19 June 2021

Gravel bike!

I started out with my trusted old mountain bike. It is a very comfortable bike! But it has rather wide tyres and it weighs 20 kg, so fast it is not. So when I moved to Bethesda I decided I needed something faster. If I would commute 10 miles each way every day, then a faster bike would save me a lot of time in the long run. So I bought a road bike. And that sure made the commute a lot faster!

Over time, though, I found out what the disadvantages of a road bike were. A road bike with its narrow tyres and rigid frame is only really good on smooth asphalt. It can do the bits where tree roots have created ridges in the tarmac, but comfortable it is not. And every time you hit one you fear a bit about punctures. And on that note; I once did get a puncture, and then I noticed how difficult it is to get these narrow tyres off the rim, and put them back again.

Another thing was the disc brakes. I was glad to have them; this was my first pair! And they do brake well. But I also noticed they start screaming quite loudly fairly soon. It would get so bad I would be embarrassed to use my brakes, and would do steep downhill bits on foot. And one does not buy an extra fast bike in order to walk with it. And I could solve that every time by booking the bike into the local repair shop and have it serviced, but the last time I noticed that the brakes started screaming rather soon after the service. And you can't keep dragging your bike to the repair shop! And I am not confident repairing disc brakes myself. So I sort of thought that even though in principle, disc brakes are a good idea, they might not be for me.

With all of that together, I figured that what I probably would be better off with was what they here call a gravel bike. It pretty much is a road bike, but with bigger rims and tyres. The thing is, though, that it is a lot easier to find yourself a road bike. I think the sort of people who buy a bike, even though they don't love biking (but think they will use it to get fit), tend to buy road bikes! So these come onto the second hand market all the time, while things like gravel bikes and touring bikes don't. But I decided to start to have a look. And fairly soon I saw a bike I liked.

The bike in question was basically mountain bike frame that someone had fitted dropped handlebars to, and gravel bike wheels. That pretty much means it's now a gravel bike! And I contacted the seller, and it turned out to frame was a good size. The bike also wasn't very heavy. This looked good. I got in touch with the seller to go and have a look at the bike. It was a bit of a distance, but I suppose that was worth it; you can either buy a bike like that and spend two hours driving for it, or spend several times the money. If money's not an object you can buy them nearby! The local bike shop does sell them, but for several thousand pounds.

The time the seller could see me was Sunday evening. I was a bit nervous about it taking too long and me ending up in bed late. It was the end of the sunny weekend; everybody will be trying to leave Snowdonia! A bad time to go that same direction. But sometimes one has to just give something a go! If I could sort out that bike that very day then I could immediately start enjoying it. So even though I knew that in a best case scenario I could be there shortly after 9 PM, I went for it. I had had a look on Google Maps (they suggested only 15 minutes' worth of traffic jam); I should know where to go. I do have a satnav, but I don't think it works. And my phone can do that sort of thing too, of course, but I would first have to drive the long way along the A55, and I did not want to use up my battery for that very familiar stretch. So with just a small summary on paper I jumped into my car.

It didn't go very well. Soon I saw a sign saying there had been an accident, and I ended up in a proper traffic jam. At some point I was totally stationary, and even though I suppose this is against the law I quickly sent a message to the seller. He understood. When I finally came out of the traffic jam I was trying to follow my memory and my quick notes. At some point I started wondering if I had gone wrong. Soon after that I was sure. Damn! I found the place to stop and switched on the navigation app on my phone. It would have to guide me now! And it looked like a lot had changed in this area; more than once I was on a road my phone did not recognise. That might have been what had gone wrong in the first place. But in the end I got there. By then I was tired and frustrated and sweaty and fed up. I was tempted to just throw money at the bloke, chuck the bike in the car and zip off again. Why even try it? But trying it would only delay my bedtime by a few minutes so I did try. And the seller was very friendly.

I tried out the bike. It was nice and light and didn't struggle with bumps! And it had nice big and small gears. I didn't try it very much as I didn't have lights with me, and the bike had none. But I got a good enough impression. I bought it. I did a little bit of bike gossiping with the seller, and then I was on my way back. And the way back was very quiet! I could zip back home without difficulty. And once home I made my way to my bed as quickly as I could. That bike could wait!

Only the next day I retrieved the bike from the car. My first use of it was just for going to the local shop. But that evening I intended to take it a lot further. In preparation for that, I took my pannier rack from the road bike and put it on the gravel bike. I want to move some more bits across in due time, but for this first day this would do! With a bit of luck, a new era has begun!

the new acquisition!

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