Project All Road: New Life For an Old Gravel Bike. – by Grannygear
Over the not too distant past I have owned 2 gravel bikes, 2 mountain bikes, and eight road bikes. Eight. However, I currently have only two of those in the house. The others are long gone. I sense an issue here. What is up? Am I too picky? High maintenance? Unrealistic expectations? All of the above? I may need intervention.
Whatever the case, it seems that I am hard to please for the roadie stuff. And while my gravel bike is my favorite thing to ride, I love riding road bikes. I really do. They are the sports cars of the cycling world. I love the response as you rise out of the saddle to meet the rolling hills. I love the nearly effortless feeling when all is in order and you are spinning along the coastline, beach side, clicking off the miles. They are ruthlessly efficient and purposely designed.
In my group of friends here in So Cal, I don’t know anyone with a gravel bike that does not have a road bike OR uses their gravel bike as their road bike. Although we have a large population and lots of traffic, we do have hundreds of miles of very good canyon roads, many of them lightly traveled. Big climbs for big days.
So what is the dealio with all my road bike dissatisfaction? Not sure. I know my wife just shakes her head and smiles. She is a patient woman and I am determined to find that ‘just right’ bike. Here is my list of ‘not quite there’ road bikes that I have owned or still own.
- Custom CURTLO (Steelie number 1)- This one was actually built for someone else and was old enough to have a threaded 1” steer tube and outdated shifting parts. It also was one size too big for me at a 59CM squared (59×59). That bike covered my MTB focused years where I only pedaled a road bike every once in a while and then I would remember why I did not like it. Wrong sized bike. However, it was still a smooth riding thing of beauty in it’s old, funky, way, just not a good fit (although I did not know that then) and not upgradeable.
- Ritchey Road Logic (Rim brake) – This was a repeat of a mistake I made with the CURTLO as I ordered the wrong size. Yeah. 59cm. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. But at least it had a modern carbon fork and, like the CURTLO, rode beautifully. But it had a fatal flaw as it could only take a fat 25mm tire (front fork pinch) and I was already looking to go bigger, even with rim brakes. Aaaaannnnddd I was carbon curious. SO…..
- Cannondale Synapse Carbon (Rim brake) – Now this remains my favorite carbon road bike to date. It rode soooo smoothly (non-disc brake) and was nearly two pounds lighter than my steel Ritchey. It even took a 28mm tire. But for some reason the handling never made me feel right and 50 mph on that thing was just a bit spooky. But at least I got the sizing right. I actually would not mind still having that one.
- Trek Domane – (High end carbon version, rim brake) – Now this bike I pretty much hated. I know, I know. Folks love these things. Mostly overweight MAMILs and chatty ladies riding to tea. Now I jest (sort of), but I hated the huge bottom bracket drop (felt like you were pedaling in a hammock), the reach was short, the stack was crazy tall, and the ride was unbalanced front to rear. I think I put 100 miles on it and then swapped the parts to something else.
- New CURTLO Road Bike, (still with rim brakes) – Disc was just beginning to be widely accepted and I was not an early adopter. I also missed steel, at least the nice way Doug Curtiss of CURTLO builds steel. I still have this bike. It’s under 18 pounds with pedals with not one piece of carbon other than the fork. But it cannot take bigger than a 28mm measured width tire (Enve Road fork…the frame can do much better) and the vibration I get through the touch points is annoying on long days over bad roads. High pressure (80psi) tires with tubes inside, no carbon bars or wheels, steel frame…BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ. But I LOVE riding this bike and I doubt I will ever sell it.
- Mason Definition – I was curious about a newer aluminum frame with modern drawn and shaped tubing and I wanted to try disc brakes for the road. Also the Definition was kind of an Early All-Road geometry. It took a pretty big tire (32mm) and had a slacker, longer design. But I found it had too little stack for me and it felt slow and flexy. It also was my chance to try deeper carbon wheels and di2. Neither of those won me over either. See ya. Back on the CURTLO.
- Orbea Avant Disc – A true endurance design, this one was right in the zone of what I had come to like in geometry as far as reach and stack, wheelbase, etc. It actually was a really nice bike and I rode it for at least one season, maybe two. But I also never really loved it. It rode pretty stiffly for an endurance bike, even with 30mm tubeless tires, and it was really a bit boring to ride. Cheap carbon? Not sure. Sigh. Back to the CURTLO.
- Ritchey Road Logic Disc – Now this one should have been a real hit with me. And it was sooo close. But the fit never felt quite right. I was experimenting with trying to ride with less stack and that did not work out. And the reach was a bit long. I guess I thought I was aging backwards or something. It was a great riding bike, more supple than most new road bikes are, and I set several PR’s on it uphill. No complaints, but not quite there either. I never felt great on it while descending, especially on rough roads. Odd. See ya.
And there I was. I want to love what I ride, not just ‘kind of’ like it. And so far only the CURTLO has gotten me there and it too had its issues. I considered upgrading the CURTLO. I don’t mind rim brake road bikes. I could upgrade the fork to take a bigger tire but it is a straight 1.125” steerer so options are limited and would be 500 bucks or so.
As well, I would have to find rim brakes that work with the pull of the SRAM levers and allow for bigger tires…like 30s. Maybe the Chi-Chi Cane Creek super expensive brakes? Then I could swap to a carbon handlebar. Take some of the buzz out. My very, very, light American Classic wheels are decently wide and tubeless ready. But that is a total of a thousand dollar + upgrade and I am not sure it would be worth it. Still, it’s not a terrible plan.
All-Road: A road bike with privileges.
So there is this All-Road idea, where you have a road bike looking set-up with the capability to run a pretty big tire (less than 42mms for instance). It might not quite be a full on gravel bike, but compared to a typical ‘racing’ road bike you get a slower and kinder handling package with a less racy vibe to it. Or not. I mean it CAN still be a fast bike, just not what you would choose to contest the local crit series. It does make sense for folks who like to take the road less traveled when they are out and about. Even a 32mm tire is enough to get frisky on a dirt path here and there and 35s are good for all kinds of stuff yet still practical on pavement if you are not in a hurry. Actually the line has been blurred a bit as even the latest Endurance Road bikes can handle fatter tires.
There have been a few times, while reviewing a gravel bike, where I thought it would make a fine All-Road bike. The first was the Ritchey Outback, version one (the second gen was full-on adventure focused). The second was the Cannondale Topstone. The third was the Masi Brunello GRX 22. All of these would have been pretty good on the road in my opinion. Run a lighter wheel and faster tire…bigger gearing too…have at it.
I also realized that I liked the general riding position of my Lynskey gravel bike very much, as much as any road bike I had, better than most. And while I would not run a 46cm wide bar for pure road use, the rest felt really good. Not too upright, decently stretched out. Efficient feeling.
So recently I was watching the new Specialized Crux roll out to the market and there was talk about it being a decent road bike too. Not a Tarmac replacement, but a valid option to some boring endurance frame done in cheap carbon. It comes with biggy tire options too. It would be a bit ‘Uber-All-Road’ as it is really expensive, like over 3 grand for a frame set (even more for the S Works…5 grand!). Too much for this guy. Still, it got me thinking about it again. That middle ground. That All-Road option. Could I make that concept work for the road? There would be compromises for sure. But what bike to base it on? New bikes and parts are like unicorns right now. Just try and get an Ultegra 11-34 cassette.
Then I had a brief moment of inspiration and clarity. I enjoy these very much as they do not happen often. Cue the lights from above and the angelic music.
Seven years ago….I had a bike…and it was a good one.
I had an old gravel bike frame hanging in the garage gathering dust (well, old is relative…7 years old if I recall correctly). I never sold it as I had plans to build up a second gravel bike for faster days but never got all the parts I would need. I just could not justify it when the Lynskey does really well with two wheel sets. Could I use that 7 year old frame for an All-Road build, giving up the possibility of that second gravel bike option in my quiver? Would it even make sense? It was not that far off more modern ‘racing’ gravel bike designs like the Crux. It just had tire size limitations that spoke to the age of the bike. 40mms was about it.
I hopped into the WayBack Machine and did some research on the old frame’s geometry and found that it was very close to the numbers on the new Crux. Stack and reach were right at my sweet spot. The best part was it was free. I already owned it. Obviously it was not as light and likely not as stiff as the Crux, but I remember it being very responsive when I was riding it years ago. All I had to do in order to swap my parts from the Ritchey Road Logic Disc was to get a new bottom bracket and change the brake calipers to post mount instead of flat mount.
Inspired by this possibility, I thought about it a week or so then I moved forward with the mad plan. I figured this might be mistake number 9 in the ‘I Used to Own This’ hit parade. Or it could be a win. [NOTE: So far, after a couple of very good rides on the new whip, it’s much more a win. Cat out of the bag moment.]
I knew there would be compromises. It would be long between the wheels for a road bike so I would not have that immediate steering response that a pure road bike provides. But the flip side would be impressive stability on fast descents and rough roads. I would not be any heavier as compared to the Ritchey, maybe even very slightly lighter. But that does not concern me much.
Although a light bike is nice and all, weight is greatly over emphasized. The Orbea carbon disc bike weighed nearly 19 lbs, so I figured I would be just under 20 lbs with this build. That is fine with me.
I figured that I could run two sets of wheels: one for pure road with a 30mm tire, and another set with a fast gravel tire. Gearing would be the trickiest part as that always would be a compromise of some kind. I would like to get just a bit deeper than the traditional road gearing when I am running a gravel-light setup. I have found that as I get older, it’s nice to have that one-more-low-gear thing going on and that would allow for some grace.
More and more I find myself planning solo or small group outings; big rides, hard rides, and rides in interesting places. I covet this much more than I care about organized centuries or big charity events. I love mixing it up with the fun group of folks I ride with, but I have long stopped caring about impressing the peloton. I’m chasing horizons on my own terms.
So what is that old frameset I had in the garage? Well for that you will need to wait till the next installment of Project All-Road. We will look at the parts I used, what I was thinking as far as options, and how it has played out over the first few hundred miles riding it. I will say that I am excited to ride it again after having been on the gravel bike the last few rides. I find myself thinking about it. And that bodes well for Project All-Road surviving the cut-list.
But I never say never.