One of TVMTBC’s most respected members, who is always an early adopter, bought a gravel bike in late 2018 and rode it at every opportunity, each time extolling its virtues and adaptability. Even though I witnessed this first hand  I was not convinced gravel biking was any more than a fad and possibly an over-rated fad at that.

Thanks to the new Alpkit shop by the Metro Centre, circumstances allowed me to test-ride 3 different Sonder* gravel bikes over a 5 week period between early December 2019 and early January 2020 on a range of surfaces. This experience, together with the organising the Alpkit Sonder Winter ride from their shop in early January which 120 riders attended, quickly drew me into the world of gravel biking  and my eyes were opened to a new side of cycling I previously had down as a minority sport. It soon became clear to me that gravel biking had very definitely and justifiably moved on from being a niche to a segment.  [* The Sonder AL was particularly impressive but in the end not what I bought]

Gravel bikes can be ridden just about anywhere, on the road and off it. ‘Adventure’ bikes, as they are sometimes called, are finding fans due to their ability to dart down a bridleway or along a fire road to vary a road ride which appeals to cyclists keen to get away from roads into the wider countryside.

Of course, the idea of riding a road bike across any sort of terrain, be it smoothly paved roads or rough and bumpy gravel tracks, woodland trails laced with roots or edge-of-field bridleways, is nothing new. Road cyclists have been doing it since the dawn of the bicycle which is how cyclo-cross was invented. Gravel bikes, though, are better suited to the demands of on and off-road riding. They split the difference between an endurance road bike and a cyclo-cross bike with space for bigger tyres than an endurance bike and geometry better suited to road riding than a cyclo-cross bike.

Whilst I‘m still a committed mountain biker and a keen road biker as and when, what I like about gravel bikes is their comfort, speed and adaptability. I like their ability to travel relatively fast on roads and handle not too technical off-road sections which opens up a range of ridable routes in the winter when many trails are too muddy to ride my MTB and the roads are too filthy to ride my road bike. I can tour and / or bike pack with my gravel bike any time and save my MTB and road bike for what they were designed for.

So why not ride a hybrid or an adapted hard tail which are two possible options. That’s down to choice but having experienced for myself the comfort and adaptability a gravel bike provides in spades, its very easy to see why the gravel bike cohort is gathering adherents at pace.

Bought from my local bike shop in Consett, I ride the Merida Silex 400 as shown above but sensibly fitted with a suspension seat post and double wrapped handlebars with a gel tape lining. And I love it.