Photo: Salsa Cycles
Some bike manufacturers are taking notice of the growing trend of gravel grinders and are making bikes specifically for those gritty backroads. Which bike should you buy? Here are some of the ones the pros use:
Off-the-rack Gravel Grinders
Leading the pack is Salsa Cycles with its gravel grinder, the Warbird. The bike frame is available in aluminum or titanium with high clearance, a carbon fork to allow for 38mm tires, drop bars for comfortable positioning and disc brakes for more stopping power when gravel turns to mud. Sean Mailen designed the Warbird.
"Compared to a typical cross bike, the Warbird is to be ridden for hours. The longer wheelbase puts you in between the tires, nice and low, and that's what gives you a stable feel."
- Sean Mailen, Salsa Cycles Designer
And here's some beta on the latest models that haven't hit stores yet: The 2014 Warbird was introduced this week, and Mailen says the new colors are be black, red and yellow.
“The only changes we made from this year was with the bottom brackets,” Mailen said. “We went to BB36 after listening to dealers.”
Salsa-sponsored rider Tim Ek raced his Warbird at the Dirty Kanza 200 and the Trans Iowa, both epic gravel grinder events.
"The bike is so comfortable even after 30 plus hours in the saddle. I feel more at home pedaling the Warbird than I do walking around on my own two feet."
- Tim Ek, Salsa-sponsored rider
A nice feature with the Warbird is the ability to carry extra fluids for long rides. There are the three water bottle mounts: one on the seat tube, another on the down tube inner triangle, and one underneath the down tube.
Custom Gravel Grinders
If designing your own bike is more your style, Signal Cycles of Portland offers a classic steel gravel grinder for comfort on the backroads. Nate Meschke and Matt Cardinal designed the bikes to handle 35c tires with fenders and 40's without. Base price for the frame and fork is about $3,000.
"Many of the custom bike builders here in the states are building gravel bikes because they are not able to find exactly what they want at a local bike shop. With a custom build, they can have all they want and nothing they don't."
- Nate Meschk, Signal Cycles of Portland
Some of the options for a bike build include a full Shimano Ultegra group, Chris King bearings and Racer brakes by Paul Components.
“Over the years there have been more gravel race events that seem to propose adventure and exploration more than race results,” Meschke said. “I think this has drawn more people into the culture of gravel riders and the requests for these bikes has risen.”
Cyclocross as Gravel Grinders
Ultra-distance cyclist Rebecca Rusch has won more endurance races than any other woman in the world. She won the Dirty Kanza 200 for the past two years on her Specialized CruX with 38c tires. The bike is designed for cyclocross, but she swears it's the best for gravel grinding.
"My cross bike is the perfect tool for the job. I've been turned onto disc brakes and I'll never go back to rim brakes. It's nice to stop that fast."
- Rebecca Rusch, Ultra-distance cyclist
You can buy a fully built CruX with disc brakes starting at about $2,000.
Now that you've got a new gravel grinder, you may want to put it to the test. We'll tell you about some of the best gravel grinding events in Part 4 of our 4-Part series on Gravel Grinding. Until then!