How we fell in love with gravel bikes – our opinion and photo gallery
Are gravel bikes just a fad, or are ‘racing bikes with offroad tires’ really a good compromise for bike touring? We can tell you from our own experience that we see a big advantage in such bikes.
What is a gravel bike?
First: what are gravel bikes? Yes, they are basically racing bikes with slightly off-road-oriented tires instead of smooth tires. But that’s not all: the geometry, handlebars, and control levers (for brakes and gearbox) have also been adapted to a slightly more comfortable position. The handlebars are still low (drop-bar), which means less air resistance when covering distances. Although the frame looks the same as on racing bikes, the geometry is still more suitable for off-road riding. The most noticeable is the thicker tires with a profile that allows better grip when riding off-road, and the thickness also allows you to lower pressure in the tires (which, given that there is no suspension, means better absorption of bumps). For driving on poorer terrain (and slopes), the gear ratios are also adjusted – the transmissions are shorter, which means easier kicking up the hill. And we have a lot of hills in Slovenia. And they are still very light. You can feel it while riding, as well as when the bike needs to be lifted onto the shoulder (yes, it happens).
If we like it? We love it!
Well, we didn’t write this blog to present in detail the technical features of gravel bikes. Above all, we want to share our experience: yes, we too had prejudices against ‘mud tire racers’, but in practice, it turns out that the concept works great. In fact, the question of whether you need a gravel bike, a mountain bike, or something in between – a trekking bike – mainly depends on what the road-to-terrain ratio on your tour is. With a gravel bike, you can easily ride on macadams and even on a nice single trail, and if you get caught in the rain, it doesn’t mean that you will hit the ground at the first meter of mud.
Jan Klavora, a longtime cyclist (and our boss): “In the last few seasons, I’ve been riding mostly on a gravel bike. I’m still very fast with it compared to other bikes, but at the same time I’m not limited by the surface I’m riding on, because a gravel bike makes it possible to ride practically anywhere. It has already happened that I found myself on a track where I would rather have a full-suspension MTB. But it worked somehow. With a road bike, I should make a long detour.”
Most of our recent tours from the ‘touring’ section have been explored with gravel bikes, as you can see from the photos. Cycling is fast – the speed on a flat road is almost always above the legal limit of 25 km/h (this is the speed that the electric motor on e-bikes helps to reach), but we still have no problems going off-road.
A question we often get is: What tours can I take on a gravel bike? If you’re comfortable with the handlebar position and the frame itself (which requires a bit more skills than a step-in trekking bike), ALL touring tours are the answer.
Can I ride an MTB tour with a gravel bike? In theory yes, but we don’t recommend it. It can be painful for both the rider and the bike.
Given the increased interest in gravel bicycle tours (we currently have two, 7-day Epic Slovenia and 3-day Bike Slovenia Green: Capitals Route), we will have to develop more of them – and buy more gravel bikes for rent. Good news for us – we’re looking forward.
Gravel biking in Slovenia Photo Gallery:
Photos by Žiga Koren and Matevž Hribar