Monday, June 15, 2015

What's In a Name?

"Now you can call me Ray, or you can call me J, or you can call me Johnny, or you can call me Sonny..."  Raymond J. Johnson Jr.

Cross bike.
Gravel Bike.
Adventure Bike.
All Road Bike.
X-Road bike.
Mixed Surface Bike.

I cannot recall a time when the marketing folks in the bicycle industry have struggled so hard to define a niche.  And believe me, this industry LOVES 'niche'.  Niche means you need yet another bike in your stable and this biz thrives on 'the next thing'.  But I digress.

Take a road bike, open it up for bigger tires, slacken the angles a bit, and tune it for comfort and stability and you have drawn a big circle around this new genre.  Now I am not poo-pooing the idea.  Far from it.  I am very much enjoying the gravel bike I have in my garage (yes, the maker of the bike calls it a "Gravel Race Bike".  So, there!).  But not everyone has such a clear vision of what they are selling.

So what's in a name?  This gravel thing was too good to stay in the rolling plains of the Mid West.  It has spilled out across those borders and founds it's way into places like So Cal where I live.  But we have no gravel, per se.  We have dirt.  And we have paved road - lots of that - that can be mixed with dirt.  So the appeal is there for a bike that can cover all kinds of surfaces (although I think "Mixed Surface Bike" is the worst name of all...sounds like a Home Depot product..."mix well and wait 24 hours before use").

"Call me what you like, just don't call me late for dinner."

But what to call them, these new bikes that are not really cyclocross, not really road, and not really an MTB at all?  No one seems to know.  Heck, even I am not sure and I find myself using one of those terms listed above in a conversation and feeling awkward about it, like I called one of my kids by the wrong name. I mean, don't I KNOW what it's called?

No.  And neither does anyone else, it seems.  At least not in the broader sense. Yet defining this in a marketing sense is to get that term right so as to not exclude potential buyers.  And no one wants to miss this gravel gravy train, so you are seeing most of the bike makers getting something out there that gets them in the game.  So back to the list of name options (and I am sure as I write this, more are being thought up).

Cross bike:  In some cases it is accurate, like if I have a Specialized Crux.  But I am not 'Crossing on it (as in cyclocross racing).  Still it is a real 'cross bike, yet most new bikes coming to the market are certainly NOT a 'cross bike and calling them so would be wrong.

Gravel Bike:  Personally my favorite.  Even if gravel is not the same everywhere, it is easy to say and folks 'get it', even if you do not have gravel to ride it on.  It means (or should mean) that it is a bit lower, a bit slacker, more comfy, and bigger tires will fit compared to a typical 'cross bike.  Or at least to me it does and that is where the gravel bike and 'cross bike begin to take separate paths.

Adventure Bike:  Really?  Any bike is an adventure bike. And while you cannot deny that pretty much any bike can be ridden on a dirt or gravel road, not all of them will do it well.  And adventures, or how you experience them, are quite different. There is road based touring, fat biking (snow or otherwise), century-type road stuff, bike packing, and ...gasp...dare we say it, having an adventure on any old regular MTB.

All Road Bike:  Interesting and maybe a contender.  But is a Trek Domane with 32mm tires stuffed in there really a bike for all roads?  There are some roads that would truly suck on that bike.  Try the White Rim Trail in Utah.  It's a road.  Is this the Jack of all, master of none approach?  Not sure.

X-Road bike:  I think Giant has this one in their corporate pocket.  But I have no idea what it means.  Can I cross the road on it or what?

Mixed Surface Bike:  Saw a Ti bike called that from a big builder in that frame material.  Ick.  See Home Depot comment above.

So until something better comes along, I am sticking with Gravel Bike.  At least I have some idea what I am saying at the time.

A sign that befits the quandry, courtesy of the 4077th MASH unit.

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