The Ideal Gravel Bike For The Tour Aotearoa
The Ideal Gravel Bike For The Tour Aotearoa would ideally be a cross between a dual-suspension mountain bike and a top-end road bike and weigh just 6kg. It would also need to be ultra-durable and be able to take all of the bike bags available. I know this bike doesn’t exist, nor would be feasible for most people to buy. The idea behind using a gravel bike on the Tour Aotearoa is that a majority of the ride is easily doable on a gravel bike. There’s only a small amount of the route where a mountain bike is preferable.
Ok, let’s start with the handlebars. I’d suggest flared bars like the Curve Walmer 50 cm bars. Narrow enough not to alter your complete riding style. Yet, they’re wide enough to take a front harness/bag. Whether or not you are going to take a sleeping system, or not, a front bag is great for stuff that you’re not going to need quickly. These bars also can take aero bars.
The stem is important, especially if you’re going with a traditional gravel bike with no front suspension. It has been recommended to me if your bike doesn’t have front suspension, that you can buy a Red Shift stem. As a relatively cheap alternative to buying a new bike, I’d highly recommend this idea. I suffered from cyclist palsy, and continue to do so after 8 weeks of finishing.
If you’re not on a mountain bike, then there are very few gravel bikes that off seat post suspension. Sure some carbon fibre seat posts offer a little flex, and some even have a suspension link built-in. One of the biggest issues with a carbon 27.2mm seat post, that they’re not supposed to have bikepacking bags attached to them. It may also void their warranty. A better option is alloy.
There are a few seat posts that have a limited amount of suspension built-in. This also becomes a problem with attaching bags. Although there is limited movement, roughly 20-30mm, it’s enough to wear out the seat pack and let water penetrate, making it redundant for bikepacking. I’d opt for no suspension, rather than wear out my new bikepacking bags.
I will say that suspension seat posts do offer some great comfort on long days on the saddle. But most are either big and bulky, or simply weigh far too much. There’s always a trade-off.
Bike frames are very personal. Many people are brand loyal, and wouldn’t dream of buying another brand of bike. Well, I’m not. I like to get the best bang for the buck. Given that there’s water available along most of the route, you’re never more than 60km away from a source. You don’t really need cage mounts on your forks. This gives you a far greater range of frames to chose between. I would opt for a mount on the underside of the downtube. It’s a great place to store tools and frees up a bottle cage for water.
The ideal gravel bike frame would also be alloy. Sure it’s nice to have carbon, and many do. But I worry, not about the durability because that is already proven, but more about the way I treat bikes mentally. I’m more likely to give trails a go knowing that I’m less likely to damage my bike. They also cost less, but tend to weigh only slightly more.
The frame I’d chose now if I were in the market, is a Specialized Diverge. I never thought I’d recommend anything from Specialized. They had an ugly episode and got too big for their boots a few years ago, and that was enough to tarnish the brand forever, with me. But credit where credit is due, this is an awesome frame.
The reason why I’d buy this bike, not only is it moderately inexpensive, but comes in a range of builds, from alloy to carbon, and different groups specs. I’d go for the alloy version and add Shimano 1x GRX groupset.
As stated above, I’d definitely build my gravel bike frames with Shimano’s 1x GRX groupset. With a 40 tooth crankset, and 11-40 rear cassette. This gives enough gearing for most terrains that you’ll encounter on route. It also reduces the amount of mechanical parts that can go wrong. With it being mechanical, not di2, you can make adjustments on the fly, rather than run out of battery, need to take charger with you. All you need is 1 spare cable for the rear derailleur.
The seat is so personal, I’m not going to recommend one. That’s for you to chose, and not blame me, everybody’s arse is different.
This is definitely a category that is all about cost. If you can afford carbon, do it. If your budget only allows for alloy, then that’s great too. But I would highly recommend going tubeless. I’d also recommend for those on a budget opting for either Tokyo wheels or Hunt. There’s something for everyone in those two online shops.
Let me know what you’re riding, what you covet, and you’re ideal gravel bike.