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RidingAgain

Keys to Building a Good Gravel Bike?

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Posted (edited)

Thinking about building one... Been looking online for definite answers but only finding different thoughts on the matter. Anyone able to chime in from experience would be appreciated.

Things like...

Frame type, geometry.

Drive train.

Bar set up.

Brake system.

Wheels/tires.

Thoughts on handling needs.

Edited by RidingAgain

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Slack but not too slack. Long stays but not too long. (i.e. 69-70 degrees, 435 - 450 stays) 

Apex 1 on a budget. 

Force 1 not on a budget. 

Salsa cow chipper bars.

Mechanical brakes for gravel, but some will argue against. 

Wheels are the biggest debate I’ve found. 650b or 700c. I have a set of both. 700x43 gravel kings and 650x2.1 nanos. If I had to have 1 I’d run 650x48 gravel kings. 

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Posted (edited)

Are you interested in participating in some gravel races? Are you competing to win or just for fun? A hardtail/ rigid mtb with some lightweight tires and and alternative hand position like some classic Cane Creek bar ends would be just fine. No need for a gravel-specific bike.

I've ridden a few gravel races over the years on CX and touring bikes. Salsa Cowbells have been great on that kind of ride. Currently I have a SSCX bike with tubeless 35/38mm tires, 38/16 gearing, Cowbells. Last year I rode Come and Grind it, Castell, and Hill Country Hundy with 32-35mm tires. Everyone frets over giant tires but I've never felt like anything bigger than 35mm tires are needed. If I truly need tires bigger than that, I'll just ride a mountain bike.

I also did just fine at Chainring Massacre on a rigid steel singlespeed 29er with a taller gear than what I would have used on trails, Schwalbe Thunder Burt 29x2.1 tires, and some Ergon bar ends.

So far, Castell Grind is my favorite event, but the terrain on Hill Country Hundy has been my favorite.

Edited by mack_turtle
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Frame capable of fitting 2.1 tires.

I like wide flat bars with Ergon Grips/bar ends.

3x?  Gearing

Mech disk brakes

For me, handling for tight single track.

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Posted (edited)

Yesterday's ride on the James River Rd south of Mason:  graded dirt, uneven bedrock,  sand,  loose dirt mixed with small rocks, a bit of rutted dirt from recent rains, washboard surface that almost bounced me off my pedals and everything in between.   We saw feral hogs, many does and a spotted fawn, fat Angus cows/calves/bulls, a rattle ssssssnake, little cottontail bunnies hop hop hopping along,  a jackrabbit, a wildflower hanging on here and there, blooming cacti, beautiful limestone bluffs, gorgeous vistas, a wide river we didn't cross and  met a local guy checking his gates who brought his six best friends:  5 border collies and a small-ish poodle.  None of them barked at us -- not one sound. 

Crusty's ride: gravel bike (carbon frame, dropped bars, disc brakes), WTB CrossBoss 35 x 700 tires with tread. 

Me:  rigid Ti hard tail with Maxxis Re-Fuse 700 x 40 tires (smooth, no tread) mounted on 29 rims, MRP carbon fork, Surly handle bars with a super swept angle.  I've use this set up for dirt roads, gravel, path touring, commuting. 

Don't let the simple word "gravel" make you think that a gravel ride will always just be smooth packed dirt or caliche on a bladed road; things can get rough. 

A rigid 29er hardtail with 40 x 400 cc tires mounted on  29er rims is a de facto gravel grinder with minimal cash outlay.  For rougher roads, a 1.9" (remember those?) 29er tire with low tread (Maxxis CrossMark?) would be ideal.  Ride the setup, see what you like (don't like) and contemplate where you want to go from there.  Again, old school 29er rims (narrow interior width) are perfect for mounting narrow tires. 

Do you want to do dirt road/path/rail-trail touring at some point?  I hope you do.  That's long days in the saddle with varying loads.  You can self support with camping gear or credit card tour.  With this, you'll have some long days in the saddle, so comfort is paramount.  You may want to take that option into consideration with whatever setup you have eventually. 

 "gravel" is like opening a door. 

You might think you're opening a door to a small closet, but when you  turn on the light, you've entered  a new bike dimension with amazing vistas and endless possibilities for day rides near Austin to rocking multi-day tours on maintained dirt roads/paths/rail trails for days on end throughout the west and southwest and other parts of the US. 

Craters and Cinder Cones route

River Road Ramble

Great Allegheny Passage

Bon appetite! 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by June Bug
Edited for freaking brevity.
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Posted (edited)

Thanks for all the great responses.

This might be a little off-the-wall thought, but it seems to me from commenst here, and comments I've come across on other online forums, that the genre of "...gravel bike..." is very personal needs influenced... Perhaps more so than mtb.

Whereas with mtb it seems somewhat market new-trend influenced... With gravel, riders are using a variety of frames and components, including older stuff, to build something that works for them.

Just to be clear... 

This question is in regards to a '02 Schwinn Mesa mtb frame (this is a bike shop frame, not a big box frame) that I have for building a project bike. I've only built mountain bikes and thought that maybe I could use this to try my hand at a gravel bike build. Unfortunately it's a little small for me. And I say unfortunately because June Bug's above comment was so interesting that it has me thinking about maybe building one for myself for just that kind  of ride adventure.

 

Edited by RidingAgain

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Posted (edited)

Yup, a super cheap 29er hardtail frame that fits just right is out there somewhere for you to find.  What size frame do you ride?

Also, not exactly on topic,  but when we stopped at the Chamber of Commerce office right on the square in Mason to pick up a county map, they had individual county maps for all the counties in that part of Texas.  These maps show all the roads in the county, although it doesn't specify which are dirt and which are paved.  

We got

  • Blanco
  • Northern Burnet County 
  • Northern Hays County
  • Kerr County
  • Kimble
  • Lampasas
  • Llano
  • Mason
  • Menard
  • San Saba

They are free if you contact the Chamber of Commerce in any of the towns in the county.  They are published by Texas Trails in Llano.  

Planning to put together some great rides on dirt and ranch to market roads, and maybe two to three day credit card tours on same.  The area between Fredericksburg/Llano/Mason has little B&Bs and cabins popping up out in the middle of no where. 

There's also an almanac of Texas showing every current road and it's status, from major highways to dirt roads.  Whole Earth Provision Co might carry it, sometimes REI has it in stock.  All good tools for planning a (relatively) local adventure. 

 

Edited by June Bug

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5 hours ago, June Bug said:

Don't let the simple word "gravel" make you think that a gravel ride will always just be smooth packed dirt or caliche on a bladed road; things can get rough. 

I have a Kona Private Jake setup for "gravel". It's basically a modified road bike setup with wider tires, flat bar, etc. I rode it at Walnut and almost suffered kidney injuries. It was BRUTAL, and Walnut is tame.

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Posted (edited)

I was remembering just now that we pumped up tires pretty close to max just before starting the ride, because, of course,  it was all going to be a nicely bladed road and all smooth sailing. There was some smooth sailing but lots of variety to keep things interesting.  Washboard sections of road were the worst; hard on hands and wrists, even when standing on the pedals.  

Ergon grips were helpful. 

Edited by June Bug

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Posted (edited)
5 hours ago, TheX said:

I have a Kona Private Jake setup for "gravel". It's basically a modified road bike setup with wider tires, flat bar, etc. I rode it at Walnut and almost suffered kidney injuries. It was BRUTAL, and Walnut is tame.

Glad to hear Jake's treating you well🤣.

Still miss that bike

Edited by ATXZJ

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On 7/6/2019 at 7:39 PM, ATXZJ said:

Glad to hear Jake's treating you well🤣.

Still miss that bike

I'm actually getting ready to list it, I'm not riding it. Looking to build a hardtail.

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Posted (edited)
On 7/6/2019 at 11:43 AM, RidingAgain said:

Unfortunately it's a little small for me.

That could work out if you're trying to build a monster cross frankenbike type thing. There's no specific reason you need a drop bar on a gravel bike, but it's nice to have additional hand positions. It may be tricky to get the handlebar in the right position on a mtb that does fit you, but a smaller frame might be easier. The trick is getting the handlebar high enough. See my comments on the "I want a hardtail" thread.

Edited by mack_turtle

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