Thursday, October 3, 2013

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus Species

Now that I've spewed my gravel-bike rant (and subsequently adjusted the dose on my medication), it's time to face facts. This gravel-bike thing is here to stay, at least for a couple seasons until everyone's bought one, the trend is played out, and the marketing machine finds something else (don't believe me? remember trendy hipsters on fixed gears? yeah, they're even hard to find in Des Moines now, and it takes trends about seven years to get here.)

Given the fact that we're stuck with the category, I'm going to tilt at just one more windmill. The name. Gravel bike? Really? Sure, it makes sense out here in the flyover, where we have miles upon miles of gravel within easy reach. But who needs a "gravel" bike in the civilized world where all the primitive pre-roads have been slathered over with asphalt?

So we need a new name. Guitar Ted is taking a swing at it with his open-source naming project, but I have a simpler solution. Let's just take back the perfectly good name these bikes had about 30 years ago. Y'see, sonny (grandpappy settles back in his rocking chair), back then, we rode these things called "road" bikes. They fit medium-width (say 32-35mm) tires. They had long wheelbases. They had low bottom brackets. Now, some folks'll tell you that's what you call a "sport-touring" bike, but I say phooey! We didn't call 'em "sport-touring" bikes! They were road bikes! Because we rode 'em on the road! Any old road we chose!

And then, along came the mountain bike. And the next thing you know, the road bike was gone. Oh, there were things that sorta looked like road bikes if you squinted real hard, but don't be fooled. Those were racing bikes. The "roads" they were good for went around in circles, with corner marshalls at every turn to sweep up even the tiniest pebble. Pretty soon, folks forgot what a real road bike looked like. And so these impostors, these racing bikes, these Indy cars with two wheels and pedals, muscled their way in and took over a perfectly good name.

Here's the gauntlet I'm putting down: I'm going to call this everything-old-is-new-again breed of bikes exactly what we called them back in the day. They're ROAD bikes, people. When I see someone on one of those skinny-tired things, I'm going to call it what it is: a RACING bike. If that makes the owner feel stupid because he/she doesn't race, well, so be it. But this industry has already hyper-specialized itself enough. We don't need a new category. We just need to use the ones we already have correctly.


Anonymous said...

I hate to do this, but I have to pull rank on you. Granted, it's grumpy-old-fart rank, but still....

In my copy of the 11th edition of Cyclo-Pedia (which can also be viewed on Mark Bulgier's site), Gene Porteusi categorized bikes thusly: track racing, road racing, sports, and cyclo-tourist.

Similarly, there was a reason that my first Raleigh was the "Gran Sport".

Granted, this was all in the early 70's, so the terminology may have faded away when you first drooled over a bike, but it was common once.

Steve "hey you kids.. get off my terminology!" in Peoria

p.s. I do recommend that everyone poke around Mark Bulgier's archive of vintage catalogs and magazines. Cool stuff!

Jason T. Nunemaker said...

Okay, so how can I argue with Pal Steve when he can quote chapter and verse? :-)

Steve, can we agree that by the late 80s (when I hit my peak drool years), "road bike" and "race bike" were pretty much synonymous? There were some loaded touring bikes available (I had one!) but it seemed like almost everything with drop bars also featured skinny tires and paper-thin clearances. Only in this century have we seen more diversity in the "road" category, but it's been so long, the marketers think they've invented something new -- hence the search for a new name when a perfectly good one already exists.

Anonymous said...

Late 80's? Good heavens!

Okay.. the mountain bike thing hit in the early 80's, and the bike industry was all over it (when they weren't thinking about the 84 Olympics). The 7-11 team as well as LeMond were getting people excited about racing, aluminum road bikes were high tech, and Top Gun was in the movie theaters. Touring was pretty much forgotten, and Sports bikes were absolutely forgotten.

A decade later, the bike industry was waiting for some new innovation, other than adding another cog to the cassette, to get things rolling when Lance comes along. Suddenly, people forget about mountain bikes, everyone wants a race bike, and some guy working at Bridgestone decides that there is money to be made by selling people bikes that are fast, comfortable, nicely made, and not following the latest fashion. Was that when sport-touring was invented? Maybe. Grant may have gone a bit overboard since then (do I really need two top tubes?), but he did a lot to bring sanity back to cycling.

Curiously.. my old Raleigh Gran Sport served as the basis for the custom frame I had built in 1989, and that frame served as the basis for the commuting/travel/touring bike I had built in 2000. Although the Gran Sport is gone, these two are still with me, so maybe the sport bike never really left us after all??

As far as "gravel bikes", well, the bike industry doesn't have a new Lance, and the fixie fad has thankfully faded. Other than trying to get people excited over disc brakes on road bikes, or electric shifting, or hydraulic rim brakes, what will they do to convince people to buy a new bike when the one they have is perfectly fine??!! Well, the baby boomers are getting older with stiff necks and bulging prostates, so maybe recumbents are the new trend??

Steve in Peoria