Gravel Grinder News: Gravel Worlds Expo – by Guitar Ted
Glimpses of The Future and New Product News From the Expo at Gravel Worlds, Lincoln, Nebraska: This past weekend saw the 10th running of the Gravel Worlds gravel races out of Lincoln, Nebraska. At the registration site, there was a bit of an expo featuring some of the sponsor’s wares and a few reps were about sharing some knowledge with the racers in attendance. Following are a few tidbits I managed to glean as I toured the expo tents.
Continental Tires to Introduce Gravel Tires:
Continental Tires has not had a high profile in the gravel riding niche, although early grinders would sometimes be seen on Speed Kings or Cyclocross Speed tires. Continental hopes to change that with their new range of TerraSpeed tires.
TerraSpeed is a new model developed specifically for the gravel market. There will also be a slightly more aggressively treaded model offered as well, but our eyes were all about the TerraSpeed. This model will be offered in 650B x 42mm and a couple of 700c sizes including the ever popular 700 X 42mm size. They will feature Continental’s exclusive “Black Chili” compound rubber, and a puncture resistance belt for toughness with a claimed supple ride.
Look for our contributor, MG, to get a set soon. We look forward to his thoughts on these new shoes.
Shimano Shows GRX And A Possible Hint Of The Future:
The buzz around Shimano’s dedicated gravel road/adventure cycling group, GRX, has been good. Our own MG has already been to a press camp for GRX and has a group in testing for RidingGravel.com. This was my first handling of the group in terms of the crank set and levers.
While Shimano is quick to point out that GRX is “its own thing”, one cannot be blamed for directly comparing it to known quantities in Shimano’s current road range. I was impressed with the fit and finish of GRX. It is very “Ultegra-like” in appearance and “in the hand feel”. So, very high end stuff here. That was nice to see.
The levers are interesting in that the hoods have an aggressively textured area to help keep you hands from slipping and sliding in rain, mud, and perhaps may help with grip when you are sweating. The lever blades are, in my opinion, rather large and wider than I expected.
The levers were not, in my opinion, what the future holds for GRX though. The only “new” levers , as far as ground up design for GRX, are the Di2 levers, (not at the expo), and I expect that in the future those shapes and technical features found in the Di2 levers, especially the brake pivot placement, will trickle down to lower levels of GRX components.
Shimano also had a MTB set up with the latest 12 speed XTR group. A 1X 12 with a 51T low cog! There are a few things going on here that are of interest, mainly having to do with the new MicroSpline freehub body and the profiling on the chain and cogs of the rear cassette. MicroSpline, if you are not familiar with it, is a new freehub standard which allows Shimano to fit a 10T cog on a cassette, something that older, Hyperglide style freehub bodies cannot do. Therefore; MicroSpline is not compatible in any way with previous Shimano 11, 10, or lower speed cassettes.
While that may seem like a bad thing, it really isn’t any different than what SRAM did with their move to the XD driver. So, the MicroSpline deal can be seen as an evolutionary change, much the same as SRAM’s move was.
I was able to take a quick spin on the XTR equipped bike and garnered a few initial impressions. MicroSpline has an engagement for the drive shell that rivals any high end hub brand and sounds like a high end hub from a certain North Carolinian brand when you coast. The feel is uncannily similar. But what was really interesting was the new shifting profiles in the chain and cassette of XTR that make upshifting into higher gears so seamless that you almost don’t notice it. Even under very heavy pedaling pressure, the system snicks off gear changes with little fanfare. The oft heard “ker-chunk!” that other systems have when shifting in this manner are also robbing you of power, and “shocking” the legs a bit with every shift. That’s all gone with XTR. It’s almost as revelatory as when I first rode a clutch rear derailleur.
It’s my feeling that at some point this ultra-smooth shifting technology will spread to road and ultimately GRX. Of course, Shimano is keeping its cards close to its chest, but I bet that we are going to see this come down with MicroSpline equipped groups, including GRX, in the near future.
Shimano also has a brand of accessory components called “PRO” which features some nice items for gravel riding. We saw the Discovery Series flared drop bar, which RidingGravel.com should be receiving any day now for test and review. Look for that coming up soon. More GRX test and review posts should also be in the mix in the coming weeks also.
RidingGravel.com would also like to thank the Pirate Cycling League, its directors, and their volunteers for a fantastic weekend at Gravel Worlds.