Riding on Gravel: Help me pick Bike/Tires...
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  1. #1
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    Riding on Gravel: Help me pick Bike/Tires...

    I have the opportunity to do an upcoming ride in a few months that will be lengthy (50+ miles), much of which is on rural/gravel roads. No off-road, no mud. Just gravel. Some pavement. My understanding is that many of the riders use cyclocross bikes. I don't have such a bike, and I'm not buying one for a single ride. I do understand that some riders use road bikes and some use mountain bikes, as well. So...I need some assistance picking between my various steeds.

    The 3 bikes that I presently own are: 1) Scattante CFR Race (2010); 2) Surly Big Dummy; and, 3) Gary Fisher Rumblefish (2010).

    I'm ruling the 'fish out, right off the bat. While very comfy, the prospect of riding it under these circumstances doesn't excite me, and it doesn't have many (any?) advantages over the other two options. That leaves the Scattante and the Dummy.

    The Scattante, if you're not familiar with it, is a carbon fiber bike from Performance's house brand. It's relatively sturdy, has low-end spec wheels (Mavic Aksium), and runs 700x23c tubed tires. Mine has a wider range cassette (11-28), upgraded brakes, and a few odds and ends. There isn't much room to go to a wider tire (maybe a bit, but not much). Riding the stock Vittoria Rubino Pro Slicks on gravel is not a fun experience. So if I rode the Scattante, I'd need to throw a set of tires on it. Are there any semi-knobby (think cross) tires with a low profile that I could stick on it? Does it make sense to consider riding this bike? The Scattante is probably more comfortable for that kind of mileage, under psuedo-race conditions.

    The other option is the Dummy. If I ride it, it will be stripped down--no bags, no fenders, no racks. It has the stock Schwalbe Big Apples, stock drivetrain, upgraded seat, and a Jones Loop bar for comfort (again, along with a few odds and ends). The Dummy is significantly heavier than the Scattante (duh). On the plus side: 1) steel frame (no worry about beating on my carbon); 2) stock tires would probaby be about perfect; and, 3) the longer wheelbase is dead stable, even in gravel. But there is no such thing as an 'aero' position on the Dummy (nor would one make much sense).

    For either bike, any suggestions on special setup (e.g. 'tape this part of the frame to avoid chips', or 'leave the fenders on', or 'run XXpsi). I'm 6'1", and figure 170#.

    So the questions are:
    1. Dummy or Scattante.

    2. If Scattante, what tires.

    3. Any special tips?
    Last edited by Lawfarm; 03-04-2011 at 02:07 PM.

  2. #2
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    What kind of gravel?

    Pea gravel, pretty much any wider road tire, just avoid the deep spots.

    Chunky gravel the size of ice cubes, bring a mountain bike.

    Last year I tried Pasela 32s on chunky michigan gravel. That hurt. A lot.

    Figure with gravel part of the problem is going to be when the road washboards, which is about as pleasant as holding a jack hammer.

  3. #3
    A wheelist
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    My gravel roads (and I ride lots) range from packed dirt (when the gravel is all thrown to the sides or embedded it) that can be ridden on 100psi 23mm tires to newly graded and graveled roads that can't be ridden even on my mountain bike. So it's not possible to generalize. The conditions on the day have to be known. If I had to go cold turkey without any reconnaissance I'd pick a road bike that would take 28mm tires at 80psi and hope that I hit it right. A cyclocross bike that takes 32mm tires is the finest compromise.
    .

  4. #4
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    +2. Do a little route scouting, preride the course if you can, google if you can't.

    The Surly's a 26 tire, right? I'd prefer the 700 on the Scattante if the route allows. I'd put some hardcase-type 25's on and pump them up pretty hard (to avoid pinch flats)
    * not actually a Rock Star

  5. #5
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    I agree with the above. Take the Scattante with the widest tires that will fit. I ride lots of dirt & gravel, and as Lotophage said there can be a wide range of surfaces from smooth hardpack dirt to chunky gravel. I run either 25mm or 28mm Continental Sport tires. They are a bit heavy, but tough as nails. I've also used CST Super HP tires. Also tough, and quite cheap at about $15 each. Plus they come in a wide variety of colors. Keep the tires fully inflated to avoid pinch flats. Carry at least 1 extra spare tube.

    Don't worry about getting the bike dirty - you will. Just look at it as an opportunity to give the bike a good thorough cleaning.

  6. #6
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    I think a road-ish frame that would take 32's is your best bet. You don't have one, I know that. But did you know that for about $150 you could buy a very servicable cross frame which would probably be able to use all of the parts you're currently using on your Scattante frame? Check the Nashbar cross frame and fork. You can also convert a hybrid frame w/ the parts you have, if you get the right size and you could probably find a virtually free one locally.

    Especially if you have a compact 48 or 50t large ring crank (some cross frames have a max 48 or 50t ring limit). Just throwing ideas out there. If you don't think your current road crank is compatable with that Nashbar frame, they also sell, for the same price, a touring frame that will and would suit your purposes very well.

    I'm not talking about a big deal here - fairly cheap and only a couple hours to convert each way.

    I have a carbon road bike w/ 23-25mm tires and love it. But for my commute which involves gravel roads, my converted (read: cheap) hybrid to road style commuter w/ 32's is a blast and very comfortable. It's as comfortable and efficient as the full on road bike.

    By the way, unless you actually expect to ride on mud - something that knobs will actually bite into - you don't need knobs on your tires at all. Smooth, wide tires will work fine on gravel.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Creakyknees
    +2. Do a little route scouting, preride the course if you can, google if you can't.

    The Surly's a 26 tire, right? I'd prefer the 700 on the Scattante if the route allows. I'd put some hardcase-type 25's on and pump them up pretty hard (to avoid pinch flats)
    The route isn't announced until the morning of the ride.

    The Surly is a 26er, yes.

    This may be a dumb question, but is there a good way to determine how big I can go, tire-wise? How much clearance should I try to have for the tires?

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lawfarm
    The route isn't announced until the morning of the ride.

    The Surly is a 26er, yes.

    This may be a dumb question, but is there a good way to determine how big I can go, tire-wise? How much clearance should I try to have for the tires?
    The route isn't announced? Ask the promoter to give you some idea what kind of roads to expect. If they aren't willing to help you, tell then that you and your 25 friends will not participate.

    The best way to determine how big you can go is to go to a bike shop and try the tires on for size.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lawfarm
    The route isn't announced until the morning of the ride.

    The Surly is a 26er, yes.

    This may be a dumb question, but is there a good way to determine how big I can go, tire-wise? How much clearance should I try to have for the tires?
    It (the Scattante) should have no problem with 25's, so call ahead to the shop(s) to see what sort of stock they have in a 28, then ask to bring it in and mount a pair of 28s for sizing. If they don't fit, get the 25's
    * not actually a Rock Star

  10. #10
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    Out of the three, I'd pick the Rumblefish. I know you said you don't want to, but 40 miles later, if it really is mostly gravel, you'll be glad you did.

    Slap some really fat, really low-knobbed tires on it.

    I'd expect it to handle better and weigh less than the Big Dummy, and be a lot more stable on gravel that slides around than the road bike. If you end up in deep stuff, you'll be a lot more likely to be able to ride it with fat tires and the option of some lower gears to keep your cadence fast and smooth.

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