Once upon a time, three bears went on a bicycle adventure in a far off land, from the village of Red Elk to the town of Medicine Toque. But it was no ordinary cycling trip on smooth, asphalt roads. This adventure took the bears across dusty backroads, over farmers’ fields, and along gravel laneways. They rode on some pavement, too, but only when they had to.
The first bear took his Cannondale T800 touring bike decked out with Clement Xplor MSO (40 mm) tires.
The second bear travelled on a Salsa Fargo with Continental Race King 2.0 29er tires.
The third bear rode a Surly Pugsley fatbike, running an ultralight Larry 3.8 on the front and an Ectomorph on the back.
The first bear flew along the paved parts of the route, shot up the hills, and rolled pretty well on hard-packed gravel and dirt roads. But he got grumpy on soft gravel, and by the end of long gravel sections, his arms and shoulders were so beat from all the vibration that he had to lie down and take a nap as soon as he got off his bike.
The third bear was happy as a clam on all gravel roads; he took in the stellar vistas without worrying about finding the tire tracks on the road. But he got grumpy when he had to ride up hills. Really grumpy. That fatbike was heavy as hell. And on the paved bits, the third bear had to work like a demon to keep up with bear number one.
But the second bear, however, was happy all the time. His svelte Fargo rolled along gingerly, steadily on gravel and asphalt. His tires were juuuust right! The second bear was never grumpy on this trip.
So the moral of this story is clear: When it comes to mixed gravel-pavement road-bicycle touring, the there’s a range of bikes that will get the job done but only a few that hit that sweet spot for both gravel and pavement—let’s call it the Goldilocks zone.