The Key to Loving A Lowly Entry-level Bike Is to Accept the Bike for What It Is… And NOT Expecting It to Be What It Isn’t.
I’ve spent the majority of my time on my Diverge AL-1 Sport of late – this time of year is what we bought gravel bikes for in the first place. Once the temp drops below 40 (4C), the go-fast bikes get put up.
See, there’s no point in speed when the faster you go, the colder you get.
I’ve written about why my wife and I chose entry-level bikes before, two high-end carbon gravel bikes were simply going to cost too much, considering we only bought them to use in October, November and December. Having to do it over again, though, I might buy one stellar gravel frame and another set of wheels rather than two road race bikes (one for good weather, one for iffy weather) and an entry-level gravel rig. The only problem going the one bike suits all route is that if that one bike brakes down and takes more than a day to fix, I’d be missing out on riding days… but I’m getting off topic here, so I’ll bring it back.
Back when we bought the bikes, I did think, “What if they’re right?” Technically, maybe it is the engine that matters? Watching the Durianrider video on the Sora groupset and whether he’d keep up with the likes of Team Sky on it seemed a little like unicorns and rainbows to me, but just maybe…
Sadly, having completed the experiment myself, there is no such thing as a unicorn that farts rainbows.
Look, I’m a decent engine. I’m not fantastic, but I’m pretty stinkin’ fast, and the gravel rig weighs twenty-four pounds. There’s no way I’m keeping up with me on my on my fifteen pound Venge very long. Oh, with a good draft and a tailwind, maybe it wouldn’t suck so bad, but what takes the Venge 100 watts, takes the Diverge 180-ish. That extra 80 watts is a big deal.
So let’s run that out. My best ride last year, on the Venge, averaged something like 270 watts over an hour-and-a-half. That’s a fair output and landed us a 24-mph ride over 28 miles. Not spectacular, but for a 50-year-old weekend warrior, it isn’t bad. On the Diverge, the same ride would have taken around 500 watts… and that’s on the light side of the arithmetic!
The key here is to not expect that entry-level gravel bike to be anything like a $6,000 race bike. It simply isn’t. No chance, no way, no how. And yet…
I went for a ride with some friends Sunday. Nothing particularly smashing, but we averaged about 16-mph for 26-miles and it was below freezing – it was chilly. We had a lot of headwind on the way out but chose to hammer into it all the way out before turning around to let it push us all the way home. On the return trip, heading down Old Miller Road, it’s notoriously bumpy. The asphalt has expansion cracks every 12′ to 15′ (4 to 5 meters) and on a road bike, those cracks get real old real fast.
On the gravel bike, with its 32mm tires at 50 psi (3.5 bar), I barely noticed the cracks were there. And that’s where I found my way to love my gravel bike for what it is – and only what it is. There’s no way my Diverge becomes a slicked down, lightweight speed demon and there’s no amount of “want to” that’ll fix that. On the other hand, used for the purpose it was intended, my God is it a fun, simple comfortable ride.
I pulled into the driveway with a smile on my face that I hadn’t been expecting.