We did our first major cycling trip with our new gravel bikes. I LOVE it!
In previous years we have enjoyed the fantastic dedicated bike paths in the Veneto region of Italy. These are paths that are separated from the road, paved and wander through vineyards and apple orchards for hundreds of miles.
I found an online tool called Komoot at www.komoot.com. Komoot does for hikers and cyclists what google maps does for cars. It's a router that allows you to set a starting point and a destination and then it will find a route for you based on whether you are a hiker, a road cyclist, a mtn biker or, in our case, gravel cyclists.
The fantastic thing about this is that Komoot sewed together the separated bike paths with small roads, gravel trails and vineyard paths to create a route that was 600 miles long and was 70% separated from the road. We got very spoiled not having to ride with traffic. The route took us from Munich, Germany through the Austrian Alps and over the Italian Dolomites of the Alto Adige.
|The walled city of Mariostica, Italy|
This was a very different trip than we've done in the past because we embraced the ultralight backpacking techniques that bikepacking has borrowed from backpacking. In previous trips we used our folding road bikes and pulled trailers which weighed about 60lbs. This trip we used bikepacking bags and all our gear and bags weighed 25lbs. That light-weight setup makes a huge difference when you're climbing.
I'm totally sold on gravel biking. The siren song of these new gravel bikes is a tune that speaks of lightweight road bikes with quick, fun responsive riding but with wide tires that can go anywhere. The paths we traveled went from smooth pavement to almost mountain bike gnarly and the bikes did a great job in every trail condition. On the pavement they still felt like performance bikes rather than heavy touring tanks. Yet, when you head off the pavement, they are still fun to ride and give you a secure connection to the surface.
I could easily give up all my bikes for my one gravel bike. Except for the brakes. I believe that disc brakes for road bikes are a con job created by marketers to get people to spend more money on brakes that are inferior to what we have been using for decades successfully. I hear the same lies being passed all over the internet about how superior disc brakes are on road bikes. It is my experience that it is just not true. After spending months adjusting and trying to get the disc brakes on my gravel bike to even function at all, and taking the bike to multiple bikes shops to see if they could make them work, I have given up. In the Alps the rotors on the disc brakes got so hot going down long descents that my gloves would smoke on contact when checking the rotors for overheating while stopping every 100 yards to let them cool down. The brake pads lasted only one long ride before they would have to be replaced. This is on rides we've done before with caliper or v-brakes and with heavier loads without incident.
So I am getting a new gravel frame built with V-Brakes.
I highly recommend gravel bikes and gravel biking. It is a way to get off the road onto paths that are peaceful and safe without having to deal with car traffic.