A little about Gravel Bikes

A plethora of manufacturers are now producing “gravel bikes”, taking advantage of this rapidly evolving genre of cycling. However, often the best bike setups are those born from improvisation, and not a stock bike purchased from your local dealer.

Realistically, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a safe and reliable machine for gravel cycling / racing. We’ve seen gravel racing bikes vary wildly from a standard cyclocross bike, all the way to a single speed MTB, equipped with flat bars with integrated aero extensions.


Horses for Courses

This phrase stems from the fact that a racehorse performs best on a race course to which it is specifically suited. In gravel cycling, a bike setup for one event may be less than optimal for another. Roads and terrain in the Midwest of the United States are radically different from what you’ll encounter in the mountains of West Virginia and North Carolina. Consequently, course-specific bike setups can vary.

In my experience, building a gravel bike isn’t just about performance. Safety plays a huge factor. Whether descending a knarly rocky gravel road, or cruising along a narrow forest trail, the perfect bike for me always involves bigger tires (tyres), predictable handling characteristics and excellent brakes.

JOM’s Colnago C50 CX, used for Roubaix and hard packed courses.

As alluded to earlier, such a bike doesn’t necessarily exist on a dealer’s showroom floor. Casting my mind back to my first UltraCX appearance (please pardon my then crappy video skills) at Three Peaks USA, I finished that race feeling I was astride a bike inadequately prepared for the job. You cannot put a price on confidence in your machine, or your own skills and abilities. What works for some riders, will not work for others. Some riders are perfectly at home on a narrow tyre cyclocross bike, others prefer a hard tail MTB.

JOM’s original UltraCX bike, which is more at home in the Mid West.

Without any further ado, here are Gravel Cyclist’s tips for Gravel Bike setup:

The Bike

Firstly, dispel the notion you need a gravel specific bike to enjoy riding gravel roads. As alluded to in the first beginners article, Useful Pointers, run what you have. A cyclocross bike with clearance for 40mm tyres can be the perfect bike for gravel cycling. A gravel specific bike differs in that its wheelbase is generally longer, with slacker head tube angles and a slightly taller head tube. Generally, a gravel bike is built for comfort whilst traversing 100+ miles of gravel roads in a day. But those same goals can be accomplished with a well configured cyclocross bike.

JOM's Lynskey Monster CX rig.
JOM’s Lynskey Monster CX rig.

My favorite frame materials for such a bike are steel or titanium. I prefer those materials as they offer nice ride characteristics over bumpy surfaces, are durable enough to survive most crashes, while resisting the bangs and scrapes they’ll invariably suffer from rocks striking the frame. Carbon fiber and aluminium frames can handle the job as well, but be wary of ultra light carbon framesets. Carbon doesn’t compress well, and is known for shattering in the event of a sudden impact. Durability should be at the top of one’s shopping list.

Whatever your frame choice, dual bottle cages are a necessity, along with a saddle bag that holds essential tools for coping with punctured tyres and other emergencies. More about Saddle Bags in our first article, Useful Pointers, under Tools and Spares.


Handlebar Positioning

Some riders prefer a bar position that may be up to an inch higher when compared to their road or cyclocross positions. For long distance events, comfort is paramount. An aggressive road type position will wreak mayhem on your neck and shoulders over the space of eight hours or more. Experiment, and figure out which is best for you before your event.


Bottle Cages

Cages receive their own section, as these are the most underrated and forgotten about item in all of cycling. I have lost count of the number of ejected bottles I have seen at races. What good is a fancy, lightweight bottle cage, if it can’t perform its intended function! I highly recommend an aluminium, steel or titanium bottle cage. All of these materials can be bent a little, to further help with the grip of the cage against the bottle itself. Barring the Arundel Dave-O cage, carbon cages are best left at home. Gravel Cyclist highly recommends the King Cage Titanium cage, which we have reviewed in the past.


Wheels and Tyres

The most critical component choices of all. Tyre pressure, rolling and puncture resistance are factors to consider. Dirt, gravel, limerock and sandy roads are unpredictable at the best of times. The condition of such roads is determined by weather and local or county maintenance (if any), and can change in a matter of minutes.

Tyre choices like bikes, should be determined by the course. If I was forced to choose only one tyre, it would be the Clement X’Plor MSO 40mm, with the 120tpi casing. This tyre features a low profile tread which is fast rolling, handles well on turns, ensuring safe and predictable handling. While not recommended to be configured tubeless, it works perfectly well in this capacity. In my experience and dependent on body weight (I’m about 155lbs), I run this tyre at 38psi front, 40psi rear.

Another excellent tyre choice for Monster CX type applications, is the 1.8″ 29’er Specialized Renegade. The tyre is fast rolling, and grips well on hardpack surfaces. It performs well in loose gravel, although stick within your comfort zone; you can lose traction on tight turns, or steep climbs if ascending out of the saddle. Also available in 1.95″ and tubeless compatible out of the box, the Renegade is a light tyre that wears well and is loved by the Gravel Cyclist crew.

For Roubaix type events where the roads are hardpack, and loose gravel at a minimum, the Gravel Cyclist crew recommends the tubeless Hutchinson Sector 28mm tyre. There are rumors this tyre will be released in a 32mm width sometime soon – exciting news! Also recommended, is Panaracer’s tubeless road offerings, which we are currently testing.

Wheels – We favor handbuilt, high spoke count, tubeless compatible wheels that use non-proprietary spokes and nipples. We recommend wheels that can be serviced easily, using spokes that can be sourced from a local shop in the event of a breakage. If your frame has sufficient clearance, 29’er wheelsets with wider rim beds offer an excellent platform for mounting tyres sans tubes. The wider rim bed and bead hook effectively give the tyre a free mm or two of width, while providing for a larger contact patch on the road, and the ability to run lower tyre pressures. Remember, durability and serviceability are key, and should overshadow ultra lightweight.

For pre-built wheels, American Classic’s Race 29’er wheelset is a huge favorite among the Gravel Cyclist crew. They are the closest you’ll find to a high spoke count, reliable, hand built wheelset.



See our earlier reference to Horses for Courses. With a gravel / cyclocross bike, it is hard to go wrong choosing a crankset with 50/34 – 48/34 or 46/34 chainrings. The choice you make is dependent upon pedaling style, amount of ascending, etc. Remember, taller tyres negate what is ordinarily a lower gear. In layman’s terms, this means a 34×23 gear on a 700c  x 23mm tyre, becomes harder to push if the same gear is used with a 700c x 40mm tyre.

A 12-28 cassette is a good choice for most riding, but I always pack a 12-32 cassette for serious climbing. SRAM is now offering an excellent 11 speed 11-36 cassette, which provides a huge spread of gears for double chainrings, but opens up the possibility of a single chainring drivetrain, should that be your thing. SRAM is making other developments in the 1 x 11 drivetrain category, at the time of writing.

Alternatively, there is Monster CX gearing. We at Gravel Cyclist love our front and rear derailleurs!



The latest hubbub in cycling at the time of writing is disc brakes on road bikes. They’ve been available for several years on cyclocross bikes, and are standard equipment on today’s gravel bikes.

Mechanical Disc brakes – Simple to configure, easy to adjust and not necessarily prone to overheating issues that are sometimes associated with hydraulic disc brakes. The negatives are power is lacking compared to hydraulic brakes, and they are not self adjusting. Additionally, because of their mechanical nature, they could be prone to sticking in extreme mud – see Southern Cross 2015. However, a well configured set of mechanical disc brakes will serve most riders well. TRP’s Spyre and Spyre SLC are recommended, and feature dual sided actuation – both pads provide even and precise clamping force.

Hydraulic Disc Brakes – Can be messy to configure, with setup best left to your local bike shop. Generally, most brands are set and forget, but they may require periodical bleeding / changing of the fluid, just as you would do with your automobile. However, the small negatives are outweighed by their positives. One finger braking operation with plenty of power, and excellent modulation.

Don’t shortcut or look to save weight on brake rotors. Bigger is better. At minimum, Gravel Cyclist recommends 160mm front and rear rotors, with ALL six rotor bolts in place *, assuming your wheels are equipped in this manner. Center lock hubs, make sure your lockring is tightened down.

Brake pad compounds. For disc brakes, there are generally two; organic and sintered metallic. Most disc brake sets whip with organic pads. Organic work the best in all conditions, providing excellent bite. However, in mud and sludge, they wear fast. Historically, riders have been stranded in longer races when their pads were completely worn.

Sintered metallic pads are much longer lasting in the mud, but they do not offer as much bite as an organic pad set, which can be disconcerting. Whatever your choice, it is wise to carry a spare set of brake pads, and be well practiced with changing them during a race.

* – JOM being a former weight weenie, was guilty of running three rotor bolts vs six bolts on a rear wheel a few years ago… the weight savings aren’t worth it… tsk tsk.

Finally, there is the venerable cantilever brake. An older bike, with a well configured set of cantilever brakes, such as Avid’s excellent Shorty Ultimate, or TRP’s Mini-V brake offer excellent power and modulation, sans the complications of disc brakes. Remember, the rim is the biggest brake rotor of all! Additionally, this type of brake offers good performance in muddy conditions, which can wreak havoc upon miniscule disc brake pads.

We are always open to feedback and suggestions from our readers!

Return to the Beginner’s Corner


  1. Avatar Greg Ventoux

    Thank you very much. I learn a lot of good advices with your article.

  2. Avatar Mike

    In the videos you have when your site I noticed most of the riders use drop bars. However you mentioned in this article that a higher handlebar position is preferable for comfort so why not use a mountain bike set up with narrower tires?

      • Avatar John

        the lynskey gravel bike, don’t you get a lot of flex with the seatpost, why did you net get a larger frame?

        • JOM JOM

          The Lynskey bike you’re referring to is actually an MTB frame. It is perfectly sized for me… I like a bit of seatpost flex for the rough stuff this bike endures.

    • Avatar Robert

      on long rides you need to change hand positions. Mountain bike bars don;t really allow much variation and if you are running into a headwind, trying to draft a shorter person, etc… the drops come in handy.

  3. Avatar Arne

    I’m hoping to find a Colnago C50 Cross like the one in you article to build up. Can you tell me if the bike is set up with 10 or 11 speed? I’m hoping the C50 Cross can take an 11 speed Campy drivetrain from the 2011-2014 era, and still a little confused about 10/11 speed frame compatibility.

    Thank you the informative article!

  4. Handlebar Positioning on MX Leader:
    secured new, grey anodized 3T Record 84 quill stem (140mm) and grey anodized 3T Super Competizione bars 26.0 Merckx bend to rebuild the MX Leader — not for show, but to ride much more in the drops (184mm).

    • JOM JOM

      Hi there! We’ve been using 40mm tires without any problems. I suspect you could get away with a 35mm tire as well sans issue.

  5. Avatar James Webster

    As a clyde and over 60 years old I am going to start gravel riding with a 27.5 GT Avalanche. Put on a stem riser on and see how it goes.. Yeah i know a biog shock with a lock out but it has rebound adjust to help save my wrists

  6. I have my first Gravel event- The 200km Dirty Reiver, in April and have been looking at tire options as a UK cyclist as we don’t have much in terms of gravel roads so I’m looking for a do-it all tire I can use for riding my cx bike through summer. My consideration at the moment is towards a set of Schwalbe CX Comps which are very reasonably priced as I cannot see logic in spending big for one event- What are your thoughts on the tire? I know they’re a little heavy but that’s not too much of a worry

    • JOM JOM

      Hi Liam,

      Don’t know much about the Schwalbe CX Comps, but I can recommend the Michelin Jet. They’re a little narrower at 34mm in width when mounted, but they can be picked up reasonably cheap at times.

      Good luck!

    • Avatar David B

      Planet X are selling WTB Nano 40s for less t ham 1/2 price.

  7. Avatar martini

    boo-shwa sir…I say bushwa on the statement that hydraulic brake has more stopping power than mech brakes

    I sold my cx and tourer— both set up for gravel grinding after building up an old kona explosif…26 rear, 650b front, full rigid with 1×9 gearing and it goes everywhere fine… plus leaves g-grinders in back when things get dicey. slap on a long ti straight bar, add origin8 drops AND bar ends and you have a wonderful mess. But it gives you every single hand position and feels great. I like using a slightly larger frame for this setup.

    • JOM JOM

      The awesome thing about gravel bikes is there are no rules! Do whatever works for you. Love it!

  8. I purchased a Kona private Jake 2016 model and here is my current changes from factory delivery. Changed the handle bars to JONES H-Bar and Syntace MegaForce2 30mm stem , Pauls brake levels short pulls , Sram 10t42 cassette, Sram GX long cage Derail, XO1 trigger shifter, Stan’s Grails with I9 mountain hubs XD rear, came with TRP disk mech brakes and a 1x Sram Rival 40t crank. WTB Cross Boss 700c 35mm. The CX Bike has been totally re-built now that I look at it. I had to get answers from online sources on what would work due to the Kona Bike dealer being silent after I requested information on my changes, it is sad but now I am learning more just in testing.
    Thanks for your information.

    • JOM JOM

      Hi Michael.

      There are so many customers out there nowadays who possess more information about product and compatibilities versus the dealers who sell the product!

  9. Avatar keith

    I love gravel racing! It’s not cookie cutter bikes, there’s so many setups riders use. I’ve done the Hardford 50 and Southern cross both has a lot of climbing. The descents is what I set my bike for (I’m no downhill bomber) after the Hardford 50. At Hardford I had mechanical disc, 32mm tires on a dropbar aluminum CX bike. I thought I was going to die a on he descents a few times! For Southern Cross I ran 35mm tires, flatbars, hydro brakes on a carbon CX frame. No near death experience! Tires and brakes take top priority with me. If I was doing a gravel race with little climbing, brakes would be less of an issue.

  10. Avatar RustyTurbo

    Hi JOM
    Just discovered your website and love it! As a fellow Adelaide boy (and former US resident of MO and NH) I got so much out of your videos and descriptions. The main thing I took from this section was ridewhat you have. My road bike is a Lynskey Helix, which I adore, but 25’s are the biggest I think I can run. I also ride a Titus racer x 26er. This is the beast I can put to best use on gravel. With this in mind, do you have a MTB tyre you recommend? Thanks!

    • JOM JOM

      Hey RustyTurbo!

      26’er tyres are limited nowadays, but I am glad to see that Schwalbe offers the Furious Fred and Thunder Burt in the 26″ size. I’ve been using the Furious Fred in 29″ for a long time, see my review here – https://www.gravelcyclist.com/bicycle-tech/schwalbe-furious-fred-tlr-29er-tire-review/ – it isn’t recommended for gnarly gravel, but would be pretty sweet on the Adelaide gravel roads.

      One of my teammates is rolling the Thunder Burt, but the lightest version they make.

      When did you return to Adelaide? How long did you live in the US of A?

  11. Avatar RustyTurbo

    Hi Jom

    Thanks for the advice re; tyres. I realise I am stuck in the last century riding a 26er, but I lve the Titus and don’t have the ca$h for something new just yet.

    My wife and I are both Adelaide born and educated, but worked in the US from 1994 until late 2001. Didn’t do much mountain biking in MO secondary to the locals predilection for shooting anything fast moving in the outdoors. However loved (and hated) all the twisty, rocky and rooty trails of NH. We returned fora 6 week family holiday on the West Coast in mid 2013.

    Please keep up the good work 🙂

  12. Avatar Stan Hooper

    Help! I’m conflicted over the carbon frame/fork issue. I lust after the 2016 Norco Search Ultegra but question the wisdom of using a rigid carbon bike to ride rocky, rutted, washboarded, pot holed roads at speed, again and again, year after year.

    Even if I go titanium with the frame, the fork is usually carbon anyway. When I examine the warranty offered by many manufacturers, I’ve seen where some have shorter warranty periods for carbon forks than carbon frames, and shorter warranty periods for carbon frames than metal frames. Yet these carbon adventure bikes are being marketed for bombing rough roads. Product reviews focus on performance but say nothing of durability or expected lifespan. The thought of a disposable bicycle doesn’t sit well with me.

    Do I have a valid question here, or am I worrying needlessly and just need to get on the carbon bandwagon? Does anyone have a carbon bike with 8,000+ trouble free off-pavement miles on it?


    • JOM JOM

      Hi Stan,

      As you point out, the bicycle is rapidly becoming a disposable item 🙁 I think you have a valid question – I’m not singing the virtues of any one brand, but one of my teammates has been riding a reasonably high end carbon framed gravel bike and fork for at least two years. He rides it hard and there have been no issues. Sorry about being vague – I don’t really want to mention the company name, as they have never responded to any of my emails – highly disappointing.

      I’m a huge fan of Titanium frames – with a carbon fork – there are some manufacturers who offer five year warranties on carbon frames and forks, but you generally have to pay a little more.



  13. Avatar Christopher Bates

    Do you ride with rear fender or without during gravel grinders? Looking excited to tackle my first gravel grinder(40 miles). I went with kmc x11sl gold chain based on your input also I will be testing slf motion trail version jockey wheels.

    • JOM JOM

      Hi Christopher,

      I do not use a rear fender – most people don’t, but you’d certainly make friends if you prevent wheel and sludge spray from covering those riding behind you 🙂

      Good luck!

  14. Avatar Doug Barlow

    Hello All,
    I have been running an old (guessing) mid 70’s Peuguot P-10 with friction downtube shifters for years. I have streched the stays and been running with my old tandem wheels and 28’s with fenders. I can run 32’s with a fender, but have to inflate the rear after mounting due to the horizontal dropouts. I love it, but ….
    I am looking at gravel bike offerings from my LBS’s and it looks like if I want canti’s it will be on a cross bike. Geometry, tire size capacity and frame material choices aside, one major thing I will be looking for is a bike with a “normal” bottom bracket. I also have a high zoot plastic road bike and although I love the bike and I haven’t had any issues, from what I hear and see, I feel the pressed in style BB’s are, or will be over time, problematic.
    Anyone else feel this way, or am I just being a retro-grouch?

  15. Avatar jacqui

    Your article mentions new SRAM 11-36 cassettes. Can these be run with a medium cahe Force rear on my cross bike? Is this cassette a mtb cassette? thanks

    • JOM JOM

      Hello there. Yes, the 11-36 is marketed as an MTB cassette. The medium cage Force derailleur should work fine with that cassette, although the B screw may need to be adjusted to push the derailleur away from the cassette (turn the screw clockwise). If that doesn’t provide clearance, you could always try the Lindarets Roadlink – see our review here – https://www.gravelcyclist.com/bicycle-tech/tinkering-attempting-the-impossible-part-2-lindarets-roadlink-review/

      For the record, I have successfully used a SRAM 11-36 10-speed MTB cassette with a 10 speed Shimano Ultegra Di2 short cage derailleur and the Lindarets Roadlink.

  16. Nice write-up, but I’m confused about your appraisal of organic and metallic disc brake pads.

    In my experience, metallic pads have a hell of a bite and a lot of stopping power, while organic pads have much better modulation. I use metallic pads on my MTB, where I need the stopping power (and have the traction to use it), while on my road/gravel bike modulation is far more important and so I use organic pads.

    • JOM JOM

      Hi Will, we’ve had the opposite experience with metallic pads. I’m curious – what rotors are you using those pads with? I suspect this may be a factor…

  17. Avatar Craig W.

    I was wondering what the average weight is for a gravel bike, I have a 29er Giant Revel that I m gonna convert but its at 32# now. I know I can lose weight with rigid forks and new wheel set and tubeless tires but trying to get an idea where I should be weight wise if I try to do an organized ride and hang in there.

    • JOM JOM

      Hi Craig,

      Overall bike weight depends on so many factors – I’ve seen bikes as light as 16lbs and some up to 26lbs. 32lbs is on the higher end for sure. The Revel seems to be marketed as an entry level MTB – a rigid fork would save a lot of weight, as would wheels and tubeless tires. For starters, I would consider looking at your fork, as that may be the cheapest and most effective way to drop weight off the bike.

      Remember, budget bikes are usually heavier. It may be worth your time to see if you can borrow or rent a bike for an organized ride – if that works out well, perhaps you can consider buying a machine specifically for gravel. Sometimes, upgrade costs can outweigh the savings to be had by purchasing a complete bike.

      I hope this helps!


  18. Avatar Ben

    Hi JOM,
    Great article! Lots of good info. I’m considering getting a gravel grinder (currently ride a 650b mountain bike with a 44/32/22 crankset) but will only be able to afford an entry level. I’ve narrowed it down to Diamondback’s Haanjo Tero (46/34 crankset) and Motobecane’s/ bikes direct Omni Strada (50/39/30 crankset). I live in Western NY where it’s mostly flat, except an hour south where gravel grinder races just started this past year. Anyway, this bike would also be an overall fitness bike that I’d like to ride fast (over 20mph) on regular roads too. Considering other components as well as speed, would you recommend one bike over the other?

    • JOM JOM

      Hi Ben,

      I’d choose the Diamondback, hands down. For the price of the bike, it has enough decent parts to make it a good starter’s bike.

      Good luck!


      • Avatar Ben

        Hi JOM, forgot to ask: what would you guess the weight of entry level like the Haanjo Tero to be? Thanks again!

        • JOM JOM

          Hmmm nothing on their website 🙁 I’ve found entry level rigs generally run around 22lbs – 24lbs. Guessing in the case of the Haanjo Tero only, but I hope this helps!

          • Avatar Ben

            Ok, thanks!

  19. Avatar Ben

    Hi JOM,
    Thanks for the feedback. Greatly appreciated. Happy and safe riding!

  20. Avatar Marcus Stone

    For a relative newcomer to the sport of gravel cycling would you recommend tubes or tubeless?

    • JOM JOM

      Hi Marcus,

      If your wheels will support it, I recommend tubeless. We highly recommend Orange Seal Endurance formula for the sealant.

      Good luck!


  21. Avatar Steve h

    I have a Raleigh Willard, looking to upgrade on the wheels, any recommendations? Will a 29 inch wheel set work on this bike?

    • JOM JOM

      Hi Eric,

      One of the Gravel Cyclist guys has a Raleigh Roker and uses an American Classic Race 29’er wheelset with it. I cannot speak for every wheelset, but the AC wheels work nicely with tyres such as the Maxxis Rambler. I don’t know what the tyre clearance of the Willard is, but I expect you’ll have no problems if you use a 29’er wheelset… they are exactly the same size as 700c road wheels, except the rim bed is usually wider.

      Good luck!

  22. Avatar Big Bad Bern

    Good article. I ride a vintage Ritchey Swiss cross. Stan’s notubes wheels, Clement MSO tyres (40mm on front, and 35mm on rear….both tubeless, yes, I know)…psi approx. 30 on front, 33 -35 on rear…I weigh approx. 140. I love this set-up, especially on mountain bikey type trails. Also a great all day rig..JMHO

    • JOM JOM

      Those vintage Swiss Cross bikes are really nice… I think they were all made in the USA?

  23. Avatar DBF

    Hi JOM, I see you recommend 160mm rotors front and rear. I’m shifting my focus away from CX (where 160 front / 140 rear is popular with some) to gravel. So why 160 vs 140 rear? Thanks.

    • JOM JOM

      DBF, I would much rather have a little more surface area for braking / heat dissipation, and the extra grams of a 160mm rotor vs a 140mm don’t add up to much. Mind you, the Parlee Chebacco I reviewed recently has 140mm front and rear, and I bombed many descents on the Pisgah Monster Cross race in NC without trouble. However, that bike features Shimano’s Icetech rotors which are pretty awesome… and I like to think I know what I’m doing regarding braking… i.e. no dragging, only using them when necessary, or on / off / on / off if the descent is steep.

  24. Avatar Kiel

    Nice article…excited to set up my own gravel bike!

    btw, what’s your take on having 9 speed vs 10 speed or 11 speed? am thinking of using a triple set up for mine, but I only have 3×9 sti shifters

    Thanks a lot!

    • JOM JOM


      I just finished an event in Italy using a retro road bike and 7-speed 🙂 So, you won’t have any trouble with 9-speed, even if it were on a double chainring setup. The positive about 9-speed is cassettes are pretty cheap these days.


  25. Avatar Leigh Ann

    I far as bike frame size goes do people typically ride the same size gravel or cross frame as their road bike? I ride a 60cm road bike so would I also ride a 60cm cross or gravel bike?

    • JOM JOM

      Hi Leigh Ann,

      I am no fitting expert, but generally I ride a slightly smaller gravel / cross frame as compared to my road bike. If in doubt, drop by your local bike shop – many nowadays have qualified bike fitters and could probably give you some good advice.

      Good luck!

  26. Avatar Christopher Bates

    I am looking to building a calfree custom frame size bamboo bike with help of my dad. I wonder is it better to get ultegra mechanical with trp hy/rd brakes or spring for ultegra di2. What does one need to run a 11-36 11 speed cassette?

    • JOM JOM

      Christopher, spring for Di2. To run an 11-36, all you need is the Ultegra GS variant of the Di2 rear derailleur (longer cage), and turn in the B-screw a little. It will shift perfectly. I’ve run a SRAM PG1170 11-36 cassette with this combination. Good luck!

  27. Avatar Les Brown

    Hi JOM,

    What’s the minimum tire/fork clearance you recommend for gravel riding? I’ve currently got about 6mm of clearance on either side and about 10mm vertically and hoping to swap out a Clement X’Plor 40mm for a Soma Cazadero 42mm to gain traction when riding rougher terrain. Also, any thoughts on running a wider, knobbier tire up front and lighter, skinnier tire in the rear as a good tradeoff between handling and speed? I know that’s common with MTBs, but haven’t seen that setup used much for gravel/adventure riding. Thanks!

    • JOM JOM

      Hey Les,

      I’ve ridden several bikes with much tighter tyre clearance than you are describing. In fact, my Dirty Kanza 200 setup had about 3mm of clearance either side on the rear which was great until the mudfest began… so, you’ll be fine until you encounter mud – ugh.

      At least one of my guys runs a wider and knobbier tyre up front. He is running a Clment X’Plor 40mm on the rear and a Specialized tyre of some model in 2.1″ on the front – we’ve had some very dry conditions locally of late, and there are some sandy spots. A good way to deal with this issue! If you check the site’s Facebook page for postings we made on 11/28/2016, you can see him in action with that setup pulling a wheelie.

      Good luck!

      • Avatar Les Brown

        Thanks for the advice! Hopefully I’ll have the new setup going strong at a GCX ride soon (Panaracer Gravelking SK 35 rear and Soma Cazadero front)…Just need to get through finals season at UF first!

        • JOM JOM

          I’ve been using GK 35’s front and rear lately… definitely a bit of fun if you encounter sand. Good for skills development 🙂

  28. Avatar Gone tubeless

    What difference should there be, if any, in bike fit for road vs. gravel? I’ve heard the fit for a gravel bike should be a little more relaxed, i.e. shorter stem and zero offset seatpost; so, less stretched out. Your thoughts?

    • JOM JOM

      Hey Gone Tubeless – firstly, I am NOT a fit expert. I replicate my gravel bike setup as close as possible to my road bike. However, I prefer a more aggressive position, meaning lower front end, etc, so, my setup may not work for a lot of people. That said, many of the gravel bikes I have reviewed or ridden trend towards a more relaxed position – typically the headtubes on many bikes are a little longer to encourage a more upright position, etc. I always say, you have to do whatever works for you. Being a little more relaxed on long gravel rides where the terrain isn’t so smooth can’t hurt anyone!

      Don’t forget – tyre pressure makes a big difference to comfort and feel too. I’ve seen so many people running their tyre pressure at 60psi! Lots of factors there for sure, but I generally run 40mm tyres at 35psi front / 38psi rear – I weigh about 153lbs these days. I hope this helps.

  29. Avatar DK wannabe

    so I am obviously coming into this article waaaayyy late, but the info is good no matter how “old” it may be. My question is, I am currently getting back into biking after a long painful recovery for an ankle injury. This injury (and my eating and beer drinking) has um… well made me fat. I’m 5’8″ and pushing between 210 and 220. I ride a lot of gravel and tarmac roads in the great state of Kansas. Now, the trails and roads I ride are not as advanced as the DK, but I am needing a good tire to make due. I have been looking at some Clement X’Plor MSO 700×32. Would you recommend upsizing to a 700×35 or 38? Also, bang for the buck is the Clement a good tire for what I’m needing? Thanks!

  30. Avatar Doug Turner

    If I wanted to convert a more traditional road bike, could I set up a “Gravel” bike with traditional brakes and if so, which one’s would afford me the larger tires and still function right? Any suggestions?

    • JOM JOM

      Doug, even an older traditional road bike with clearance for a 700c x 32mm tyre won’t be perfect, but you can get away with riding hard packed gravel roads for sure. Shimano’s Ultegra 6700 series brakes were available in a long reach variant, not sure how easy they are to find now. Direct-mount rim brakes afford a lot more tyre clearance than traditional calipers, but these mostly feature on new rim brake frames. Good luck!

  31. Avatar Bryant

    Hi. Great Article. do you know of any manufacturer that makes a 650B cantilever brake compatible fork? I am converting a Kona hei-hei and have a great set of 650b wheels I wish to use. ( white industries hubs with velocity rims)

    • JOM JOM

      Hi Bryant… Wound Up Composites could possibly help you. They specialize in the production of custom carbon forks. They made a 1″ disc brake fork for me a few years ago, which didn’t break the bank. Good luck!

  32. Avatar Rubberboy

    Been thinking about converting my old 1995ish Trek 990 Singletrak mtb to a gravel bike. It currently is a townie bike w/ stock fork and rim brakes. Seems like the front end is a bit low and a few people have thought that the geometry may not be friendly for long gravel rides, Any thoughts on the conversion to maybe road bars and necessity to change fork/ stem etc.?

    • JOM JOM

      Hey Rubberboy…

      One of my team guys converted an old 26’er Dean Ti hardtail to a drop bar gravel rig a few years ago. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked pretty well. I believe he still has the bike, I should snap some photos of the bike and run an article on it. It could be a useful resource… I am sure you’re not the only person out there with this idea.

  33. Avatar Romain

    I’m new with graveling and i just bought a frame for this!
    I’m not use to drop handel bar and i will use the bike more for off road than road trips.
    Which type of flatbar do you recommand?

    • JOM JOM

      Hello Romain,

      Unfortunately, I cannot make a recommendation for a preferred flat handlebar as I simply don’t use them. Perhaps it is best to ask your local bike shop for an opinion? Good luck!


  34. Avatar Peter Clark

    Hi, I am considering purchasing a Titanium Gravel Bike (mainly for durability, as if I’m going to spend reasonable $$$, I want something that will last longer than Carbon). Would I be correct in assuming the majority of long ride comfort (and shock absorption)on gravel is achieved by wide (tubeless) tyres run at lower pressures. Rather than fancy seat posts/handlebars or any other methods/components to increase rider comfort. Also, obviously, the right frame size/geometry and bike set-up is essential to comfort. Cheers, Pete.

    • JOM JOM

      Hey Peter,

      I love Titanium bikes for gravel (check out my Lynskey PRO GR on the site – that was my Dirty Kanza bike for 2018), and your assumptions are correct about tyres. I firmly believe the best ride quality is derived from the appropriate tyre pressure to start with. So many tyre options out there nowadays, a great problem to have!

  35. Avatar Peter Clark

    Thanks JOM, btw, the Lynskey PRO GR is exactly the bike I’m thinking of building. Looks awesome, obviously performs well, and should last a very long time. Also, like I read you say earlier, the very light Carbon frames do worry me re. durability long term on gravel. Thanks, Pete.

  36. Avatar David Reynolds

    Hi, I’m new to this site and appreciate how generous you and the readers are with sharing information. I tried mountain biking but learned I’m not an adrenaline junkie (okay, maybe a bit). I live in NorCal and recently retired, now have the time to explore all those unpaved roads in the forests and desert.

    • JOM JOM

      David, enjoy your retirement and exploration!

  37. Avatar David Rio

    Hi there.

    JOM, thank you for this wonderful resource.

    I am in the process of building a gravel bike that I can take with me anywhere and naturally I ended up exploring the Ritchey breakaway frame. I originally looked into the Ascent but unfortunately, they don’t make it anymore. The road frame only offers clearance for 28mm tires. Then, the outback only comes in carbon (I don’t think is the best material for traveling). So the only option right now is the cross frame: https://us.ritcheylogic.com/us_en/break-away-pro-cross-frame-kit.

    The build I am contemplating uses a 2x drive train from shimano (ultegra). 11/34 cassete with a 50/34 crankset. Ritchey Zeta classic wheelset. For tires, I will go 38/40mm depending on clearance (I can’t find that info anywhere). I will probably get Ritchey tires also. For breaks, I will go with the Avid Shorty Ultimate Cantilever.

    I think the cross frame is a good option but I have read Ritchey is planning to release the Outback break away in steel. If that is true, it may be a good idea to wait.

    Does anyone have any experience with the cross breakaway frame?

    The other issue is sizing: I am in between an L and XL frame. My reach and stack values are around 39 and 60. I am 6’1/6’2. The XL seems a better fit in paper but I typically run smaller bikes.

    I also wonder if the XL is more difficult to fit the breakaway case.

    Anyway, any thoughts or comments are welcome.

    Thank you!
    -drd out.

    • JOM JOM

      David, your timing is impeccable. Check out this video all about my personal Ritchey Ti Breakaway CX bike.


    • Avatar Mike

      David, I ride a steel Ritchey Breakaway Cross. It’s an excellent design, well thought out. Highly recommended. It’s certainly capable of gravel grinding with anything else out there. I chose a 1x drivetrain and love it. I ride hills a lot and am never going back to multi-ring setups.

      Two downsides: the Cross offers no option for disc brakes unfortunately, and like any properly engineered steel bike, it is heavier than Ti or carbon. Much heavier.

      The Ritchey Cross geometry isn’t stretched out like a road bike. Go with the larger size if you think your ideal fit is between two sizes. At 6’0″, the XL is fine for me.

      If braking performance in nasty real world conditions is important to you, go for the Outback so you can install discs. I wouldn’t wait for a steel model, there’s no drawback to carbon other than price. If you’re worried about stone chips, install fenders. I would have chosen carbon if it was available when I purchased. I have an old Trek OCLV bike that has seen >25 years of 3-season use and the carbon, despite surface chips, remains just fine.

      • JOM JOM

        IMHO, of all the Breakaway CX models, the Ti model is the one to have… just a shame they stopped making it 🙁 I am NEVER selling mine… and 2x on mine, 46/30 with 11-32 rings, brilliant!

  38. I truly needed to read this, being having issues with my bike’s setup, and I refused to ask for any help. This was helpful. Thanks.

  39. Avatar Dennis Keane

    JOM – This was written a few years ago. Anything in here that you would change or update if you were writing this today? I suspect possibly tires/wheels might be different.

    FYI – I am running the TRP HY/RD, which have been excellent so far. I get 90% of the hydraulic benefits on a system that is all mechanical (up to the caliper itself). Thanks for the blog.

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