Let's tackle a thorny issue that is close to the heart of many: which gravel bike is suitable for the Tuscany Trail?
It is necessary to start by saying that the Tuscany Trail was conceived as an unsupported MTB event. As a result, since the beginning, the track has included trails, singletrack and terrain technically suitable for MTBs. Over the years, we have seen all types of mountain bikes (with all types of riders) start and often reach the finishing line of the event; from the classic XC bikes with bags, to the enduro bikes with 170mm forks and aggressive 2.5″ tires, to the vintage ’90s MTBs with v-brake, bright colours and purple anodized components everywhere. In short, MTBs were the rage and there are still plenty of them today.
Then, they introduced gravel bikes with all their sub-categories. Yes, because, as for the MTBs, there are various categories (xc, down-country, trail, all-mountain, enduro, freeride, dh and so on) that differ in suspension stroke, assembly and, above all, structure of the frame. Even in the gravel segment, there are various “categories” that are not yet clearly differentiated as in the MTB field. So, we find gravel bikes classified as gravel race, gravel adventure, mountain gravel, monstercross and a thousand other classifications and types that are often commercial labels.
In short, the market has offered a wide range of bikes that, in some cases, allows you to tackle trails with technical terrain and, at the same time, to travel faster and more “comfortable” (quotation marks are a must since comfort is very subjective) than on a MTB, to meet every need and intended use.
The arrival of gravel bikes at the Tuscany Trail
As soon as these new bikes popped up, we saw them at the start of the TT and, as for MTBs, we saw all kinds possibile of them. For those of you who have ridden the entire trail, it’s easy to understand why: these bikes seem to have been designed to ride on the White Roads in Tuscany.
However, these perfect and well-maintained gravel roads are only part of the Tuscany Trail route. The rest often consists of bumpy dirt roads and singletrack. So, year after year, thanks to the growth of the industry and technical improvements specific to the gravel field, we’ve seen them grow in number. While it’s true that the TT route has been slightly eased and conformed to the bikes of the participants, it’s also true that the terrain to be tackled by certain types of gravel bikes has expanded, allowing them to ride on singletrack and dirt roads that, just a few years ago, were reserved for MTBs. However, not all gravel bikes are able to get you to the end of the TT route with a smile on your face and no troubles.
Main types of gravel bikes
We said that the industry has immediately diversified into several types of gravel bikes, even for commercial needs; however, we can try to define some main categories, basically based on the use they are designed for and their layout and, subsequently, on the assembly and the various arrangements.
Gravel race bikes are the most aggressive gravel bikes, designed to travel fast on terrain that is not too technical. They are usually made of carbon (but also titanium, quality steel and, sometimes, aluminum), have a strong structure with rather vertical seat tubes, steering angles that are not too open and a short wheelbase, in order to be responsive and fast in changes of direction and comebacks. They mount 700c tires (like road or cyclocross bikes) with wide sections, usually up to 38mm. Let’s just say they sacrifice a bit of comfort, load capacity and versatility to gain in lightness and speed. They are the perfect bikes for dirt roads and all those situations in which you face the dirt road as well as many stretches of asphalt, for fast and short-medium rides or for those looking for performance on even long but not technically complex races.
The picture shows the Bombtrack Hook EXT C | www.bombtrack.com
These bikes represent the widest category, as they include many types. Their main features are essentially three: short and agile gear ratios to go everywhere, high load capacity and structure that is on average more relaxed and comfortable than gravel race bikes. They are often made of steel, which resists well to various stresses, including load, giving an excellent comfort once in the saddle and on rough terrain. Often, they have many points of attachment to the frame to be able to mount baggage holders or even bags with configuration as the Node 2H of Miss Grape. These bikes also allow for long rides thanks to comfortable structure and load capacity, even on technically difficult terrain.
The picture shows the Bombtrack Hook EXT | www.bombtrack.com
These are the non-gravel gravel bikes. They are the most similar to MTBs, as they come directly from them, going to revive the rigid MTBs of the ’90s and changing them appropriately in terms of structure and current needs. So, they have MTB gears that allow you to go really anywhere, open and relaxed structures, long wheelbase to ensure stability and open steering angle to deal well with obstacles even on technical descents. Some of them have also shock absorbing forks to make them even more versatile on technical dirt roads. However, they have open-bent dropbar handlebars to increase control. They are usually made of steel to ensure excellent load capacity, strength and comfort. They can mount wheels ranging from 27.5″ up to 29″+. They are very versatile but not fast nor light. Ideal for travel and adventures where we do not know what awaits us or we know that we are going to face MTB-typical technical terrain without sacrificing the comfort of the dropbar.
The picture shows the Bombtrack Beyond | www.bombtrack.com
Then, what is the best gravel bike for the Tuscany Trail?
As we have seen, there is not the ultimate gravel bike, ideal for everything: each type has advantages and disadvantages. However, considering the route of the Tuscany Trail and the presence of some parts of the trail, even technical ones (where, of course, you can walk the bike), we recommend you to exclude the purest gravel race bikes.
It is true that there are many miles of beautiful and perfect white roads but it is also true that there are many miles of dirt roads where having a few extra millimeters on the section of the tires can make the difference between arriving at night full of pain or with a smile on your face ready for a nice plate of pici or tortelli!
In any case, everyone has their own preferences and if traveling very fast and with minimal baggage is your passion, with the proper precautions and the willpower to walk the bike for a few sections, you will be able to tackle the route even riding a gravel race bike.