It is the end of the year but instead of making a prediction for 2020 I have created a wish list of things I would like to see in the next 12 months on gravel market. Naturally, they are all connected with the comfort of the gravel riding. Hopefully, at least some of them will come true…
Let’s start with the bike frames. Although, there are more important bike parts (mainly tires) frame is still, at least to me, a crucial part and a true starting point in the process of making a truly comfortable bike. And one of the most interesting ones because you can do a lot if you are clever and determined enough. So what exactly I would like to see in the gravel frames in 2020?
More rear suspension solutions
In 2019 we have seen a new trend emerging. Bikes like BMC URS (with its MTT elastomer-based rear suspension), Cannondale Topstone Carbon (with its Kingpin rear suspension) and Moots Routt YBB (with its spring and elastomer-based suspension) are the most noticeable examples. But there is also a Wilier Activeflex rear suspension (though only available on the endurance bikes) and GT Grade Carbon with its semi suspension solution (a flexing seatstays). All of those bikes not only offer an increased rear-end comfort but also, and this is a crucial thing, better rear-wheel traction (in contrast with solutions like Pivot Vault ISO FLEX technology, that improves only the riding comfort). I really hope that more and more gravel bikes in 2020 will adopt similar rear suspension technologies.
More cush at the front of the bike
I have already said on many occasions that I feel that the front of the bike should be now a playing ground for bicycle engineers. Simply there is a lot less comfort inducing solutions at front of the bike than at the rear (we have only a Redshift Suspension stem, Lauf Grit SL suspension fork, Future Shock from Specialized, an Isospeed from Trek and a semi solution like Canyon Hoverbar which increases the top handlebar comfort, but at the cost of the hoods and drops). We need more. And the most important playing ground should be the fork itself. You can make it bend more and improve its compliance mainly by making it longer and by putting the wheel mount as far as possible from the fork axis (like ECO fork from Jamis or, but in the opposite direction, Argon 18 did with its Dark Matter gravel bike). I know, that this is a tricky thing because now we all use disc brakes so forks need to withstand a lot more force but Argon and Jamis prove that it still can be done.
But a fork is not the only thing that can improve comfort. Headtube is another one. Ritchey bikes (especially the steel ones) are still the best example of how to make a really comfortable bike just by not making an oversized head tube and allowing it to flex naturally. Of course, in the era of the disc brakes and the need of increasing bike stiffness (tapered headtubes), it is not possible to have bikes like that, but still, when I see bikes with a huge head tubes area I simply wonder if this is really necessary? Or we can find something like a middle ground where stiffness and compliance can coexist? Hopefully, I am not the only one thinking that….
More bikes with big tire clearance
This is something like the holy grail of gravel bikes. Make it truly nimble and agile but at the same time allow it to run a 50 mm tires (both 650b and 700c). It is not an easy task to do, but bikes like Devinci Hatchet or (to some extent) an OPEN WI.DE. proves it is doable. And it should be done because no frame magic and clever suspension solutions will substitute for a chunky, supple tire run tubeless with low air pressure. But, we do not need more bikes with a very long chainstay (like 440 mm long) that will allow us to run big, fat tires. We need bikes with 430mm and below chainstays to still enjoy gravel riding and simply having fun despite having big tires. And that is one of my wishes for 2020.
More big, supple tires
To be honest, I am amazed that despite the fact that almost any gravel bike introduced in 2019 can take a nice 700x45c tire and most will work with a 2,1-inch 650b tire we still have a very limited gravel tires choice in those sizes. And even more so, if you are after a nice supple tire like a Soma Cazadero one. The problem is the most evident in 650b tire size where all the options are limited to 50mm sizes and above that, you have to use mostly MTB tires. I truly wish to see more supple 650b tires with sizes ranging from 50 to even 60 mm. Just imagine, how comfortable could be a bike like OPEN Wi.DE with 60 mm supple gravel tire run at a very low air pressure (with CushCore inserts for improved traction)…
More handlebars that truly flex
I think that Giant was one of the first brands that put a flexing (D-Fuse) handlebar on its Revolt gravel bike. The main aim of the D-Fuse (flattened) shape was to allow a nice, comfy flex on the hoods and drops when you hit the bumps. And from the reviews I have seen, it works. The Cannondale HollowGram Save Carbon handlebar is another and even more prominent example of a handlebar that is created to flex. I believe we need more solutions like that (both aluminum and carbon ones) but we have to remember, that all of them will work mostly on hoods and drops (where we put enough weight to make it flex). If we are after comfort on the tops, the only real solutions are Canyon HoverBar and front end suspension solution like Future Shock from Specialized and Redshift Suspension stem. The problem with the last two (and especially with Shockstop stem) is that they induce much more handlebar movement on tops and hoods than a flexing handlebar like HollowGram Save Carbon would. And to be honest, I start to feel, that comfort, that comes at the cost of too much flex, is a comfort that I do not want to have…
More carbon bikes with bike-packing capabilities
After testing two carbon gravel bikes this year I found that my steel bike (although great for bike-packing and riding with a child on a child seat) is seriously lacking in terms of speed and fun of riding. But at the same time I found, that both GT Grade 2020 and Specialized Diverge Comp 2020 was very comparable to my steel bike or even better in terms of comfort. So naturally, I want to see in 2020 carbon gravel bikes with lots of comfort but in the same with a lot of possibilities for bike-packing and especially, for mounting a rack and, for example, a child seat on it. I know, that this is not an easy task, and even more so, if I want to combine both strength and compliance, but still I truly wish to see more bikes like a Wilier Jena with its ability to carry a 20 kg on its rear rack. Because then I can enjoy both speed and comfort and I go on a trip with my son.
More electric gravel bikes
Yes, I know that it can be a controversial thing for many, but I really believe and really want to see more electric gravel bikes in 2020. Why? Because, for me, comfort is not only the compliance and the ergonomics but also the possibility to go to work in the morning without the need of taking shower after arriving there and then making a real workout on the way home (riding without any electric motor assistance). And if I can combine it with the possibility of putting a rear rack, this starts to look like a dream bike for me. For now, the closest to this vision seems to be a Wilier Jena Hybrid, but I hope that in 2020 we will see a lot more options like that…
So this is it. My wish list for 2020. Hopefully, it will come true, alongside with many other, not necessary bike focused wishes that we all have for 2020.
So, Happy New Year to you all!