JUMPING ON THE GRAVEL-FRIENDLY DRIVETRAINS
So, what exactly is a gravel bike? Like we’ve said, it’s basically just a road bike with room to run bigger tires. You can also expect to find different frame geometries (longer wheelbase and slacker angles), added bottle mounts, fender and rack mounts, and much lower gearing to allow for efficient pedaling for slow-speed sections and climbing. In fact, suspension can now also be added to the list.
Take a look at the latest gravel bike drivetrain options that are built to handle the road less traveled.
Rotor has two 1x options that both utilize their 13-speed derailleur and shifter. Even more wild is that the shifts are actuated by hydraulic fluid. For those going all-in on 13-speeds, you will need to also use their hub to accommodate all the cogs. If you would rather not switch hubs, the system can be bumped down to 12-speeds on the same shifter and derailleur. Rotor offers four cassette options for both that each top out with a 52t gear. A full group uses Magura hydro disc brakes. Don’t forget that Rotor also offers a vast lineup of cranks to choose from as well.
Unlike Campy and Shimano, SRAM has never designated any drivetrain as “gravel-specific”, but they definitely paved the way with their 1x offerings years ago. While all types of gearing options are available—1x, 2x, mechanical, electric, short cage and long cage—SRAM stands alone with the “mullet” drivetrain that mimics the low-gear capacity used on mountain bikes. Currently in the lineup is the “wide” variant of options, which includes a 2.5mm-wider offset front derailleur, as well as Red and Force rear derailleurs that accommodate the 10-36 cassette for 2x setups. Word on the street is that by summer, something “gravel-specific” might be coming down the pipe.
Shimano hit the market with the first dedicated gravel drivetrain lineup under the GRX insignia. There are a few options—from 11-speed to 10-speed variants, as well as mechanical and electronic Di2 versions on 11-speed. The system closely resembles their Ultegra and 105 road parts but with slight modifications. Enlarged brake blades and wider-stance front derailleurs are the most noteworthy, as well as the addition of a gravel-specific clutch to minimize chain slap.
The world’s oldest component maker is also the newest to the gravel game with their 13-speed/1x Ekar drivetrain. Ekar features three cassette options: 9-36t, 9-42t and 10-44t. Up front there are four chainring options—38, 40, 42 and 44. The cranks also have a narrow 145.5mm Q-factor. Probably our most noted feature is the new thumb-shifter design that adds a textured element, as well as a new C-shaped, dual-position trigger to Campy’s independent dual-control layout.