A few weeks ago I said to a driver at work that I’d found a great route into work but it was cruel on my fancy bike taking it along the canal. He said I should get a gravel bike.
I googled one later. It seems it’s much like a road bike (or ‘racer’ as they were called when I was a yoof) but with a wider frame clearance to take fatter tyres, a more relaxed geometry, and a slightly higher crank (for clearance).
I had a look. Some of them were dearer than my tri bike. I only wanted a knock about commuter. I had a moan on Twitter and was told that gravel bikes were the latest trend, that’s why they were so expensive, I should look at Cyclocross (CX) bikes (the sport where idiots race through mud then carry their bikes at a run up hills that are too steep and muddy to ride) as it is basically the same thing, but not trendy, therefore loads cheaper.
In my usual obsessive way I went from never having heard of one to armchair expert in 24 hours. I decided the one with the best spec on the gears, brakes and brand name frame was the Giant TCX.
Then I thrashed eBay and Gumtree for a bike. The problem I had is Giant were most specific that my statuesque 5’ 6½” meant I had to get a Small. Hardly any to be had, and dear. One for £600+.
I saw one on Gumtree for £250, with better gears and spec than a £350 on eBay that still had a few days bidding left on it (so sure to go up a lot at the last minute).
It was in Bristol.
Of course it was.
He said it was in average condition. Everything worked but it had a few scratches. Sounds good to me.
I arranged to go and look at it on the Saturday, but then he pulled the advert on the Thursday. I was gutted. I did another thrash of the internet and confirmed I was going to have to pay a lot more for less spec.
I text him to confirm he’d sold it. He hadn’t! Yay! A lot of muppets had been hassling him over the bike so he’d just pulled the advert. He said they were giving him 20 questions about the scratches. “It’s a £200 bike”.
Hmmm, I’d been happy at £250. I said if it was the bike in the pic, and it all worked, I’d give him £230, consider it sold.
He said I could have it for £200!
It was a long, tedious drive, but the bike is perfect for me.
I’ve done some basic tinkering; cleaned years of built up oil off the chain and sprockets, lowered the seat, lowered the handlebars (put the stem under the spacers) fitted clip in pedals, adjusted the (disc) brakes so it now does stoppies, and pumped the tyres to their feeble max. On my tri bike the tyres are 23mm, 105psi front and 115psi rear. This is 40mm, 75psi and 85psi. So soft, wide, grippy tyres.
Job’s a good ‘un.
Oh, the other thing about these bikes is they have fittings for attaching mudguards! (How did that become a notable design feature?) So I can stick some of them on as well.
I took it to work. I can ride the first 5 miles off road, through the park and along he canal path (above). Which just leaves the last 3.8 miles of quiet roads.That’s the other thing about CX bikes, they have the gearing and tyres and geometry to be capable on the road as well as off it.
It is liberating. My tri bike you have to wear the kit, go like stink, and look miserable. I wouldn’t dream of nipping to the shops on it. It’s just not the right tool for the job, and it’s so expensive I’d be too nervous someone would nick it.
On my CX I can ride to work, nip the shop, or ride to the leisure centre and leave it locked up outside. It’s just a no hassle, do anything and everything bike. And because it’s not a race bike, not on the road, and doesn’t have race tyres, or tri bars even, I don’t feel the pressure to be going as fast as I possibly can. I can enjoy cycling again. Especially as I can now ride away from traffic.
Today, as a final bit of training before next week’s Outlaw triathlon, I took it for a ride along the TransPennine Trail (TPT). It’s a route of canal paths and tracks linked occasionally by short blasts on very quiet roads that stretches from the West to the East coast. I wanted to ride to the top of the Pennines. By road, Google said it was 44 miles. HA!
It’s a great route. Very quiet and with enough challenging surfaces to keep you from getting bored.
However, the signposting is rubbish.
I’d been out hours, got lost a bunch of times, and only made it to Stockport Pyramid. Google said I had another 2 hours to go. Then I lost the trail completely, so I came home.
This is how well is was signposted:
That red line (the route I took) should be a single line from top left to bottom, then up.
Still, the bike took everything the paths could throw at it. I’ll buy the official route map and do it again after my tri.
Last pic; lost again.