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.
- 5 things we learnt about gravel racing at the Jeroboam 300kmBest gravel and all-road bikes
- 5 more things we learned about gravel racing at Grinduro UK
- Tips for the first-time gravel rider
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.
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 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.
- Lauf's brand new gravel racing bike — True Grit first ride review
- From sun to savagery, Icelandic gravel has it all
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.