Capitalism is a wonderful thing. Only in a capitalist environment can tons of people make a living selling something like carbon fiber gravel bikes. Speaking of carbon fiber gravel bikes, what’s up with that? Does the world really need them? Do not ask a cycling enthusiast unless you are prepared to hear a rather lengthy explanation about bike styles and construction materials.
No, the world does not really need carbon fiber gravel bikes. The world doesn’t even need carbon fiber or gravel bikes separately. But the beauty of capitalism is that both are available. That is a good thing. Carbon fiber makes for better bike frames while gravel bikes make for better riding on dirt and gravel roads. And that, dear friends, is why gravel bikes exist.
Not Your Father’s Schwinn
When this writer was growing up back in the 1970s, there were only three kinds of bikes. You had all-purpose Schwinn’s made for both sexes and all ages; you had expensive 10-speeds imported from France; and you had custom-built bikes put together by kids with lots of spare time and access to tons of junked parts. That was it.
We were happy with our bikes back then. Aluminum frames and banana seats were perfectly acceptable in my day. More importantly, anyone who owned a bike owned just one bike. We didn’t have different bikes for different purposes. But then the 1980s happened. Suddenly there were BMX and mountain bikes. They gave way to touring bikes and road bikes. And now we find ourselves discussing the strangest bike of all: the gravel bike.
The Gravel Bike Explained
A gravel bike is a bike that has been specifically designed to hold up to the wear and tear of dirt and gravel roads while simultaneously maximizing rider comfort. It starts with geometry. The head tube on a gravel bike is generally longer and with a more pronounced head angle. This improves steering. The top tube is angled in such a way as to improve stand-over height, mounting, and dismounting.
Underneath, gravel bikes generally feature disc brakes for more stopping power. Tires are bigger to account for rougher surfaces and, as a result, forks and frames have to be slightly larger to accommodate those tires.
There are more differences between gravel bikes and others, but the point here is that gravel bikes facilitate safer and more comfortable off-road riding. You would probably not think twice about taking a gravel bike on your next mountain ride – unless, of course, you were raised in the 1970s when a single bike was all that could be expected.
Carbon Fiber Makes Them Better
We cannot conclude this post without talking about the carbon fiber aspect. Today it is not enough just to have a gravel bike. It has to be a carbon fiber bike. They are actually fairly common according to Rock West Composites, a Salt Lake City company that provides numerous types of tubing for bike frame manufacturing.
Carbon fiber is a bike builder’s dream because it is strong and lightweight. It is also rather stiff, which is a plus when riders are going over tough terrain that requires optimal power transfer and efficiency. And because carbon fiber offers lateral stiffness without compromising vertical strength, you get a more comfortable ride.
No, the world doesn’t need carbon fiber gravel bikes. But it also doesn’t need televisions, mobile phones, sports equipment, and just about everything else that seems important to us today. Yet we have all these things and they are great. Thanks to carbon fiber, many of them are a better than ever before.