option, you can also run closer
ratio gears at the back. And I know this is really
important to some of you, because you told me. That extra 12th sprocket at
the back also doesn’t hurt. So it means that you then
got a wide range of gears, in this case 10-33 at the
back, and a 33-46 up front, but with those smaller
jumps in between them. Which is something that a lot
of dyed-in-the-wool roadies will be very thankful for
when riding fast on tarmac. Two important points there. Then it’s about opening up tire options. Because previously tire choice
has also been restricted by the use of front derailleurs. So not just limited by your frame set. The solution being, therefore,
to run one-by but now, with new generations, actually the design of the front derailleur has been tweaked to allow you to comfortably fit a 40-millimeter-wide tire in there. And actually, if you are
using smaller 650B wheels, then you can use a 47 in there. Now different wheel sizes
and different tire sizes, you can’t do that without
disc brakes either. So although that is now new, new tech, to my mind that has probably
been the most instrumental thing of all in giving drop-bar bikes the versatility to take them off-road. Because cantilever brakes, they kind of just sucked
a bit, didn’t they? Some of these differences
might sound subtle and, to some extent, some of them are. But they definitely add
up to help close that gap between do-all bikes and
more specialist bikes. Right, halftime is over. I’ve got a bike to clean and a race to get ready for. (ominous music) Okay. Right. Let’s optimize this for the road race. Like I said, my first road
race in six-and-a half years. That didn’t take too long, did it? Now just one final touch to get it race ready. Oh yes. (electronic drum music) I’ll be honest, because I’ve been out of
the game for that long, I feel like I need some kind of pep talk. Maybe just some tactics,
some words of advice. So I’m going to phone up the
best, highest performing, most talented cyclist that
I’ve got in my phone book. Just to see whether or not they can help make the difference. (phone dialing) I hope they pick up. I need it. – [Dan] Helloo! – Hi Dan, you all right mate? – [Dan] Yeah, so are you? – Yeah, I’m all right, mate. Not too bad. Mate, you know I’m doing this race? – [Dan] Yeah. – Do you mind, I just need a bit of like, just some tactics, just some advice, mate. I’m so nervous. I’ll be honest, I’m (beep) a bit. – [Dan] I don’t think you
need to worry about tactics. You been out of the
game for a little while. Just got to try and hang on, man. – Hang on. Okay. – [Dan] Yeah, just hang on. However, if I could give
you one piece of advice: just don’t attack at the start. But also remember the fact
that you just can’t sprint, so try attack the sort of finish. – Okay. All right, mate. Thanks, that makes sense. – [Dan] Are you nervous? – Yeah. Really nervous. – [Dan] Put a bog roll in
your kit bag before you went. So if you need it, then. – Ah, thanks mate. All right, bud. Where are you, by the way? – [Dan] Good luck, mate. Down at the pub. – You are, you’re at the pub? – [Dan] Yeah. – Okay. – [Dan] I’ll be thinking of you. Have a good one. – Thanks, buddy. Cheers mate, see you in a bit. – [Dan] Bye. – Don’t attack at the start. Don’t wait for a sprint. Try and survive. Got it. Well, quite a bit of time has elapsed since the Battle on the Beach. You might have noticed
that this is also the bike that I took up to ride the
Northcoast 500 in Scotland. And, funnily enough, after
doing 500 miles in three days, I then had to have
three weeks off the bike due to an Achilles tendonitis. So I’ve been away from road
racing for six-and-a half years, and now I also have less
fitness than I was banking on. So I’m a little bit worried. I’m not actually worried about
the bike in the slightest. I know there is absolutely
nothing about it that is going to hamper
my performance tonight. I’m just worried that
I’m not going to be able to do it justice. Feels like there’s quite
a lot banking on this. So yeah, I’ll be keeping
my fingers firmly crossed. Now the proving ground is this, which is the Thursday
Night World Championships at Castle Combe. It’s a race series, a classic race series, local to GCN’s HQ. I could have enter the third
and fourth category race, but I accidentally entered
the elite race instead. My pen slipped when I was signing on. (droning music) Now you notice that
preparing for this race, in terms of the bike, was
a pretty quick process. Swapping the wheels out. But that does mean that I am still using my mountain bike pedals and, therefore, my mountain bike shoes. Which complete with a
little bit of mud left over from the cross season. Now, performer stubs, I don’t
think I’m going to lose out here. I did it partly because I wanted to change as little as possible and by changing my pedals and my shoes I then thought I might
have to start having to faff around with my seat height. And that’s not what you want to do every time you want to
swap from road to off-road. So I’m going for mountain bike pedals and I’m just going to have
to put up with the fact that this feels all kinds of wrong. (driving orchestra and synth music) – [Crowd] Good race! Nice one, mate! – Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ve forgotten how much I
love racing on the road. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? Six-and-a half years away. (beep)-ing my pants. No actually, that was brilliant. Such good fun. Even had a go in the sprint! Lloydy’ll be impressed. Finished solidly mid-pack. (laughs) Oh man. Ah, That was so cool! Well, now that the dust has settled and I’m getting my
breath back a little bit. Where does this leave us in answering our original question
about do-it-all bikes? Well, I guess the answer
is: Yes, they kind of can. I’ve had a great time
racing exactly the same bike off-road and on. And I think that is fantastic news. Because not everyone can
have, or wants to have, multiple different bikes
for different disciplines. So the rise of this new breed of super-versatile gravel bikes I think can only be a good thing. Where then does it
leave people like myself that like having different bikes
from different disciplines? Is that going to be a thing of the past? Well no, if I’m completely
honest, I don’t think it is. Because I don’t think a gravel bike is ever going to be able to do
what a mountain bike can do. They’re just more limited. And then, when it comes to
the road side of things, well clearly they’re not
limited in the same way, because a gravel bike can go everywhere that a road bike can. But they just feel so different. We’ve seen time and time again that you can measure the difference in speed at the same effort between a gravel bike
and also a road bike. And while the difference
might seem small on paper, in my experience, the
human body is pretty good at being able to perceive these small differences out on the road. And so even a fraction
of a second can translate into an increased feeling
of exhilaration that you get when riding an out-and-out road bike. And there’s also a couple of other bits that I’ve been thinking about. Firstly, having a pristine
road bike is a joy to have. Whereas when you ride a bike in the dirt, it can get thrashed pretty quick. And so if you do have a do-all bike and you regularly swap
between disciplines, I think you’ll probably spend
half your life cleaning it. Which is definitely a bit
of a negative, in my book. And the last one is that I think, once you’ve made that initial investment in multiple different bikes, keeping them on the road
is probably actually the same price as just
having one do-it-all bike. Because, bear with me,
you can only ever ride one bike at once. Which means, if you
got three, for example, each one will only get a third of the use. Now that might sound a bit random. But let me know in the comments section what you think about this do-it-all bike. I am going to have a well-earned beer. If you want a little bit more info about that SRAM Force eTap AXS Group set, then you can click through
to that video on screen now. Otherwise, give us a big thumbs up!

100 comments on “Can Gravel Bikes Really Do It All?

  1. I love my gravel bike (Planet-X Tempest V3 titanium with 1x Rival). So much so, that I hardly never use my roadbike and mtb anymore. Mind you, I do not do races. I mainly do sportifs, audax, leasure, long distance riding, mtb orienteering and sometimes triathlons – when my back permits it. For me it is all about nature and wind in the face – not competitive though challenging myself. For this purpose, the gravel bike is just perfect. I really love the geometry while having arthritis of my spine. It puts less strain on the problematic parts of my back, because the riding position is a bit more upright. So I might sell my road- and mtb in the near future.

  2. Gravel bikes are amazing and I totally dig them, but I would never use a gravel bike for riding Liege Bastogne Liege 270 km with 5000 m elevation gain. Used my tarmac for that last weekend and I appreciated the lightweight and stiff capabilities of the frame.

  3. Very interesting.I built a drop bar bike with a rigid 29er frame and forks and a mix of mtb, CX and road components which was a similar idea to be honest. I loved riding it even though the gears never really indexed perfectly. I sold it a couple of years ago but watching this has made me miss it! 🙂

  4. Also if a bike is broke. You have another whilst the other gets repaired! I need more money.. or just more bikes.

  5. I am a very average rider and find my Giant Revolt to be way above my ability on and off road. I have a set of road wheels, a set of 700×42 WTB and 650b x 50 GravelKings. Its a do it all kind of machine.

  6. When I developed my passion for cycling 10 years ago, I was told you need to ride compatible gear with your mates. At the time that was clearly mtb. Then I switched to road and this time went out and found compatible mates for my gear. Recently I built myself a steel framed hybrid with 26” wheels, rigid carbon fork and dropbar and a lot of tire configurations. Sadly it has proved a letdown on the road, but is doing a good job on decent trails. The ultimate test will be going bikepacking and then maybe I’ll know which way to go.

    Intuitively I’d take something like a CaadX or a Diverge with two sets of wheels as a one bike to do it all.

  7. Bought Hybrid bike imagining it's what I needed, then a year later bought a Gravel Bike, added 2 road wheels. I rarely touch the Hybrid Bike. The Gravel Bike is awesome and fit for all purposes. Unless one does extreme road of MTB, a Gravel Bike is fit for all purposes, including touring.

  8. I use my gravel bike on tame single track all the time. It is more capable than the mountain bike I started on way back when.

  9. Good point on the wear of one bike. My do it all bike is almost two years old and has been through hell and back!

  10. Hello im a newbie in road bikes and im planning to build my own GRAVEL BIKE. Can someone help me please answer my questions.
    1) What tire size should i choose for my gravel bike if i want more tires to dampen the ground and reduce slipping
    2)What rim size should i get for my gravel bike?
    3)Does the rim breaks can fit with larger range of rims and tires for example 20mm rims and 36 or 38x700c tires?
    4)Since i dont have that much of a budget how can i get a rim brakes for my gravel bike for example im buying tiagra how to make it a rim brake?
    I don't need that much speed i just want to enjoy riding road bike in rocky roads specially here in my country philippines

  11. My Brodie Romax does it all. It is a cross bike – I've bike-packed with it, cyclocross, a couple of loops in a mountain bike race, I commute on it, and in a month 's time I'll do an IRONMAN 70.3 on it. I love this bike!

  12. I ride some pretty out there edge of terrain gravel (Welsh mud and hilly rubble roads eg Sarn Helen) and long distance Audax rides, yes my gravel bike could do both with just a wheel/tyre swop, but as Simon concludes lots of time would be spent wading and servicing the one bike. Having 2 bikes, one gravel, one Audax (road) does allow me to keep riding even if 1 bike is out of action due to servicing

  13. Gravel bikes are excellent on packed dirt as long as it's not too bumpy. They are also good on cobblestone and old tarmac. However, they are terrible on loose gravel and absolutely useless on sand and rocky trails. They are more like all-roads bikes than all-terrains bikes.

  14. great looking footage, excellent presentation, some cinematic drama choir music –> super entertaining video, on one of the most interesting topics at the moment (for me). Thanks again GCN 🙂
    My new Merlin GX-01 will be shipped very soon, so I start my own Do-it-all bike experiment …but I already feel the hesitation to sell my proper carbon roadbike (even though it's pretty old 🙂

  15. Yup, sold four bikes, 29 HT, two ccx bikes and one road bike and bought a Ibis Haaka MX w two wheel sets. When I want to shred some serious mtb trails, I’ll just demo a sweet high end full suspension bike for the day at $80-$100 and keep the extra $8500 bucks. 😎. I just mounted some Schwalbe G-one’s in 30mm on my 700c hoops for road specific rides. I’ll find out how they work soon. Great work as always Si!!

  16. 9:13 Young people today don't know how good they have it. When I was his age, my idea of bike heaven was to have a bike with a cantilever brake.

  17. Got rid of my road bike for a gravel bike & never looked back! And actually, I am faster on the road with my gravel bike – I have no explanation. Also, have a full suspension mountain bike

  18. I got a roadbike and a gravelbike at home. At my dad I got a do it all bike. Dreaming of getting a gravelbike good enough for road at home, like a Factor Vista 🙂

  19. What a fantastic video!

    I think in the future I will switch to having two bikes (not three!), one cyclocross/gravel/winter road bike (WITH MUDGUARDS!) and one road specific bike with deep wheels.

  20. Have u tried putting a suspension fork on the gravel bike & comparing vs MTB? Hey, wheels r not only ones that can be changed.

  21. When I first entered mass start road events at the turn of century I only had my mtb so just put some slick tyres on it and away I went. Set my PB on one course over 10yrs ago and still haven't beaten that time on my fancy modern carbon roadbike. I honestly thought once I bought a roadbike I'd be 15mins faster 🙁 But yeah my roadbike is so much more enjoyable to ride and I wouldn't go back.

  22. Thanks for this. It is odd as I got a gravel bike after my 29er mtb was stolen. Originally as a commuter bike but as I started to use it I realised just how fantastic it was at just a out anything. I use it year round in Ottawa, Canada, so it gets lots of rough stuff thrown at it in terms of weather and wear. But it gravels, forest tracks, roadies and icies like a pro. I can't afford your kind of kit, but I appreciate seeing that s real pro can use a gravel bike in pro settings and really do it all. My regret this year is living so far from some serious gravel rides in Europe. Cheers.

  23. Simon you’re my favorite GCN presenter :). I really enjoyed this video because at the end of the day I agree, Gravel bikes are a jack of all trades‘s, but they do every situation 100%. Let’s just excuse to have two or three bikes 👍🏻😄. I’m working on my collection but I tend to like the higher end bikes so just have a Specialized Diverge Sport gravel bike for now.

  24. The logic at the end is only a justification of n+1 🙂 Spend £9000 on three bikes (if not considerably more) and you'll always have £6000 standing around doing nothing. £6000 for general consumable parts for one bike goes a very long way.

  25. Not very convincing reasoning. While a gravelbike will never be as fast as a MTB on descents a light gravel bike with an appropriate wheelset will be as fast as any road bike on tarmac. The exhilaration argument is really thin.

  26. Great Video!!
    One question: Could you not have used a 650b wheelset with wider tyres on the beach section? – you could've gone up to a 54mm tyre in that frame, with 47~48mm probably being ideal.

  27. Awesome video. This proofs my point I have made as well with my Momsen GP300 Gravel Bike here in South Africa. I have on more than one occasion, proofed and impressed some of my friends that you can have a do it all bike. I won't get rid of my MTB just yet, for the days you need to encounter big mountains and scary rocks. But to be honest, my MTB is about 6 years older than my Gravel bike and according to Strava, I've done more miles on my Gravel bike already.

  28. Really good vlog Si ! Just trying to decide which frame set to buy CX, gravel or road? You’ve given me some food for thought. Also which frame material Steel or Carbon.

  29. You guys need to do a series of vids in midwest North America and you'll see that a standard road bike would catch fire if you tried to ride it on 90% of roads. That's why I want a gravel bike. Don't ever want to ride on actual gravel, just don't want a bike that will explode while I ride it down a sidewalk aka flood plain

  30. I have a city bike thats chain is kinda slipping and my 14 yo mtb that's fork is leaking and the cheapest fixie you can buy.. Now I got another cheap mtb used and better tyres for the fixie because it turns out it didn't like gravel. The idea is that at least one bike at a time ain't flat…

  31. I agree with the comment about having different bikes and costing the same to run. I have a carbon dream road bike, commuter road bike, hard tail MTB and a old bike which was a bodge TT bike. I planed them all around the same time to share as much kit as possible so they are all SRAM 10 speed. There is a lot of apex, a Red groupset and X9/eagle. That mean they can all share parts and buying in bulk is far easier for chains, cassettes and tyres.

  32. Please look at gravel bikes VS hybrids. I'd be interested to see if having an $1800 gravel bike is really worth it compared to a $600 hybrid when a) I already have a road bike and b) the gravel/hybrid would largely just be for simple offroad rides with my family and the odd bikepacking.

  33. I agree that it is good to spread wear among bikes. It can make it easier to stay in top of maintenance too.

  34. How did Simon treat his achilles tendonydes? What are the causes? I am suffering the same #TorqueBack

  35. It seems to me that gravel bikes are a "classification" of bikes to kinda beat the "restrictions" that cyclocross bikes have on them… My fear is that once gravel bikes become really popular and events aimed directly at them gain in popularity, the "rules" will tighten up and that line between a cyclocross and gravel bike will become even more of a blurr… either cyclocross will loosen up the restrictions so gravel bikes can compete in the same events or gravel will have its own set of rules and somehow exclude a lot of the bikes already out there.
    In my eyes a gravel bike is really just a XC MTB that has more ability to run on regular roads than a MTB does… It terrifies me to think of any kind of real downhill with any kind of drop bar bike, the handlebars on my XC bike are 760mm and I really want to go to 780 or 800mm, I can't even think of 430mm (or 43cm) drop bars on trails, it terrifies me just thinking about it. You want MORE control (= wider bars) not less (= narrow bars) on any trail, especially on rooty or rocky trails.

  36. When you stated that disc brakes aren't exactly new new tech I had to chuckle. When I was 9 my parents bought my first 10 speed bicycle from the local Coast to Coast hardware store. 1978ish…The brand was Coast King and it had a rear disc brake. I had to work my tail off to earn the money for new rear tires every month. 🙂

  37. Thanks GCN Crew for all your tecnical info, humour and epic madventures.

    For me, a genuinely versatile do-it-all bike should also be commuting- and touring-compatible, implying frame eyelets for a rack and a slightly longer chainstay length to ensure no contact between panniers and shoe heals. No eyelets still somewhat hints at a specialisation, so a gravel bike with eyelets would be the do-it-all bike for me.

  38. This question may be a little in the weeds. What size tires did you use for the road race? Did you use different tires than you might use on a road frame because of the different geometry? I really enjoy your channel. Relevant videos with a dry sense of humor. Right on mates.

  39. Hi there 🤗
    Great and interesting video 🤗

    I’m thinking of getting a new bike, and a bike that can go as a commuter, a road bike and a light gravel/winter bike… A genuine do it all bike 🤔😇

    I’m not looking for a full on gravel bike (for that a have my MTB)

    But I’ve been looking at the Canyon Endurace AL Disc 7.0… it looks like the tire clearance allows for a 32c tyre which I think will work as a light gravel/winter tyre setup…

    But will the bike be a good option? It comes with a Shimano 105 M7020 2×11 groupset (11/32 and 34/50)

    Best Regards Jannik

    #askGCN.

  40. I like the idea. I just bought a Momsen R355 gravel bike and I am waiting for my road rims to arrive. I will update you during
    July 2019 on my findings.

  41. Fast and fun comes from within. How strong are You? Do the work log the MILES, and it's all fun and fast…. gear doesn't ever replace the love of being on the bike….

  42. I commute on my gravel/cross bike(set up for road). Could it be an only child? Sure. I’ve seen people riding a lot less. Would I be ok with that? No. A good road bike is a refined machine built to handle with precision on asphalt/concrete. A gravel or cross bike has to have some compromises to handle the differences in terrain encountered off road. You can’t fake/fudge a great road bike.

  43. Precisely the conversation many of my mates have been having as we dip deeper into gravel rides. I have to think the bike makers are listening. I’m wondering if a Roubaix-type with two sets of wheels will replace my Tarmac and my Felt F85X. Thoughts?

  44. I'm thinking of a gravel bike but more for winter. Do it all winter bike.bit of off roading and winter miles with fatter tyres sounds good to me

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