Allroad Bikes Hit the Mainstream!

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The big news in the bike world this week is Cannondale’s introduction of an Allroad bike, which will be equipped with 650B x 42 mm tires. And those tires have a file tread pattern, and generally look very much like our Compass Babyshoe Pass tires… which is not surprising, since they’ll be made by Panaracer (like our tires) and will benefit from the tire research from Compass Bicycles and Bicycle Quarterly. (The Cannondale tires will not be available with the extra-supple Extralight casings, though.)

650Bx42 mm tires on a road bike… Supple casings and file tread patterns for pavement and gravel… A few years ago, you would have checked your calendar to see whether it was April 1!

Allroad bikes, gravel bikes, adventure bikes – whatever you call them, they are the fastest-growing and most important segment in the bike market. It’s gratifying to see the bike industry adopting the bikes (and tires) we’ve championed for so long. Unlike most fads, this is a good thing, because the focus is shifting from the equipment to the experience. This new breed of Allroad bikes allows more riders to experience the joys of spirited cycling off the beaten path. The bike only serves as a tool to get out there and have incredible experiences. And even for urban commuting over significant distances, it’s hard to think of a bike that is faster and more fun than one of these…

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In the past, when we reported on our wonderful adventures in Bicycle Quarterly, we were aware that for most cyclists, rides like these were out of reach, not because they lacked the conditioning (you could always go for a shorter ride), but because they didn’t have bikes that could handle a mix of pavement and gravel efficiently.

Until recently, your only choice was to get a custom bike, which required not just significant amounts of money, but also knowledge and patience, since most good custom builders have long wait times. If you walked into your neighborhood bike shop, asking for a bike that could be as fast as a racing bike on pavement, yet handle rough gravel as well as a mountain bike, you got blank stares, or perhaps they’d point you toward cyclocross bikes.

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A mountain bike is designed for technical terrain, so the riding position and general setup are far from ideal on the road, whether it’s paved or not. On the other hand, most road bikes are limited by their relatively narrow tires. You can take a bike with 28 mm tires on gravel roads, but in many cases, you’ll be underbiking, which is a different experience from just floating over the surface at speed, and still being able to take your eyes off the road to enjoy the scenery.

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Even if you stay on pavement, the most scenic and fun roads often are poorly maintained, because few cars drive on them. Few cyclists use them, because on a typical “road” bike with narrow tires, they just aren’t all that much fun. Wider tires allow you to really enjoy these amazing roads, away from traffic and congestion.

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It has been encouraging to see the bike industry (finally!) embrace this type of riding to the fullest. Wide tires. Fenders. Lights. And not only on inexpensive (and compromised) hybrid or commuter bikes, but on race-bred $ 8500 carbon fiber machines (above).

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At Bicycle Quarterly, we’ll try to test all these new machines. With more than a decade of gravel riding experience under our belts, we are able to tell you what works and what doesn’t. And as always, we’ll take these bikes on splendid adventures that hopefully will inspire your own rides off the beaten path. Because in the end, the bike is just a means to getting out there and enjoying the ride.

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At Compass Bicycles, we are already pushing the envelope further. Cannondale’s Allroad bike reputedly has clearances for 60 mm tires, so our new 650Bx48 mm Compass Switchback Hill tires will truly bring out the potential of this machine. The thought of a modern carbon bike that can fly over pavement like a racing bike, but handle rough gravel like a mountain bike, and everything in between, is truly exciting.

There are good times ahead!

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
This entry was posted in A Journey of Discovery, Testing and Tech. Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to Allroad Bikes Hit the Mainstream!

  1. kittehjesus says:

    I’d be interested to know, in a nutshell, what’s the big difference here compared to a 1990s mountain bike with drop bars and an appropriate choice of tires for road+gravel riding?

    • The biggest difference are the tires. Until Grand Bois and Compass introduced them, there simply were no high-performance road tires wider than 30 mm. Wide, supple tires totally transform how your bike rides and performs, both on pavement and on gravel.

      Also, an Allroad bike uses a road geometry, with a road weight distribution, and road cranks with narrow tread (Q factor). So it’s quite different from a mountain bike in many ways. It’s perhaps more closely related to Bridgestone’s XO series, but those were handicapped by the lack of good 26″ tires at the time.

      • Rice Panday says:

        Your wrong about that, Schwalbe Supremes have been out for years and I have never used the Grand Bois and Compass’s but I doubt they are better in anyway.

      • Schwalbe Marathon Supremes may be excellent tires for some applications, but I would not call them “supple”. Just consider the weight: 565 g for a 50-559 mm Supreme, just under 400 g for the new 54-559 mm Compass Rat Trap Pass Extralight…

      • tom schibler says:

        That’s funny. You’ve never used them, but you doubt they’re better in anyway. I have used Compass tires with the extralight casing and they are on par with Vittoria Open Corsas and Dugast silk tubulars.

  2. Patrick Moore says:

    Jan: I don’t believe you answered Kittehjesus’s question which referred, I think, to rigid mountain bikes of the earlier ’90s set up with road or road-like components. I’ve set up 5 of these and I can say from experience that they do very well as all rounders, the principal difference being that handling is slower (but not necessarily worse!) than that of a good road bike — as long as you use tires that are wide enough; tires narrower than say 35 mm do IME degrade the handling. The principal difficulty IME is the long top tubes which make it harder to get the right fit and weight distribution with a drop bar, but with a stem like the Nitto Dirt Drop it can be done. Q with the right triple crank, even on a frame allowing 60 mm tires with fenders and considerable gap can be 160 or a bit less.

    That said, even a nice conversion like this is not the same thing as an off-road compatible road bike; and I daresay (I’ve not owned any late model mountain bikes) modern mtb frames are a different matter. I myself hope soon to order a custom “road bike for dirt riding”, but wit 700C wheels.

    Also, Schwalbe beat compass by at least a couple of years with their Furious Freds, Racing Raplphs, and (not sure about this one) the Thunder Burt.

    • I haven’t tried the Schwalbes, so I can’t say how supple they are, but they are knobbies that don’t do well on pavement, and perhaps are less-than-optimal on gravel.

      • Bill Gobie says:

        Furious Freds are popular tires among velomobile owners whose velos can fit them. So the knobs on those tires can’t be very detrimental.

    • Jimmy Livengood says:

      re: 90s mountain bikes. Agree about the fit issues -longer top tube paired with shorter head tubes make it tricky. you can certainly fit drop bars on lots of old MTBs, but the fit and weight distribution will not be nearly as good as on a road bike. Also, 90s MTBS generally have a higher BB than necessary, and stiffer tubing.

      I’ve built a few of these (Stumpjumper, Rockhopper, Bridgestone MB-2, Miyata, Alpinestars, Nishiki) and while they are good, they are just not quite optimal. My old Novara touring bike with 700x42s (which will clear a 26 x 2.1 -a future experiment once I borrow some wheels) still beats the pants off them on a road ride.

      Still, we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and old MTBs are inexpensive enough to experiment with, IMO.

      PS -and yeah, the Furious Freds are awesome but hampered by micro knobs. Shaved down they would be awesome.

    • Alex says:

      And Continental beat Schwalbe by a year or two with their supple German-made Race King & Speed King tires (comparable to Furious Fred & Thunder Burt, respectively).
      I ride mostly offroad (flat/sandy/pine forest), & with a 90s MTB (lightweight frame! no compromises here) set up as a road bike, & with the widest RaceSport version of the Contis mentioned above. It’s easily the fastest bike in any group ride, even on pavement it’s faster.
      Because of this, I can’t really understand why anyone would buy a ‘gravel bike’ with clearance for narrow tires (ie. less than 60mm) – other than the fact that they – and not lightweight performance “90s MTBs” – are sold these days. You buy what you’re sold, unfortunately. And the larger manufacturers seem to be a few years behind the learning curve.
      Although I think Jan should have a look at what’s already out there, & compare for example SpeedKing RaceSport to the new Compass 54-559s, I’m looking forward to trying the new Compass allroad tires.
      I think in a few years nobody will be trying to ride (for example) TransIowa or Oregon Outback with tires thinner than 50mm!
      All of Jan & team’s research points in this direction: it just makes sense that if a 42-584 is fast / comfortable / not prone to punctures, an even wider tire with the same characteristics will be the best choice for rougher roads/ offroad.

      • I agree wholeheartedly on the tire size… which is why the Cannondale is an exciting development. As far as the performance of high-end mtb tires on pavement goes, they probably are faster than many road tires. But if you take a supple casing and road-optimized tread, you get performance and cornering grip that are yet in another league.

      • I’d be careful claiming that high end MTB tyres are faster.
        They often roll faster but whether they are faster overall, depends on speeds you cycle at.

  3. Retro mtbs with drops when set up correctly make fantastic allrounders. I use one for 2.5h daily commute on the road and weekend forest rides.
    With Schwalbe Freds, Thunder hurts and Geax (Vittoria) Plumas I can ride at decent roadie av speeds😉

  4. Nick Bull says:

    What’s striking to me is how narrow 42’s look when you’ve been riding on them for several years🙂 Watching video of that Cannondale Slate, the tires look small. I guess I’d have to see similar video of 23’s to see how big the 42’s really are.

  5. Paul Knopp says:

    I hope that KHS, Trek, Giant, and the rest don’t flood the market with so many bikes that the enthusiasts opt for immediate gratification instead of creating a work of art from you or the fine builders to whom you give such great exposure.
    You’ve turned Trek and Fuji to your way of thinking. If they start making them in steel then you may have a problem. You’ve awakened a beast.

    • There always will be a place for beautiful and functional custom bikes. It’s very difficult to make a bike that can withstand events like the Oregon Outback ridden at speed, without any adjustments or breakdowns. The best bikes are like race cars, which may look like production cars at a glance, but are built to completely different standards.

  6. Doug M. says:

    Just built-up my custom allroad bike: a low-trail road-geo frame that wears Babyshoes most of the time, clearances for 650b x 2.2″ MTB tires (a la Elephant NFE); it will see plenty of dirt and truck trail. It has quickly endeared itself as a great road bike for this MTB’ers heart. Anecdotally, most of my riding buddies are looking for ways to extend their road riding onto our dirt and gravel roads in Central New York. I don’t expect everyone to go full-nerd custom like I did, so a more conventional design from a company with an established road pedigree will be important for allowing more folks to enjoy our backroads.

    That said, the Lefty is overkill. Hope there’s a rigid fork option when this comes out.

  7. It is neat to see mainstream manufactures rethink long-standing assumptions. I think it is fair to say that this blog/BQ and many of the people who are active in this community have been responsible for much of the thought leadership that has advanced these new developments.

    In my opinion this particular bike misses the mark a bit. The “advantages” of a suspension fork are outweighed by the limitations it brings (no fenders/racks, additional maintenance etc.). If anything this bike seems like a mixed terrain racing bike. There is nothing wrong with that per se but the promotional video explicitly claims that this bike is a conscious departure from the racing mindset.

    Plus it is really ugly🙂

  8. Well, I don’t know if you call Salsa and Surly mainstream, but I run Bruce Gordon Rock ‘n Road tires (43cm) on my Salsa Vaya (both of which have been around for a good while) and am nearly as fast on the road as I am on the trail, gravel, dirt, whatever.

    • shroudedrob says:

      That’s tight. Running a Surly Straggler with 700×42 Bruce Gordons, having a great time on Texas farm roads that mix pavement, gravel, & dirt. It’s not a weight weenie bike, but it goes anywhere comfortably. Tubeless Secteur 28s on another wheelset make it great for straight road rides, although they look a little small in a space with room for 42s .

  9. Phil Posner says:

    I am a very happy owner of a Honey All Roads (semi custom made by Seven). Of course the bike fits me perfectly – I’m a short guy and having the frameset made for me and with appropriate parts makes a huge difference in comfort. I’m just getting into gravel riding and have fitted my bike with Clement MSO 32 cm tires. The Clements roll surprisingly well on the road and are fine for hard packed dirt and light trail riding. A little squirrelly on sand. The bike is a good all rounder – definitely not my pick for the MAMIL pace line rides – but I’m looking to put a serious trek + D2R2 on my calendar for the late summer.

  10. Paul Witt says:

    Looking at 80’s and 90’s steel Mountain bikes it seems many have head-tube and seat-tube angles significantly lower than rando road bikes, many of them around 70 degrees. These angles seem slack after learning the importance of steeper head-tube angle (in combination with fork offset) to achieve low trail steering. I also see that some of these bikes have geometries with angles comparable to road geometries (72-73….).
    Can someone add some clarification on this? Does the allroad idea maintain the same low-trail geometry as rando bikes or are there other combinations of factors that makes this less important? If so which vintage mountain bikes tend to have steeper angles?
    I also really like the looks of a traditionally constructed fork with crown and blades (even bi-plane), which are harder to come by than the many unicrown variants. Do the desirable qualities of the rando fork (off set, low trail, and shock absorbsion) make mountain bikes with traditionally constructed forks better for Allroad use than bikes with over unicrown forks?

  11. marmotte27 says:

    And out goes versatility once again… Where are the fenders, where are the racks, where are the lights on these bikes? Only fair weather riding once again.
    It’s just about creating another bike fashion craze, not about real world riding.

    • The reality is that most cyclists go for 2-5 hour rides during daytime, when the weather is nice. There is nothing wrong with that. And encouragingly, some of these Allroad bikes actually do come with fenders and lights. When you see that fenders and lights no longer are found only on budget-priced city bikes, but also on $ 8500 carbon fiber machines, you realize that things are moving in the right direction.

    • Chris Lowe says:

      There’s a lot more to riding than just “real world” riding. A Miata can’t carry a family of four and a load of groceries but that lack of versatility doesn’t make it a bad car.

  12. svenski says:

    I’ve been riding a Genesis Croix de Fer (British!) for over 2 years now, and that’s been available for over 5 years – and was ridden ’round the world in record time. I would call that a real Allroad bike. And a steel frame! Clear Cross heritage, though. And develeopped further Each year. Riding mine w/ fenders and lights. So, there are different approaches to the theme, starting at different points – and also making for affordable bikes that you can have loads of fun on – onroad and off. Besides, it seems to be a huge commercial success, though. So, there’s space for loads of interesting bikes.

    • ORiordan says:

      The Croix is a great “do anything” bike (I lusted after the Reynolds 931 version…) and is Genesis’s best selling model but I don’t think you can fit anything wider than 700×35 tyres.

      I went to a presentation by the Genesis designer in London last September and they were planning a 650b gravel bike so keep your eye open for the 2016 models when they are announced…

      This type of bike does seem to be “on trend” from the manufacturers at the moment.

      • Rob St.Clair says:

        Have been using a Croix de Fer (although only the Reynolds 725 version!) for the last year or so, and usually run it on 650B (with BabyShoe Pass) wheels borrowed from one of my 27.5 mountain bikes, and it really does seem like a bike that can handle pretty much anything very competently. Fast, comfortable and very tough….. Highly recommended for everyday use, without being so ‘precious’ or expensive as a custom!

      • Svenski says:

        There is only one issue with the “Croix” for me: the fork has to be pretty stiff for the disc brakes to work properly. It’s not the”feeling” I expect from a thinwall steel frame. But a solid workhorse for several 1000s of kms of commuting per year. So, I completely understand C’dales move to use the Lefty. Besides, they want to appear cool. I’d love to try it.
        If I had a MTB, I’d also try 650B wheels. Great Idea!

  13. Chris Lowe says:

    Have to admit I’m pretty excited about this bike. I like the Lefty for no other reason than it reminds of the landing gear of a fighter jet.😉

  14. tony says:

    hi jan could you tell me the tpi of the compass tyres so as to compare them to the schwalbes and conti tyre ect. i have only read you describe them as supple, but not give any more technical details. thanks
    tony

    • TPI doesn’t tell you much about tires… We wrote about that in this blog post. We are not trying to keep it a secret, so the information is in the blog post. It’s just that if we made our tires with higher TPI casings, they would actually be less supple, because we’d cram more threads into a given space. What matters more is how thin the threads are, not how dense the weave is…

  15. SmoothestRollingBike says:

    If anybody think that Cannondale with lefty is ugly you should check the new Open Cycle U.P. model (U.P. – Unbeaten Path). It is a new model, introduced in April.

    U.P.’s geometry is performance-oriented, so closer to a cross/road position than a mountain bike position and also can fit both mountain and cross/road cranks (narrow Q-factor).

    Open Cycle U.P. frame weight only 1150g, so with 650Bx48 mm Compass Switchback Hill tires it could be the lightest allroad bike ever.

    Open Cycle makes beautiful bikes (especially with green carbon frames), although I prefer more relax riding position and bigger tires. So I am waiting for 60×622 extra-supple Extralight casings Compass tires.

  16. tom schibler says:

    Jan–the trend is positive, but I don’t think it necessarily reflects a shift from the equipment to the experience. This is a hot segment because the industry can now sell you another bike. First, they convinced you that you needed to emulate racers. The perfect world for bike manufacturers would be analogous to golf clubs with a specific tool for each variation in the environment, and every “serious” rider would have an aero road bike, climbing bike, TT bike for the occasional tri, a gravel bike (of course you would also need a “plush” road bike for going fast while tackling your pave’), a CC mtn bike, an All Mountain bike for gravity fun, and last not but not least, some kind of “townie bike” for fetching coffee.

    • Tom, you are right that the industry doesn’t see the “gravel bike” replacing the racing bike, but once many riders see that their friends’ “gravel bikes” are as fast as their road bikes, it’ll happen anyhow.

      There is a shift in the marketing for the gravel bikes. Where before, it was about emulating racers, it now is about getting out there and doing it yourself. And that is a positive shift.

      • B. Carfree says:

        I don’t know that very many riders will cease to purchase/keep their “racing” bikes even when they see that people on “gravel” bikes are just as fast. Back in the ’80s, I was riding a touring bike (Trek 720) both on gravel road tours and on group rides with cat 1/2 riders. I even used it for the weekly time trial. Although I was one of the strongest riders, no one else saw fit to change over to something that could handle any terrain. Marketing is a powerful force and I doubt if the big boys are going to do anything to undermine their money machines.

        I still ride that bike as my primary “fun ride” machine, although the frame has had a bit of surgery (bi-lateral hip replacement, aka new seat stays) and all of the components have changed many times.

      • If you are the only one, then it’ll be considered a “very strong rider who would be way faster on a modern bike”. But once half a dozen riders show up on Allroad bikes, the trend is hard to ignore. That is how it happened at the Seattle International Randonneurs…

  17. Matthias Krogmann says:

    The Berto presschart would benefit of being extended to the much bigger tires now…
    Do you think the 15% wheel drop figure mentioned there needs to be adjusted to the bigger sizes and/or the lightweight versions?

    • The Berto pressure chart is only a starting point for experimentation. It generalizes, because Berto averaged his data from many different tires. With wide tires, this becomes more important. Case in point: We ran a 57 mm-wide Schwalbe Super Moto tires at 16 psi, but the 51 mm Compass Rat Trap Pass Extralights need about 28 psi, otherwise, the sidewalls collapse. So a general number for tires that wide is of little use…

  18. David Pearce says:

    I guess you’ll be reviewing this bike in a future issue, or giving it a “First Impressions” and then a more in depth review?

    Now I get it (from Chris Lowe) that a single blade fork is called a “Lefty” (at least when the blade is on the left). What is your experience / opinion about single bladed forks? I would be a little distrustful of them, although admiring. After all, Vespa scooters had and have single bladed front forks and the engine / suspension attached only on one side, so you can take off their wheels as easily as on a car. But these scooters can be bigger & heavier duty.

    Your opinion of single-bladed forks on a bicycle? Or a link to what you’ve already written?

  19. Mark Governa says:

    My “AllRoad” bike is a 1988 Mongoose John Tomac Signature mtb…
    With the 26″x1.75″ Compass tires on Sun Rhino Lite rims. I’ve run it
    with dirtdrop stem and various drop bars, and currently it’s set up with
    a 160mm Ritchey Force stem and V.O. Milan bars, cut down a bit and
    hovering at about 3″ below saddle ht. Head tube angle is 72- seat angle
    73. Original XT shifters/derailluers, 6sp. With the Compass tires it’s an
    absolute rocket… I’ve had this bike since ’88 and it’s been much more
    enjoyable as an all rounder than an actual mtb. Jan, the tires are fantastic,
    Thank you!

  20. Frank says:

    Hi.

    The Lefty fork has 30mm of travel. Does anyone know how a traditional steel fork (curved, skinny tapered) compares?

    Thanks. Frank

    (PS. First ride today on your Barlow Pass tires. Many thanks!)

    • We once measured fork blade deflection, but only did comparative measurements, not the absolute value of how much suspension travel a good steel fork can have. I doubt it will be 30 mm, though, but then you also wonder how much suspension travel is necessary and useful. The fact that the Lefty fork has a lockout indicates that in some (many?) situations, 30 mm is too much and makes the bike bob. Once you lock out the suspension, you lose all the performance benefits, which are significant even on smooth roads.

      • Wendell says:

        Jan, if it follows XC bike usage patterns you will typically want to lockout the suspension only on smooth climbs where you may want to switch between seated and standing. In this situation losing some compliance does not affect performance as much as when you are at higher speeds (e.g., flat or descending).

    • Bill Gobie says:

      There can’t be much travel. There has to be zero risk that the tire could hit the fork crown or caliper brake when the largest possible tires are installed. Also, very compliant forks would allow the wheel to tilt when the bike is side-loaded.

  21. Steve Green says:

    A bit off course; what effect, and how much, does a front lowrider rack have on the fork’s compliance? How much does it vary with the load in the panniers?

    • The rack usually stiffens the fork, but the extra load also works the tires harder, so the overall comfort and compliance are about the same. As to the suspensions losses incurred by panniers, we have not studied this. It probably depends on the load – a bag of beans conceivably could slow you down significantly, whereas a sleeping bag that doesn’t move internally (and thus doesn’t generate friction) probably doesn’t.

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