Whether you’re on a budget or looking to hone your racing quiver, here’s how to personalize your setup to find the right gear for your off-roading ambitions.
For a long time, gravel riders and bike manufacturers were taking the technology and innovations they loved from mountain biking and road biking and mixing and matching them to create setups that worked on rough gravel trails and for cruising on long days. This year, that’s starting to change.
More and more bike manufacturers are making frames and forks with dual wheel size compatibility—the ability to hold either a 700c wheel for less resistance and better rollover capability (think hero gravel or dirt road riding), or a 650b wheel for better grip on slick surfaces and higher volume, knobbier tires. With the first full-suspension gravel bike on the market and a few companies making gravel riding specific cleats, there are more choices than ever for riders to choose from. Better yet, there are still more options for riders looking for that versatile bike that can do it all, from commuting to cobblestone.
Here are a few setups that came highly recommended from local gear gurus at gravel shops like Onion River Outdoors in Montpelier, West Hill Shop in Putney and Burlington’s Skirack.
Looking for great rides to test your new setup on? See “Fresh Dirt: 7 New Gravel Rides We Love.”
For the Gravel Curious:
You’re a mountain biker, a road cyclist or new to the sport and looking for a bike that will let you cruise from smooth gravel roads to pavement all day long, with the grit to tackle a short pavé section. This is your quiver of one—a setup that will keep you comfortable for a long day on the road and let you explore Vermont’s dirt.
Kona Rove ST ($1,599): This combination gravel and touring bike comes with a lifetime warranty on its aluminum frame. With a fork wide enough to accommodate 700x37cm tires and disc brakes, it’s plenty hardy enough for off-roading but comfortable enough for a bike tour on the road or a bikepacking trip. Consider swapping out the Shimano Claris eight-speed drive train for a setup with smaller gears for Vermont’s radically steep terrain.
Crank Brothers Double Shot 1 ($59.99): On one side, this 330g pedal uses the classic Eggbeater design—a popular clipless cleat setup for ultralight gravel racers. On the other is a flat pedal surface, so you can move fluidly between riding clipped in and keeping your feet free.
Specialized Rime Elite ($125): These clipless cleat compatible shoes come with a Vibram rubber outsole for pushing your bike, and a breathable upper with a stiff but comfortable sole.
Smith Venture ($80): This mid-level mountain bike helmet offers beefy protection against the sort of multi-directional impact you might encounter from a fall as you learn to navigate a Class 4 road. Try removing the visor, and you’ll find the vents keep you cool on a climb.
Cool Gadget: Cane Creek eeSilk Suspension Seatpost ($263.24): If you’re looking to adapt your current hard tail mountain bike or road bike for some light gravel riding, consider this tool. You can easily swap it out for your regular road or mountain bike seat post between rides, says Skirack’s Jimmy Leslie.
For the Sometimes Racer and Recreational Rider:
You love to use your gravel bike to explore Vermont’s myriad dirt roads and have never met a section of Green Mountain pavé you didn’t love. You’re a sometimes racer and an avid recreational rider who values durability. Here’s a setup that will let you take on anything without breaking the bank or adding too much weight.
Cannondale Topstone Carbon 105 ($2,700): New for 2019 and 2020, this bike takes the best features from Cannondale’s ultralight road racing bikes and dual suspension mountain bikes and combines them in the super-light, shockless Kingpin Suspension system. Basically, a thru-axle pivot in the seat tube allows the entire back of the frame to flex up to 30mm—absorbing bumps and road vibration from potholes but staying stiff when you’re standing to pedal up a hill or buckling down for a climb. It’s one of the bikes Ted King recommends for his race, Rooted Vermont, and it weighs just 20 pounds, 14.4 oz.
Shimano SH-56 SPD Multi-Directional Release Cleats ($19.99): If you’re taking your gravel bike on some gnarly mountain roads, you should expect to have to walk it every once in a while. This mountain bike cleat lets you torque your foot in any direction to release it from the pedal, making it easier to transition to walk mode at the last minute, says Leslie.
Fizik Terra X5 ($149): At 288g, this shoe is light and has a stiff composite carbon fiber outsole with heavy venting and a Boa adjustment system to keep it snug. It’s Fizik’s first “off-road” shoe.
For the Off-Road Warrior:
You live for punishing climbs and have never met a section of pavé you couldn’t stomach. You live for snow, mud and ice and live to race gravel and your bike is worth more than your car. Here’s what you should be eyeing in 2020.
Niner Magic Carpet Ride 9 RDO ($8,200): In 2020, Niner’s MCR, the first drop-bar full-suspension bike hit the market. If you’re really riding rugged terrain and plunging through puddles or over stretches of cobbled boulders, there comes a point where the energy you exert to manipulate the bike surpasses the energy required to pedal it forward, says Onion River Outdoors Service Manager Jason Schippert. That’s the perfect scenario for this bike, which features a Constantly Varying Arc suspension system with 50mm of flex, a dropper post and super responsive handling. It also comes with a SRAM XC 12-speed cassette for optimal uphill power and a 50mm tire.
Shimano RX8 Gravel Shoes ($250): New in 2019, this is the first gravel-specific shoe to hit the market. It’s stiff, light and compatible with Shimano’s SPD pedal system, and we recommend the XTR PD-M9100 ($179.99). At 374g, these clipless pedals are light, sturdy and shed mud and snow so you don’t get your cleats gummed up in the woods.
Troy Lee Designs A2 Helmet with MIPS ($189): Outfitted with both MIPS and Troy Lee Designs’ patent-pending dual density EPP and EPS impact liner, designed to protect against both high and low-speed impacts to the head, this helmet is light but strong enough for riding singletrack.
For more on the evolution of gravel racing as a sport, see “The State of Gravel,” also from the March/April 2020 issue.
Featured Photo: Part of the fun of routes like this one? You’d never find them on your own. Photo by Ansel Dickey