Three Way Tie - The Right Wheel For The Job

The truth of it is, no one’s ever known what the hell gravel riding is. The misfit child of cyclocross, road racing and early 90’s mountain biking, this mutant offspring hit an early growth-spurt, grew three heads and lurched into the wilderness where it’s led a life of its own.

The early days were special – that luster-lost, dusty intrigue of any emerging trend was fed largely by DIY conversions, flat tires and reg-free “not a race” events that no one – literally no one – had the correct bicycle for. The podium shot of one of the first official “big” gravel races, Crusher in the Tushar is imprinted indelibly in my mind; a cross bike, a carbon hardtail and Neil Shirley’s Calfee – one of the first ever purpose built “gravel bikes” – all running ‘cross tires, held by their riders on the top steps. There’d never been an obvious bike choice for the ride, but the bike built for the job took the win, and the world took notice.

The carbon-fiber fed corporate gorillas of the cycling industry were comparatively slow to capitalize on this new pseudo-discipline. Frame builders, however, turned on a dime. It was a well-deserved lightning bolt of enthusiasm and attention straight to the heart of bespoke culture. Like the birth of mountain biking before it, gravel owes much of its advancement to quirky individuals with CNC machines and welding torches, burning new paths in the way we ride.

Now, over a decade from inception, (if it ever did have a “start”) gravel is the common denominator linking cyclists of all varieties. From shreddy mountain bikers that once paid for shuttles to skip the exact dirt roads they now seek out, to well-shorn roadies and everything in between, there are enough back roads for us all. From within this amorphous mass of un-paved riders, numerous sub-genres emerged and with them, style-specific bikes and components.  From almost mountain biking, to basically road riding, the adventure to all-road spectrum is vast. Depending on where you’re riding and what your aims are, you can now choose the appropriate bike, bags, attire, wheels and tires to suit your fancy. As a wheel company, we’ll leave your wardrobe up to you, and help map out the correct hoops for how you like to ride. Afterall, in this brave new world, wheels and tires are king.

O.G. Gravel – the Wanderlust Family

The original spirit of gravel accepted defeat from the outset. It was enthusiastically understood that no one bike, wheel or tire would be perfect for any complete ride. Such was the appeal. Today, most of us still ride considerable amounts of pavement for our gravel connectors and choose equipment accordingly. In this situation, you most commonly run tires in the middle widths, 38-42, at moderate pressures. The paved miles still pass relatively quickly, and smoother dirt roads are handled with aplomb. When a route or wild hair requires a single track cut through or stretch of rocky two-track, you prance through it with grace, mindful of punctures and knowing that it’s but a short spell before things mellow out.

This is the realm of the Wanderlust. Our original go-to gravel line, alloy and carbon models are 23mm wide (internal) with hooked side walls and a relatively shallow profile. The moderate inner width is ideal for these tire ranges and due to their hooked design they can even run 28mm road tires, when occasion strikes. While the tire/rim match might not be in line with current trends, they’re fully adequate for running up to 2.0 inch tires – or whatever your gravel rig can fit on those special, rugged occasions.

The shallow profile at 22mm depth prioritizes low weight and a compliant ride over pure speed or massive attacks and sprints, because most traditional gravel spins have more hills than they do competitors. Before the Lifetime Grand Prix brought world-tour sized prize purses to off-road racing or “adventure” bikes demanded 2 inch and above tires on drop bar bikes, there was blue-plate gravel riding, and the Wanderlust was built for that job. Truth be told, that’s where gravel stayed for many of us, and so this wheel family continues to be our best seller.

Race-Pace: The Luna Carbon

Like it or lump it, gravel went pro, and that element is here to stay. With money on the line and big players in the game, things got “sciency,” fast. Since much of a wheel’s aerodynamic advantage depends on rim/tire interface, the width of rims expanded to match tires. While that also allows for wider tires (see Outback, below) and lower pressures, “aero-gravel” or “all-road” wheels are all about speed. These races demand snappy acceleration and aerodynamic performance. The Luna Carbon offers both.

With a 25mm internal width and 40mm depth, this profile is all about speed. We retained hooks to ensure safe, worry-free tire mounting of a massive range of tires and pressures. Rather than engineering primarily for a smooth ride and lowest possible weight, the Luna is built around speed. A stiff, deep rim turns every ounce of effort into forward momentum. Once up to speed, they tend to stay there due to cutting edge aerodynamics. For race and performance-oriented riders and bikes straddling the line between road and gravel – ie. modern all-road bikes – the Luna is the tool for the job.

Get Rowdy: The Outback Family

Gravel went wild. What started as linking paved routes together with dirt road connectors gradually morphed into all-day, all-dirt, rowdy and wild affairs. And while some regions geology lends to silky-smooth backcountry fire roads, many of us contend with constant washboards, rocks, roots and washes. Just like some we used to link pavement with dirt, now folks are linking standard-fare gravel with mtb terrain, and need bikes that can live to talk about it.

As the name implies, the Outback is designed for this job. The carbon model offers a hookless, 25mm internal rim with a minimal, compliant profile. The alloy version retains hooks but matches the wide profile and emphasis on ride quality. Both are born and bred for wide tires and big days. Optimized for 44+ gravel tires run at low pressure, these wheels are light, compliant, and rowdy. At home in Southern Arizona or rocky Appalachia, this family is made for getting out there.

Make the Most of It

Whether you pine for the early days of good-enough tire selection and one-bike-to-rule-them-all simplicity or you’ve embraced the full spectrum with a quiver of occasion-specific gravel rigs, choosing gravel products to match your personal definition of “gravel” is the key to continued love and connection to the sport. The diversity of the genre invites your own interpretation as expressed through the bike and components you choose. No matter what form that takes, we’re here to help it along. 

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Words: Loren Mason-Gere

Photos: Patrick Means, Kenny Buchanan and Loren Mason-Gere