Is there are a mathematical formula that sums up the grey area between road riding and mountain biking? If so, what does it look like? Big volume tires + disc brakes + drops + 1x drivetrain = gravel 2.0? Right now, despite the widespread differentiation within this one concept, there are two brands that are dominating the scene, namely 3T and Open, and one common denominator: Gerard Vroomen.

What’s gravel and – if so – how much?
What’s gravel and – if so – how much?

Okay, dictionary cap on:

There’s a certain sense of ambiguity when it comes to the term ‘gravel riding’ – and even more so when you consider the vast scope of literature on the topic, creating a sort of amorphous haze. Obviously it’s not a new concept, as the earliest cycling races took place on non-tarmacked roads. Right now, it gives us the freedom to ride anywhere, and it’s exactly this sense of freedom that has led to new and diverse thinking as to how to create a bike to ride on these surfaces. That’s why lately bikes have been morphing into perplexing mutations: we’re talking dropped bars found with 27.5″ x 2.1″ wide knobby tires, and frame profiles designed with aerodynamic gains in mind. Whatever it is, brands are taking wholly different interpretations.

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After a now obligatory post-work ride, one of those muscle-flexing segment hunting gravel grinds, we reconvene. But instead of pondering over the purpose of being, we muse about what ‘gravel’ really means.
After a now obligatory post-work ride, one of those muscle-flexing segment hunting gravel grinds, we reconvene. But instead of pondering over the purpose of being, we muse about what ‘gravel’ really means.

A change of scene:

It’s one of those evenings. After a now obligatory post-work ride, one of those muscle-flexing segment hunting gravel grinds, we reconvene. But instead of pondering over the purpose of being, we muse about what ‘gravel’ really means. We unanimously agree that it’s about the freedom of straying from the tarmac, and taking in fields and farm tracks. But, some argue, you can do that with an endurance road bike too. “If I had to sell all my bikes and could only keep one then I’d definitely pick my gravel bike.” There’s stunned silence at first then the comment sparks a flurry of nodding heads. “It’s a no-nonsense bike that just lets me have fun without any pressure,” pipes up one. “But can’t you say the same about an endurance road bike?” counters another, prompting an ever-increasing dial up of the volume and intensity of the discussion.

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30 minutes pass and still no conclusions. The agonizing search for a consensus is ongoing. More beers are opened and theories are thrown around about Rudi’s crash on the roots of the huge oak tree. Then there’s a moment of clarity, and the absolute gravel formula loiters almost within reach: wide tires + drops + disc brakes – a bike computer – time pressure + (friends) + (roguish antics)² = 42 = gravel. We do a quick breakdown of the evening’s ride, tallying up two hardtails, one crosser, four gravel bikes, and seven beaming faces. But the proposed formula for absolute gravel is still elusive. We set the derivative back to zero and begin again: 7 x friends + 2 x roguish antics = 0. But it still doesn’t look like it adds up. There’s silence in the room. Does it matter how wide the tires are, or what shape the bars are? Could it be that you just need some buddies, bikes and a good time to reach zero problems? And isn’t that exactly why we ride? Because it’s easy, and because it’s fun.

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The 3T and the Open both appear to satisfy this in full. And we’re not talking purely about the ‘gravel’ category, but about being an unparalleled tool for fun. Exactly the sort of bike you’d be most unwilling to sell. Your friend on filthy, rainy trails. A guarantee for a good time for those who don’t do suspension. So far, so good. But you might still be skeptical, so for those who aren’t convinced by our clearly nonsensical mathematical formulae, we’ve interviewed the Godfather of Gravel Riding to glean his take on the fine print of gravel and the intricacies of his creations. Read his thoughts here.

Words: Benjamin Topf Photos: Christoph Bayer