TCI Friday

Gravel! Gravel! Gravel!

Today’s standard road bikes have 28mm tires and disc brakes. That would have been a gravel bike ten years ago. There is a new sub-category called All-Road, which is the aforementioned road bike with 30-35mm tires on it. That’s a gravel bike from 5 years ago, maybe slightly more.

The whole industry is sliding toward that poorly-named middle, gravel.

Everyone, everywhere, all the time, laments the label. Gravel. Two syllables that slide right off the tongue, so easy to say, but nearly always inaccurate. I can think of about three places, none of them very large, where I encounter actual gravel on my gravel rides, which is to say rock that is larger than sand and smaller than what, a golf ball?

It’s actually a terrible surface to ride on.

Better descriptors have failed to take hold. Mixed-terrain. Dirt road. Multi-surface. Language is a funny thing. Accuracy doesn’t always win a word or phrase favor. The ear prefers poetry, and ‘gravel’ is a trochee. It is trochaic, which is itself a fantastic word. Maybe I’ll try to get people to call this style of riding ‘trochaic.’ That’ll make as much sense nearly as ‘gravel.’

Where I live the gravel riding is mainly dirt, dirt roads, double track, single track, rocky, rooty, some cinder path, some packed sand, and a very little bit, as I said, of actual gravel. The style here (New England) is to link sections of this stuff with short but necessary stretches of pavement. It’s as multi-surface as Windex.

This week’s TCI Friday wonders what you think a better word might be, and what this kind of riding looks like in your neck of the woods. In some places, the networks of dirt roads are sprawling and complete. In others, there is precious little off-pavement available. What does yours taste like?

If you love blurring boundaries on your drop bar bike and your preferred terrain is the (unpaved) road less traveled, SHIMANO’s RX shoe series is the choice. Balancing pedaling performance with off-bike capability, these shoes are light, stiff, and walkable, making them ideal for gravel races or any ride that rolls past the ‘pavement ends’ sign.

Join the conversation
  1. Dan Murphy says

    Agree, I have never liked the word “gravel” and have reluctantly used it for years. It’s one of those words/phrases that really isn’t correct, but people know what you mean. It’s easy and it works. Like picking our dog’s name, it could be no more than two syllables and had to roll off the tongue easily.
    It works.

    Sorry, I have nothing to offer for an alternative. I guess I’ve succumbed.

  2. jmelnarik says

    a foothill bike? a sugarloaf? a terrabike?

  3. trabri says

    Yea I got nothing either. It’s the wrong word and right word at the same time. Cycling is an awkward hobby that we all love.

  4. Jeff vdD says

    Mixed terrain. Don’t love it, not as nice to say as gravel, but better than gravel and people know what you mean.

  5. dr sweets says

    Mixed terrain works and you can add the adjectives “spicy’ or “mild” to suit your tastes.

  6. spokejunky says

    My favorite sign….End State (County) Maintenance. Unsphalt.

Leave A Reply

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More