Gravel Bikes – More on the Category

Earlier last week I posted on a new category of bicycle for us enthusiast – this time a bike that offers the best of two worlds – a mix of mountain, cross-country and road bikes.  Enter the Gravel Bike…..Now we have one more – custom made bike of that nature and while it is not being categorized as a gravel bike – its characteristics are very clearly in that bike realm.

The bike is built by De Salvo Cycles – and its characteristics are:

  • Frame: made out of titanium – therefore very lightweight and at the same time offering good ride quality and comfort.
  • Wider tire clearance – for more maneuverability
  • Disk brakes for better performance
  • Light-weight wheels from custom wheel maker Rolf Prima
  • Finally a carbon fiber fork – very light but stiff and providing for comfort on the ride

The bike is not cheap – the frame is the most expensive component and is at $2500 plus the carbon fork and other niceties will bring the price tag in the range of $5K – which is a LOT, but you also get a custom created bike with great characteristics.   Give it a look – I need to figure out how to test ride one of those….

Gravel Bikes – A New Trend That Actually Makes Sense


view of a Gravel Bike

Well, it has been a while since I added a new category of bike to my blog.  While I focus on mountain biking, this new category of a bicycle is actually a close relative of the mountain bike and certainly one each cross-country or mountain bike enthusiast should consider – or at least I believe – should evaluate.

What are Gravel Bikes?   In a summary – they are a combination of a road bike and a cross-country one with some elements ‘borrowed’ from the mountain bikes as well.  Turns out there are plenty of gravel roads out there – I certainly have come across them in pretty much every US National Park – just earlier yesterday I published a brief summary about two good bike friendly National parks – Acadia in Maine, and Zion in Utah – and surprise, both of them offer miles and miles of gravel roads to enjoy and explore.

What else is special about the Gravel Bikes?

  • Relaxed posture / frame geometry
  • Hydraulic disk brakes
  • Longer wheel base (to go with the relaxed geometry)
  • significantly increased tire clearance – to be able to navigate in a stable way obstacles you will encounter on the gravel roads

I am going to start building the database of manufacturers offering the Gravel Bikes and as usual structure that via the Bike Reviews option on this blog.  The Gravel Bike category is already live – you can follow the link to it.   Next will add the manufacturers like Salsa with their Warbird model, Raleigh, GT to name a few.   So check the blog out soon again.

Bold Cycles : Innovative Mountain Bike Company

Bold-CyclesBold Cycles

Just when you thought that the world of mountain bike designers, manufacturers and brands is getting saturated – here comes another, brand new, actually startup company – Bold Cycles.

The company offers a very innovative approach to building a fully suspended mountain bikes with frames that allow us to use both 29-inch and 27.5-inch wheels.  The main innovation though is that the rear shock has been entirely integrated in the frame / seat post tube.  I have rarely ridden on a bike with rear suspension – why?  I prefer the hardtail bikes as they provide a whole lot more control and less fish tailing on a trail.  The rear suspension in my opinion adds to the soft feel / mushy feel and less feel of control on most trails.  Now with the integrated rear shock and the more precise timing of how forces are distributed in the rear part of the bike – the company promises a better experience.

Bold-CyclesBold Cycles promises both stiffness and 5-inch / 130mm travel suspension which certainly should add to our comfort of going over obstacles.

Additionally, the enclosure of the shock should provide for protection against dirt and stones – with only one question from me — NOT SURE HOW YOU WOULD GET ACCESS TO THE SHOCK FOR MAINTENANCE AND CLEAN-UP.

Another aspect to highlight is that shift cables and the rear brake line are internally routed – a nice touch overall.




Bicycles and City Living

I have been paying attention to bicycle infrastructure in cities ever since I started using a bike in Phoenix, AZ.  In reality I became convinced that bikes have a future in big and small cities alike in the late 1980s while living in Beijing and Shanghai, China.  The bicycles were indispensable and actually provided for a much faster mode of transportation than cars or buses during the day due to the sheer number of people on the streets and the resulting congestion.

Naturally, I was very curious when I saw the recent survey and rankings of the best / bicycle friendliest cities in the world, and was even more surprised to find for a first time a US city in the top 20!!!  Minneapolis is ranked #18 in the 2015 list, which is shown below – leveraging the link provided Copenhagenize Design

Bike Friendly Cities1. [2] COPENHAGEN
3. [3] UTRECHT
6. [9] MALMÖ
7. [6] NANTES
9. [7] ANTWERP: follow this link for more information…
10. [4] SEVILLE
11. [17] BARCELONA
12. [10] BERLIN: We have our own write ups for the new Berlin…
15. [11] DUBLIN
17. [19] PARIS
19. [20] HAMBURG
20. [14] MONTRÉAL

The ranking for 2015 and several previous years is here

Now, I am sure you can observe this in the list above – but isn’t it strikingly surprising that a large number of the best cities for bikes are also cities located in very cold climates. And “yes” -have observed in Finland, in Denmark, people continuing riding their bikes even in the cold months of the snow covered roads

Antwerp Bicycle

Formula-1 Comes to Bikes

Last Fall I had the opportunity to see one of the global Formula-1 races — this one held in Austin, Texas.  Turns out Austin is home to the only F1 track in the US – and every year in November (I think it is usually about that time) – a bunch of advanced automotive fans converge in the city to see the latest in super car racing.

The 2014 race was based on 6-cylinder gasoline engines with surprisingly SMALL displacement – only 1.6-litter volume (which is about 1/2 of my car’s engine displacement) but between the gasoline engine and the electric assist motors, the 2014 F-1 race cars were achieving in the range of 780-hp !!!

Turns out this technology — the electric assist motors — is now finding its way into bicycles – specifically electric bicycles.  The UK based and manufacturing in the UK company Brompton is leveraging partnership with F-1 engineers to design and produce pedal assisted electric bikes.

Electric bikes are no new news for sure.  You can see below statistics of the sales of those in several key regions:

Statistic: Projected worldwide sales of electric bicycles in 2018, by region (in million units) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista;

As you can see China specifically has huge sales of electric bikes – but from my personal experience (having lived in China for a number of years) those bikes are pretty bad – they are more of a scooter – and something to use as a moped rather than a bike…

Now with the entry of the F-1 and Brompton designs

Brompton Bike  Brompton bike

Given the amazing technology in terms of carbon fiber body elements and electric assist motors that were driving the overall power plant for the F-1 racing cars, I think this particular bike designs will be nothing but boring.

So now the combination of cool design, (although somewhat uncomfortable ride given the small wheels) and F-1 technology, I am very curious of the upcoming capabilities and would love to be able to test ride one very soon.

Buying a New Women’s Mountain Bike

A couple of years ago, we posted a series of articles on the process of shopping for a new women's mountain bike. Well, here we are today with our daughter eager and ready to jump on a new real mountain bike and looking forward to trail riding. Her bike today is a Giant 650XT 26-inch aluminum frame, mechanical/coil front shock — a combination which somehow never fit her well as she was growing fast.

Over the last few weeks she has been test riding mostly her mother's Specialized Jett 29er and has been feeling progressively ready to get rid of her current bike smiley

So, let's start the hunt (I say) – but first what should one look for in a women's bike?  What are the key criteria?

  • Fit and size:  probably the most important aspect no matter you are looking for men's or wormen's bike; You do not want to have a bike which is too large – it will reduce your ability to manuever safely and with confidence; A bike which is too small will reduce your ability to pedal effectively, will add to quick fatigue and will impede your breathing.  Overall you are looking for a bike with a frame size that gives you the clearance to stand astride of the bike and when riding your stretch to the handlebars is comfortable – i.e. no pain or discomfort in your shoulder blades for example or anywhere else in your body;
  • Suspension:  if you are buying a bike with suspension – make sure it is adjustable (no matter whether it is coil or air based); The coil based suspension is lower cost but even so it needs to be adjustable as different body size and weight – especially given women are much lighter – require that adjustment for effective operation of the fork/suspension.  Talking with women riders – the shock absorber can add or save significant fatigue and stress in your hands / wrists especiailly when riding on a trail;
  • Saddle and Handlebars:  Those are important as well — make sure you test ride the bikes you are considering.  In general even the handlebars for women's bikes are different / can be different – usually narrower and with slimmer grips — again from my experience / feedback from women's riders – the grips make a difference in the overall riding experience and enjoyment.
  • Overall – at the end of the day, MAKE SURE you test ride the bikes you are considering and once decided on the best one you like, make sure the bike shops does the final fitting to your body and riding posture

Here are the bikes we will be considering — next we are off to do a few test rides with our daughter.  Stay tuned for the next report – from the rides…

Marin Women's Bike    Raleigh Women's bike  GT Women's Bike   Giant women's bike


27.5 Mountain Bikes

I have been riding on mountain bikes for over 20 years.  In that time period the majority of the bikes were based on the tried and true 26-inch wheels.  That was the case until about 5-6 years ago when the 29ers (the 29-inch wheels) bikes started getting popularity.  In reality, these bikes / wheel sizes were in existence ever since 1999  I think, but the first broadly introduced 29er product line was that from Gary Fisher Bicycles – 

Gary Fisher 29er bicycle Mt Tam 29er Gary Fisher 29er bicycle Supercaliber 29er

These bikes created a whole new category of very stable and great to ride mountain bikes.  Today most manufacturers offer 29ers in their product portfolio.   

But now we have a new solid category to consider — the 27.5inch bikes.  They are coming up fast in the product offering of bike companies.   Why is that?  Well for a bunch of reasons:

  • Lower overall weight when compared to the 29ers.   That helps on those long hills…Here is an interesting chart comparing the 26, 27.5 and 29-inch models (courtesy of

Comparisons of 27.5lb, 26 and 29er 

  • Increased efficiency:  the larger wheels decrease the angle of attack – which increases the ease of roll over obstacles.  Yet another diagram from Giant that shows the math behind this phenomenon:

angle of attack for obstacles

  • The 27.5 bikes offer faster acceleration when compared to 29-inch wheel bikes.

acceleration of bikes

  • Better control is being offered by the 27.5 wheel based bikes.  The math here works the following way – the larger the wheel the more contact it makes with the surface of the road / trail — which in turn improves the stability and ability to control the bike.  Now with the 29er you have greatest surface contact but only slightly larger than the 27.5-inch wheels offer.  And given the lighter wheels — you have much better overall manueverability and control.
  • Frame stiffness and geometry — the designers at Giant have pointed out the intricacies of the impact of the 29-inch wheels on making the frame more elongated but that is also easy to understand and see — just take a look at the geometry of the 29-inch bikes' frames — they are quite a bit different when compared to 26-inch ones.  The result is that you have REAL hard time putting those bikes on a regular bike rack that holds the bikes via arms that use the frame for support.  At home with our 29-ers we had to give up on the regular bike rack and switch to roof mounted one that holds the bikes upright.

So all in all the 27.5-inch bikes are making a strong entry — there are plenty to chose from and they should be as fun to ride (as being faster than the 26-inch ones) as the 29ers but with a lot more manueverability and agility.

Giant 27.5 Giant 27.5 Talon Raleigh 27.5

Well, I am really interested now — and I should give the 27.5 (otherwise known also as 650lb) bikes a test ride at least.  Stay tuned for more on that.


Electric Mountain Bikes – What a Concept!

Well folks, something new and different is happening!   All of us biking enthusiasts are now going to start coming to grips with the notion of an electric mountain bike!  Based on what I am seeing in the specs of many of these bikes – they are quite the machines – some of them being able to get to 52-mph — like the HPC X-3 one.   Here is a photo of that high speed bike

electric bike

Now comes the potential issue with this type of a bike being a trail mountain bike.   Well, they are just too fast and too much capable of causing a wreck on the trails which are occupied by hiking people and the usual mountain bikers.

I am sure, there are many different points of view and I am not going to take a stance yet — I will need to learn more about these new technical marvels before I give you at least my view.  But judging by a quick scan through the available models – there is certainly a large number of them out there:

I will be publishing additional information on these new bikes over the next couple of weeks.  Stay tuned…

Another electric bike             another one   


Custom Built Bicycles – Fad or a Real Deal

Why would you want a custom bicycle — are the Custom Built Bicycles Fad or Real Deal?  These are the questions I have been asking myself over the last couple of years whenever I think about it.  As I get more into the biking experience — I started to also learn more about the craft of bicycle building as well as of the various materials, frames, forks and components used even on stock bikes.

So today, as I was adding more manufacturers to my database — you can get access to the information from it via the Bike Reviews section of this blog – and more specifically the Custom Built Bikes section, I thought to summarize my tjhoughts and my learnings about the topic.  So here we go:

What are the key things to consider if you are thinking about a custom built bicycle:   well those amount to three things:

  • Time — building a bike for you will take time…so you need to be patient;
  • Price (Cost to you) — in summary, things here do not come cheap, but many stock bike cost even more…
  • Fit and comfort — this is the best and most critical reason why you would consider the approach;

If you can afford it and alocate the time — these are custom built bikes – for you and you alone.  There are many and a growing number of custom bicycle builders — and those are certainly a part of a growing trend for having a bike that truly fits you….The next thing that I would (and I am sure many others will) ask is "…but what is the price tag…?"


Anderson Custom Bicycle   Alchemy Bicycles - Boreas  

Since most of us are NOT professional riders, I will spend a bit of time on the topic of the bike cost.  I bought my current (stock) bike in December 2010. Then my wife and I shopped for her bike earlier in the Fall of this year.  All in all during that time I saw the price tags of many of the road bikes (we bought mountain bikes this time around) in the pro-shop where we got our recent bikes.  Well, based on what I saw from many of the custom manufacturers via their Web pages / Web price lists and the prices I saw in the pro-shop, many of the stock bikes' prices have gone sky high!  

Given that discovery (mind you – not a big one – but nevertheless an eye opener for me) I would certainly consider the custom built ones in the future.

If you have experience with the topic, please drop me a line.  Would like to hear from you!


Ladies’ Mountain Bike Shopping–The Conclusion

More mountain bike shopping excitement!  I went back to the bike shop a few days ago to see if I could try out the bikes that they had been holding for me since last Sunday, when i was prevented from doing a test ride due to soggy conditions.  This time, I felt a bit more educated due to my previous week's test rides, and I had a bit better idea of what i was looking for.  The first bike I tried was the well-rated Trek Mamba.  I had been very excited about trying this bike out, due to the excellent online reviews I read.  However, to my dismay, I found it just wasn't very comfortable.  I attribute that to the fact that it was a men's model I was trying out.  Not having a single ladies' Trek Mamba in any of their Austin stores, this was the best they could do.   I'm sure it was a great bike, but it didn't work out for me.  Disappointed, I asked again which ladies' bikes they had available in my size, and I was encouraged to try a Specialized Myka Elite Disc 29.  At a MSRP of $880, this was one of the less expensive bikes that I tried, and according to the bike shop guy, its cheaper price was due to its lower end components.  However, the fit of the bike was great, and I found it quite comfortable to ride.  It was perhaps a little lower end than what I had been planning to get, but its great fit to my body proportions made it a contender.

So, at this point, my two favorite bikes were both Specialized ladies bikes, but their prices and specs were quite divergent.  You might remember from my previous post on this subject that I had tried out a Specialized Jet Comp and had been very impressed.  However, at $1449, it was a bit steep for my tastes.  And I really liked the Myka Elite Disc 29, but it seemed a bit on the low end for me.  Luckily, it turns out that there was a midpoint bike between  the two:  The baseline Specialized Jett. Running a more palatable $1099, it had the same great frame fit as the other two Specialized bikes, but it also handled better than Myka Elite without the steep price tag of the Jett Comp.

On the baseline model Jett, everything felt right.  On the men's bikes, I felt too far off the ground when the seat post was at a appropriate height, and my arms felt like they were straining ever so slightly to reach the handlebars.  On both models of the Specialized Jett that I tried, everything seemed to fit my body better, from the comfortable ladies saddle to the specially shaped handlebar grips.  The Jett Comp, at $1449, felt a little better than the baseline Jett, but to me, the difference was not worth the extra money, especially for the more modest gentle trails and roads that I was likely to use it on.   So I am happy to say that I finally made a decision and went with the baseline Specialized Jett 17 inch, and I'm glad I did.  After an exhaustive and careful fitting at the bike shop, I brought the Specialized Jett home today and I went for my first ride.  The difference from my old Giant ATX 750 was quite stark.  The 29 inch wheels of the Jett powered me up the hills and the bike felt marvelously responsive.  At least on Day One, I couldn't be happier.