The Gravel Road Not Taken

Yesterday afternoon I headed out for a little spin on the Platypus:

As I rode, I noticed these splotches of bright orange:

While it doesn’t come across from my poor photography, they seemed almost phosphorescent, as though some sort of radioactive dinosaur had been marking its territory:

But then I noticed that I cast a shadow over them, at which point I realized it was simply the deep orange wildfire sun shining through the trees:

I felt as though I were riding through a magical forest:

I was also glad to be on the Platypus, whose monumental wheelbase spans mighty rivers:

In fact, it’s so long that I’ll often find that I’ve got one end in the Bronx…

…and the other in Westchester:

But as much as I love the Platypus, I couldn’t help wondering if perhaps I was missing out by not owning a state-of-the-art gravel bike. After all, there’s lots of “game-changing” innovation in that area:

I’m not sure what the game is, or why it needs changing, but it’s important to play the same game as everyone else. Otherwise you just wind up playing with yourself.

So I decided to go gravel bike shopping.

Like any modern shopper I went straight to the Internet and consulted a popular search engine. At first I was leaning towards the Factor Ostro Gravel, because it was influenced by the legendary Factor Ostro VAM:

You can see the influence of the Factor Ostro VAM in every inch of the Ostro Gravel.

It shares the same aero-optimised fork/head tube interface, and the same aero-shaped down tube and seat tube, along with a common aero-bladed seatpost.

Granted I didn’t know anything about the Factor Ostro VAM, but it had “VAM” in the name, so it had to be good.

But then did some more poking around, and I found out about the Storx GRIX.2 Platinum:

The reviewer made a compelling case for it indeed:

German brand Storck can look back on many years of experience in the development and construction of bicycles. With the GRIX.2 Platinum, they’ve sent us the flagship model of their in-house gravel range, which promises to have successfully combined maximum stiffness with optimum comfort.

Stifness and comfort in one bike? That seems like something you’d want!

It was still early in my search, but I was already pretty much set on the Storck by this point…that is until I read about the OPEN WI.DE. in the very same magazine:

I didn’t even need to read the review to know I wanted this bike. Not only did it look nearly identical to the other bikes I liked, but it also had a great name–it sounded like the company was demanding I fellate them, which made me want to buy the bike even more. Better still were the ENVE components:

I like the name ENVE even better than OPEN WI.DE., because ENVE says, “Don’t you want me you fucking loser?”

Also, the chart in the review had red markings on it, and they were closer to the positive adjectives than they were to the negative adjectives, and it read like a report card from a private kindergarten:

I didn’t know what “demanding” handling meant, but I knew it was something I probably didn’t want, because I don’t want undo demands placed upon my by anything, least of all my bicycle. I was also impressed they could calculate “Fun Factor” so accurately–right down to the tenths of a unit of measurement they didn’t bother to specify! I was ready to drop to my knees, OPEN WI.DE., and place an order right then and there.

Until

Easing back into the saddle, we immediately knew that the Diverge would be different. It feels more “mountain-ish” in the saddle. You get a sensation that you are riding inside the bike rather than on it.

Good lord! All this time and it had never occurred to me that I wanted to be inside the bike! This changed everything! The Factor, the Storck, the OPEN…I was pretty sure you sat on those. Now it turned out I could actually sit in a bike, which meant I basically had to start my search again from scratch.

So that’s what I did:

It didn’t really help:

“All right, time to stop pussyfooting around,” I announced to the cat, and plugged in the “mic drop” of search terms:

I wanted the best, and I got the best…well, the five best, anyway:

Only one of the five best gravel bikes was a bike I’d previously considered, which really drove home what utter heaps of shit the others I’d been looking at must be:

But the bike with the highest score of all was the Santa Cruz Stigmata Carbon CC Rival. I didn’t know why the world’s best gravel bike only got a score of 84, instead of, say 99, or even 100. Clearly I don’t know much about bikes. But there was a chart, which was how I knew I should take their methodology seriously:

I didn’t understand how they arrived at an overall score of 84 when the ratings were on a 0-10 scale and the average across the categories was 8.6. But then I looked closer and saw each category carried a different weight…which still didn’t explain anything. But the bike was both stiff and comfortable, which I was beginning to appreciate was something I really needed to have in a gravel bike, maybe more than anything else:

That was it, I had my bike, done and done…until I read something scary about it on Reddit:

Fuuuck.

This was bad.

Sure, I didn’t know what toe overlap was, nor did I know what progressive geometry was, either. But I’m an ally above all else and if the bike wasn’t progressive then that was a big problem, because I do NOT want to be on the wrong side of history. So I knew the Stigmata was no longer the bike for me.

Since this was like the third time the Diverge had come up I was starting to get the message. So I went straight to the Specialized website to buy the most expensive one they hand and…they were all sold out:

Looks like I’ll have to stick with the Platypus. Sure, it may not be “game-changing” like all these other identical bikes somehow are, and yes, instead of being comfortable yet capable across a wide variety of terrain it’s merely comfortable yet capable across a wide variety of terrain, but at least it’s a…wait, what do I need a gravel bike for again?

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