It's the hot new thing! Haven't you heard? Bikes "optimized" for gravel riding!
Raleigh has one, the Tamland. Giant's falling all over themselves to insert as many gravel SKUs into their catalog, with both the Revolt and the bizarrely named Anyroad (and that's just on the men's side... women get the Invite -- which is like a Revolt with purple accents and a less testosteroney name). Kona has the Rove. Trek shows a tattooed dude grinding gravel on their Crossrip (pharmaceuticals not included, I presume). Specialized finally has a purpose for their too-heavy-to-cross-race Tricross. Salsa splits the already over-hyper-specialized market into the gravel riding Vaya and the gravel racing Warbird (and even has a gravel section of their website that invites the viewer to "gravel season", whatever the hell that is). And I'm sure as the Interbike coverage starts to trickle out of Las Vegas, more wannabe gravel-grovelers will enter the fray.
But take heed, dear consumer. You're dealing with a flat industry. The last "new" invention they came up with was the mountain bike, which gave us about a 15-year boom through the late 80s and 90s. Then there was some guy who (temporarily) "won" a bunch of Tours de France, which sold a crap-ton of road bikes through the first decade of this century. Today, though, those two cash cows are long dead. The marketers are desperate. They have families to feed. And so when they see something even vaguely trendy, they're going to jump on it. Thus, everything for the next few years is going to be about "gravel", even in places where there are no gravel roads. I predict you'll see "gravel-specific" gloves and "gravel-specific" helmets and "gravel-specific" innertubes and "gravel-specific" chain lubes and "gravel-specific" energy bars... and pretty much anything else with enough room on its packaging to include a picture like this:
So before you rush off to the bike shop, ask yourself... do I have any intention of riding on a gravel road? And if so, do I already have something in my fleet that will work just fine for that application? You'd be surprised just how many bikes are already "gravel bikes" despite the fact that they don't have a flashy website telling you all about their gravel bona fides and waxing poetic about the beauty of suffering in the sandstone slurry. Heck, you might even HAVE a gravel bike and didn't even know it! (see Iowa gravel nut Guitar Ted's various "gravel mutts" for proof and/or inspiration).
The irony, of course, is that by including "gravel bikes" in the title of this post and sprinkling the word "gravel" throughout like, well, rocks on a gravel road, I'm sure I'll get a TON of traffic. Hey, I never said I was above pandering to the next big thing, just that you should KNOW when someone's pandering...