Opinion: Ode to an Oddball - Rediscovering Two-Wheeled Fun

Apr 30, 2020
by Matt Wragg  
Header for Matt s Op Ed pieces.


This was supposed to be an angry story. A rant, even. I nailed down two or three drafts of this story late last year, but none of it really stuck at the time. So it sat there and lingered and, as time passed, so did my righteous indignation about the modern gravel bike. It was a particular bike that irked me - the Niner Magic Carpet. A full suspension gravel bike, complete with road geometry and travel from the 1990s. Now don't get me wrong, I still believe that the designer of that bike should have their thumbs lopped off to prevent future crimes against bicycling, but today that has more to do with me finding that sentence amusing than any kind of real anger. After all, if it gets people out and enjoying riding, why the f*ck should I care?

Sea Otter 2018
If you need any more convincing how bad an idea this is, know that Mike Levy included one on his Christmas wishlist...

As part of that story I had an idea. A theory I wanted to test. You see, I think the modern gravel bike has a fatal flaw, a weakness that nobody is talking about in public. Quite simply, they suck going downhill. Nobody mentions this in their media campaigns or carefully curated Instagram feeds, but they hurt. On the fireroad behind my house a 38mm tyre does little to dampen the sensation that your eyeballs are being methodically shaken from your skull. And, for me, that undoes any of the good things about gravel bikes (and I think there are quite a few). I have Views on bicycles. Strong ones. I believe that when we get down to nut-cutting time, there is no point in any bicycle, whether on asphalt, gravel or dirt, that isn't fun on the way downhill.

After a few awkward attempts at gravelling, I started thinking that there must be something better. Working through what these bikes need to do I came down to three things - it has to be simple (that's where the Niner fails spectacularly), it has to be good at covering distance (so it's going to need big wheels) and it has to be comfortable, and the simplest form of comfort is bigger tyres. Those three criteria pointed me straight down one of those weird cul de sacs of bike design that I usually associate with people with long beards and ironic T-shirts: 29+. Surly's UK distributor very graciously popped their 29+ steel hardtail, the Krampus in the post for me to test this theory out on in the real world. And that's when something unexpected happened. I fell in love.


Olivetta Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg


In my head the plan was to ride the bike for a couple of weeks, bask in my own magnificence at Being Right, send it back and crank out a few hundred words shitting all over much of what is happening with gravel bike development. But every time I went out on the bike I caught myself coming home with a giant grin on my face, because it did something I would never have imagined - it took me back to the simple joys of when you first start riding bikes. Don't get me wrong, I love the modern mountain bike (and ebike), they are wonders of engineering and design, but they get us caught up in a constant chase for more. Each evolutionary step opens new possibilities: we want to go further, faster, bigger, and it's not until you step away from that for a moment that you realise how much joy we have lost. I think we are losing the ability to find fun in the little things.

I grew up in a small village somewhere in the middle of England. You don't get much in the way of vertical around there, but just behind the village was a small hill running down towards the river called King's Mills. It's not a lot of hill, maybe 30m high, maybe less, but it was enough for us. In a small square of woodland we found our tracks - Everest, The Beast, The Corkscrew. If you went back there and stood atop them with a modern mountain bike you'd think the names were ridiculous, nothing more than short, moderately steep chutes with zero technical features. At 13 years old, astride a bike you'd grow into with shitty tyres and even shittier brakes they were challenges to be conquered. We even tried clearing a few corners. It didn't go well. Those woods were a whole world of adventure for us, a place to prove ourselves and laugh at each other when it all went wrong. Those days are what made me fall in love with bikes - they transformed that knot of trees perching above the River Trent into a wonderland of challenges, laughs and lost afternoons. They were the final days of the pure, white joy of childhood for me, the last truly innocent fun before I was clamouring to join the teenage world of cheap cider, dirty hash and girls who weren't interested in me.


Sospel France. Photo by Matt Wragg


The Krampus took me right back to those days in the woods, there's something innocent about the bike and how you ride it. If you were to review it as a mountain bike it would be a disaster - the 80mm stem (that I chose to fit) makes the steering terrifyingly vague on technical terrain, the brakes have nowhere near enough power to slow wheels that big and the tyres don't grip. At all. If you point it down anything remotely steep you can only hold on and pray. But at the same time, that is entirely the point. It's no fun drifting fireroad corners on my mountain bikes as the suspension and tyres work too well, while the almost treadless Maxxis Chronicles (that, again, I chose to fit) never bite and you come into each corner trying to work out just how fast you can get away with before you slide right off the road. The little chute as you drop into the fireroad doesn't warrant a second thought on a mountain bike, but on the Surly it becomes a test of bravery that leaves a grin on my face every time. The little traversing singletrack at the top of the climb from my house feels like I'm on a flatout blast at the very limit of what it possible. Every ride is a celebration of the little things that can bring so much childish joy, but that get numbed away by the modern mountain bike.

While I don't want to give up my space-age wonder bikes for this misfit, taking a break from them makes you that much more appreciative of just how good they are when you get back on them. And, when it came time to send the Krampus back, I did something I never did while I was reviewing bikes for Pinkbike - I cracked out my credit card and bought that bike there and then. As a friend asked me when I started over-enthusing about the Krampus, "Am I becoming one of them people?" Well if loving a steel 29+ hardtail with more piercings than an aging goth means that, then yes, yes I am, and I'm having more fun than I have had in a while. And I should probably apologies to Niner too (and if the engineer is reading this your thumbs are safe, sorry buddy), after all, I'd rather be out enjoying my bike than getting worked up over how someone else wants to have fun.

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170 Comments

  • 148 15
 Well written. Further proof that while a 170mm enduro sled is awesome, it is certainly not a necessity to enjoy trails or our sport. Bike shaming is for losers who own a sb165 but couldn't ride it if their life depended on it. Get out and have fun, whatever, and wherever you ride.
  • 128 1
 Awww I just bought a sb165 now I feel like I should of gotten 10 hardtails for me and my mates instead
  • 15 4
 Hardtail shredding is so much fun! A lot of these "sb165" riders should learn to huck stair sets on a hardtail before buying a full sus.
  • 5 3
 @ADGproductions: love my hardtail (29er, 150mm fork, granted) and ripping past those 6000 euro carbon bikes on it. The trails are quite mellow here, though. Looking forward to trying the same on a rigid 26er.
  • 12 0
 After 20 years of riding purpose-built race machines, XC, enduro, etc, I ditched the space ace wonder bike and built on Banshee Paradox hardtail (I know, cliche). I’m now riding trails through a whole new lens and having a ball.
  • 31 2
 Caveat to bike shaming; I've met a lot of people wanting to save money by going for really, really cheap bikes and equipment, and it almost always nets a loss by the end. Don't shame your riding buddies, but be firm to them that a Tourney level bike isn't going to be a good investment long term.
  • 3 0
 @ryan83: Same here. Less choice, less decisions cluttering things up - just get on with it and start having fun.
  • 3 0
 @SHLee28: Actually that might be true - buy 5 for people you ride with save the rest for beer
  • 3 0
 @sherbet: exactly, something like a Trek Roscoe for a true beginner or a Kona Honzo for a returning rider. I can’t imagine not having real suspension, brakes, or a dropper anymore.
  • 15 0
 @skylanebike: I run a cycling discord, and we very often have kids coming by posting links to $600 bikes with rather poor parts on them. It's super hard to help, cause you know they don't really have a lot of money, but a bike like that will cost them in the long run. We've had decent luck with getting people on used bikes or changing expectations/budgets.

Shame isn't the answer, but telling someone a shit bike is a good bike is just as unkind.
  • 45 2
 "losers who own a sb165 but couldn't ride it if their life depended on it. Get out and have fun, whatever, and wherever you ride."

So the "whatever you ride" doesn't apply to the folks with expensive bike? They don't get to have fun, regardless of their skills?
  • 5 0
 S H A M E
  • 44 1
 Bashing bike shaming by bike shaming. Classic
  • 28 0
 "Bike shaming is for losers who own a sb165" Amazing how you say bike shaming is for losers and bike shame people in the same sentence hahaha
  • 10 0
 I've never understood the hate to yeti owners... before I get one. Hell that thing works awesome!
  • 13 1
 Just ride what you like and be a dick about it. Lol.
  • 9 0
 Sb165 shaming
  • 5 0
 Rather missed the point here, I reckon....
  • 17 1
 @ADGproductions: Guessing a lot of us sb165 riders did huck and bunnyhop stairs on bmx's and hardtails as kids. Then we graduated to buying used full squish rigs that we rode into the ground, then after working and riding for years and years, we finally had the cash to drop on any bike we choose. Works like that when you spend money on your passion and you've lived and worked long enough.
  • 2 1
 This so much this@ranke: went from riding a mid 90s GF barn find, to a used blur LT, to a 29er demo bike, and only then as I grew with the sport was I able to get the bike I really wanted in the current model year. Guess that means I suck and need to feel shame.
  • 1 0
 Oh and throw in a steel hardtail along the way as well.
  • 2 0
 Still running my NICOLAI 2mxtb from 03 way too small by current standards, but still fun as FU(K!!!
  • 1 2
 @ADGproductions: quality gatekeeping post.
  • 5 0
 I'm confused. You're bashing bike shamers while shaming bikers in the process. The hell?
  • 2 1
 @ranke: right. What’s more...My first “used full squish that I rode into the ground” ... was an Ellsworth.
  • 3 0
 @twozerosix: respect, I literally rode that Gary fisher into the ground. Well I drunkenly taco’d both wheels in the middle of the night, but yeah.
  • 2 0
 @ADGproductions: if you can afford a "SB165" you're probably old enough that you grew up ripping sketchy hardtails and hucking stairs to flat in the '00's. applies to all of them i know
  • 3 1
 @peugeot: it was 1996 actually and I have it on VHS if you want to check it out Smile
  • 2 2
 @bok-CZ: i hear ya, but i think it's something to do with how good Yeti's are and the elitism that the brand image portrays, and maybe, some of the people who buy them. not all of course.

example- i was on a basic coaching course, in Whistler BC (on the blue trails just around the village) and we were in a semi circle debriefing a skill. a pair of statuesque riders in matching skin suits rolled up on their Yetis and stopped RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE, of our group. they checked their phones to compare routes, or data, or whatever, and didn't once look at us or realize they were right in the middle of a group of about 10 riders.

they were like Vancouver doctors, or stockbrokers, or who knows, but this is what many think of when they think Yeti. rich, self important twats on the most expensive bikes money can buy. you know, like Ferrari owners.
  • 3 0
 @jamesbrant: that’s a fair point, but remember n=1, plenty of yeti bikers out there who forego other stuff to enjoy yetis. Not to mention they aren’t really the most expensive bikes you can buy
The most expensive yeti: SB165 8799
S works enduro 9750
Pivot firebird 10399
Ripmo 9299
Megatower 9999, 10499

Prices in USD. But people (not saying you) have to keep up the schtick I suppose, so cognitive dissonance must reign supreme.
  • 1 1
 @jamesbrant: we have lots of people like that around here riding everything from yt to ibis but mostly santa cruz, newbies in top stuff, why not it's our game they put their money into .... But yeah the manners, no hi, just checking your gear and messing around.

BTW maybe you saw there's plenty of yeti bikes in rentals in Whistler
  • 1 0
 Definitely agree that you can have fun on whatever. The main thing I took from this article is that a bike that is just barely handle the trails you ride will make you feel like you are right on the edge of control and you get the thrill factor that we all joined mountain biking for. Whether that be an enduro bike on a downhill track, a xc bike on trail bike trails(me), or whatever makes you feel like your skill is very much needed to make it through. A challenge!
  • 1 0
 @Cheesy16: Then why aren't more people writing about how awesome it is doing rides on 26" wheels with QR hubs, flimsy 1.9" tires, long-ass stems, 71 degree head-tube, and no dropper? That's a challenge.

A main argument for 29 (and 29+ especially) is that it "smoothes out" the trail, letting you "just roll over" stuff. That pushes the edge of control further, so you can ride faster over rougher stuff. Literally the same argument for suspension... but springs and small wheels just aren't "cool" to these adventure folks.
  • 1 1
 @just6979: Not everyone has crazy stuff around them to ride, so it's more about finding a bike that is a hoot to ride on what you have. I was not dissing technological accomplishments but more trying to support the idea that riding a bike that requires your skill and engagement to navigate the terrain can be more rewarding to some people.
  • 74 2
 Love the sentiment of this article, but I disagree somewhat with the assessment of gravel bikes (recognizing I might have somewhat of an unorthodox take on gravel). As someone who grew up racing downhill and still races enduro regularly (when there isn't a global pandemic), I am in full agreement with Matt on the fact of going downhill is of primary importance. On my mountain bike, I will never make a set up choice or put a component on that compromises the bike's descending capability (no matter how minor) for the sake of climbing performance. So for me, a big part of the fun of a gravel bike is precisely because they suck at going downhill. Honestly, they are absolutely terrible. But that makes them completely hysterical to ride, imbuing the ride with that same sense of childhood excitement that Matt describes riding his 29+ bike. With drop bars, narrow (but knobby) tires, poor brakes, and rigid seat posts, you are essentially always on the wrong bike, regardless of terrain. A road bike is better on the road, a mountain bike is better on the trails. Gravel bikes kinda suck at everything, but because of that, the ride is no longer about performing at your best, or riding as fast as you can. Instead the enjoyment comes from two sources: exploring new places and finding out what kind of silly things you can get away with on a glorified road bike while wearing tights. The jumps a few 6-year-olds built in your local park or the mellow rock roll on your local blue trail is suddenly feel like Rampage features. Gravel is inherently dumb, and that's what makes it great.
  • 23 0
 Plus, it's Not. A. Mountain. Bike. It's not supposed to be a great descender. It's a road bike with some extra capability. If you want something else, get something else. Which the author did - he found a related bike with the right combination of capabilities.
  • 19 0
 Seconded. Exploration and being able to cover just about any terrain extremely quickly is half of the fun of a gravel bike for me, and the other half is that it makes easy XC trails a hoot.

Gravel bikes without suspension are still fast enough on the road, gravel, and hardpack, to pull away from a rigid mtb or XC hardtail any day of the week...so as long as it just survives on the mtb downhills, that’s more than enough for me. Not to mention that - who would have thought - gravel bikes are plenty of fun on...gravel, hardpack and road descents. Ya know, what they’re designed to do. Grading a gravel bike on how fun it is descending a trail makes about as much sense on grading a park bike on pedaling it up a paved hill. Sure, you can do it, but that’s not the point.
  • 4 3
 But you can do all that on a trail bike... I don't get this thing that being on the "right bike" means you can't have fun. When I ride my trail bike, I'm not necessarily trying to "ride my best" or as fast as I can. I'm just having fun on two wheels on trails.

When I'm riding with my crew, we explore, we say silly things, we hit the crap jumps that middle school kids made, we try stupid lines or things (no-brake it, high-post it, no-pedal approach, etc) off the mellow rock roll or even just random sections of trail. Been doing this with all bikes since my rigid Bridgestone MB-6 in 1995 all they way up to my modern plastic full suspension with 6 inches front and back (Stumpy 27 2019), and I _do not_ want to go back (had to ride my hardtail when my last trail bike was stolen, and it sucks for climbing rough trails).

It worries me that it seems like so many people forget what it's all about without making some drastic change like going full rigid or gravel.
  • 3 2
 @parkourfan: I think you missed part of @eblackwell 's point that gravel (or anything) doesn't have to be the fastest. Doesn't matter if it'll " pull away from a rigid mtb or XC hardtail any day of the week", especially if the point is exploring and experiencing. Same argument for a gravel or rigid mtb on trails applies there: slow is not bad, it just gives you more time to experience the place you're exploring.
  • 5 0
 @just6979: I didn't miss the point. I think you're missing the point that I brought up - that a gravel bike IS stupid fast doing what it's meant to do, in addition to being a fun adventure bike that can add some entertainment to easy XC trails.
  • 3 1
 @eblackwell Absolute poetry dude. You've summed it up perfectly. And just to bring it down a notch, mix in some farts and a few "that's what she said" jokes and it's a good day out on my gravel ride w my buddies. Thanks for your excellent comment!
  • 3 1
 @just6979: No you're right, it's not that it's not fun to ride the right bike (riding a gnarly descent on a long, slack enduro bike at full-speed is insanely fun), or that you can't play around on it, it's just a different kind of fun. I certainly won't be quitting MTB to ride gravel anytime soon, but I'm lucky enough to be able to have both, so changing it up and getting to ride something totally foreign (a drop bar bike) is a blast. Trying to figure out what you can get away with on a glorified road bike is a totally different experience than riding on an MTB. Sure you can go hit the middle-schoolers jumps on your MTB, but it definitely isn't the same sensation you get when you know you're taking the bike out of its depth or going on silly adventures. You can have fun on pretty much any bike, different bikes just make it easier to have different kinds of fun.
  • 1 2
 Well I’ve been riding my road bike, drop bars , 23mm tires, steep geometry etc on the road a lot. According to this article it should be hella fun riding down logging roads. Probably will be terrifying.
  • 1 0
 PREACH!
  • 3 0
 Nailed it! Its the best going out on your gravel bike and hitting some crappy muddy road and ruining your average speed for an entire ride and then it just becomes about fun. I just bought one this year for $500 and it was one of my best bike purchases. If you are a skilled descender you can ride some pretty laughable terrain but aren't compelled to send it at all
  • 6 0
 Gravel bikes suck at everything? Have you never ridden a gravel road? It sounds more like you don't enjoy the type of riding that gravel bikes are good at. They are absolutely the fastest type of bike in many areas. Being able to hold 20mph on rolling terrain is what they do best. Of course this doesn't appeal to those who are into gravity riding.
  • 2 1
 I think the author and you have a point about gravel bikes. There's waaay too much road DNA in these things, I'm riding and enjoying the F out of my Ibis Hakka MX, BUT - f*ck, you can ONLY fit a 40c tire in the back, the geometry is only SLIGHTLY different than a full on road bike, and it's a rigid bike at the end of the day. I DO have a dropper post, and the brakes on the GRX are amazing so I'll part ways on those two details.

Then Evil comes out with a bike that makes, on paper, about as much sense as that Niner. Insane geometry for the task at hand and then, no suspension fork fitment? I'm lost on that one, but the geometry is so extreme, I WANT TO RIDE ONE.

Someone needs to split the difference here and make a bike with a sub 70 degree HA with support of a small travel fork. Dropper fitment is a must, and why not make a little bit more room for rear tire clearance? (I get it, dorks like me who need a FD because I ride a shit ton of road to get to the offroad stuff, have limited that choice, but gearing is nice). Anyway, I think gravel is DUMB too, but I might part ways a bit here - there are certain roads and terrain on gravel bikes that are really fun. Like when the gravel isn't too deep, there's some hard packed in lines and corners for days, man I love the feeling of ripping corners in the drops. There's just not enough sections like that.
  • 1 1
 @plume: Drop bars on an XC hardtail?
  • 1 0
 Great post! "the mellow rock roll on your local blue trail is suddenly feel like Rampage features" made me laugh out loud.
  • 2 0
 @dfiler: you have to be insanely fit to hold 20 mph on the road, much less rolling terrain
  • 1 0
 @dfiler: Couldn't agree more! But to add, as someone who loves gravity and is lucky to live in the middle of hundreds of miles of hilly national forest roads, pushing 40mph down a 3-mile hill and two wheel drifting around corners on the gravel bike is a pretty good gravity fix, too.
  • 1 0
 @qb007: Sorry, tried to upvote and failed
  • 41 0
 You're half way there Wragg... Modern big travel trail bikes are like pizza. Yeah it is your favorite food as a kid. But as you get older you start to also like other food. I still eat a ton of pizza as I grow ever older, mostly with friends and beer. But I also like other food. You'll soon discover that fat bikes are like sushi and gravel bikes are smoked pork. All of it tastes good and can still be eaten with friends and beer. Try and deny it... but you'll eventually be riding a variety of bikes as you discover more ways of having fun.
  • 1 1
 This is exactly correct.
  • 8 0
 I’m hungry.
  • 2 1
 Not sure what made you think fat bikes are like sushi. The good old hamburger would be a better fit.
  • 37 0
 Surly is the most underrated.. and overrated brand of all time. I love and hate them. I love them for how pure and simply fun they are. I hate them for how pure and simple fun they are. I think I've been in a relationship like this before.....
  • 8 0
 @BoneDog ...you like the simple ones, eh?
  • 1 0
 Yep. I bought a Surly Ogre last year. It's not worth comparing to my Transition Sentinel as it is different bike for different things. I bought it because of the simplicity, durability, adaptability and clean functionality it offers as a gravel explorer- bike packer- commuter. It gets a lot of use and does the things it does well and will likely continue to through at least the life of the next three trail/enduro bikes I have.
  • 5 0
 I have a Surly Karate Monkey and have a blast riding it with the ridged fork. Isn’t the best when plowing thru rock garden-galor trails or off of big drops but after putting a Fox fork on it......RAD! Simpler bikes are often slower, but are just plain fun!
  • 1 0
 @SirWilhelm: I have an older Karate Monkey with rigid carbon fork that has outlasted many, fancier bikes from Evil, Transition, Commencal, and Yeti in my fleet. It's so fun and has this great smooth ride quality to it that I just have not found from any other bike.
  • 1 0
 I think I'm the only person on the planet that didn't like their Surly Crosscheck. Between the super flexy frame (in the bad lateral way) and the geometry, it didn't seem to do anything well except for riding around the neighborhood with the family.
  • 2 0
 @qb007: surly cross-check might be their most popular bike of all time. so yes I think its just you lol... Having said this I bought a straggler and hated it. I find their road bike geo is way way way to dated, but there mountain bikes and fat bikes are excellent. I own a surly wednesday with Makwa carbon fork its soooo sick.
  • 19 0
 I run a Surly Ice Cream Truck fatbike with a 29+ wheelset in the summer. It's incredibly fun, and makes the trails really come to life.

The 197mm rear spacing is future-proofed by being Super Duper Ultra Boost Double Plus, too.
  • 20 0
 148x12=Boost, 157x12= Boooost, 197x12=Boooooooost.
  • 3 0
 Been doing the same with my Farley.. turns out a Dropper post and a Fox 34 (the 27.5+ version clears a 29x3.0 Minion DHF) makes for a stupid fun any season bike
  • 13 0
 after years doing downhill and enduro challengind myself on trails that were fun but never less than extremelly tecnical and dangerous, I spent the last summer on a simple cheap hardtail xc doing many fireroads and very tammed singletracks. These were amazing 2 months of my life that I intend to repeat very soon. But at the end of the trip... I was desesperatelly looking for any bump on the road that could help me to bunny hop or jump and any rock or step that would allow me to drop. I think every mountain biker needs hollidays from the gnar... but it will always call you back.
  • 11 0
 Really glad to see this article. A lot of people miss the point of 29+ and full rigid mountain bikes, those two things were truly made for each other. Just look at Trek's success with the Stache lineup, they are selling a ton here in Minnesota. And the Krampus too; last time I was up at Cuyuna it was like every other bike was a Krampus. There is something very freeing and simple about these types of bike - they just always work. OG singletrack or gravel riding, doesn't matter, just point and shoot.
  • 10 0
 Thanks for this article, and thanks to continuously publishing new content even during the afternoon, for guaranteeing I'll never get rated higher than a 2 during my annual performance review.
  • 8 0
 I think it depends on your background and location.

I am all grins with the Pivot Vault on the road with 32s and on singletrack with 48s. It sucks going downhill compared to my ripley LS, but I don’t think it sucks more than a 90s MTB, which is really what these gravel bikes are.
  • 1 0
 I am loving my Evil Chamois with 50 tyres. Unless it gets really fast and really chattery, it’s actually comfortable. I would certainly not enjoy a one hour off road ride right around my home on my enduro bike. It just reminds me of my first mountain bike (fully rigid) but with drop bars and seatpost.
  • 6 2
 On my trails, it would suck going up on a rigid more than it would suck going down. Back wheel skipping around, no traction, seat slamming into you all the time.

I always wonder what kind of climbs everyone who says "Go ride a hardtail/rigid, it's so fun!" has at their local areas... Because around here (New England, North Shore, MA) I'd rather have to climb with rear suspension only and descend with front suspension only, because the climbs are _rough_. To get up them with any pace and have any energy for the descent, having some give in the back is critical. Yes, a rider on rigid could make any of them, but it would take much much more energy to handle keeping the rear wheel gripping while also handling everything in the way. But descending at pace on a hardtail is just great. Yeah you can't take the same chances with lines without the risk of getting bucked, and shorting that new double you found is more likely to give you a flat of destroy your wheel.

But the fun is still there when descending on a hardtail. Where-as climbing rough stuff on a hardtail is just miserable
  • 4 0
 @just6979: I live nearby so I see similar terrain, and I have a ball on the techy climbs on my hardtail. It’s just different technique. I stand and grind on my hardtail, often with the dropper at least partway down for more space to let the bike move under me. I’m usually faster on the hardtail going up. Different strokes for different folks.
  • 2 0
 @jsperry: yea I think you’ve hit the nail on the head - hardtails and gravel bikes require removal of arse from saddle. Ride with yo feet and legs for a lot of stuff a full squish handles for you.
  • 1 0
 @jsperry I didn't say hardtail would be slower, I said it takes way more work. Everyone like to claim hardtails and gravels are more efficient for doing long adventures, but I'm pointing out that if there are technical climbs, that efficiency goes away. Sure you might be acutely faster on the hardtail, but you can't do it over and over again as much as if you had some rear suspension, because it takes more energy to manage the bike rolling over things and keeping the wheel gripping. Different strokes for sure, but it's harder to play around and find the cool stuff descending on the hardtail or graveler if that same bike beat the crap out of you on the climb.
  • 8 0
 Great article. I’m not a steel evangelist old-timer, but I built up a Karate Monkey (Krampus’s little brother) last year, instead of going the gravel bike route, and have been beyond happy with the decision. Absolutely nothing fancy about it but it’s pure, unadulterated fun to go rip around the trails on it, and it’s shockingly efficient on the road to the trailhead if I just slightly over-inflate the bald WTB plus tires I have on it. It’s become my do-anything bike: pulling my kid on the trailer, roady workout rides, bikepacking, wet and mucky rides when I don’t want to have to do maintenance on the pivots on my full sus. Simple doesn’t mean it has to be any less fun!
  • 8 1
 I snapped my gravel bike in half last year, and have since replaced it with a rigid flat bar XC banger, basically a heavy-mod Specialized Chisel, and I can't see myself ever going back to the drop bars anytime soon. It climbs faster than anything, and is a helluva lot more fun on the descents!
  • 6 0
 I build up a parts-bin rigid bike with the intention of putting gravel bike tires on it, but first I put on the old 29er trail tires I found in the garage. As fun as a gravel bike could be for some, I have forsaken that idea completely! I can't keep myself from going for real trail miles instead of gravel road workouts, and trying to take that bike down stuff where it "doesn't belong". Something about a simple rigid mtb really does capture that sense of childlike innocence/stupidity and the spirit of adventure. Jack of all trades, master of fun!
  • 6 0
 Awesome article. So much that I agree with here after only recently having seeing the light. Last December I purchased a 2006 Bianchi Axis (Easton tubing badge always looks rad) with the pure intention that it would be my workout bike and weekday therapy when i needed to spin my legs and release my wiggles after a stressful day. Living in Seattle it can be nightmarish to try to get to the trails after work in having to deal w/ 1+ hour of traffic not to mention this is only possible in the summer months of the year when the sun sets late. In the past I used to city ride and do my best taxco urban DH impression but ultimately it always gets boring on a modern rig. So. I needed a solution to stay fit during the week and a cyclocross seemed to fit the bill. What I got was a quality older frame with some decent parts and room for upgrades. What it has enabled me to do is load up on parts i once drooled over but now dont serve much of a purpose on modern MTBs (ie matching thomson seatpost & stem 90mm w/ 10 degree rise, QR King wheelset) but now at a way lower cost. What i discovered though was something of a return to my hardtail days from almost 15 years ago. Everything is sketchy but in a great way making the most inconsequential thing a potentially thrilling endeavor. What has resulted though was not only the increased fitness that I was looking for but damn has it improved my MTB rides when i do make it to the trails. Endurance both and up and downhill is massively improved but also I find it makes my 160/150 travel ride feel like a DH bike. Like Matt says, you wont believe the benefit these modern bikes give you until its taken from you. Technical skills have improved greatly from having to focus so much on line choice on the CX. Plus I now altogether look at the trail differently in that I can see more gaps and transitions and ways to connect features than ever before. In total getting an older CX that didnt break the bank was maybe the best thing I could have done for my weekend MTB rides, it has 100% made me a better rider.
  • 6 1
 End of the day, gravel bikes are just more useful, versatile road bikes. Buying one and expecting it to perform like a mountain bike is quite silly. You have to keep your expectations in line.

I really don’t buy the ‘Gravel Bikes are bad at everything’ argument... Sure you’re not going to win the Tour de France, but for your average rider they’re as good as any other road bike. Throw some slicks on there, and you’ve basically got a road bike with an extra 10mm of space around it’s tires. Better even, because the slightly relaxed geometry fits most non-competitive cyclists better than true race bikes anyways, allowing them to ride further and longer.

So thank you for all the words explaining that a rigid MTB -but a MTB non the less- is actually better at riding MTB trails than a road bike. Who knew?
  • 1 0
 Then why the full suss gravel bike? I think Matt is having a go at the industry development of gravel, rather than the gravel bike or it's riders. Maybe soon they will put bigger tyres and flat bars on gravel bikes..? Trying to make gravel bikes more like a rigid mtb, when, as Matt describes, we already have a pretty decent solution to that- plus sized tyres. Which, despite appearances, are surprisingly quick and probably deserve some more mainstream love than they are getting at the moment.
  • 1 0
 @Braindrain: I understand what Matt's getting at- I know he's not criticizing the riders, I just think he's missed the point. In his criticism, he's basically writing off gravel bikes because they aren't good at trail riding, when their entire purpose is very obviously just to ride quickly on roads and paths, both paved and unpaved. Say what you will about that kind of riding, (road cycling basically, and this is a MTB website after all) but lots of people really like it. I own a road bike, and I enjoy it because it explicitly ISN'T a mountain bike. Some people ride their gravel bikes on trails because it's a fun challenge, but that still doesn't make them trail bikes, and that's okay.

In regards to the full suspension MCR- I'm no Niner spokesman, so I can only speculate, but here's my take: Just because the bike has suspension, doesn't mean it's trying to go offload. A lot of people seem to think of this in a very black and white way, when there's a lot more subtlety to it.

Take the automotive world as an analogy: Trophy/Dakar rally trucks, and your average family sedan/saloon both have suspension. That doesn't mean the family sedan is intended to be used to drive over rocks and jumps in the desert. It's intended mainly for pavement, but the suspension is there to absorb the occasional pothole, cracked asphalt and gravel drive. The car engineers could have solved this issue with big tires instead, (and that would have been cheaper and simpler) but then the car would achieve poor fuel economy, and suffer from excess vibrations and noise on the highway. A road bike with suspension is the same idea as the sedan... Mounting bigger tires is always an option, but at some point they do begin to add rotational weight and resistance, and for a vehicle intended primarily to travel quickly on the road, this doesn't make sense. The Niner MCR is approaching the problem of bumps and potholes the same way we have been with cars for a century. It's really only in the last 15 years that we have had the technology to build a lightweight road bike with suspension that doesn't ride like a bendy noddle... I think it's high time we explore the idea, even if it does't make sense in every scenario.

I do agree that we will see slightly bigger tires on gravel bikes though. We currently have a situation where the market is flooded with 45-50cc 'Gravel' tires that are very similar to 2-2.25" 29er XC racing tires. This is a huge redundancy, and I can't see tire manufacturers wanting to keep it up forever.

Full on plus tires will always have their place, but they will remain a somewhat niche product. I think you're forgetting the huge marketing push by mainstream manufacturers to sell plus size tires on mountain bikes a few years ago? Trek, Specialized et al jumped on the bandwagon, but it turns out a 2.3-2.6" tire, combined with dialled suspension is still the best performing option. Plus tires make a ton of sense in more utilitarian scenarios, where outright efficiency is less important than cost, ease of use, and durability, and I do agree they roll surprisingly well.

Drop bars vs flat bars is certainly a matter of taste, but for fast quickly out on the road, wind resistance is the single biggest factor slowing you down. Drop bars put you in a more aerodynamic position. There is also the option to put your hands in 3+ different spots, which is a huge win to reduce fatigue over long distances. This is the real reason road bikes are faster than XC mountain bikes, and will continue to have some form of curvy bar, for the foreseeable future.
  • 5 1
 Excellent article. So refreshing!!!
A friend of mine rides, beside his 160 enduro, a full rigid Genesis Fortitude Race for so many years, and I can tell you that he sends it badly!!! The simplest is often the best...... and yes: gravel bikes are crap when its about going almost everywhere, especially downhill.
  • 4 0
 I ride my rigid Krampus a similar amount to my Murmur. They both complement each other and make you a better rider. It's fun jumping back on the full squisher after riding rigid as you realise how much a difference suspension makes and how fast you can actually ride. The Krampus is so simple and fun and direct.
  • 2 0
 @fartymarty: Krampus... Murmur... Sir has good tastes Wink . Cheers!!!
  • 2 0
 @softsteel: living the Stanton. My mate rides the 9er, it's well nice.
  • 1 0
 @fartymarty: I own that Stanton for 3 years and I`m not looking for another bike anymore. Before I got it, I built something like 4 bikes in 5 years, yet I was craving for that Switchback so much. Dan sent me a mail one day to propose me a discounted frameset as the MK2 version was about to be released. I made a good bargain, and since that I ride that bike 95% of my time. The 9er is wonderful as well. And if I could afford it, the Switch9erFS is one of my dream bikes...
I love Stanton; Dan is such nice dude. I love their spirit, and their sense of humor Smile
Starling is a lovely brand as well.
You Brits know how to make unique bikes, and steel is not a big word on that side of the Channel.
Have you ever been to that Steel is Real Demo Day? www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYEsl9NBCao
  • 2 0
 @softsteel: The Switch9er is a lovely bike. There are definitely some lovely steel frames (and great companies) from this side of the channel. I've heard of the Steel is Real day but never been able to go (young family and all) - hopefully one day.
  • 4 0
 Fellow Krampus owner/lover over here. I have an "original" Krampus OPS and really enjoy it, great to just hop on a bike and very little to worry about (except expensive tires). I bought it when I lived in a part of our country that is flat and sandy, it would have worked perfectly over there but I have moved away since then. Its still a blast to ride on proper trails and a bit scary without a dropper post.

I recently did a 24 hour race with it and I was really surprised with how well it handled the event. It help to only have brakes and a single shifter to focus on in the depths of the night.

Actually wouldn't mind a second generation Krampus or perhaps just a thru-axle fork.
  • 4 0
 Look. There are no better bikes on planet earth at technical climbing than 29+ bikes. I regularly ride mine in the desert of Utah and can clean things on my Niner ROS 9plus that I couldn't dream of on any of my other mountain bikes. It's like a rock crawler!
  • 4 0
 This is my Krampus experience, except I took a step further and actually sold the wonder bike. My Krampus, same red, wears a Yari and a a Bikeyoke dropper, carbon hoops, and is an absolute monster on Illinois trails. MY old bike was a gun to a knife fight feel, while the Krampus, with it's impossibly dated unrideable garbage geometry from 1991... feels great. It works on my flat trails, it's got a fantastic fun component that my old, amazing brodozer didn't have. Do I miss a real wonder bike? Yes. Do I love the Krampus? Yes.Happy to keep beating my Pivot, Evil, Enduro etc, riding buddies up and down what passes for hills here for another season.

And on real gravel bikes...the real joy for me is 'groad.' The roads I ride are absolute shit, so having a tougher, heavier duty gravel bike to manage them is fantastic, even if I'm not usually on 'real gravel.' Is a paved road under 2 inches of sand and composed entirely of pot holes really a road?

And, even with the fork on it, my gravel bike has a slacker head angle than my Krampus. I love them both and ride the shit out of them anyway.
  • 1 0
 -2 angleset.... I wouldn't ride my K without it.
  • 4 0
 A little over a year ago I got a Trek Stache 29+ bike. I had a dirt jumper at the time and wanted something faster and more stable in the air. I originally was going to get a Yelli Screamy but then discovered the Stache with its uber-short chainstays. I lined up test rides for both in the same day. I loved the bigger wheels of the Yelli (my first 29er ride) but not the chainstay length. Then I rode the Stache and knew it was right within 20 seconds. On my Stache I can do about 70% of what I could on my dirt jumper, while my dirt jumper could only do about half of what my Stache can. It's slower than most bikes on the street, but once the pavement ends it's a force to be reckoned with. It is the most fun, most capable bike I've ever had. It's fast, and the wide tires give it so much margin for error it's comical. It's monster-truckish while being nimble. The only thing that's tempted me since is the 27.5+ format. My Stache and I are going to have a nice, long relationship.
  • 4 0
 This is awesome! I built up a Krampus and it rocks! It just barely fits 27.5x3.8 fat bike tires for the snow and the 29x3.0 minions rock for everything else. Even did a -2.0 Works angle headset! Steel is real!
  • 1 0
 -2 is the go, I've got one in my K and wouldn't go back.
  • 3 0
 I dearly love my V1 bass boat green Krampus and am confident it is the one bike I will own until the day I die. P.S. I love the article but it sounds like the author bought a frame at least one size too small if he's using that long of a stem. The bike rides even better if you run a 40-50 mm stem, a 120mm fork, and a set of decent hydraulic brakes.
  • 4 0
 > there is no point in any bicycle, whether on asphalt, gravel or dirt, that isn't fun on the way downhill

This! If I can't do manuals or bomb hills then I may as well just walk.
  • 4 1
 Great article. One thing that strikes me, (and it seems to be more frequent nowadays) is people talking about "downgrading" their bike in order to make easier trails more fun. Not saying that's what you did here, you discovered it by accident. We've got it backwards. Upgrade your trails, don't downgrade your bike. Join your local trail club, start one if you don't have one. One thing that's great about the modern enduro bike is it is closing the gap on downhill skill level. It's beautiful when those that have hit the skill ceiling of local trails advocate and volunteer for more, harder, trails. Trails benefit everyone. Your bike only benefits you.
Anyhow, painfully valid point on gravel bikes sucking at descending. I have fun on my Norco Search (with a dropper) but I can still admit it sucks to go down on. (phrasing boom)
  • 3 0
 Gravel (event cycling) gave the flatlanders of Iowa and the midwest something to do (cause they don't have descents needing 29x3 rubber). Then it was a place for all dropbar cyclists not wanting to be hit by texting drivers. It (event gravel cycling) also became the refuge for pro road tour domestiques. Still, it's something for everyone, just like singletrack, and more like the roots of early mountain biking than anything else out there on 2 wheels. Campers, the coffee outside, the wanderer and type II fun girl, and the retro guy in the Dirt Rag t-shirt...all gravel. More inclusive than anything I've seen and so it's no wonder the types of bikes are just as varied.
  • 3 0
 I once found myself with a rigid 29" single speed and no other bikes for a couple of months. I had a ton of fun, and my riding improved more in those two months than any other...except the first two months after I learned how to ride when I was a kid. The key was to ride where I would have ridden anyway, and it forced me to learn new techniques and develop new strenghts.
  • 2 0
 I have a gravel bike and it's great as a utility bike. I commute on it, go to shops on it , have kids seat sometimes on the back, use it for light off road rides where it adds a bit of interest with the skinnies and drop bars, Ive taken it on a few blue trails and its not too shoddy as an actual road bike for a bit of fitness/training when you cant get out properly.
People who rant about gravel bikes being shit have their head in the kashima coloured sand. Yes DH bikes are great and we ARE on Pinkbike but we all love riding bikes , you have to look beyond your own bottom-holes to see bikes are pretty broad.
  • 2 0
 Yup, 29+ is the bees knees on a rigid mountain bike. I've got my Salsa Timberjack rolling 2.8s with a carbon fork at 25 lb and it is fast uphill and downhill. I can't slam into the rocky rooty stuff but instead choose my line carefully and hang on tight! Tire choice is so critical. I hope more tire makers produce 29x 2.8 and 3.0 tires in the future!! Big diameter is addicting. My 27.5 full squish bike feels small and slow, even though its not. Now that I've got both bikes, I'm living the dream!!
  • 2 0
 I had to steel myself to add to the steel hard tail fan club here. I hope other cyclists have more time for steel fans and not treat us like budget poor people. My Production Privee OKA rips my fun balls every time. The 36 factory fork cost $$$ new but it gets into butt pucker and out the other side every time.
  • 2 0
 In summary, for both gravel bikes and 29+ bikes, you are, as @eblackwell said, "essentially always on the wrong bike". It seems that something in the middle would make the most sense: a *gasp* XC hardtail. Gravel bikes are all the rage right now, and 29+ seemed to have a moment a few years ago but are now in an obscure corner of the MTB world populated by "people with long beards and ironic T-shirts". XC hardtails fell out of favor a while ago and gravel bikes have essentially taken their place, both in utilization and popularity.

For the gravel riders that enjoy being able to explore and tick off a lot more miles than on a full suspension mountain bike, try a XC hardtail. You'll probably be surprised to find that you can cover the same distance because you won't feel like you just went 12 rounds with Mike Tyson, and you'll spend a lot less time fixing flats.

Yes, @Andypanda82 , I guess this is a form of bike shaming, but someone that is on the wrong bike simply because it's trendy and/or expensive deserves a little ribbing. Also, a lot of people are on gravel bikes because it is the right bike for their intended use of it, so this is not directed at them. But just as this article sings the praises of an often overlooked type of bike, I submit to you the humble XC hardtail, which, aside from pounding out miles on pavement (but who wants to do that anyway), is better than a gravel or 29+ bike in all situations.
  • 2 0
 Great read!

Gravel depends on your perspective and expectations.. I tell people that if you are buying a gravel bike as a replacement for a MTB, you are going to be disappointed. But, if you at it as a road bike that let's you ride more than just the road, it's a new experience. I got a CX bike about 5 years ago (Gravel before gravel became the big buzzword) after trying one and being surprised by just how capable they are.. I often say my CX bike takes me back to my first days of MTB... Full rigid, skinny tires, and crap brakes... A couple of days ago, I checked the sealant and did something I haven't done in a while... Put in a long ride on that bike...Almost 48 miles of pavement, dirt roads, and mixed in a bit of single track to keep it interesting... Had a blast! I would never had done that ride on either of my MTBs..Plus, I even got a couple of PRs on climbs that I do almost weekly on the MTB.. Now, my bigger dilemma is do I get a nicer bike to replace that current CX bike or do I get a Stache because that bike has really caught my eye and seems like it would be so much fun as a bike to mix things up a bit after getting spoiled buy my 2 full squish rigs...
  • 2 0
 Can’t get behind this article, he’s comparing gravel to low key mountain biking and basically adventure bikes. There’s a reason why you don’t see this bike winning gravel races. You’ll never see a guy on this bike doing 50 miles of everything from road to single track in a reasonable amount of time without significant pain from being in one position for hours. This is a N+1 argument at its core, right bike for the right job.
  • 4 0
 I have an original Krampus, it's ability to make you feel like a kid again when riding it is second to none.
  • 1 0
 Had a gravel bike. Enjoyed riding it on pavement and smooth dirt roads. Sold it. Got a cheap hardtail. Enjoy it WAY more. I can keep up with groadies on pavement and smooth dirt if I mount XC tires or slicks (it's a little harder but I can do it), but its versatility for bikepacking, dirt jumping, etc. is off the charts and it's WAY more fun on singletrack or bumpy dirt roads than the gravel bike was. For rocky/rooty stuff you just need squish to have fun, IMO. Bedded-in rocks even on dirt roads suck with a rigid front end.
  • 1 0
 I have a 29er rigid with 2.5 tires. Even has 30 speeds. And I ride it every other week. It's a whole lot of fun. Going through rough bits of trail are actually more, fun? Maybe it's the joy of survival. With my other bikes, I just point and go and I can make mistake after mistake and just keep rolling, but the rigid, you have to pick and bob and weave or your wrists will let you know you made a mistake. Fun bikes.
  • 2 0
 If I have a RockShox Pike on the front of my gravel bike, is it still a gravel bike. There's no actual gravel roads around here --just dirt --so I'm having a difficult time figuring this all out.
  • 1 0
 I have a 140 forked Nukeproof Scout for a very similar reason - I would rather have more fun on less potentially deadly trails on it that have to ride very challenging trails on a massive enduro style bike and run the risk of speeding myself to my mortal end. I also got rid of my big travel bike and got a 5010 for a similar reason but the Scout seems to be pushing the 5010 to the side lines these days too.
  • 2 1
 Really not sure why we need to classify bikes and their ideal terrain so much. Gatekeeping terrain and consequently fun is so silly. And it definitely excludes new and less fortunate riders from entering the sport. But it sure does sell you that new model with .6 degree steeper seat tube, next generation damper cartridge that weighs .8 lb less.
  • 1 0
 But the flip side of the MCR is that the same company that had the guts to build that thing also created the ROS9. I've been riding mountain bikes seriously for 21 years and I think I have another 30 years at least in my future. My carbon enduro bike is great, super capable, and a marvel, don't get me wrong. But that steel ROS9 can rock the same enduro trails, xc trails, ride on the road all the way to the trails, and sometimes I load it up and go bikepacking. It has hand-me-down parts from other bikes. It is a monster. It rips all day.
  • 2 1
 Years ago I had that same love interest, it started with a Redline Monocog 29er SS Rigid, this gradually advanced to a carbon fork, then a short travel suspension fork, then some gears, added rear suspension, added more suspension, now I have these long travel monster bikes and they are so rad! Sure, simple is fun and doesn't have to suck, but getting beat up and banged around just ain't my thing these days. Hardtails are a young person's thing. If I really wanted things to be simple again, I'd go back to ride mountain unicycles...
  • 1 0
 Great article Matt! I built up a fat bike two years ago and last summer built up a set of plus wheels for it (is mullet plus a thing yet, or am I starting a trend? ) It's a hoot to ride and I agree that it reminds me of when I first got a mountain bike.
  • 3 0
 Damn, Just sold my simple steel 160mm hardtail that ive ridden since 2015 for a space race full sus enduro. I must be one hell of a prick.
  • 1 0
 Good article. I've been spending some time on a fat bike I had for snow excursions but never took it out in the nicer months. Helping a buddy get into the sport we've both spent time on it, so much so that I upgraded the brakes and installed a dropper post. It's a great bike and steel is real and will last forever!
  • 1 0
 I could not agree more! I own rigid Surly Karate Monkey equipped with 3" tires and that bike is so much fun to ride. As long as I am not on very technical trails it bombs through everything and carries speed very well. The fact that it doesn't have any suspension makes you more engaged when riding it.
  • 1 0
 Alside from the fact that i tend to trash the whole gravel thing as being a bike that is neither this nor that ,and does not excel at anything , it still comes down to personal likes .
The best bike for you or me is the one we like the most . Simplistic ? yes, but that the point , the truth is always simple and uncomplicated . Riders can cite all kinds of clever objective reasons why they like this bike or that bike but it always come back to “ i don’t know , it just feels good to ride . “
ok flame away you techy intellectuals . ????
  • 1 0
 seems like bicycles have gone the way of motorcycles. theyre so good that they have a tendency to make everyday riding boring. but if we scale back their capabilities we can find what made riding so fun in the first place. i'm all for quirky bikes - building up a new gravel fixed gear now.
  • 1 0
 Yeah Matt! Very nice piece. I picked up a @GuerrillaGravity Pedalhead frame back in early Feb. and have found myself regularly struggling to decide if I should take it or the full squish bike out for a pedal. While it's not white knuckle scary descending like you describe the Krampus, it actually rips on the descents with Michelin Wild Enduro rubber, it's super fun to just pedal around on, pop wheelies, ride roads and singletrack. I had forgotten how efficient pedaling can be and how far you can go, getting so fixated on travel and suspension progression all that things that make full squish enduro bikes amazing, until getting back on a steel hardtail, albeit an aggressive "trail" hardtail
  • 1 0
 Spent most of the winter on a rigid Salsa El Mariachi. Had a ball. It gets a little hairy when things are steep and rough with the high post and steep HA, but I (usually) made it through. Makes my suspended hard tail feel like a couch now.
  • 1 0
 I have a Jones 29+, for ultimate beardyness. I bought it to transition myself gently into middle age. I wasn't expecting it to be as good on steep, awkward descents as my full-sus, but it is. And it's a lot more comfortable to sit on for hours at a stretch.
  • 1 0
 I recently added a singlespeed 2020 Krampus 29+ to my quiver, and it was probably the best bike-related decision I've made in decades. Most of my other bikes have been gathering dust ever since. The author of this article is spot on with his summary: It reminds me of everything that got me hooked on riding 35 years ago, and the smiles are endless! Seriously, I even grin from ear to ear every time I think about it, let alone when I'm out riding it.

I'm in love.
  • 2 0
 Awesome words. Words like this got me hooked reading mags as a kid, the pics and flashy stuff helped, but there was real content, written by passionate crazy people.
  • 1 1
 An ode to a 4th bike.....at best. I can afford a mountain bike, not a quiver. And I live where there are burly trails. So I ride a Slash because it climbs well and descends really well. I guess if the goal is nostalgia, and that's reached through riding a flexy-ass cheap tubed (straight gauge 4130-like the Trek 820 I had in the 1990's) steel bike with weak brakes and bad handling (also echoes of my old 820), a Krampus will get the job done. And you could just score an old 820 or Rockhopper waaaaaay cheaper to take that trip down nostalgia lane.
  • 1 0
 I added a Jones bar to my old Salsa El Mariachi with semi slicks and it is the most fun I have had on a bike in years. Then when I got back on my Hightower I felt like I was going 10 times faster than I have ever felt.
  • 1 0
 Krampus is an awesome bike, but its not a gravel grinder, it's just a plus bike. It's a sus fork away from any other hardtail, so this is a confusing reference to the gravel bike.
  • 2 0
 I don't understand anything about this article. Gravel bikes suck at going downhill. Damn I wish we had a category of bikes for going downhill.
  • 2 0
 "cheap cider and dirty hash"..growing up in the country in the UK right there
  • 1 0
 Yep, felt like Matt was writing about my own youth from that to the riding shitty bikes to destruction in the woods! And funnily enough I've got a rigid steel 29er Marin in the garage that is just as much fun as my enduro bike but in a totally different way. Can turn the most mellow flowing trail into a challenge for those days you don't want to wear a full face or reach warp speed!
  • 2 0
 Great article. I love my 29+ steel SS hardtail! My 140mm trail bike gets left in the garage because this thing is so fun!
  • 1 0
 @mattwragg I highly recommend -2 headset, shorter stem and higher rise bars. My Krampus goes down the same trails my Murmur does just a bit slower.
  • 1 1
 How about up? Anything but smooth fire roads or buffed climbing benches, or if it was wet, and I'd bet the Murmur is faster since it has traction!
  • 1 0
 @just6979: climbing depends on the hill - Krampus is single speed so on the right hill it's faster. Murmur is way better on steep and tech climbs due to geo and traction.
  • 1 2
 @fartymarty: what does single speed have to do with anything, besides probably being lighter? but i'd assume the krampus is still lighter even with gears?
  • 5 0
 @just6979: SS means there's no noodling around spinning it out or picking your way carefully. You simply have to go and after that you go, and go some more until the climb is over. Losing your rolling momentum on a climb especially on a 29+ bike is brutal to recover from
  • 1 0
 @BlurredLines: You don't have to shift just because you have gears... And it sounds like if you screw up on the SS 29+ then you're f*cked, which means that climb will be waaaaay slower than the other bike (which you could just change gears and spin back up to speed if you lose momentum)
  • 1 0
 @just6979: I think you're making a leap to steep technical terrain that was already acknowledged to lend itself to something like the murmur. The consistent gearing and lack of suspension soaking up energy is what makes the SS that you cannot doddle on a quicker climber in a suitable scenario. Simply put it's more efficient inclusive of the reduced weight.
  • 1 0
 @BlurredLines: "in a suitable scenario". And how about for all the scenarios you ride through to get to that specific scenario?

I guess that's where all this shit loses me. I don't want a bike for any "specific scenario", besides trails vs roads*.

*Roads to me includes gravel and dirt roads: every "road" bike I've ever owned has gotten the biggest tires I could find and fit and with some tread. And some non-paved "roads" I'd still rather have an MTB, because I hate my rear-wheel bouncing around when I'm trying to put some power down on loose bumpy surface. Even with only 35-40 psi in 42c tires, a rigid rear just can't put the power down as well. Since many of these arguments for a rigid or hardtail is about long adventures, it makes no sense to me to sacrifice actual efficiency due to lack of traction in order to increase perceived efficiency of not having suspension. On a rail trail or maintained carriage road, sure, rigid it up. But on a logging road or beat up fireroad, some suspension is going to let you explore further for the same energy.
  • 1 0
 Love it! It is also the same theory that dads (and mums) use when buying their young kids their first mountainbike. "It teaches them bike control"
  • 4 1
 Christ, I nearly started welling up reading this. Great article.
  • 1 0
 Yeah. I kinda hate my Niner gravel bike and sorta wish I could put fast MTB tires on it. It honestly just isn't very fun. Maybe I should sell it and buy a Surly.
  • 2 0
 Wait till you slap 29x3 DHFs on that Krampus! Total rips and one helluva fun bike
  • 1 0
 Holyshit, you're from Castle Donington! My first childhood biking memories are also from crashing like crazy at King Mills woods.
  • 2 0
 Yes I am! Not exactly an MTB mecca, right? ????
  • 1 0
 My alt-bike is a Stache, not quite as beard-o as the steel Surly but I understand the articles sentiment. Put Maxxis 3.0 DHx's on and it'll cure your grip problem.
  • 2 0
 I love my Krampus too. It's such a fun and versatile bike.
  • 2 0
 Sign in first pic says ‘Please do not TOUCH’

They are touching.
  • 3 1
 XC bikeS>>>>Gravel bikes
  • 1 0
 after a few years on a drop bar 29er i went back to flat bars for a 29er gravel bike.
  • 1 0
 Totally agree. I recently built a Salsa Fargo with plus tires, drop bars and no suspension. So much fun!
  • 1 0
 I love my gravel bike, my rode bike and my full sus. I have one for each mood.
  • 3 3
 Spot on. I'll take an old cross country bike with bar ends over a gravel bike any day. The gravel genre is ridiculous.
  • 1 0
 Yoann took a townie bike down a Squamish trail.
  • 2 0
 Great story. Well done.
  • 1 0
 Where’s the ebike review? That’s the new standard now!
  • 1 0
 I like a @mattwragg article, good read as per (thumbs up emoji)
  • 1 0
 Sospel! Vouilloz or Barel should not be that far away...
  • 1 0
 bikes suck, Everyone should ride scooters
  • 1 0
 Wragg Lives!!!!
  • 1 0
 Benjamin! Miss you. xo
  • 1 4
 Gravel bikes don’t suck at DH, riders do...


youtu.be/Up0hWogVm3w
  • 2 0
 Misleading. This video demonstrates riding down a sidewalk, not down an actual gravel road.
  • 1 1
 @ridin26s:

Okay, here’s another one:


youtu.be/ZOamYyAYsBE
  • 2 0
 @Saidrick:

If we're talking road bikes in bike parks, we gotta bring up the original:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvL1agpqwvE
  • 1 2
 Link someone riding a double black tech trail on a gravel bike and I'll be impressed

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