Thierry Crouzet

Automatic translation from french

Cycling, I do not like cars, the less I cross, the happier I am. This aversion has long brought me to mountain biking. But when I moved for a year in South Florida, I quickly realized that mountain bike side would be total boredom, so I bought a gravel to explore the dikes that delineate the Everglades, while counting take the many bike paths.

A year ago, I knew much less the market than today, especially I had never rolled in gravel. So I looked at comparisons and watched videos to end up buying a Specialized Diverge Expert, an all-carbon gravel with a damper in the gallows and another in the seat tube.

When I left the shop with my Diverge, rolling on the manicured asphalt of Miami's upscale suburbs, I immediately regained my old road sensations (I did a lot of road cycling when I was a kid) . Lightness, acceleration, speed. The next day, I went on the dikes that are called the levees. I sped on these tracks almost as fast as on the asphalt. On the way back, after about sixty kilometers, I started to suffer from the left shoulder. When my front wheel encountered a stone of a size larger than a gravel, often flat stones flush to the surface of the road, the Diverge did not flinch but sent me a small shake that ended in my shoulder.

Une levee
Une levee

I thought it was a lack of habit. Two days later, at the end of the afternoon, I joined the group of Levee Riders. About twenty cyclists that night, we were not more than five gravel. To my surprise, the others were riding with 29-inch semi-rigid cross-country ATVs equipped with fork with a travel of 80 or 100 mm and almost smooth tires of about 2 inches.

The crank part has started. It was not the ride, we started on a train of hell and it has not stopped accelerating. At this game, a gritty guy was super tough, a former pro, but three ATVs never left him, including two equipped with aero bar. I was not far enough behind to miss the battle, especially as we regrouped before turning around and setting the table.

That day, I realized that on tracks ultralight ATVs rivaled the gravel. I admit that I was surprised, a little frustrated. I told myself that with a fork before my left shoulder would not have suffered (I never had a shoulder sore on a mountain bike). It was like that, I started to get used to this pain. On the asphalt, my gravel swallowed the miles without tiring me, on the relatively smooth tracks, it sped like the wind, but it hurt me as soon as the roads became more chaotic. It was quite annoying, because the bike was everywhere, even on the singles in the undergrowth, it was me who did not hold the shock. I had to slow down to not suffer. I discovered that if a gravel is more comfortable than a road bike, it is less than a mountain bike, without actually being more efficient than him on the slopes. You must not hide your face.

Route des Keys
Route des Keys

I have never regretted my choice. The gravel offers unparalleled versatility. With my Diverge, I was able to drive the Keys, down to the end of the United States by the bike path along the US1, which I never dared to consider mountain biking. I explored Miami and at the same time the Everglades, I made the road and paths. I thoroughly exploited the concept of gravel: a bike to do everything or almost if the driver ensures.

It was December. After several dramas told by the media and my new cycling buddies, I realized that Florida's roads were dangerous for bikes, even bike paths. I gradually gave up borrowing them, dragging my gravel almost exclusively on the roads. That does not hold. I changed the original Diverge tires from the Specilalized Sawtooth 2Bliss Ready 38mm for WTB Resolute 42mm. Wider and lighter, I could inflate them to only 20 PSI and my shoulder pain decreased, only coming back in the rough sections, but disappearing as soon as I found more accommodating passages. Of course, road performance has dropped. No more question for me to accompany the platoons of drivers who crisscross my corner of Florida as I had done a few weeks earlier. By changing the tires, by increasing their section, I had engraved my gravel.

3T Exploro
3T Exploro

I told myself "shit, if I had known, I would have chosen a gravel where you can ride bigger". On my Diverge, the maximum manufacturer size is 42 mm for wheels of 700 (I think we can go a little higher with these wheels, maybe 45 mm). I was becoming aware that choosing a gravel is far from simple. If you share between road and road, uneven tires of 38 or 42 are perfect. But, if you spend almost exclusively your time away from the asphalt, you have to be able to mount bigger, just so that the tires absorb shocks (especially when like me we discover a shoulder restive). For example, on her Diverge, Sarah Swallow mounted 650 wheels with 47 mm WTB Sandero. If I had to buy a gravel today, I would try to increase its versatility. I would try to find a bike able to roll with 28 mm like 2 inches. I'll look at 3T's side.

I was only at the beginning of my discoveries. At the beginning of January, tired of riding on the levees, straight as far as the eye could see, I started to look at the bikepacking side and a particular race, the HuRaCan which takes place in February not far from Orlando. The organizer immediately told me that it would not happen with my Diverge. There were many sandy sections where minimum 2 inch tires were required. It was the cold shower, but I ended up cracking and buying a semi-rigid mountain bike, not an ultra light thing for the levees, I anticipated my return to France not wanting to compete with my XC, I I chose a 29-inch mountain bike that could fit big tires, up to 2.8 inches, or even 3.

Surly Ogre
Surly Ogre

I had discovered that long-distance bikepackers often opt for these simple and versatile frames, which can be used everywhere, without being racing beasts. When I found myself leaving HuRaCan, most of the participants had made the same choice as me, some having even swapped their 130 mm fork for a rigid carbon fork, but with 2.8-inch tires, or even bigger. I discovered the all-mountain bikes, like the beautiful Surly Ogre, that is, gravel pushed closer to the mountain bike, some even with road bike handlebars like Salsa Cuttrhroat or Salsa Fargo. If I had to have an adventure bike, I would opt for one of these models.

Today, I am happy with my Diverge as long as I choose my paths. I will be even happier in France where I will skip communal roads to the forest tracks, but I do not feel ready to go with him for a long bikepacking raid, unless you bikepacking almost exclusively on the road. Leaving with the Diverge on a randomly surfaced route would scare me a little. A bike type mountain bike seems more appropriate for my practice of bikepacking, because more comfortable even if less fast. Like it or not, a gravel looks like a racing bike, the shocks are barely absorbed by the tires and the shock absorbers of handlebar and seat tube (a gravel can give the illusion to a truck driver to ATV, but it will always appear uncomfortable to a mountain biker).

In France, I think to mount tires of 32 on my gravel, to spend more time on small roads while allowing me off-piste, knowing that for long bikepacking explorations, I would have at my disposal one side my semi-rigid mountain bike, even all rigid if I change fork, and another my XC mountain bike in carbon.

The versatility of the gravel does not make it a universal bike. If ideally an eclectic cyclist had to have five or six bikes (race, gravel, MTB bikepacking, mountain bike XC / trail, MTB enduro / downhill), in practice, a reasonable rider can now be content with two bikes. On one side an XC / trail bike, on the other a gravel. No need for a racing bike, barely faster on asphalt, less comfortable, unfit for bikepacking, doomed to rub cars. For all these reasons, gravel is not a fad. It meets our need for adventure, our need to explore nature away from cars, without sacrificing the benefits of road cycling.

But why do cyclists still buy road bikes? Maybe because they see the pros on TV and not gravel races yet. Maybe because they are not informed. Perhaps because changing the habit takes time. Perhaps because they do not yet see enough gravels to pull them loose, then suddenly branch off on a dirt road and say goodbye to them in a cloud of dust (while they will have to slap a piece of national).

But beware, a gravel is not a panacea for those who like to stay away from the roads and make long bumpy rides, even though they are not very technical. In this case, an ATV, even if it is quite rigid with big tires, will remain more appropriate. Finally, we still need several bikes.