Articles

Gravel Bikes Exist Because Mountain Biking Is Now Boring

October 26, 2019


– What on earth is a gravel bike? Nobody really knows, do they? Although we think we might, because we’ve got a theory on this. – We do. A gravel bike is a modern retro
mountain bike, only better. And to prove this, we’re going
to put our theory to the test. Before we do that though, we need to take you on a journey. (dream sequence noises) – Didn’t think we were
actually going to do that bit. – Hey? (chimes and light music) (retro upbeat music) Back in the mists of time,
mountain bikes were cool. They were the antidote
to boring road bikes. They allowed us to
venture away from tarmac, and onto the dirt, in
search of added thrills. As technology evolved over the years, so to did mountain biking, and now events like
Rampage, or the Fest Series, show just what’s possible. And the best thing is
we can all do it too. Or, we can at least try. – This is going to be unlike
anything you’ve ever seen before. As in worse than anything
you’ve ever seen before. Watch this. (upbeat music) Whoa. – Yes! Ah, man that felt amazing. How high was it? – I looked amazing. It was probably about
three or four inches. – Serious, three or four?
– Yeah. It was rather radical dude.
– Yes, oh man, I’m going to do that again. – Yeah, probably the best idea. And that’s the problem really, isn’t it? I mean we all want the
best, most capable bikes. Perhaps a bike that’s equally at home hucking cliffs in Utah, as it is carving endless Alpine descents, but come on, how many of us actually have that sort of
terrain on our doorsteps? Let alone in fact the
guts needed to do it. – [Si] No, what happens
is that mountain bikers typically get what we call over-biked. Riding the same trails
that have been ridden for the last 20 or 30 years, but on bikes that can now
eat them for breakfast. There’s no challenge. It’s like driving a tractor over a twig. We’re isolated from any sort of thrill from these simple trails. Basically they’re just a bit boring. (snores) – You heard, boring. Modern mountain bikers are boring. Admittedly, not many of them would like to go back to 26 inch wheels and V brakes, but I think it’s hard to deny that those old mountain bikes made the kind of simple trails that we all actually ride,
an enormous amount of fun. – And they made them fun, because the bikes weren’t
actually that good, so simple trails felt challenging. However, what they were really good at was actually pedaling. Cycling, some people like to call it. I mean the handlebars
are not stupidly wide, but sensibly narrow, and
they have bar ends attached, and everyone knows they’re just ace. – Oh man, bar ends are so ace. Especially for climbing, or getting aero for the good bits. – That slender elegant construction is an indication of its light weight, and this is just over
10 kilos, or 22 pounds. And then, you also have those
smaller diameter wheels, coupled to that steep head angle, and short wheelbase. I mean the whole bike just feels small, and agile, and lively. (dramatic music) – Some people might even
say they’re sketchy. Although let’s face it, we’re not actually launching ourselves over 30 foot gap drops here, even though that was
pretty blooming close. This is a bike for the common people. – Exactly. So is it a coincidence then that at just about the time when normal on mountain bikes
meant monster truck tires, had 140 mill of suspension front and back, that a new trend began to emerge, riding bikes that felt familiar on tarmac, but yet could also go off-road as well, riding all terrains,
even biking up mountains? – A bike that is fast, but challenging. Light, and responsive,
and small, and agile, and fun to actually pedal, and to get out the saddle on. A bit like this. It’s been said before, but gravel bikes are a lot like taking the best bit of retro mountain bikes,
and making them even better. But how similar are they, and what do they do better? And what if anything do they do worse? – Well, to find out, as you can see our mates
at Lauf have got onboard with this project, and
very kindly supplied a True Grit frameset, and
Grit SL suspension forks, but sprayed up in an homage to those killer mountain
bikes from the early 90s. (light retro music) In comparison, we have a Raleigh titanium, with full XTR groupset, ridden to several top 14 finishes by none other than Daniel
Lloyd back in 1999. This you got to say was
an advanced machine. I mean, no V brakes here. This has got hydraulic brakes. – Hydraulic rim brakes, but still. We also have this, a GT
Zaskar, which is a true icon of the 90s cross country
mountain bike scene. It comes with RockShox
SID suspension forks, although it appears that
the air got left in the 90s, and it’s also got an XTR groupset. However, this is the bike
that Si is going to be using. As I pointed out to him, he’s only got XT shifters,
and mismatched brake levers. – To find out just how
similar they all are, we are firstly going to
shred our mountain bikes, and the gravel bike, before unleashing something of a special edition. Something we’re going to call a hybrid. – Yeah, about that. I’m not sure about the word hybrid for this.
– Really? Why not? – Well the hybrids are not exactly the coolest bikes around town are they? It’s a bit unfair.
– No. No, I take your point. Uh. A mutant. – Mutant?
– Yeah. – I like it, yeah.
– Yeah. – Well our mutant is
basically like a gravel bike, isn’t it, with wide flat bars, and a slightly longer stem. – [Si] Yeah. I mean that’s exactly
what it is, isn’t it? – Yeah. Our test track is the perfect mix of gravel, climbing, some
tarmac, some single track, and of course some gnarly jumps. We will be getting rad over those. It’s quite a simple format. Ride on each bike and compare the times, plus how each bike feels. – Okay, now because GPS
hadn’t been invented when Dan was racing this, and also because our
Wahoos won’t actually fit on these microscopically thin handlebars, I’m going to use something
called a stopwatch. Remember those? – Yeah. Stopwatch on a smartphone. – Yes, okay. Right Lloydy, you ready mate? – Hold on a sec, right. Yep. – You are looking good. Three, two, one, go. – Whoa, I’m not clipped in yet. – Wha, yes! (upbeat music) – I must admit, this bike
is quite hard to handle in this position. I have got another mountain bike at home, and I’ve still got the
bars chopped right down. I don’t have bar ends on it, but it’s a 29er, and
you’re just so much higher at the front. And it gives you a lot more control. So I love the bar ends on the climb. But I think I’d definitely
choose a different type of bike for those descents. I’m going to be very, very interested to see how the gravel
bike feels down there, compared to this one. Now, Si’s modern mutant does have bars upon which you can fit a Wahoo ELMNT Bolt, so he’s going to be timing himself, but just to make sure he’s not cheating, I will also be timing it on my smartphone. Are you ready Si? – I am. I’m a bit nervous about that massive jump that you’ve been getting air on. – I styled it over that, mate. – I know you did. – Anyway, three, two, one, go. (upbeat music) – Ah, that was mega. It does feel very different still to a retro mountain bike. It feels a lot lighter, and like, it would take you a while
to get used to that. The steering’s super responsive, because that stem, and
the flat bars combined, means that you’re a little bit shorter than you would be on drops. But that’s a genuine grin. – Also because he was quicker. – While we’re cranking out some hot laps, let’s dive into a little bit more detail about the tech, so we can actually try and get to the bottom of why we think these two genres of bikes are so similar. If we start with the first point, and we’ve touched on it already, both retro mountain bikes and gravel bikes have been designed principally with pedaling, and
actually riding in mind, over just the ability to
go downhill really fast, so their suspension travel is perfect for taking the edge off things, but you’re not going to be able
to swallow entire ruts whole, and it also means that the
front end can be low enough that you can get a really
nice comfortably stretched out and low position on both
these types of bikes. Dan’s retro mountain bike perhaps is taking things to extremes, in that he’s actually more aero on that than he would be on a time trial bike. – Which means that both
retro mountain bikes and gravel bikes are
easier to ride faster, and in more comfort. And it’s not just the position, the geometry is also remarkably similar. In fact the chainstay lengths on the GT Zaskar and both
the Lauf gravel bikes are exactly the same, and also the head tube angles, and trail numbers are
exactly the same too. (bike whirring) – Lightweight was also a real priority for retro mountain bikes, that they felt fast and lively, and were also able to
climb really efficiently, and the same is true for a
modern gravel bike as well. The difference being now though, is that technology has
advanced to the extent that this Lauf is 1.6 kilos lighter than our GT Zaskar, and let’s face it, it’s not even trying all that hard. It’s just that technology
and materials have moved on. It has a carbon fiber
frame, a carbon fiber fork, carbon fiber cranks, handlebars. – Also slightly weirdly, the tires are a very similar width, so those green ones on
my Raleigh mountain bike measure up at 46 millimeters in width, whilst these WTB Resolutes
come in at 44 millimeters, although obviously these
wheels are bigger in diameter, so they do roll a bit quicker. Also, the tires, like
the rest of the bike, prioritize light weight,
and therefore fast riding, and again modern technology is a bit of a game changer with these,
because they are tubeless. That allows you to run
lower tire pressures, which in turn means more
comfort, and more grip. – Tubeless tech is just the tip of the iceberg though really. The fact that this has a one-by 12 speed, electronic wireless drivetrain, puts it in something of a
different league as well, not just in the speed and the smoothness of the shifting. (shifting) And the fact that it
makes a really cool noise, but also actually in tech advancements that we kind of now take for granted, like the clutch in the rear mech, that pretty much eliminates chain slap. – A bit like disc brakes, which were somewhat of a game changer when they were introduced
to mountain bikes, probably about 20 years ago, and the same can be said
since their introduction onto drop bar bikes a
little bit more recently. The question is then,
with all this technology, and the fact that these Laus have 20 years of use on their side, versus the retro mountain
bikes, will they be faster? – All right Lloydy, you ready mate? – I am. It does seem a bit of a shame to get such a beautiful
brand new bike so muddy in the space of six minutes, isn’t it? – It does.
– 5 1/2 minutes maybe on this one. – Yeah. Cannings can clean them pretty well mate, it’ll be all right. Okay, all right, you got
your Wahoo on this time, so, off you go. – You’re not going to give me a count in? – Oh, sorry mate. (beeping) – Right in the pedal. – [Si] Wha! – I almost came off there. (upbeat music) (gravel rattling) – Uh, right, are you ready? – I think so mate. I’m feeling a bit of
pressure to get some rad air over that lip there. – I don’t think your forks are feeling much pressure at all there Si. (laughter) – Fair enough.
– A distinct lack of air in them. Anyway, don’t go over the front of the handlebars, will you. – Nope. – On your marks, get set, go. (upbeat music) Even his fork’s got more air than he did. (upbeat music) – Retro mountain bike, first impressions. Probably not a fair test, given the state of the forks, but, let it be said, I forgot how much fun mountain bikes of that ilk are. It’s easy to think that they’re outdated, and don’t work, but that is cool. And also let it be said, the narrowish handlebars and
bar ends are utterly amazing. And if I was going to do one thing, it would be to put slightly
narrower bars on the mutant. And a slightly longer stem. 130 mill rules, yeah. (horn) Funny how different our mutant bike, and our true gravel bike feel, and that I think is entirely down to the fact that the bars are narrower, and the effective reach is longer, meaning that it kind of slows the steering down every so slightly, so actually it feels a
lot easier to handle. So this felt absolutely bob-on. Yeah. I don’t know, mutant, gravel bike, mutant? Let’s crunch some data. Right, time to put our money
where our mouths are Dan. Although before we say that, we should just point out, we have got cleaned up
since our race runs. – Well we should probably
be completely transparent, and admit that this is the day after, Si. We got very wet and very cold, didn’t we? – Yeah we did, but let’s not
let that spoil a good story. On the slightly deflated
GT Zaskar, I did 4:49, and then on the drop
handlebar Lauf True Grit, I did 4:05.
– Blimey. – [Si] And then on the mutant, 4:10. – [Dan] Right, quite a difference then. – [Si] Yeah. – Well I, Si, on my Raleigh
retro mountain bike did 3:59. – Whoa!
– I jo, of course I’m joking. Actually, on the Raleigh retro
mountain bike, I did 5:11, and remarkably I was
quicker on the True Grit. I say remarkably, because
my legs felt like lead after just one five minute
effort on that first climb, but I still managed to shave 21 seconds off with this bike, at 4:50. – [Si] Right. So Dan. – [Dan] So Si. – How much time do you think we lost from riding vintage mountain bikes that had been used for 20-odd years? – [Dan] Obviously you mean the fact that they’re not brand spanking new. – [Si] Yeah. – I don’t think I would
have lost that much, mainly down to the fact that
I’ve well maintained my bike over the last 25 years or so, Si, including pumping air
– Right, fair enough. – into the forks. – Well yes, basic maintenance I guess. Now one thing that is
very clear from this, and that is that the mutant is
not quite the perfect hybrid of retro mountain bike
and modern gravel bike, that I thought it might be. Amazing fun, nevertheless, but perhaps it shouldn’t
have come as a surprise, when you put flat handlebars on a bike that has been perfected to
be used with drop handlebars, it kind of, it just, there’s a little something
that is just not quite right. – [Dan] Which is a shame actually, because it looks great, doesn’t it? – It does look amazing. And the other thing, Dan, is that I really miss
my bar ends on there. Having spent a bit more time on this now, anytime you’re climbing,
or riding fast flat stuff, you just really crave- – Yeah. – Some, basically some brake hoods. – I’ve been saying this for years. Bring back bar ends to mountain bikes. Let’s start a petition. – [Si] Yeah. – Right, before we finish this video Si, there is one thing about both these bikes that we haven’t even told
our viewers about yet. – What’s that mate? – Well that is the fact that they both have an
integrated beer bottle opener. – Yes they do.
– Where the front derailleur used to go. And so, in the interim between
yesterday’s riding and today, I bought some beers. – Good lad, Dan. Excellent. It’s an advantage of one-by that’s not often talked about, is it, but there we go.
– No. – I suppose whilst you’re… Ooh, easy mate. Whilst you’re opening- – I haven’t drunk one yet, honestly. – Whilst you’re opening
our bottles of beer, I think we should probably try and address that initial question, shouldn’t we, and that is that… – Sorry. – We should probably try and
address that initial question of whether gravel bikes are related to retro mountain bikes, and I think in spirit yes, but it’s not quite
brother and sister, is it? It’s kind of more like cousins, I suppose. I mean they are designed to
be used on gravel and tarmac, as well as being good off-road, whereas retro mountain bikes
were designed principally for off-road, weren’t they? – Well I would agree with that. – Yeah. – Although I would like
to clarify one thing that we said earlier Si. You know when we said that
mountain bikes are boring? – Yeah. – We didn’t really mean it, did we?
– No we didn’t. – Mountain bikers, you
know the people on them… But no, I don’t mean that either. And what we are trying to say, is that those modern mountain bikes might not be the most fun on the trails that you have on your doorstep, and that’s particularly apt for me, living down in New Forest, and that is where these
gravel alternatives really come into play. – That’s right. It is, as we said earlier, like a bike for normal life, isn’t it I guess?
– I would agree with that yeah. – Yeah, right.
– All right. – Cheers mate.
– Cheers. Oh don’t drink it, it’s not gluten free. I shall have that one as well. – Okay. All right, well, while
Dan drinks his beers, I will say please give
this video a big thumbs up if you’ve enjoyed it. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed
it half as much as we have, and also let me point in the direction of another cracking video, where Ollie got to use one
of these Lauf True Grits in its natural habitat, in the volcanoes of Iceland’s Highlands. – I’ve got a bottle of
Diet Coke if you want it. – Not really.

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