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The Grind: Two things that bug me about gravel bikes

Why are we compromising on fit and convenience?

The Grind is a weekly column on all things gravel.

Look, I’m all in on gravel. Riding, racing, exploration, general tomfoolery; I’m sold. And I believe that gravel bikes are a legitimate thing, with a ton of benefits. But I have two nits to pick. Or, perhaps, two requests for all you product managers out there.

Skinny hood stances are dumb

Flared bars are trendy, and that’s fine. But making the effective width of our hands on the hoods narrower is dumb, and counterproductive to the whole ‘wider is more stable/better/trendier’ thing.

What’s a flared bar, you ask? It’s when the extensions — the lower part of drop handlebars — ‘flare’ out wider than the hook above.

Most handlebars are measured center to center at the hooks — the top of the curved part of the bar.

The thing is, when bars flare out, they angle-in the shift levers, making the effective width — where we put our hands most of the time — narrower.

I ride 56cm bikes, which normally come with 42cm bars. A quick survey of the Giant, Trek, Specialized, and Salsa gravel test bikes in my garage shows that the width at the center of the hoods on all these bikes is 39-40cm. On a non-flared bar, like on all the road test bikes in my garage, the centers of the hoods are 42cm apart.

I get that having your hands wider can offer more stability and leverage. And flared bars give you that when you’re in the drops. But I spent most of my time on the hoods, especially when I’m needing leverage. Why are we going skinny up there?

So my request is this, product managers: If you’re going to spec a flared bar, go up a size so the effective width stays the same at the hoods as we’re used to on road bikes.

Ditching axle levers is annoying

Flush-end axles look cool, for sure. But integrated levers are easier to live with. Photo: Ben Delaney | VeloNews

What’s wrong with being able to take your wheel off without using a tool? I get that flat axle ends look sleek, and maybe for professional road racers there’s a minute aero benefit of substance. But for us weekend warrior gravel riders, why they heck can’t we have at least one lever on our wheels?

What is the motivation for ditching the lowly but very useful axle lever? A small saving on advertised weight? Aesthetics?

Sure, it’s not a huge deal to carry a tool on the bike or in the saddlebag or whatever to unscrew your axle to remove the wheel. We can dig a tool out to remove a wheel. Similarly, we could, if need be, pry open an aluminum can of beer with a separate tool. But why? We’ve had an integrated tool for this for years!

Okay, old man rant over.

Now get off my lawn.