The Glory Of Gravel

The Glory Of Gravel


GRAVEL GRINDING SHOULD CHANGE ITS NAME. ‘Grinding’ suggests something tough, unpleasant, tiresome and a little abrasive; so perhaps a better description would be ‘Gravel Travel’, or ‘Gravel Glory’ – or just plain ‘Gravel’.

However you describe it, gravel is the new 29er in South African cycling, which means the millennial early adopters have been bleating on about it for 18 months already, and it’s about to become mainstream.

In this issue, we’ve devoted a large portion of our pages to the growing interest in gravel – that hybrid of cycling that sits between the technical challenges of mountain biking and the speed of road riding.

In short, gravel riding is about riding bikes designed to handle long dirt roads on frames that are more like road bikes than mountain bikes, but with bigger, more resilient tyres, and the kind of geometry that makes riding all day a pleasure. And definitely not a grind.

As gear editor Oli Munnik points out on page 76 (‘Cyclocross vs Gravel’), there’s a distinct difference between the European discipline of short- circuit cyclocross racing, and gravel biking, which could reinvigorate your cycling habit.

I already know of a few riders who have taken to the idea of gravel so enthusiastically, they’ve sold all their bikes in favour of one multi-purpose bike that they can ride both on- and off-road.

Although we strongly disagree that selling off bikes is ever a good idea, we do acknowledge that modern gravel bikes offer a freedom and versatility that makes the need for more than one bike potentially obsolete.

While there’s no doubt that a gravel bike can never be as good as a road bike on the road, or a mountain bike off-road, for most of us the disadvantages may well be justified by the value of owning a high- end multipurpose bike to replace all others.

This ‘one- bike’ solution has been spoken about before – but South Africa, with its almost 450 000km of gravel road (compared to 130 000 of tar), is surely one of the best places for a discipline like gravel grinding to grow.

Routes like the newlyopened Cross Cape from Stellenbosch to Plettenberg Bay offer a touring experience designed ideally for gravel enthusiasts, while the number of gravel-bike races has almost doubled in two years (admittedly, off a small base!).

As writer David Moseley points out (‘Long Winding (Glorious) Roads’, p64), the Klein Karoo is becoming the capital of gravel; but there is no doubt that throughout South Africa, the potential for this type of riding is as big as the tyres you can ride on.

To add to the excitement, many brands (most notably Momsen and Specialized) are developing gravel bikes perfectly suited for SA conditions – at prices for a base model that certainly make buying that ‘extra’ bike an option.

Gravel offers relative safety away from traffic, is less intimidating than mountain biking, and gives you the chance to explore beyond your normal routes.

So go out and gravel! It could open up a whole new cycling adventure…

…they’ve sold all their bikes in favour of one multi-purpose bike that they can ride both on- and off-road.

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