Gravel Riding:  So Much Terrain To Cover On Just One Bike

Gravel riding, mixed terrain riding, dirt road riding, adventure riding, cyclocross.  There are as many names for this kind of riding as there are places to ride.  Whatever you call it, it's lots of fun!

We're devotees of this expansive category of bikes and all the ways to ride dirt.  Read on to find out how much so.  We hope you'll become a enthusiast, too.  If you already are living the dirt, visit us and share your stories, good routes, and plans for your next big adventure!  We might have ways to make your rides even better.

Why Read This Lengthy Page?

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We promise you'll learn something.  If we're wrong we'll buy you a cappuccino.  It's not that we're smart, it's that we've been riding road bikes on dirt for more than 30-years.  That may sound a bit odd but that's where gravel riding evolved from.  It feels like it's all we do.

We are gravel and dirt.  We eat gravel, drink mud, and dream in dirt.  So, we've collected a few of our experiences with progressive dedicated gravel bikes on this page.  And we have a lot more to share if you're interested.

We've build bikes for riders all over the country -- and even a few across the pond.  We're sought after for our dedication to building purpose built bikes that excel in the gravel space.  Bikes we've designed have been ridden in the harshest and best rides around.  From Dirty Kanza to Kazakhstan.  From Paris-Brest-Paris to the Paris Roubaix Challenge.  If there's gravel, dirt, or cobbles involved, count us in.

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When we're not designing and building bikes we can be found riding the gravely dirt.  We might see you at D2R2, the Maneha 250, and just about every other mixed terrain ride in the area. 

Types of riding is included under the "gravel grinding" umbrella

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This may seem like an odd place to start but clarifying what you mean and how you'll use the bike are the first step in determining the best setup.  +++++++++++++++++++

The term "Gravel Riding" and "Gravel Grinding" covers so much territory that it's almost meaningless.  In a broad way it means not riding on pavement but not even that means gravel.

common elements is that, in our area, we don't actually have any gravel to grind.  Sure, there are a few hundred yards here and there -- we're happy to show you some secret spots -- but we don't really have gravel like you'll find in some Midwestern areas.  We've ridden gravel for a hundred miles and we're not very excited about doing it again.

  • Mixed terrain riding:  In eastern Massachusetts we don't have true gravel, so true gravel bikes aren't actually all that great for the majority of our dirt riding.
  • Dirt road riding:  As we head east we see      As we head north   
  • Endurance riding:  If you ride long enough you'll get to dirt roads.  Head north and you'll find some beautiful well groomed dirt roads in New Hampshire.  Head west and you can find some hidden rough roads.  Head south and you'll find a bit of everything.  And this is just dirt roads.  Put singletrack and doubletrack into the mix and you can ride forever from sector to sector.  Our point is that endurance riding often becomes mixed terrain or dirt road riding if you do it right.
  • Class IV roads, access roads, and fire roads:  ++++++++++++++++++
  • Easy singletrack and doubletrack:  This is the most common terrain you'll find in eastern Mass.
  • Harsh weather riding:  It may seem odd to include weather conditions in a conversation about gravel but once you have a gravel bike you'll want to riding ALL the time.  So, harsh weather, we're ready.
  • Bikepacking:  ++++++++++++++++
  • Cyclocross Racing:  We put this at the bottom of the list because it's really not like gravel riding at all.  However, lots of companies offer their cyclocross race bike as a gravel bike.  Don't fall for this.  A gravel bike can make a decent cyclocross race bike but a true cross bike makes a poor gravel or mixed terrain bike.  Ask us why.  We're happy to explain.

What defines a bike great for gravel?

As you can see, there are many ways to define a gravel bike.  Oddly, in Eastern Mass, we don't really want to ride a classic gravel bike because we don't have any gravel.  So, stripping it down to its simplest form, here are the

Eastern Massachusetts mixed terrain bike

 

Points to consider in order of what we find to be most important.  Some of this is obvious and some of it may be counter-intuitive.

  1. Tire size and wheel size.  These are clearly two points mashed into one, but we see them as closely linked.  For gravel you can't talk tire size and tread pattern without including wheel size.  There are two primary wheel sizes and dozens of tire patterns and approaches.  Then there's the dilemma of tubes or tubeless.  Don't believe the hype.  Read below some of the ways we approach tire choice and the never ending wheel size conundrum to ensure you are riding the best possible bike for all conditions.
  2. Handling.  The most common bike used for gravel riding is a re-purposed cyclocross bike.  While this type of bike can work fine for some situations, you'll find a purpose build bike will excel in almost every way over a 'cross bike.  The easiest way to describe the ideal gravel bike is to counterpoint it to a 'cross bike.  Here are a few of the ways they differ:
    • 2+ hour rides:  This may be the biggest factor.  A well designed 'cross bike is designed for 50 minutes of all out riding.  A mixed terrain or gravel bike should be designed for multiple hours in the saddle.  This means a bike that will take the edge off fatigue inducing
    • Climbing:  
    • Descending:  
    • Cornering:  You probably want a bike that doesn't jack knife or dig into a corner too fast.  You probably also benefit from a bike that doesn't fight you as you try to get into a tight switchback.  Frame and fork geometry, rider fit and position, tire choice, and even tire pressure all factor into the way a bike behaves as you push it to its limit.  We specialize in bike fitting that optimizes rider position while ensuring the bike is perfectly balanced under you.  If you haven't experienced this yet you're in for a treat.  We can accomplish this because we partner with the most experienced custom framebuilder in the world:  Seven Cycles.  They understand fit and how it impacts the handling of the bike in ways that many rider term, "magical."  Come talk with us and we'll explain how this is possible.
    • Overall:  You position will be slightly farther back.
    • Carrying equipment for longer rides:  The balance of the bike. 
  3. Gear ratios.  There are so many ways to achieve perfect gearing on your gravel or mixed terrain bike.  Accepting the standard off the shelf gear ratios pushed by the big stock bike companies is a pale offering of what is possible.  Read the details below of our approach ans why it's worth five minutes of functional exploration in trade for years of on trail exploration.
  4. Brake type.  At this point nearly every offroad bike has disc brakes.  That's a good step.  However, are 140 rotors, 160, 160/140 or even 180 the right setup?  Is hydraulic the best answer?  Not always.  We'll explain why.
  5. Durability:  tough components. +++++++++++++++++++++++
  6. Equipment carrying.  Bags. weight distribution.  Water bottles.  +++++++++++++++

 

Rides that are the thing we're talking about +++++++++++++

Many ways to approach.  More than most kinds of riding, a gravel bike

Do you come from a road bike or mountain bike background?

You may think that these are details and not likely to influence your enjoyment or performance.  Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news but each of these elements influences the ride and when you stack them all together you get a multiplying affect that is the difference between smiles and groan.  The difference between lead pack and +++++++++++++.

++++++++++++The more aggressive the terrain the more useful the disc.  hydro for the toughest terrain.  medium reach brakes for smoother dirt roads.  lighter weight.  simper maintenance.  the rougher the terrain the more maintenance to expect.  +++++++++++++

Gear Ratio Recommendations

Why aren't stock gears best? 

If stock gravel bikes come with this gearing why wouldn't it be best?  There's a number of reason stock bike gears may not be ideal for you.  Some of the important reasons include:

  • The vast majority of stock bikes are designed for west coast riding -- fast fire roads and long steady climbs or Midwest riding -- long dirt roads with slow rolling hills.  Shimano North America and Specialized are in California.  Trek and SRAM are in the Midwest.  It's no wonder that the industry's offerings are heavily influenced by these two locals and terrains.  The gear ratios for this kind of riding are sub-optimal for our east coast MA riding where we have punchy short climbs with rocky, rooty trails and roads and tight technical singletrack that requires endless low speed accelerations.  Did we mention the weather?  Totally different.  We have mud, slush, rain, and ice.  All of these factors influence gearing and component optimization.  Do you ride like you're on the west coast?  Then you're off the shelf gears might be fine.
  • Stock bikes focus on price points.  Believe it or not, cassette pricing varies widely by size and length.  The more teeth, the higher the price.  Longer cage derailleurs are also more expensive as are longer chains.  Big bike companies focus on price points over component optimization. The Price can easily exceed $100.    Don't skimp on the things that matter.
  • Big component companies don't make smart progressive parts kits.  You can see this in nearly every part they make.  Sometimes there are options and sometimes there aren't.  When there are better options we offer them.
  • Stock bikes buy parts kits in bulk in order to receive preferred pricing. 
  • In order to get preferred pricing they purchase full sets of what the big component brands offer.  Big brands are heavily incented to buy complete drivetrains from a single source rather than choosing the optimal part for a specific bike job.

What gearing do we recommend and why?

Our recommendations are tailored to your riding style, preferences, your major riding plans for the season, etc.  A few minutes of assessment of your riding will provide us everything we need to make the right recommendation.  

How do we achieve the ideal gear range?

Simply putting a bigger cassette on your stock bike won't work.  If you change the cassette size you also have to change the rear derailleur and chain, at the very least.  It's a lot more complicated than is sounds. There are a dozen way to get the ideal gear range for your preferred riding style.  Visit us to find out what we'd recommend and why.

There are three elements of determining gear range and gear inches:

  1. Rear cassette range
  2. Front chain ring size or sizes
  3. Tire diameter

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1x exampels

specail cranks

See us for the details.

 

Wheel Size and Tire Type Recommendations

Why not just ride what comes with the bike?  Aren't stock tires and wheels best?

Well, not so much.  As with anything, the right choice of hoops depends on how, where, and how much you ride gravel.   The vast majority of stock bikes come with 700c wheels.  But, you'll notice a lot of riders preferring 650c wheels recently.  So which is better?  Probably even more important than wheel diameter is tire size and tread.  There are literally dozens of gravel tires that companies want to sell you.  Which width, tread, air containment system, and tire pressure is best?

Big companies choose wheels and tires just like everything else they decide.  Usually it's some combination of price , discount opportunity, and trying to persuade you that whatever you bought last week is no longer any good.  You don't see anything about targeting certain kinds of riding or

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Most big bike companies offer one gravel specific bike with a couple kit levels.  Some big brands are still re-purposing heir cyclocross bikes and hoping no one will notice.

 

Don't take a bikepacking Swiss army knife solution either.  That might be the right bike for you but if you're looking for a bike that will make you love gravel and dirt, a jack of all trades bike will not be it.  at best it will be mediocre at everything.  By the way, if you do want best in class jack of all trades utility bike, we think Seven and Honey do have the best in class.

 

What wheel systems do we recommend and why?

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tread

pressure

tubeless

 

How do we achieve the ideal wheel and tire setup?

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Here are a dozen of the most popular gravel style rides.  There are hundreds and more all the time!

These rides all benefit from purpose specific bikes.  We can help you design the optimal bike for each event.  It's worth the time.

National:

International:

Local -- within about 150 miles:


Our Hosted Mixed Terrain & Gravel Rides

We lead more gravel and mixed terrain rides than any other store or club in the area, maybe even the country.  On any given week we'll be hosting six or more rides on all types of dirt.

Weekly and event rides.

W have a lot of gravel and mixed terrain rides.  Multiple each week.  The change a lot so visit this page to see what's happening this week.

Our Favorite Gravel & Mixed Terrain Bikes

We offer a lot of amazing gravel bikes.  It's nearly impossible to choose just two favorites.  But if we had to pick our two favorites for the most popular kind of eastern Massachusetts riding we'd go with:

Honey Bike Allroads Titanium

Complete titanium bikes start at $4,995.  Amazing!

Five Whys:

  1. Smooth ride.  xxxxx   Titanium is the best material for any gravel bike
  2. Much better fit than any stock bike on the market.  12 sizes for Honey bikes.  5-8 sizes for any other popular bike.  Simple math.
  3. A true gravel and mixed terrain bike designed for eastern Massachusetts riding.  Built in eastern Massachusetts.  The frame geometry, tube set selection, and every single curated part
  4. Amazing value.  We'll put this bike up against any popular gravel bike on the market.  Carefully look at the parts pick, the fit of the bike, the warranty, and the service you'll receive.  Dollar for dollar there is no better value on the market.
  5. super durable ++++++++++++++++++++ Titanium
  6. Available today.  We stock this rare bike so you can be riding the fantastic trails today on your new Allroads!

Seven Cycles Evergreen SL Custom Titanium

Five Whys:

  1. Full custom design so you truly get everything you want:  Handling, performance, fit, gearing, wheel and tire sizes, any everything else.  Don't focus on custom as a rider fitting thing.  Focus on custom as a way to get precisely what you want in a bike.  No stock bike can match what a Seven can offer you.  And, it's a lot easier than you think.  You don't have to be a bike designer to get a perfect bike.
  2. Titanium is the best material for any gravel bike
  3. super durable
  4. +++++++++++++++++
  5. +++++++++++++++++

Next Steps

If you've it this far on the page, congratulations!  You must be interested in gravel and mixed terrain riding.  So, let's get you on a bike!  

Here's a special offer:  Fill out the form below, set up a time to demo ride one of our bikes and, if you order a bike from this, you'll receive:

  1. Our exclusive "Four Wheel" offer.  This is a second set of wheels at half off!  This can a set of any value from $400 to $4,000.  We'll setup the wheels -- including tires, rotors, and cassette -- so they're ready to swap onto your new bike at any time.
  2. We'll cover the cost of your entry fee for any domestic single event ride this year -- from Dirty Kanza to D2R2 or any other event on your ride list.

To take advantage of this offer fill out this form, tell us when you'd like to ride some bikes, and we'll set you up to have a great ride.

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