Our Test Pilots Share Their Gravel Rigs

A couple of weeks back, I shared my gravel bike’s third mutation and that article provided the inspiration for today’s compilation of our staff’s collection of gravel bikes. I’m a subscriber to the theory that (almost) every bike is a gravel bike, which is kind of supported by the variety of what these groovy cats call a gravel bike. Here’s a rundown of our Bike Black Ribbon Test Pilot’s Gravel bikes in their own words and in no particular order.

Andy Amstutz – 2019 Salsa Journeyman 650B (aka poorman’s Cutthoat). 

Living in NW lower Michigan, I wanted to be able to get as fat as possible gravel tires on it so it could handle the often sandy conditions so I went with the 650B version of Journeyman.  Stock componentry with some added goodies include a two-can stashers bag (reviewed here) as well as some Teravail 27.5 x 2.1 Rutland tires (currently in testing mode with review forthcoming in the fall).  Plenty of warts allow for multiple water bottle cages and accessory bags.  I especially like storing my tool kit items in my KEG storage bottle under the downtube.  The Journeyman is probably the most comfortable bike I have in the quiver right now with its geometry ever so slightly propping me up farther than any drop bar bike I own.  None of my bikes have a head tube so long! 

JP Syverud REEB Ti B’Donkadonk with 29+ wheels

Swimsuit season is right around the corner, so every Summer I decided to put my titanium REEB Donkadonk Fat Bike “Toast” on a diet. I take off the Dillinger 5’s and put on some skinny racer boy tires.  It’s like having two bikes for the price of one.  This basically makes my fat bike into a gravel crusher for half the year.  A lot of people ask me about some of the componentry. My handlebars are made by James Bleakly from Blacksheep bikes.  They are all titanium with an integrated stem and a nice 17-degree sweep. These are the most Foo Foo part of this bike. I round out the cockpit with Jones grips I cut to 130mm and Paul Love levers 2.5 and a Spur cycle bell.

The seat post is titanium and made by REEB.  The saddle is my trusty old Brooks Ti Swift.  The Crankset is a Race Face Turbine with a Wolftooth oval ring and Race Face Stamp 7 pedals.  The rear cog is an 18t Ti Boone cog and the spacer kit is all titanium from Ti Cycles. The chain is a gold KMC.  The headset is a Chris King inset 7 and the bottom bracket is a Cane Creek Hellbender.  The fork is also made by James Bleakly from Blacksheep.   For all my storage and snacking needs.  I have really been liking the Fabio Chest bag up front for my lazy style of packing.  It holds so much, and I find front-loading my gear makes it much easier to push up the big hills.  All my other bags are from Cedaero.  The wheelset is a pair of Stans Barrons laced to Hope 4 pro hubs.  The tires are 29x 2.6 Mezcal Super toughs with grey sidewalls.  They have been bomber for everything I have done.  I’ve been piecing this bike together for the last 2 years to make it work for me and my riding style.  I change it up a lot to match whatever conditions I am riding.  That’s is why I have 5 sets of handlebars for it.  I can change it for a fun chill event with some Crowler bars from REEB or slap on some Oddity Cycles titanium 3-inch riser bars for all-day comfort on the gravel. Whatever bars are on it you will almost always see me on it, as I really don’t have another bike unless you count the Penny Farthing that lives in my basement until the Tweed rides come back.  There ya go, you have been officially introduced to “Toast”. Now get out of the house and ride.  Adventure awaits! ~ Happy Trails, JP

Greg Gentle – Esker Cycles Hayduke

Sometimes you need something that defies category for getting across the gravel divide. Gravel can come in many forms: packed clay, sand pits, class-5 rock, earthy double track. Sometimes you encounter “enhanced” gravel requiring a bike that can tackle long miles with comfort, while also serving as a bulldozer when you need to ride over stuff a “gravel bike” with 700x40c tires wouldn’t even attempt. The Hayduke by Esker Cycles is such a machine. The Hayduke is like a swiss-army bike, capable of tackling the gnarliest gravely chazzle, bombing flow trail as a hard-tail mountain bike, or serving as a pack mule carrying you and a heavy load into the hinterlands as a bike packing machine. Last week it tackled 250 miles of Upper Michigan’s backcountry “gravel” with ease. I set mine up as a 27.5+ machine running 2.6 Vitorria Mezcal’s on a 52mm Stans Hugo rim. The buzzing sensation is coming from the boost Industry Nine hubs. The versatility of the Hayduke allows you to run 29er wheels with tires up to 2.4 as well as any 27.5 configuration. For my U.P. adventure I was loaded. The bike weighed out at 45 lbs with four water bottles, 3500 calories in bars and snacks, a knife, tools, 2 tubes…you get the picture. I was disappearing into the wild and I needed some food and hardware to make sure I made it trough safely. Despite of the added weight, the Hayduke was a nimble climber and bike felt well balanced when I got to open it up on the 30 mph downhills. The Hayduke is a 4130 cromoly steel frame, compliant and comfortable. It does lose the weight battle against a carbon gravel bike, but you knew that going into it. The rear dropout is changeable allowing multiple configurations and drivetrain types. Another cool feature of this bike is the multitude of bosses to attach bottles, cages, and whatever you might need. The geometry is balanced featuring a 74 degree seat tube angle partnered with a 67.6 head tube angle. This combination and the adjustable chain-stay length (424-437) adds to the flexibility of the Hayduke. I chose an 11-speed SRAM X0-1 drive train with a Stylo carbon crankset. A Rockshox 130mm Pike is plenty of plush up front to get rowdy when the party starts. I opted for the 2-piston XT brakes to stop me from making bad choices. The last detail here is the Rockshox Reverb dropper post topped with a WTB saddle. It sits at about 29lbs dry.

Tony Grande – Surly Karate Monkey

When I bought my Surly Karate Monkey in 2011, it was a stock SS 29er.  Since then it truly has lived up to Surly’s “Make it your own” philosophy.  My Monkey has been a SS 29er, then a Monster Cross with 29×2.5 Kodiaks, flat bars-drop bars-alt bars, and back to a SS with 27.5+ wheels and Sundowner bars.

I kinda blame Gomez for the Monkeys recent re-tool, what with all his talk about shredding the crunchy grav-grav.  It got me to think about why I got this bike in the first place, cranking comfortable miles on mixed condition trails with a bit of single-track mixed in.  So, I went parts bin diving a couple months back and built her back up as my Monster Cross Monkey.  I still had everything, less the 2.5 Kodiaks. Fate must have stepped in to be sure this stuff never sold at multiple swaps in the last few years!  It all went back on -> Stan’s Flow EX rims laced to Hope Pro 2 hubs, Conti X-Kings (29×2.4), Salsa Bell-Lap bars with Cane-Creek levers and Lizard Skin tape still on them, SRAM XO 9sp shortcage rear der (Black Box, YO!), and a SRAM X9 trigger shifter mounted to the bars.

After a couple of rides, I realized my neck issues would have to have some influence here, and I wanted to tweak the gearing.  I went from a 90mm 7deg stem to a 70mm 15deg stem and went to a 38t front ring vs the 34t I was running.  The stem has helped my neck some, and the gearing is very nice right now.  O, and I added a bell, which doesn’t scare people as much on the trail as yelling “oooo-koookoooruutz!”.  I’m thinking that in the not so distant future I may try out a set of Truck Stop Bars for the extra rise.  My Monkey is forever evolving, but always a blast to ride.  Cheers!

Julio – Singular Swift 29r turned Monster Cross

Monster Cross via Singular Swift

The journey of this gravel crusher started back in 2009, when I bought a Singular Swift from fellow bike geek Marty Larson when he owned the Prairie Peddler in Prairie du Chien. It became my regular ride (SS and geared) for quite a few years.  Along the way it got a few upgrades like carbon fork and post.  Then my Retrotec arrived on the scene and the Swift sat under used for a couple of years.  Then one day while contemplating future bike needs, specifically the need for an adventure/gravel type bike, the idea came to me to throw some parts bin dropbars (along with MTB levers) on the Swift and breathe some new life into an old friend.  After that first ride, I knew it was the right decision.  The extra float from the 29×2.0” tires was exactly what I was looking for all my gravel needs.  I immediately ordered up some flared drops (Salsa Bell Lap), hydro road disc brakes (TRP HYLEX), and new tires (Maxxis Aspen). I’ve never looked back.  In fact, now my CX bike sits gathering dust.

Of course, being a bike geek, after a couple months, the urge for upgrades started with thoughts of a repaint since the original paint was flaking away.  My amigo Lieutenant LarSSOn has access to just such paint facilities so after looking at a couple of color choices, off to the booth it went.  To really tie it all together, a custom pinstriper added the downtube “Singular” back on along with a few other custom touches and I threw on some White Industries M30 cranks to complete the makeover. 

I currently use the bike for local gravel paths, fire road excursions, and an occasional singletrack jaunt (those Maxxis Aspen’s make things interesting in the kitty litter over hard that we rock here on the Front Range!)

Jeff Price – Genesis Croix de Fer 10

A few years back I thought it was time I got myself one of these gravel bikes that the internet was talking about. I settled upon the Genesis Croix de Fer as it was in my budget and looks great. Before picking up from the fine folk at Keep Pedalling in Manchester UK, I had them fit an SP Dynamo Hub up front which powered a Busch & Muller front light for those winter commuting miles. It’s also handy as there’s a USB lead that’ll charge a powerbank or water ever I fancy wiring up.

I’ve not made that many changes really, apart from the bars. After a few months I swapped the standard drop bars for Alpkit’s sweeping Love Mud Bomber bars which are great for handling the rough stuff. I’ve also swapped the Clement X’Plor 35mm tires for the 43mm GravelKings which has made a vast difference to the bike.

I’m currently using the bike for my short commute to work but I have also used it for the odd bikepacking trip in Ireland, Scotland, and locally here in Snowdonia.

Gomez – Surly Crosscheck v3.0 – Rally Gnome Package

Let’s close our gravel bike parade with a shot of my Crosscheck from a grav-tour that Dustin Marsh hosted last weekend. Los Graveleros con Bicis Negras – If you want to see more of your tio Gomez’ gravel rig take a look right here – https://fat-bike.com/2020/07/surly-crosscheck-v3-0/.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed our little gravel bike beauty pageant. Don’t be shy about letting us know what you pilot on gravel rides and maybe which of these gravel rigs that you think is the smurfiest of the bunch.

¡Felices Caminos Amigos!

About Gomez 2576 Articles
Just an old cat that rides bikes, herds pixels, ropes gnomes and sometimes writes stories. I love a good story.