As we swing into the new year, once again it looks like gravel riding and gravel bikes are going to be of the most hyped and fastest growing parts of the cycling world, with more new bikes, events and gear than ever before. We've dusted off the crystal ball and fired it up to see what's likely to be big in the dirty drop bar world over the new 12 months...
1. Gravel racing will go enduro
Gravel racing is going to be bigger than ever in 2019, with more races than ever being held across the UK and the world, but we reckon that we'll be seeing more of the fun timed stage format of mountain biking enduro racing mixed in with a big day out on the bike.
Events such as Grinduro and Gritfest already use this format, but we reckon more will follow suit as it's much more fun, social and generally less brutal experience than banging out a huge distance at race pace, meaning more people are likely to take part and have fun. Win-win!
2. More gravel bikes will get suspension, of one kind of another
There's no way of getting around the fact that riding a bike off-road is usually pretty lumpy, especially as we lack the mile after mile of relatively groomed dirt road seen in other countries and have to live with lumpy fireroads instead.
That means that maintaining comfort over a long distance is high on bike manufacturers priority, but conventional (telescopic) suspension forks seen on mountain bikes don't tend to work that well. For a start, gravel bikes don't need much travel, so adapting an existing suspension fork to have shorter travel (a la Fox AX or MRP's Baxter) means you're still carrying most of the weight despite the reduced travel. Seal friction from the moving parts often means the small bump sensitivity isn't quite as good as you'd like, even if bigger bumps are dealt with.
We suspect we don't see many gravel specific telescopic suspension forks with smaller diameter (lighter) legs either, as they'd be bendier and bushing bind would become an issue. Of course, the likes of Lauf and their Grit fork get around this by using leaf springs to provide the travel, Specialized's stem/steerer-mounted Future Shock provides some squish at the bars and Redshift's suspension stem does a similar job too.
We reckon that more cunning ideas are going to be in the pipeline from other brands - after all, what's good for gravel is usually good for anyone else after a fast, comfortable bike.
3. Bikepacking will blow up
As a rubbish exchange rate makes holidays inside the UK more attractive, bikepacking will become more popular than ever before as a low-cost, high-fun way to experience the outdoors. Hell, when the Guardian starts hyping it as the next big thing, you know that it's hit the mainstream.
There's also now more affordable bikepacking gear out there, meaning giving it a go doesn't involve a huge investment in superlight, high-quality kit - plus you can just use whatever bike you have because strapping on 10kg of gear is a pretty good leveller...
4. Gravel bike transmissions will go single ring and wider range (and maybe wireless)
SRAM has been teasing their wireless Eagle eTap transmission for mountain bikes long enough, so it'd kind of make sense that something like that might be coming for gravel bikes too. We reckon a slightly narrower range than their 12-speed 10-50T cassette but with tighter steps between ratios would be perfect for gravel riding.
It'll be interesting to see how Shimano responds to this - they finally made a clutch equipped road-style mech with the Ultegra RX but they're still very keen on the whole double chainring setup with relatively narrow cassettes - maybe 2019 will be the year that changes...
5. There will be more dedicated gravel bikes than ever...
It might be cynical but it's true - 'gravel bike' has been a useful category for brands to shoehorn that very useful but relatively unsexy bike in their range that can be used as a relaxed road bike, commuting machine or soft-roader into.
However, we reckon there will start to become bigger differences between machines designed specifically for gravel riding and racing and these (entirely functional and very useful) do-it-all machines, mostly in terms of tyre sizing (bigger), geometry (longer, slacker and more mountain bike-like) and with features designed to make for a more comfortable ride offroad.
6. ...but the lines between what makes a gravel and mountain bike will be more blurred than ever
Controversial one this, but by the time you've put on fat tyres, some suspension and a dropper post on your gravel bike, it's starting to look an awful lot like a mountain bike, so just where will the line be drawn between the two? Will it all depend on whether the bars go up or down? An if that's the case can you have a gravel bike with flat bars or a mountain bike with drop bars? We're eager to see how this one pans out...
Got any ideas of your own? Do let us know in the comments - or feel free to unleash your vitriol if you think we've got it terribly wrong...
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