WHY ROAD CYCLISTS ARE TURNING TO GRAVEL
By Aaron Gulley
On July 23, 1989, when Greg Lemond powered down the Champs Elysées in Paris to overhaul Laurent Fignon on the final stage of the 76th edition of the Tour de France, I was in the small but boisterous throng of Americans cheering him on, a starry-eyed 15-year-old whose passion for cycling had been ignited several years earlier almost exclusively by the Californian’s career. My enthusiasm in those days was irrepressible: I bought my first Spandex riding shorts at age 11, when my legs were still too spindly to fill them out; thought that I had made it big time when, a few years later, I scrounged together enough money to upgrade from my Schwinn World to a buddy’s cast-off Bridgestone RB3; and raced on the road through college and beyond. I am and have always been a roadie. And yet, these days, despite a garage full of beautiful road machines, when I ride drop bars, I almost exclusively reach for my gravel bike and hit the dirt.
Gravel riding—or all-road, or mixed terrain, or even (dreadfully) groad—is basically drop-bar cycling for anyone who doesn’t discriminate between pavement and dirt. And it is growing fast. In 2017, while the number of bikes shipped in the US fell by four percent from the previous year, including losses for traditional mountain and road models, shipments of gravel bikes , adding $26.9 million of new business, more than any other category. Scores of new mixed-terrain events are cropping up around the country, and manufacturers continue to expand their gravel bike and gear offerings. “Gravel has been growing for years,” says Nick Legan, the author of , the first authoritative book on the subject. “But I would say that this is the watershed moment.”