Gravel bikes- more than just a fancy name

Gravel bikes- more than just a fancy name


We make no secret of the fact that we love gravel bikes here at NorthRoad, we put together our first iteration of the Explorer in 2017. When we showed it the London bike show it had more interest than any other bike on the stand and drew in people from bigger brands to come and look at it. Back then Shimano had no gravel ready GRX groupset, so we made 105 and Ultegra 1x with big cassettes using Wolftooth components. Fast forward five years and we are on our third version of the Explorer and also offer two other gravel bike models. And not just us, gravel is big news everywhere.

Why is gravel becoming so popular? There’s no one single answer to this so we asked the question on a Facebook group (Gravel Bikes UK) and received the following responses, amongst many:

  • “Gravel biking has the freedom to relax, to meander and pause to admire things.” Jude Chandler
  • “See a bridleway on your route and see where it goes, sideways drifts in the mud, hanging on for grim death down a dodgy descent and making it out alive- it’s all good.” Kevin David James
  • “Freedom, no worries of cars, just free gravelling, head down and cycle and enjoy.” David Graham
  • “Just love getting away from it all and even when going to areas I’ve ridden on the road bike I get such a different perspective and see much more in the way of wild life etc … There’s less pressure to ride flat out everywhere.” Michele Linton-Sinclair
  • “It combines the best bits of rambling, road cycling and MTB, without the bad bits- going tediously slowly, motor traffic and fear of imminent injury. Kevin Payne
  • “Some stunning views when you get away from all that tarmac. Fewer cars and a lot less stressful. It’s less about chain gangs and more about chatting. It’s more relaxed. Don’t get me wrong, I do just as much road riding as gravel, but I usually come home with a bigger smile on my face.” John Camatera

It is clear people love gravel bikes but where did they come from?

In 2012 the first company to design a gravel bike was the Minnesota-based Salsa Cycles. Their team created the ‘Warbird’ bike in response to the realisation that existing cyclocross bikes and road bikes just weren’t up to the emerging gravel racing scene. It was this American influence and market that inspired us to convert Shimano road groupsets and build our first gravel bike, the Explorer, in 2017.

The NorthRoad Explorer (with SRAm 1x)

What makes the gravel bike different to cyclocross and road bikes? The frame of a gravel bike can seem similar to a cyclocross or road bike, but there are several changes to design that can be easy to miss. Firstly, a gravel bike rider has a more upright position whilst riding, thanks to the lengthened head tube combined with a shallow head angle. The shallower head tube angle means that the wheelbase of a gravel bike is longer than a road bike or cyclocross bike. A longer wheelbase leads to improved control and comfort whilst riding on difficult terrain, basically they handle better.

Do you need a gravel bike? Of course you do, everyone should have one. For riders that don’t want to feel restricted by a bike purchase, gravel bikes are most definitely the way to go. Since these bikes handle a huge variety of terrains and environments easily, they give riders the option to dip their toes into many different types of cycling events.

If you’re a novice looking to try off-road excursions alongside traditional road riding, this is the bike for you.  Adventurers who partake in bikepacking and multi-day cycling adventures love gravel bikes – several NorthRoad owners have used their NorthRoad gravel bikes in world renowned multi day events such as GBDuro (Lands End to John O’Groats off road!).

A NorthRoad Quest on the GBDuro trails.
Photo courtesy of @im_ed_m via Twitter

We believe gravel bikes have brought the trails back to the front door. A modern MTB is an amazing machine but to get the most from them you need to throw them in the car and drive to a trail centre. Gravel bikes can be ridden from the front door to local trails and enjoyed fully. On the road sections you’ll be almost as fast as a road bike and on the trails you’ll be flying and enjoying the bike in its element.

Hopefully, you now agree with us that gravel bikes aren’t just a fancy marketing ploy and are in fact a very specific and cool type of bike that has serious credentials for a range of riding activities.

The NorthRoad Quest (bobcat version with Rock Shox Rudy forks)

Here at NorthRoad Cycles we can help you choose the perfect gravel bike for your riding style, be it the Explorer, the Quest or the Grav-i-Ti – so get your gravel on and get searching for those fire trails!


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