Gravel: Whose stupid idea was this?

Mine, of course.

First the good news. After 2 rides I really like my new Cinelli Nemo gravel bike. It’s as heavy as a horse and full of technology that I am afraid to even contemplate, let alone look at (try watching a video of how to bleed disc brakes and you’ll understand), but the ‘real-steel’ ride is very nice and if you don’t think about how slow you’re going, it’s just quite pleasant.

The better news is that I think my gravel career is over. After 2 rides of looking in vain for a smooth enough ‘gravel’ road (even the little vineyard roads here put the Arenberg Trench to shame) to be able to look up once and enjoy the view, I am convinced that this one isn’t for me. I’ll keep looking around a bit, but when you’re out on a ride and all you are thinking is ‘why?’, it’s a sign.

This is smooth. Paris-Roubaix starts over that hill

The truth is, I never really wanted to gravel anyway, but I’m happy to be stuck with a machine that is basically just a fat and lazy road bike – perfect for me. I’ll ride the Pirelli gravel tires down, slap on slicks, and have a very versatile bike for cushy riding and bike packing. And in the event that I find a gentle enough dirt road, I still have something to ride on it. Highly improbable, but I’ll never say never.

15 thoughts on “Gravel: Whose stupid idea was this?

  1. I’ve never really understood the appeal of gravel. Maybe it’s that we don’t have it here either? I have a feeling it’s a North American thing. A mountain bike is the only thing suitable for off road here but a gravel bike is a good choice for the rough minor roads. In fact many Audax riders here ride something very similar to your fine steed.

    • We do like gravel here because it’s everywhere and motorists hate driving on it so we have some fairly open roads with little traffic. That’s the only draw. Otherwise, the dust and dirt kills a bike and isn’t great for the respiratory system.

    • The other thing I kept thinking about as my lunch was bouncing up on me today was hey, we’ve got plenty of smooth and quiet roads here to ride on. What the hell? Jim’s comment below probably tells us one reason so many in North America are heading off road, i.e. few tarmac road choices and potentially angrier drivers on them.

  2. I use a carbon 29er hardtail mtb, light as anything, stick skinny tires on for fast road and gravel tracks, fat tires for genuine off road, unless your scotland or wales, hard to find long gravel only rides here in UK.

  3. How tall are you again? Inseam? Reach? I’m reasearching shipping costs now.

    But seriously, have a few more goes. No rush. It’s a different thing. Instead of thinking of it as slow and bumpy road riding, think of it as incredibly fast and lightweight MTB riding. Think of how crappy a job your road bike would do getting you out into the buggy boondocks. Get off and pick the wild strawberries. Etc.

  4. Maybe you just haven’t found the right roads yet. I’m like you in that most off road here really needs at least a hard tail mtb. But I have a lot of friends who swear by it in the northern Nice area so maybe we just haven’t found the right trails yet.

    • I have friends who find routes long enough to spend a whole day on, so they must be out there, I agree. I’m keeping the bike, so if you find one in the neighborhood, let me know. I’ll do the same.

  5. Since a bike is such a sweet thing on a well surfaced road, it has always seemed very odd to me to want to look for something slow and bumpy to waste time on. Bigddyjim makes a good point though.

    • It’s a good point. Even Belgians don’t go out and ride on cobbles all day long. Maybe I’m missing something fun about this, so I’ll keep looking around.

  6. I bought my gravel bike years ago to cope with the rough and potholed, one car width, grass-growing-in-the-middle Devon lanes, where only the tourists who have been mischievously redirected by a malevolent sat-nav are found. Bunged a set of Marathons on instead of the knobbly things, heavier than my car, slow (I’ve never really been about the speed) but comfortable, and the indestructible feeling on these sorts of surfaces is great. Although a place doesn’t have gravel specifically, the niche the bike type fills for me works anyway.

    • The ‘indestructible’ comment is timely because I was just thinking that the other day on the new bike. I don’t appreciate the bike when I have to lift it down the stairs, but it’s a nice, solid ride on the road. As for the ‘niche’, my feeling is that there could be multiple, depending on the rider, so yeah, I’m happy with it, whether I ever ride off-road again or not!

  7. I was just talking to my friend again who has a gravel bike and he still loves it. And he is/was a die hard roadie. Maybe the weight has something to do with it. It’s only 7.8kg. I just checked whether I could put fatter tyres on my road bike and think I’m limited to 28mm. But the newer models can take 32mm. Maybe that is all one needs to get the benefits of both road and gravel.

    • It could be. A friend in the US rides 38s on the road and it doesn’t seem to slow him down much. I’ll try 40s once my 35s wear out on the Cinelli, just to see what it’s like. Must be nice and cushy.

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