Author Topic: Using a gravel bike for C2C ride - what am I missing?  (Read 1280 times)

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Offline kizarmynot

Using a gravel bike for C2C ride - what am I missing?
« on: December 11, 2021, 08:22:36 am »
I've spent some time going through old posts on the subject but haven't found anything that puts the nail in the coffin, so I wanted to ask for some specific guidance/feedback.

I'm finally in a position to begin touring with the goal of doing a C2C ride in 2025. Leading up to that I'll be doing several shorter (7ish day) loaded rides. Several years ago I purchased a Moots gravel bike - I'm sure there are a lot of opinions on that, but for me it is the best bike (yeah, most expensive too) that I've owned. I'd like to use it for my touring plans, and have thought about the following -
- have  a 20" low gear
- consider a more durable wheel set
- purchase a trailer (another topic with many opinions)

So, what am I missing? I'm not against buying a touring bike, but if this setup can work I'd like to use it.

Offline John Nettles

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Re: Using a gravel bike for C2C ride - what am I missing?
« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2021, 09:00:08 am »
Welcome to the ACA Forums!

Yes, your bike will work.  Realistically, any well-maintained bike that can carry a load safely will probably work, whether a used Walmart bike or a $10k custom one. You just may have to adjust some things like slow down on descents.

The question is what is best for you.  If you are fine with the bike after you have done a few week-long tours (easily done since your trip is years away), then I say go for it. 

The difference is more along the lines of "fine tuning".  Let's say you have a basic two wheel drive pickup.  It can handle the 1000# load you are carrying OK.  It may work a litter harder going up hills, can't handle fast twisty roads super well, or may not be as sure-footed on a muddy gravel road but it works fine overall, you like it, and its paid for.  Then one day you got into your buddy's new 2021 4x4 Crew Cab with a strong diesel engine as he carried the same load over the same roads.  Even up the steepest mountain road you maintained the speed limit.  The drive down the mountain at the speed limit was easy, you didn't even notice the load.  With 4 wheel drive, the muddy gravel roads were not much of an issue either.  And it cost your buddy $70k.  Which truck is better? That is only for YOU to decide.

I have been touring for over 45 years.  I have had many good bikes and I have a few "top shelf" quality bikes.  They all have toured thousands or tens of thousands miles each.  Yes, the very nice bikes have smoother and better handling and are more comfortable after a long day and some handle gravel/mud a lot better. However, as I said before, the "lesser" bikes did fine also.

Your low gear is fine. 

You don't mention what wheel set you have.  I would say a strong, well-built wheel set is a very nice option to have.  I have always had such wheel sets and I have only broken 2 spokes in all these years (one was due to a wreck and the wheel landed on a large rock), never had a cracked rim, very rarely have to true a wheel (like maybe 5 times), etc.  I am old school and like more spokes.  Yes, I know you can get by on less spokes (what is it now, like down to 16 or some ungodly amount), but to me, if there is a chance you do get a broken spoke, with 36+ spokes, you will have less chance the wheel will become materially out of true and/or "taco'd".  While my Rohloff (28 spokes) has less spokes and I have not had any issues, I do worry about it.  Again, I am pretty old school.

In regards to the trailer vs. panniers debate, again, do what is best for you.  People are usually strongly in one camp or the other.  A few nuts like to have both 4 panniers, a rack pack, a handlebar bag, and a trailer but then they need to leave the kitchen sink at home. I would allow an exception is for tandem riders. Try to borrow each setup from a touring buddy and check each system out.  Most bike clubs will have members who have one or the other and they are usually willing to loan it to you for the weekend.

If after you test ride each packing system, you will have a better idea as if your bike works for you.  My thought is it probably will.  If you do get a new bike, consider buying a used one.  You can somewhat frequently find used, barely ridden very high quality bikes for 33%-50% off the new price saving you thousands.  I can afford any bike, but I am a cheap bastard and want value so I have almost always bought barely used high quality bikes and have never had an issue. Since you have years before your big trip, you could do a "saved search" on eBay for that dream bike that is 50% the new price and when, not if, it pops up, you can buy it then.

Hope you have a great trip!
« Last Edit: December 11, 2021, 09:07:10 am by John Nettles »

Offline HikeBikeCook

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Re: Using a gravel bike for C2C ride - what am I missing?
« Reply #2 on: December 11, 2021, 09:29:43 am »
If you do get a new bike, consider buying a used one.  You can somewhat frequently find used, barely ridden very high quality bikes for 33%-50% off the new price saving you thousands.  I can afford any bike, but I am a cheap bastard and want value so I have almost always bought barely used high quality bikes and have never had an issue. Since you have years before your big trip, you could do a "saved search" on eBay for that dream bike that is 50% the new price and when, not if, it pops up, you can buy it then.

Lots of great used bikes on Pink Bike as well. https://www.pinkbike.com/buysell/list/?region=3
Surly Disc Trucker, Lightspeed Classic, Scott Scale, Klein Mantra Comp. First touring bike Peugeot U08 - 1966

Offline staehpj1

Re: Using a gravel bike for C2C ride - what am I missing?
« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2021, 09:48:41 am »
It really is true that you can ride any bike across the country.  We make a really big deal about the fine details, but it really isn't all that necessary.

The pickup truck analogy is a good one.  The thing is that if you aren't into trucks any of them that will handle the load will do the job.  I know guys who have to own a ton truck with dualies, huge custom exhaust stacks, 4 wheel drive, all the bells and whistles.  They wouldn't dream of hauling a bag of sand or driving on a gravel road, let alone off road.

For some your bike might be preferred over an actual "touring bike".  I like to travel light regardless of the trip length and don't care for super stable ride of a touring bike.

My advice would be to think about packing light or even ultralight.  You have time to think about how light might work for you.  I gradually went from a heavy to to an ultra light packing style and prefer the UL one.  I think that most folks may not want to go as far as I did, but something like 15-20 pounds of gear is pretty easy to get to and doesn't give up anything in actual comfort if you make good choices.

My suggestion is to start by going over your gear list repeatedly trimming the fat.  Once you get down to where it is at a good point then decide what kind of bags suit that load.  Then decide what bike carries it all best.  Your current bike can probably handle any reasonably light load.

Offline ray b

Re: Using a gravel bike for C2C ride - what am I missing?
« Reply #4 on: December 11, 2021, 11:16:14 am »
I'm always impressed with the quality of advice provided on this forum by some of the most intelligent and experienced riders out there.

There's not a book out there that provides ths kind of comprehensive approach to touring.

If you're looking to feel good about not shelling out for a new bike, I'll reiterate the image of my one-bike stable which consists of a 10 y-old Karate Monkey (700 C mountain bike frame) with 3 sets of wheels (2 are Rohloff-based) and 3 forks including a suspension fork. A little heavy (15 kg with racks and steel fork), but I travel light (v.s.), and can usually travel faster than most.

A gravel bike sounds perfect for touring.
“A good man always knows his limitations.”

Offline kizarmynot

Re: Using a gravel bike for C2C ride - what am I missing?
« Reply #5 on: December 11, 2021, 03:46:58 pm »
Thank you to all for taking the time to provide your insights and advice.

John, thanks for the advice on the wheel set. That is something I am looking into.

Thanks again!

Offline John Nelson

Re: Using a gravel bike for C2C ride - what am I missing?
« Reply #6 on: December 11, 2021, 10:19:41 pm »
By 2025, you’ll be the expert, and you’ll know what is best for you. I believe that every bike is designed for a specific purpose, and the closer your bike is to your purpose, the smoother things will go. Of course, not everyone wants things to go smoothly, but I do.

Offline BikePacker

Re: Using a gravel bike for C2C ride - what am I missing?
« Reply #7 on: December 12, 2021, 08:34:09 am »
Kiz - In my view, you're good to go as you posted. 
Regarding the trailer ....
if you are going to use one
i'd encourage you to be 100% attentive as to how the manufacturer describes how the weight load is to be:
1. limited; &
2. distributed within the trailer bed.
Keep us posted as your planning progesses futher?

Offline staehpj1

Re: Using a gravel bike for C2C ride - what am I missing?
« Reply #8 on: December 12, 2021, 08:43:38 am »
I believe that every bike is designed for a specific purpose, and the closer your bike is to your purpose, the smoother things will go.
Ah, but it all depends on how you define your purpose.  The stated purpose was "doing a C2C ride in 2025", but that can be done may ways.  Different preferences for what is carried, camping/lodging preferences, and preferences for riding characteristics.  It isn't as simple as just getting the job done, if it were we wouldn't be riding bikes across the country, we are presumably doing that because we enjoy it.  All of that means we may choose very different gear, bikes, routes, and basic approaches to the whole thing.

All of that means that his current bike just might be better suited to his purposes than one that was specifically designed for someone else's touring needs.  I know that I'll probably never ride what we typically call a touring specific bike again even if I start packing quite a bit heavier.

Offline staehpj1

Re: Using a gravel bike for C2C ride - what am I missing?
« Reply #9 on: December 12, 2021, 08:55:07 am »
Kiz - In my view, you're good to go as you posted. 
Regarding the trailer ....
if you are going to use one
i'd encourage you to be 100% attentive as to how the manufacturer describes how the weight load is to be:
1. limited; &
2. distributed within the trailer bed.
Keep us posted as your planning progesses futher?
Yep.

There have been reports of the tail wagging the dog and causing crashes with one wheeled trailers.  I never had any problems with that when I used to pull a sometimes very heavily loaded one wheel trailer around home, but most of the issues were reported by lighter riders and most likely with poorly distributed loads.

I met a lot of folks on the road and some that stayed with us when we were hosting who were happy with their trailers, both one wheeled and two wheeled.  Personally I think that if you need a trailer you might want to at least consider carrying less, but that is just my opinion.  I find that comfort on the bike and comfort while actually sleeping are key and neither require much gear, so comfort doesn't require a lot of stuff.

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Using a gravel bike for C2C ride - what am I missing?
« Reply #10 on: December 13, 2021, 08:55:36 am »
I didn't see any mention of tires, so let me throw in my two cents' worth.

Most of us old-timers are used to riding the roads on 28-35 width tires.  I'm guessing on your gravel bike you'd be starting with 35s and going up?  That's fine, with two caveats.  First, you don't need or want much tread on the road.  Second, unless you're hauling a heavy load on the bike, you probably don't want stiff tires.  (If your total load, including bike, rider, and gear, is north of 300 pounds, you'll probably have the tires pumped up high enough that doesn't apply.)

One other thing.  When you're tired, a weather front is coming, and you want a bed in a motel, the elevator will be out (or non-existent) and you'll have a room on the second or third floor.  (Capt. Murphy wrote a law about that kind of thing.)  I had a hard time getting a bike and luggage up the stairs under those circumstances; adding a trailer would not help things, just add another trip up and down while hoping no one takes off with what's left downstairs.

Offline staehpj1

Re: Using a gravel bike for C2C ride - what am I missing?
« Reply #11 on: December 13, 2021, 09:20:04 am »
Most of us old-timers are used to riding the roads on 28-35 width tires.  I'm guessing on your gravel bike you'd be starting with 35s and going up?  That's fine, with two caveats.  First, you don't need or want much tread on the road.  Second, unless you're hauling a heavy load on the bike, you probably don't want stiff tires.  (If your total load, including bike, rider, and gear, is north of 300 pounds, you'll probably have the tires pumped up high enough that doesn't apply.)
I'd suggest that stiff tires are generally not a good thing regardless.

One other thing.  When you're tired, a weather front is coming, and you want a bed in a motel, the elevator will be out (or non-existent) and you'll have a room on the second or third floor.  (Capt. Murphy wrote a law about that kind of thing.)  I had a hard time getting a bike and luggage up the stairs under those circumstances; adding a trailer would not help things, just add another trip up and down while hoping no one takes off with what's left downstairs.
Yes, getting a loaded bike up a set of stairs is an added hassle, but it is not that huge of a deal.  It becomes a bit bigger deal if it is an every day thing and increases with the load, but even when we were loaded really heavy on our first tours it wasn't that big of a deal.

The trailer on the other hand would be a bigger annoyance.  I will say that the majority of the time if I asked I was able to get a ground floor room.  When that wasn't possible there was an elevator some of the time, so it was not all that often that I needed to haul everything up stairs.


Offline OHRider

Re: Using a gravel bike for C2C ride - what am I missing?
« Reply #12 on: December 14, 2021, 10:51:52 am »
I bought a used 2016 Niner RLT9 aluminum gravel bike in October of 2020 with the view of using it for both gravel and touring.  In the past year I rode over 2000 miles on it including two fully loaded tours and one overnight gravel ride.

For touring I am using a rear rack and panniers.  On my old Nashbar touring bike I was set up for rear and front panniers.  I also switched the rear cassette to an 11x36 to go with the front 46-30 to give me a 26" climbing gear.  For roads I use a 700x32c smooth tire and a 700x42c gravel tire.

Ohio to Erie Trail- ~330 miles over 6 days. Fairly flat with a mix of cinder and paved trail plus some roads. I'd guess the load was about 25 lbs.

San Diego to El Paso via Southern Tier route- ~850 miles over 15 days. 99% road with 10% really crappy roads.  My load was about 35 lbs, sometimes heavier when I added a gallon of water.

Millersburg to Coshocton OH- ~ 85 miles over 2 days. Lightly loaded for hotel stay- 60% with lots of short steep climbs- used gravel tires on this one.

I was very pleased with the gravel bike as a touring bike.  I did not have front panniers as I didn't need the space- I have a carbon front fork and it has two attachments which are probably suitable for the medium size racks that can hold a small bag or large water bottle. 

I did have too many flats on the San Diego ride- I will likely switch the tires over to tubeless as they would have prevented most of the flats I had (two were due to rim tape moving- likely due to the heat).  As far as comfort- I need a shorter stem as I did have some neck pain which is normal for me.

I haven't tried the bikepacking setup with it- with a large seat pack, a back slung under the top tube, and a large handlebar bag.  It looks limited in size and I tend to overpack (maybe I should switch to this so I don't overpack!).

To me the gravel setup makes for a tough bike that can handle touring- the rims are usually going to be robust due to their intended use.  Like another commenter said- try a couple of week longs before you go.

Oh, I used to have a BoB trailer- liked it very much except it was a pain to park and harder to transport. I never had issues with it while going down hills- didn't even know it was there.  Its really a matter of personal preference.

Offline zzzz

Re: Using a gravel bike for C2C ride - what am I missing?
« Reply #13 on: December 19, 2021, 08:07:04 pm »
To the OP:

My bike is probably pretty similar to your bike, it’s a road bike but it’s Ti w carbon fork, and I’ve taken 6 tours w it between 2 & 3 thousand miles each and in general it was fine.

I am of the UL packing school although at 15-20 lbs I’m not as light as some. When I took my first tour I had everything in the back. I was using the smallest of the Arkel canvas panniers and stacked the rest on the rack. I did have some front end shimmy problems on the fast descents w that set-up.

Since then I got a frame bag and these 2 little canvas sacks (I can’t remember who sells these) that tie to either fork leg. Neither of these adds a whole lot of additional volume in storage, instead I put the heaviest items I can fit in them to distribute the load a little better. So tools, spares, and toiletries go in the frame bag, food and extra water go in the forks bags.

That solved my occasional shimmy.