After years of riding, gravel bike users found out something that mountain bikers knew for decades: bumping over rough terrain makes you sore and exhausted. The first attempt to make the ride comfortable appeared just a few months ago. One could choose a lefty suspension fork by Cannondale or try the improved Specialized Future Shock. The company introduced the adjustable coil suspension cartridge in the fork steerer of its Roubaix model in 2019 and incorporated it into the Diverge gravel bike last year.
The suspension sits over the steering and suspends the rider alone. Some people perhaps recollect suspension stems that were popular among riders that could not afford a fork back in the 90s. Concerning Future Shock, though, many people agreed that 20 mm of travel are quite enough to isolate you from trail shocks and make the ride more pleasant. Since we can see a repetition of similar steps we experienced in the 90s with the MTBs, it’s no surprise to welcome a brand new Rock Shox Rudy suspension fork also in the realm of the gravel bikes.
The trend of wider tyres is present in every type of cycling and gravel bikes are no exemption. The idea has more benefits to its name as a wider tyre gives extra comfort, is less prone to puncture and can even roll faster under certain circumstances. It’s no wonder then that we can see the wide tyre clearance trend applied also to the gravel bike industry.
While suspension and wide tyres make the gravel bike more MTB-like, there’s one trend running in the opposite direction. A few manufacturers such as Cervélo adopted the aero frame design to make its Áspero model even more competitive. While many riders enjoy gravel bikes for their original purpose, be it a feeling of freedom on trails or expedition travelling, others might prefer participating in gravel-bike racing. Aero-design frames are undoubtedly meant for the latter group.
More casual than regular road cycling kits, yet still far less baggy than apparel designed for mountain bikers – this is how we are advised to recognise gravel-bike dedicated clothing. Generally, you can ride the gravel bike in whatever feels comfortable without giving it an extra name but if you really want to have something special, you can put your hands on dedicated products by Rapha, PEdALED or Morvélo.
The invention of a dropper post launched an unprecedented revolution in mountain biking, which doesn’t need to be described in detail. Everybody knows. Lowering the seat means you can tackle even very steep terrain without losing control over your bike. It’s actually the only element that distinguishes modern gravel bikes from early mountain bikes. If you provide a gravel bike with a suspension fork and wider tyres, you get a bike very similar to what American legend John Tomac raced back in 1991. Including the drop bars.