The bicycle industry goes through two types of booms. The first is driven by manufacturing that brings a new type of bike to the masses. The 10-speed drop bar road bike in the 70’s was an example and the 24-speed 26” wheel mountain bike in the late 80’s / early 90’s is another. The second type is driven by a dominant athlete. You should be thinking the “Lance Armstrong effect” or Tiger Woods in golf would be similar non-bicycle example. Currently, the bicycle industry is not in a boom phase. There are several potential reasons for this from competition from other action sports, video games, smartphones, social media, and even electric bikes. The internet is continuing to change the industry landscape. Top brands are still highly committed to the independent bike shop, they argue bike shops are not selling books and therefore can’t be disrupted by the next Amazon. At the same time we see more and more bike shops becoming less and less “independent”, large brands are dominating more and more of the retail bike shop’s floor space. We also see more brands entering the American market with direct to consumer models. The big brands are responding by rolling out “clicks and bricks” models where the brands sells online but directs consumers to their local dealer for pickup and follow-up support. As of this writing the bicycle industry statistics tell us speciality bicycles are growing in only two ares. The first is e-bikes and the second is the category known as “road bicycle -other” - The “other” means gravel road or drop bar bicycles.
Why is gravel getting the growth? Every major brand is now introducing gravel specific models. The whole industry feels gravel's gravity. We don’t have any data, but we do have a few hunches. In this blog post we will explain what we think makes gravel truly great and why we think it is not just a passing fad or industry cash grab. We think gravel has serious long term staying power.
So what is the gravel experience about? I think to understand what makes gravel great you have to understand the zone where many cyclists have been for the last 10-20 years. Traditional road cycling and training in many locations has become an exercise in fear and terror. Anyone who has a large amount of road cycling experience in the USA knows being buzzed by lifted trucks at 50+mph is a routine experience. We are also learning when drivers kill and maim cyclists the courts excuse these events as acceptable mistakes leaving the cycling community wondering if there is any real accountability for drivers that hit cyclists? We are not saying road cycling is dead. There are still many wonderful places in the world to ride a road bicycle. The question is “will urban road cycling remain an exercise in stress and worry? The soul of mountain biking has changed also, In the early 90’s XC races in many areas on the west coast were grass roots and good vibes. Riders pushed triple cranks on 26” wheel bikes on mostly single track. Mountain biking has evolved over the years. XC had its aggressive cousin: downhill and slalom, which gave way to freeriding. Freeriding’s beefed up bikes merged with trail bikes into all-mountain bicycles that involved into enduro bikes (that ironically killed sales of dedicated DH bikes). Today mountain biking in general is more mainstream than ever. We can't drive anywhere in our home state of Oregon without seeing dozens of mountain bikes strapped to roofs and car racks in traffic. Our instinct is telling us the consumer for high performance mountain bikes has become more capable and more aggressive. The rise of long travel and increases in wheel sizes makes today’s performance mountain bike faster than ever. This perhaps makes injuries and accidents a little more frequent. Is mountain biking becoming a gravity sport? And if it is, does that favor younger more aggressive ridders? Does the soul of mountain biking now reside at a chairlift accessed gravity park? Have lifestyle cyclists been shaped by these environments and technical evolutions of both road and mountain bikes? People who rode the original mountain bike boom are now in their early forties. This set understands all the enjoyment and health benefits of cycling - What makes it different is, It is passing on the “state of fear” of road cycling in urban areas and passing on the “send it” risk taking that often results in twisted ankles, bruises, and broken collar bones of aggressive mountain biking. They are saying yes, to “all roads” bicycles and gravel rides- Why? All roads bikes are still very light and nimble. They give the feeling of a good carbon road bike, the bike glides, it’s easy to pedal and feels fast. The all road bicycle also gets you out in nature. A nature that feels more authentic than the predesignated 15 square miles of mountain bike trails just outside your city or the chairlift gravity park you drive two hours to ride, not the teeth chattering adrenaline nature, but real nature, rolling hills, landscapes, amazing sunsets. Additionally, this authentic nature comes in a mostly car free package. The all road bicycle that has wider tires still does a good job of ruling single track. You relive the positive memories of your youth railing twists and turns of mellow single track. You link up pavement, singletrack, dirt, and gravel. You feel rejuvenated with the positives of both traditional mountain biking and traditional road cycling with few of the downsides. This is the beauty of gravel riding. A true outdoor athletic healing experience. As much a state of mind as a state of body. High on bicycles again.