Updated: Nov 2, 2021
If you’re anything like me, which is safe to assume since you’re reading this article, I've been riding bikes since about the same time I could walk. Growing up, I would ride around the neighborhood to and from friends' houses, even if they lived in towns miles away; it’s just what you did as a kid. My love for riding starts the same as any other kid too: a Christmas gift of an electric blue training wheel-equipped steed. After that was the stereotypical early 00's neon
orange Mongoose BMX bike, which was sadly stolen but that's another story for another time. This then led to a number of "Franken-Bikes" that I was able to cobble together with what my father would bring back from odd jobs. Wanting to combine 4-5 bicycles is how I taught myself everything there is to know about bicycle repair. Even if the bicycles I worked with were in various states of disrepair, and likely still in some sort of disrepair, my love for the sport grew. One of those monsters happened to be a mountain bike, and after one ride on the local trail system...
I was hooked.
It wasn’t long before I burned through two Mongoose mountain bikes, breaking a different piece nearly every time I rode. Shifters, derailleurs, spokes; you name it, I broke it. There wasn't a better taco in town than what my rims were in after every ride. With the handsome tax return of a full-time college student, I managed to grab a pre-owned, low-end Cannondale 29'er hardtail. I entered as many MASS races as I could for the two summers I was based back in Delaware, and did every York County group-ride I could. Fresh out of college though, I was working anywhere from 50-60 hours between two part-time jobs. I rarely had time to throw the mountain bike on the car and dedicate hours to the trails, so I bought a road bike...
I was hooked.
Burned through the best bang-for-my-buck I could find at the time, an '89 Trek 1500. Downtube shifters that rarely worked correctly, constant flats, even a broken spoke that couldn't be replaced because no one could get the cassette off. I replaced nearly every part on that bike and then some. With the meager tax return of a full-time adult, and more than I'd like to admit to out of my savings account, I grabbed a brand-new Specialized Roubaix. The new Futureshock and thick slicks had me feeling invincible, so naturally I took it out on some gravel roads from time to time...
I was hooked.
I'll ditch the format I've been so heavily following here and cut right to the chase; I bought a gravel bike, and it was one of the best purchases I've ever made. Here's why:
The popular saying is that "every bike is a gravel bike" and I'd really love to flip it for a moment. "A gravel bike is every bike" seems like a far more appropriate descriptor. With just a few adjustments, even an entry level build is close to that "Swiss-Army Bike" everyone dreams of one day acquiring. A tire with a smooth center tread pattern gets you a great all-road bike, and dumping that tire pressure while lowering the saddle an inch or two gets you a passable XC mountain bike. Looking for that perfect commuter or grocery getter? Most gravel bikes have mounts galore for every rack, bag, and bottle cage any rider could dream of.
Gravel biking may be one of, if not the easiest disciplines to jump right into with little/no prior experience. Gravel bikes are more accessible than a majority of their counterparts. There's no need to be ultra lightweight or aero, there's no big buy in for the highest tech components, there's no specific place they need to be taken to be used; think mountain, track, and triathlon bikes. Walk out the front door, get on the bike, and go. It's that simple. The culture that's grown from the community is indescribable as well. In line with accessibility, I've never felt more welcomed in any cycling-based community than at gravel events. Everyone is friendly, talkative, and ready to make the absolute best out of a long day in the saddle.
Last and certainly not least, and what's most important to me personally, is the sense of adventure that comes from a gravel bike. That combination of road cycling distance with mountain biking discovery. Gravel riding is downright fun. It tugs at that sense of curiosity and wonder I had in my youth; building up those mismatched monsters as a preteen and seeing how long it took for every piece to fall off, all the way up to finding new trails and testing my abilities on the mountain bike in my early 20's. It's born from pushing the limits of what these machines are capable of, while somehow simultaneously taking it easy and finding joy in the ride. It has the ability to take you to places you wouldn't dream of going.
Gravel biking has the ability to take you to places you'd never dream of going.
Breathtaking vistas, backcountry trails, dirt roads that see more horse-and-buggies than cars. They can also take you to your favorite local trail system, and even down the street to the local farm market for the weekend groceries. It's everything anyone would ever need out of cycling, and then some. Gravel is here to stay, and I couldn't be more excited to see how it grows.