Well, it’s Friday, which means that Gravel Week here on Bike Snob NYC is drawing to a close. When last we met, I had just returned from an “epic” day riding the finest gravel of all: sand. Of course, we all know that sand has been the new gravel since at least 2013:
However, when it comes to riding the sand, I’m much more of a retrogrouch, and I prefer something like this:
Before you critique my position and fit (“Slam that backrest!”) please note that this is not my beach chair, it’s merely a generic photo of one. Obviously my own beach chair is made from lugged steel tubing and leather strapping. I also portage my beach supplies across the sand with a cart more or less like this:
As you can see, the wheels are not beach-specific, and I should probably upgrade to a model with a proper sand wheelset:
As it is, schlepping my stuff out onto the beach is like riding loose gravel on a bike with 23s.
Alas, I did not ride my bike to the beach yesterday, opting instead for The Car The Bank No Longer Owns Because I Finished Paying Them Back. However, back when we lived in Brooklyn and had fewer children, we were known to get there by Smugness Flotilla:
It makes me happy that lots of people in New York City now ride their bikes to the beach, but I’m a bit concerned that increasingly these people are bringing their bikes onto the actual beach. Call me a purist, but a proper beach setup should consist of blankets, coolers, towels, chairs, and some form of shade such as an umbrella. Once you start bringing a bunch of bikes into the mix it starts looking like Bedford Avenue, or even one of those homeless encampments you see all over Portland. Also, sand and bikes don’t mix. Just as sand can ruin a turkey sandwich, it can also ruin your drivetrain; indeed, riding around with a sandy drivetrain is like walking around town all day with a sandy crotch. Of course, people wouldn’t have to bring their bikes onto the beach if there were proper bike parking, but I don’t expect the city or the National Parks Service or anybody else to catch on to the fact that people are riding their bikes to the beach until 2035 at the earliest, at which point they’ll announce that bike parking is slated for 2050. Sadly, by then it will be too late, because by then the beach will be underwater due to the fact people like me insist on driving to it. However, if the sea level rises enough then the beach will be much closer to my home, so I’m confident it will all work out in the end.
Anyway, obviously calling a trip to the beach a “gravel ride” is not only a bit of a stretch but also an insult to the majesty of Gravel Week, and so today I decided to hew more closely to the theme. Unfortunately, it was raining, which rendered the prospect of riding the trails unattractive. However, it turns out there’s a form of gravel that does quite well in the rain:
When one thinks of gravel, one’s mind generally goes to the dusty roads of the Dirty Kanza, or the Strade Bianche of Tuscany. However, the New York City region boasts an abundance of roads made from a very specific form gravel that has been mixed with tar. The result is a riding surface that remains firm and unyielding even in the worst downpour, as you can see in the photo above. I know what you’re thinking: “Certainly you must need a special type of gravel bike to ride this special type of gravel.” Well, indeed you do, and fortunately I own just such a bicycle:
This type of gravel bike is called a “Tarmac,” and it’s named after this very hard and smooth type of gravel. At first it might look like any other gravel bike, but tarmac-specific features include reduced frame clearance for the narrower tires:
Which in turn allows for the use of a special type of ultra-light disc brake consisting of a seatstay-mounted caliper and an integrated wheel rim/rotor system:
Cutting-edge stuff, obviously. While it all might seem pretty far out, I could see bikes like this becoming really popular one day, given how many roads there are that are covered in this hard gravel stuff. Chances are you’ve also got a lot of roads like this where you live. Just think of how many more places you could ride if only you had the right bike for it!
By the way, I’m still quite happy with the ELEMNT BOLT, which tells me with precision exactly the degree to which I suck:
And for extra irony points my corporate plastic bicycle from is equipped with a pair of commemorative North American Handmade Bicycle Show 2011 stainless steel King Cages:
NAHBS 2011 took place in Austin, and I was there as part of Bicycling magazine’s Editor’s Choice bike-testing extravaganza, which they held in the Texas capital that year. Those were heady days–so heady that Bicycling invited a semi-professional bike blogger to test bikes with them. And if that’s not heady enough for you, consider that I asked Rapha to send me a suit of bicycle riding clothing for the occasion, and they actually obliged! In fact, I still have the clothes, and I was even wearing them on today’s ride:
If you’re looking to remain unnoticed, there is no better way to go incognito in New York than by riding a plastic Specialized and wearing a Rapha jersey. I’d be embarrassed to be such a cliché if only I didn’t know it effectively renders me invisible.