Back in the late 19th century, when our velocipedal forebears roamed the earth, the most precious of all resources was the paved, or “macadamized,” road:
See, roads in those days were still all rutted and full of hoofprints or whatever, so when word spread that someone had laid down some fresh madacam, proto-wankers like the early Fred above would descent upon it like a dandy on a syllabub.
Over time, more and more roads got macadamized, thanks in part to all those cyclists. That in turn “smoothed the way,” if you will, for cars, and now pretty much everything is paved–which, ironically, has lead to an inversion of sorts, since here we are a century and a quarter later and now the Fredly hordes are fleeing smooth road surfaces altogether and instead swarming the gravel:
Of course, the gravel road today is probably similar or maybe even identical to the macadamized road of yesteryear, so I suppose one could argue that this has always been the ideal surface for Fredly cycling–so in this sense the gravel craze isn’t ironic at all. But in yet another sense it is ironic anyway, because in seeking out gravel cyclists are also fleeing cars, which they themselves facilitated due to their fondness for macadam.
Anyway, as more towns across America become “gravel hotspots,” it will be fascinating to watch if they embrace the economic windfall by catering to cyclists, or if they immediately pave their roads in hopes of ridding themselves of these Lycra-clad locusts once and for all.
Whatever happens, one thing is for sure: gravel has officially reached the “Old Navy” phase of its evolution, by which I mean the equipment and associated trappings have become completely standardized and therefore totally boring. Riding the heavily-trafficked Fred routes in the New York City metropolitan area, you’re just as likely to see a standard issue Gravel Goober–handlebar bag, tanwall tires, flared bars, Search And State jersey–as you are a garden variety Road Fred piloting an S-Works. (I’m pretty sure the Gravel Goobers and theRoad Freds are the same people, they just switch from one bike to the other depending on whether or not they plan on riding the quarter mile of “gravel” through Tallman State Park that day.)
And the bikes! Holy crap!!! Each new gravel bike is more boring than the next. Consider the new A(pointless accent mark)spero from Cerve(pointless accent mark)lo, for example, which every single cycling-themed publication is currently touting, and which is aggressively dull in every way:
For awhile there the bike industry was just reinventing the cross country mountain bike with the gravel bike, which was kind of amusing; now they’re simply reinventing the road bike, which is infinitely more disappointing. Even that ridiculous Canyon gravel bike at least tries to be different with that biplane cockpit:
I never thought I’d ever say anything positive about that thing, but as gravel goes increasingly normcore I guess I’m getting nostalgic for the previous wave of gimmickry.
By the way, Canyon should really come out with some matching eyewear:
The “performance gravel bifocal” seems like a no-brainer: one set of lenses for the gravel immediately in front of you, another set for looking way down the road when you’re on a paved surface. Throw in some smart glasses technology and you can’t miss:
The future’s so gravelly I gotta wear bifocals.