Tech Corner #2: Suspension on Gravel (The Gravel Ride Podcast)
Randall R. Jacobs, CEO of Thesis and developer of the Thesis OB1 gravel bike, opens this week’s Gravel Ride Podcast discussing his recommendations for suspension on gravel bikes.
This is part of a mini-series we're doing with The Gravel Ride Podcast called Tech Corner, garnered from Randall's 18 years as a mechanic, racer, product developer, and industry insider. Tune in at the beginning of every episode to catch Randall's 60 second tech tips.
RANDALL: Today, we’re going to talk about suspension on gravel bikes.
A gravel bike, for me, is a bicycle that performs at a high level on everything from road with a set of road slicks to borderline cross-country riding with a set of knobby 650Bs. For gravel bike suspension, what we want is comfort and control while still maintaining the performance of the bike in all the conditions it’s going to be ridden.
So, in order, the first thing I’d be looking at is my wheel tire package. What I want is a high volume tire with a supple casing, set up tubeless on a rim that’s wide enough to support that tire at low pressures without the tire squirming around.
The next thing I’d be looking at is seatpost. A traditional seatpost can give you some flex, but it’s pretty limited, so from there you might look at a suspension seatpost. But really, if you’re adding that weight, you might as well add a dropper post. A dropper, again, is going to take your weight off the front wheel - which means off your hands - and put it more over the rear wheel, while at the same time giving you more distance between your butt and your saddle so that you can use your legs as suspension. That is going to make a considerable difference in the amount of shock absorption of your overall system.
Next up: touch points. Cushy bar tape and a slightly cushier saddle than you might run on a pure road bike are going to take a lot of the edge off, they add a trivial amount of weight, and they’re relatively inexpensive to add.
Now, at this point is where I would stop, but some people might want even more cushion. For them, I’d recommend a suspension stem. What I like about a suspension stem is that it doesn’t compromise your steerer tube or the front end of your bike, and it’s entirely non-proprietary, so you can swap it in and out of any bike.
If all of these things aren’t enough, what you might be looking for is a drop bar mountain bike. This means a suspension fork up front or even a rear suspension. However, keep in mind that while that sort of bike is fantastic on the dirt, it’s going to be a bit compromised on the road because it’s going to have some slop and extra weight in the system that are going to take away that snappy feel that you’re used to a road bike with road slicks.
What’s great about a gravel bike is the ability to ride at a high level on any sort of terrain, whether it be road or dirt. So my take is: start with your wheel tire package, add a dropper post, add some cushy touch points, and go have a fantastic ride.
The Gravel Ride Podcast is an amazing resource to hear conversations with the athletes, product designers, and iconoclasts who are most influential in the growing world of gravel cycling today. You can follow The Gravel Ride Podcast on their website, Facebook, and Instagram. Join us again for the next episode!