Gravel bikes have been a big trend in the world of cycling for a few years now. Hated by some, loved by many, and dismissed by a few as pure marketing, it’s becoming increasingly hard to argue that this new breed of bike doesn’t offer something unique.

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In fact, over the last few years, while some reports show that the number of bikes shipped is falling overall, shipments of gravel bikes continue to grow. Going from niche item to a large department of most major manufacturers, it looks like gravel bikes are here to stay. Not to mention, for those looking for a new challenge, there are tons of new mixed-terrain events popping up each year.

2018 Specialized Diverge

What makes these bikes special? Although there’s always room for diversion in the cycling industry, gravel bikes tend to have a more relaxed geometry than a cyclocross bike and are designed for longer rides. They feature disc brakes, big tyre clearance and have been honed to excel both on the road and off. Wondering if it might be right for you? There are definitely a few cases in which a gravel bike might be just the set of wheels you’ve been looking for.

Getting out of town

Been dreaming of a multi-day bikepacking trip? As most gravel bikes are sturdier, you have the option to add packs, racks, mudguards and fat tyres. The next generation of traditional long-distance touring bikes, this is the sort of bike that is becoming the go-to choice for long-distance bikepacking. Gravel bikes are designed to be able to tackle any sort of terrain you might encounter along the way and the comfortable riding position is definitely a big bonus on those multi-day treks.

Arriving at work on time

If getting around the city is more your concern, you might also care to know that these robust machines are ideal for rides to work. Their chilled-out geometry is great for providing a comfortable, sturdy ride, meanwhile, the disc brakes decrease your stopping distance which can be a huge advantage when riding in traffic. With eyelets for fitting racks and mudguards, you can easily build up the perfect winter or commuting bike with a few minor accessories.

Bikepacking through Kazakhstan. © Profimedia, iDNES.cz

Pushing your boundaries

Are you into events but looking to ditch the pavement and try a different kind of a cycling challenge? Though the scene is still definitely developing, there are more gravel bike races, challenges and sportives getting their start each season. Many of them have already established themselves as fun, well-organized, and unique as they aim to combine elements of gravel and enduro racing, with time stages on forest roads and footpaths. In addition, the gravel version of the gran fondo is quickly becoming one of the most popular new activities on the cycling calendar. And for those a bit weary of the super-competitive mentality of road racing, you’ll also be glad to know that thanks to its grassroots heritage, the gravel scene has tried to maintain a low-key attitude. You’ll find many small-scale events with no entry fees and a laidback atmosphere.

Having fun with the kids

If you’re not looking to do anything too serious on a bike but just want to be able to enjoy some recreation on the weekend and spend time on two wheels with your kids, a gravel bike can also be a great option. It gives you ultimate flexibility and helps keep you off the increasingly motor-traffic-filled roads. At the end of the day, these bikes are all about having fun and giving you the freedom to explore whatever terrain you happen to be surrounded by.

Genesis Datum

Going your own way

What do most people say their favourite thing about a gravel bike is? The pure freedom of being able to ride where you want, whenever you want. You can go off-road whenever you like, which can be particularly useful if you need to make a shortcut or if Strava plots a bridle path for you. Whether you’re dealing with mud, roots, potholed trails or all of the above, you can trust that you have a bike which will cope just as well as it does on the road. This gives you the flexibility to mix things up and to hide from the wind. If you want a machine that will allow you to be adventurous and go just about anywhere, with a gravel bike—you’re likely to have found a friend.

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