What exactly is gravel riding? To sum in up in one word: Fun!
Gravel riding! Picture from Scott Sports.
Gravel riding does not mean just riding on gravel, it is broadly defined as going off-road on a road bike. A gravel bike looks 90% like a standard road bike, with drop bars on a road bike frame. However, one key difference here is the type of tire that is used.
For gravel bikes that are designed to go for some light off-road, the tires have some rubber knobs for better traction when going off road, similar to mountain bike tires but with less aggressive treads. The tire width and thus volume is also much larger, from 32 mm wide to even 50 mm wide (2 inches!). Correspondingly, the tire pressure is also much lower, and many people run tubeless setups to improve puncture recovery and increase traction.
Other than the tires, the gearing is also lower, to allow easy pedaling even over steep slopes or rough terrain. A front single (1x) setup is also popular, as wide range cassettes can be used for a wide gear range, even if there are larger steps between gears. This is acceptable as close gear ratios are not so important for gravel riding.
Of course, the frame must be able to support wide tires, the wider the better. In order to get a large and wide tire without increasing the wheel diameter too much, some are using 650b wheels, which are smaller than 700c wheels. These 650b wheels, when matched with large 45 - 50 mm wide tires, have an external diameter similar to 700c wheels with narrower tires.
With wide gravel tires on 650b wheels! Looks really comfortable.
Disc brakes are a given, as that is the only way to allow wide tires and rims on the frame. Caliper brakes are not used as they cannot accommodate wide tires. Besides, hydraulic disc brakes work so much better, especially when going off-road.
And that defines gravel riding! If I were to sum it up in one sentence, it is to ride light off-road trails on a road bike, with some gravel specific components to improve the riding experience and capability of the bike. It is less serious than road riding, where it is usually about going fast and long. It is also less intimidating than serious off-road riding, where it can get very technical and challenging, especially for the unskilled rider.
Most road bikes cannot be converted to gravel bikes, as the frame clearance is too small to fit in wider tires. However, I found that the Canyon Endurace that I have is different!
Being an endurance road bike, it is blessed with larger-than-normal tire clearance. Officially from Canyon, the maximum tire clearance on the Endurace CF SLX frame is 30 mm, but in actual fact, it is much wider. The Canyon Endurace came stock with the Reynolds Assault Limited Edition wheelset, with 28 mm Continental GP4000 tires. As those rims are relatively wide (21 mm), the actual width of the GP4000 tires become about 32 mm in reality. This stock condition already exceeds the maximum of 30 mm width as claimed by Canyon.
Even so, there is still a good 4-5 mm of clearance on either side of the tire, at the narrowest area (chain stay clearance). At other areas (seat stay, front fork, etc) the clearance is even wider. This is with the 32 mm wide GP4000 tires.
Still a good amount of tire clearance with 32 mm wide GP4000 tires.
With this realization, I had a plan to convert the Canyon Endurace to a gravel bike. Not a serious gravel bike with extra wide tires (>40 mm), as that is not possible, but sort of a light gravel bike with maybe 35 mm wide tires. At the same time, I want to use it as a road bike as well.
Instead of building a completely new gravel bike from scratch, I decided to modify the Canyon Endurace, so that I can swap in a gravel wheelset (complete with tires, cassette, disc brake rotors) and convert it from a road bike to a gravel bike. In other words, I will have a separate gravel wheelset that I can swap in to make it a gravel bike, without touching or adjusting any other parts of the bike.
Is it possible? Let's find out!
My plan is to have a totally independent wheelset, that can be swapped in to the Canyon Endurace, without using any tools. This will allow the bike conversion to be done easily in just a couple of minutes. Details to be shared in later posts.
First, we need a new gravel wheelset! Since a 650b wheelset needs to be paired to a wide tire, it is not possible in my case due to limited frame clearance. Therefore, a 700c wheelset will be used, just with wider tires (as wide as the frame will allow!).
To get more tire volume, a wide rim is recommended, instead of putting a wide tire on a narrow rim and creating a mushroom shape that can be unstable during cornering. Therefore, I looked for a gravel wheelset with wide rims.
As you already know, DT Swiss is one of the leading wheel manufacturing companies, and they recently launched the gravel wheelset lineup. My timing is perfect! There are 3 tiers of gravel wheels from DT Swiss:
GRC 1400: Best hubs, carbon rims, lowest weight.
GR 1600: Good hubs, aluminium rims, mid range offering.
G 1800: Decent hubs, aluminium rims, more budget friendly option. Also the heaviest.
With this 3 tier selection, there is a wheelset to suit different usage and budget. For me, carbon rims are not preferred due to risk of stone damage when riding off-road, and it can become an expensive mistake. The GR 1600 is nice, but still too pricey in this case as I don't need the lightest setup for racing. Therefore I settled for the G 1800 wheelset which is more wallet friendly. At this point, I am still not sure if I will like the gravel setup or not.
DT Swiss G 1800 gravel wheelset, 700c size. 24 spokes each for the front and rear wheels.
Nice decals, similar to other DT Swiss wheels that I have used previously.
Tubeless ready rim tape already installed.
The bead type is hooked, which creates a more secure fit between the tire and the rim. There is a central channel with a smaller diameter to allow the tire to be removed more easily.
Claimed internal rim width is 24 mm! Wider than the 21 mm on the Reynolds Assault wheelset.
Internal rim width is measured to be about 24 mm.
External rim width is measured to be about 28 mm.
Rim height is about 25 mm. No need for a tall rim for aerodynamic advantage as I will mostly be riding slowly on the trail.
Centerlock interface for use with Centerlock disc brake rotors. Much easier to remove and install as compared to 6 bolt rotors. 12 mm E-Thru axle type to match the frame.
11 speed freehub body. Pawl engagement is every 15 degrees (24 clicks per round) which is not so ideal. 12 mm E-Thru axle type to match the frame.
Front wheel weighs 864 grams, which is about 100 grams more than the 763 grams of the Reynolds Assault front wheel.
Rear wheel weighs 1005 grams, which is about 130 grams more than the 874 grams of the Reynolds Assault rear wheel.
The total wheelset weight is thus 1869 grams, which is considered quite heavy. For now, it is OK as I am just trying out gravel riding, trying to see if it is what I like. Next time, I will upgrade to a lighter wheelset if I plan to ride gravel for the long term.
This G 1800 wheelset comes with all the attachments and adapters that you need, to make it compatible to virtually every road bike frame.
1) 6 bolt to centerlock adapters
2) Front wheel adapter for 15 mm E-Thru axle type
3) Front wheel adapter for 5 mm Quick Release axle type
4) Rear wheel adapter for 5 mm Quick Release axle type
5) SRAM XD Driver for rear wheel + end cap
6) Tubeless valves
Next time, if I want to use a SRAM XD cassette, or use the wheelset on other bike frames, it is possible with the use of these adapters.
Next, we need to get the correct gravel tires, but that is a story for the next blog post...