Like most of life’s endeavours, cycling is not without its share of fads. Some have come and (thankfully) gone. Like those ‘dragster’ bikes we had as kids in the ‘70s; They weren’t ever good: 3-speed hub gears too weak to get up steep hills, and those banana seats and sissy-bars meant they were useless for stunts. They did look cool in their orange flake-metal paint though.
Other fads have endured: When the more adventurous kids started stripping down those garish dragsters in search of two-wheeled acrobatics, they created that functional minimalism that has become the BMX phenomenon.
The recent rise of inner-city hipsters heralded a look back to some concept of retro-authenticity. This movement brought back home-brewing, vinyl records, and culminated in the “Fixie” bike. The problem with looking back is that there are only so many ideas that are worth repeating, and many more that aren’t. Now that we've reached peak saturation for beards and tatts, so too have people realised that single-speed town bikes, no matter how pure and austere, are simply too much work to get to a burger bar.
The cult of Spandex, on the other hand, shows no signs of disappearing. With active-wear brands becoming global empires, it won’t be long before casual Fridays will see Darren from accounts donning lycra bib-shorts with matching Giro D'Italia jerseys.
Yet it was with some alarm that I have watched the arrival of a new fad in cycling; the so-called ‘cyclo-cross’ bike (or ‘gravel bike’) . The frankencycle love-child of a hardtail mountain bike and a Tour-De-France racer. Fat off-road tyres on skinny frames. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the sport: Any balls-to-the-wall bicycle race that involves running and obstacle climbing with your bike hiked over your shoulder and ends with winners covered in vats of mud, seems totally fine by me. I hear it’s huge in Europe. But then so is deep-fried Nutella toast covered in pickled herring and icing sugar (ok I made that up…though i’m sure Heston Blumenthal will toy with the idea).
So what are we to make of this new craze - A dulled down mountain bike? Or a road bike for the risk-averse?
Or maybe we’re looking at it all wrong.
What if we had to design the perfect commuter bike, from scratch. Surely we would start by using all the speed, agility and light weight of a road bike frame. Then throw in the comfortable, sure-footed, all-terrain traction of mountain-bike tyres and brakes. Now let"s get rid of stuff we don’t need: heavy suspension (unnecessary for most real-world routes). And let’s lose all that high-speed gearing (a single chainring, and wide-range MTB gears are enough for those of us who don’t race).
What do we end up with? - A plush-riding road bike with secure grip and all terrain ability ……or perhaps a faster, lighter, mountain bike.
Either way, we know it as a cyclo-cross bike. In many ways it could be the only bike you need: the ultimate “Swiss-Army” bike that has a 'go-(almost)-anywhere' and 'do-(almost)-anything’ functionality.
I may not want to compromise my personal hygiene to all that mud, but I’m warming to the idea that a cyclo-cross bike may just end up being the ideal solution for urban commuting.
Let us know your thoughts in the comment section and tell us what your ideal all-rounder bike would look like. Who knows, we might just build it for you..