2017: a year in gravel tech

Suspension, geometry and racing go big in the world of adventure riding

Gravel tech is actually one of the few places that we saw genuine innovation and change in 2017, with much of it inspired by mountain bikes, and we were lucky enough to attend many interesting and fun gravel events this year and ride a huge variety of gravel bikes, too.

So here’s a roundup of some of the trends and bikes from a year in gravel, as well as some predictions on what we might see in the future.

  • This feature was inspired by the Rondo Ruut, one of BikeRadar's Headline Bikes for 2018. We've collated eleven bikes that we believe you should know about in the coming year. Some are super bikes, while others might display great value for money, but they all have one thing in common — they're all important bikes that show how incredibly varied road and mountain biking is today.

Suspension arrives

The latest Fox Adventure Cross (AX) creation: 40mm of travel in a re-purposed StepCast 27.5
The latest Fox Adventure Cross (AX) creation: 40mm of travel in a re-purposed StepCast 27.5

It should come as no surprise that bouncy-bits began to make their way onto gravel bikes in a big way in 2017.

The biggest story here was the introduction of Fox’s AX gravel fork. The fork is comprised of a repurposed Step-Cast 27.5in XC chassis and is one of very few suspension forks for gravel on the market.

Lauf's gravel racing Grit fork
Lauf's gravel racing Grit fork

The other key suspension fork for gravel is Lauf’s totally unique Grit fork that uses leaf springs in lieu of a coil/air spring.

The headwind bites — this short climb was ten times more difficult than the picture portrays — sadly images can't show the wind!
The headwind bites — this short climb was ten times more difficult than the picture portrays — sadly images can't show the wind!

The quirky Icelandic brand even launched a new frame to complement its fork earlier this year and Tom Marvin spent a few taxing days tackling the worst weather and terrain that Iceland could throw at him.

Specialized also carried over its FutureShock from the Roubaix — the bike that took last year's Bike of the Year title — to the Diverge.

Unlike the two aforementioned systems, the FutureShock suspends the rider rather than the bike, with the potential to massively reduce fatigue and thus increase speed.

The Ranger from Apro is a full-suspension gravel bike
The Ranger from Apro is a full-suspension gravel bike

We also saw the (inevitable) introduction of a full suspension gravel bike. Spotted at EuroBike, this quirky bike from Apro was equipped with an X-Fusion Ranger upside down fork and a short travel rear.

Gravel geometry gets weird

The bike incorporates a flip-chip in the fork to subtly alter front-end geometry
The bike incorporates a flip-chip in the fork to subtly alter front-end geometry

The Rondo Ruut is a unique gravel bike with subtly adjustable front-end geometry. This is accomplished by incorporating a flip-chip — similar to those seen on some adjustable suspension platforms — in its fork.

The Rondo Ruut is one of BikeRadar's Headline Bikes for 2018

The Low mode drops the front end of the bike, making it feel more like an endurance road bike than a gravel bike, while the Hi mode slacks out the front-end of the bike to improve stability in rougher terrain.

The Velo Orange Pass Hunter disc is a versatile steel frameset
The Velo Orange Pass Hunter disc is a versatile steel frameset

Rondo isn’t the only brand experimenting with geometry for gravel bikes. While not a strict gravel wagon, I thoroughly enjoyed my time on Velo Orange’s Pass Hunter disc, which uses a relatively unique low-trail front end to improve handling when riding with a front load.

Trail is an often-forgotten measurement that can have a massive effect on handling, and I’m delighted to see more brands experimenting with this and other aspects of front-end geometry.

With a long reach, tall stack and slackened out head tube, the new Merida Silex represents a new direction in gravel bike geometry
With a long reach, tall stack and slackened out head tube, the new Merida Silex represents a new direction in gravel bike geometry

We also saw Merida introduce its Silex gravel bike, which takes the trend for long and slack mountain bikes and applies it to the world of gravel.

Gravel goes fast again

Scott's Addict Gravel 10 is, just like all its similarly-named siblings, addicted to speed
Scott's Addict Gravel 10 is, just like all its similarly-named siblings, addicted to speed

Gravel riding has its roots in races such as the legendary Dirty Kanza and 2017 also saw a marked increase in the number of dedicated go-fast gravel wagons. The market is saturated with adventure-oriented do-it-all bikes, so it was really refreshing to see bikes designed for out-and-out off-road speed.

Trek's Domane was already a great bike for gravel. Now there is a Domane Gravel set of bikes too
Trek's Domane was already a great bike for gravel. Now there is a Domane Gravel set of bikes too

The Scott Addict Gravel, the Specialized Diverge and the Trek Domane are three notable gravel race bikes that we’ve spent time on this year.

We tried out the new Exploro on all sorts of surfaces this year
We tried out the new Exploro on all sorts of surfaces this year

Although it launched way back in 2016, the BikeRadar team also spent a lot of time on the 3T Exploro in 2017. No matter what you think of this divisive bike — and the wider concept of an ‘aero’ gravel bike — there’s no denying that it’s an incredibly innovative machine and may be a sign of what to expect in the world of gravel racing.

The future looks bright for gravel riding and we’re really looking forward to seeing whether the market goes in the coming years.

We take a look at 5 of the hottest gravel bikes for 2018
Jack Luke

Staff Writer, UK
Jack has been riding and fettling with bikes for his whole life. Always in search of the hippest new niche in cycling, Jack is a self-confessed gravel dork and thinks nothing of bivouacking on a beach after work. Also fond of cup and cone bearings, skids and tan wall tyres.
  • Discipline: Long days in the saddle by either road or mountain bike
  • Preferred Terrain: Happiest when on a rural road by the coast or crossing a remote mountain pass. Also partial to a cheeky gravel adventure or an arduous hike-a-bike.
  • Current Bikes: Custom Genesis Croix de Fer all road adventure wagon, Niner EMD 9.
  • Dream Bike: A rigid 44 Bikes Marauder, all black please.
  • Beer of Choice: Caesar Augustus
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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