Is there such a thing as an N=1 bike?
Famously the correct number of bikes is supposedly always N+1. We should always want more. But is there such a thing as an N=1 bike, a Do-It-All Bike? We researched the pro’s and con’s of having one bike for all occasions and look at some possible options
There will always be the pure racers who want to go as fast as they can on roads, whether that’s mostly uphill on a lightweight climbing bike or mostly on the flats on a razor thin aero machine.
However, other groups of riders want to go fast, comfortably and in style and to enjoy themselves as much as possible, partly by adding variety and even some adventure. Enter the gravel/adventure bike. A rapidly growing segment of the market, these bikes allow you to ride paths and roads previously only Mountain Bikers would have considered. So, its pretty clear to see there are pure Road Bikes and Pure Gravel Bikes, but is there something in between that can do a good job across both, letting you enjoy more for less?
Having a single bike for all rides certainly provides advantages in terms of upfront and maintenance costs and hassle, as well as taking up less storage space at home. Assuming the world will again allow travel then travelling with one bike that can be used on roads and gravel (whether unchanged or switching tyres/wheels) can only make a trip more fun.
Before getting into the range of bikes and what they offer it is worth noting that 2021 may be both the best and the worst of times to try and buy a new bike. On the one hand there has never been such a wide range of bike styles available to suit all your rides. Less positively, the pandemic has caused chaos in bike supply chains at the same time as demand has increased, meaning it actually may be tough to buy your dream bike for at least a few months and in many cases with only minimal discounting. (One way you can try and mitigate this to some extent is to sell any old bikes that you can live without, the strong demand means you may get a better price than ever before.)
Some key factors to consider
Tyre Clearance: Depending on the riding that you want to do this may be a key factor for you. Some pure road bikes are now offering tyre clearance of up to 32mm and if you want to ride on the road and just occasionally on very smooth gravel this may be enough. On the other hand if you want a bike for rough gravel and adventure riding then there are gravel bikes that can take 47mm+ tyres. To have the most flexibility to cover both road and gravel, consider a bike that can accommodate wide gravel tyres and buy a second wheelset so you can quickly switch in and out between road and gravel set-ups.
Groupset and gearing: Many gravel bikes are sold with a single chainring and a wide range cassette. This may be limiting for your top speed and smooth changes when road riding so if you are going to be on the road a lot it may still be better to opt for a 2x front chainring. Even then keep an eye on the chainring size, many bikes are sold with a 46 tooth chainring which is quite a drop down from the 50 tooth road compact. Shimano offers a variety of “GRX” components which are designed specifically for gravel riding and are not a notable disadvantage for road riding meaning GRX equipped bikes may be a good choice if you're planning more than occasional gravel rides. Note that to accommodate wider tyres this style of bike has wider chainstays which means that they cannot necessarily also fit large chainrings so you may not be able to put a road groupset with a 50+ tooth chainring on to a gravel frameset.
Bike weight: If this is a concern for you its worth noting that while gravel specced bikes will have a higher all-in weight compared to pure road bikes much of this can be accounted for by the tyres and wheels. Wider, knobbly tyres weigh substantially more than narrow slick road tyres but remember you can switch tyres to suit your riding. Similarly, even expensive bikes are often sold with basic and heavy wheels, keep that pair for gravel riding and buy even a half decent road wheelset and much of the weight penalty disappears.
Riding position: Gravel bikes are designed to be ridden in a more upright style than road bikes and to offer greater stability. Depending on how extreme this is you may or may not find that you can get into a comfortable but also fast position for road riding. Its worth checking out the bike with the stem in its highest and lowest positions to see if that covers what you are looking for. It would also be possible to buy a second stem with a more aggressive angle and length which can be switched in quite easily for road riding months.
The graphic below picks out a selection of bikes which may be of interest depending on your preferred riding and therefore what could be your ideal N=1 bike. These could be categorised into:
1) Road Bikes that can handle some gravel (Roubaix & Domane)
2) Bikes that with suitable tyres are equally comfortable on tarmac or medium gravel (Paralane, Terra & 765)
3) Bikes that are most at home on gravel but could still be acceptable on tarmac. To a greater extent these also allow for easier carrying of extra bottles and luggage for bikepacking. (Aspero, Diverge & Substance)
Images sourced from Company websites and shown in order as the table above.
There have never been such versatile bikes available that allow fun and fast riding on a range of surfaces and conditions. At INVANI we always try and design products to be versatile, not just in terms of being reversible but also in their design and construction, so seeking out versatility is close to our heart!
Hopefully this has sparked your interest in consolidating down to an N=1 bike! Please feel free to leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or questions you may have.
(NB: This Blog is not Sponsored by any bike brand and there are of course numerous other models on the market that would be worthy of your consideration)
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