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Gravel Bike Geometry Analysis Paralysis

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Cyclocross and Gravelbiking (Recreational) This has to be the most physically intense sport ever invented. It's high speed bicycle racing on a short off road course or riding the off pavement rides on gravel like :The Dirty Kanza". We also have a dedicated Racing forum for the Cyclocross Hard Core Racers.

Gravel Bike Geometry Analysis Paralysis

Old 07-21-20, 07:40 AM
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Phatman
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Gravel Bike Geometry Analysis Paralysis

I've been riding for a long time, road, mountain, etc. My first grownup bike was a Lemond I bought it 2002 brand new. After that bike, I mostly bought bikes based on how light they were, what components came on it, and how stiff the BB was. I bought a cross bike in 2015 so I could do some cx racing and ride some gravel, I didn't do much research other than looking at reach and stack to see what would fit. Turns out the bike I got is sort of a transition bike from the old school (high/steep) CX to the newer gravel style (long/low/slack) CX bikes. Its a Kona Jake the Snake, and it has a fairly high BB - 63mm and a a fairly short fork offset - 45mm, but a fairly slack HTA - 71.5 and short stays - 425mm

It handled the flatlands/rolling hills where I used to live pretty well. There's a ~15 mile gravel loop by the airport in Raleigh where I used to live, and there's a twisty decent that's a LOT of fun. The Kona handles fantastically on this loop. I suspect that the long trail of the front end is somewhat responsible, its stable and tips in really nice. However, I moved to the mountains a couple years ago, and I'm finding myself doing a lot of long (30ish minutes or so) gravel climbs at 8-9 mph. The Kona is absolutely terrible at this, it wanders all over the place at low speeds. Again, I suspect that trail from the slackish HTA and low fork offset is to blame, ie, steering flop. Its a blast coming down the other side though, it descends better than most XC hardtails do.

So with that in mind, I've been passively looking for a new gravelly/cyclocrossy bike. I want it to hold a line like my road bike while climbing, but descend the other side like my Kona. I also like light, since I climb a lot. The issue I'm having is that geometry is all over the map for gravel bikes. I like the light weight of the Specialized Crux, but would the 72.5 HTA with a 50mm fork offset (for 59mm of trail!) be too sketchy on fast descents? I see that the Orbea Terra uses a 70.5 HTA with a 50mm offset for an extra 10mm off trail, and the Giant Revolt has a whopping 75mm of trail in some sizes!

Or is the answer something in the middle? A few years ago, I bought a Toyota Tacoma because I thought it would be a perfect "middle" type vehicle, I could haul with it, but I could park it in the city easily, road trip with it, etc. I hated it! It got crappy gas mileage, rode and handled badly, couldn't carry a load of compost without the axle sitting on the frame, etc. Basically, it had all of the downsides of a full size truck with none of the upsides of a car. I traded it after 6 months and lost thousands of dollars. I'm worried that if I go with a fence sitter like a Santa Cruz Stigmata or an Ibis Hakka, I'm going to have the worst of both worlds like the Tacoma.

Thoughts? Am I overthinking this? Bikes are so much more expensive these days and I'm worried about spending thousands of dollars and then hating what I buy.
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Old 07-21-20, 09:46 AM
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Love the geo of my Revolt, for climbing and descending, on and off road. If you get the higher end models, the weight is pretty decent, my friend's Advanced Pro Force Revolt weighs 18lbs. Also, all the frames are the same, so if there's a color you like better, you can get a lower end model and build it up to the weight you want.
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Old 07-21-20, 10:21 AM
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Originally Posted by Phatman View Post
I've been riding for a long time, road, mountain, etc. My first grownup bike was a Lemond I bought it 2002 brand new. After that bike, I mostly bought bikes based on how light they were, what components came on it, and how stiff the BB was. I bought a cross bike in 2015 so I could do some cx racing and ride some gravel, I didn't do much research other than looking at reach and stack to see what would fit. Turns out the bike I got is sort of a transition bike from the old school (high/steep) CX to the newer gravel style (long/low/slack) CX bikes. Its a Kona Jake the Snake, and it has a fairly high BB - 63mm and a a fairly short fork offset - 45mm, but a fairly slack HTA - 71.5 and short stays - 425mm

It handled the flatlands/rolling hills where I used to live pretty well. There's a ~15 mile gravel loop by the airport in Raleigh where I used to live, and there's a twisty decent that's a LOT of fun. The Kona handles fantastically on this loop. I suspect that the long trail of the front end is somewhat responsible, its stable and tips in really nice. However, I moved to the mountains a couple years ago, and I'm finding myself doing a lot of long (30ish minutes or so) gravel climbs at 8-9 mph. The Kona is absolutely terrible at this, it wanders all over the place at low speeds. Again, I suspect that trail from the slackish HTA and low fork offset is to blame, ie, steering flop. Its a blast coming down the other side though, it descends better than most XC hardtails do.

So with that in mind, I've been passively looking for a new gravelly/cyclocrossy bike. I want it to hold a line like my road bike while climbing, but descend the other side like my Kona. I also like light, since I climb a lot. The issue I'm having is that geometry is all over the map for gravel bikes. I like the light weight of the Specialized Crux, but would the 72.5 HTA with a 50mm fork offset (for 59mm of trail!) be too sketchy on fast descents? I see that the Orbea Terra uses a 70.5 HTA with a 50mm offset for an extra 10mm off trail, and the Giant Revolt has a whopping 75mm of trail in some sizes!

Or is the answer something in the middle? A few years ago, I bought a Toyota Tacoma because I thought it would be a perfect "middle" type vehicle, I could haul with it, but I could park it in the city easily, road trip with it, etc. I hated it! It got crappy gas mileage, rode and handled badly, couldn't carry a load of compost without the axle sitting on the frame, etc. Basically, it had all of the downsides of a full size truck with none of the upsides of a car. I traded it after 6 months and lost thousands of dollars. I'm worried that if I go with a fence sitter like a Santa Cruz Stigmata or an Ibis Hakka, I'm going to have the worst of both worlds like the Tacoma.

Thoughts? Am I overthinking this? Bikes are so much more expensive these days and I'm worried about spending thousands of dollars and then hating what I buy.
Try https://bikeinsights.com/home

I used it to compare different brands and sizes.

Last edited by Wilbur76; 07-21-20 at 10:23 AM. Reason: Adding url
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Old 07-21-20, 01:33 PM
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Wow, good question. I like the Tacoma analogy.

You may be overthinking it.

I’ve never heard someone saying the Jake had too much flop. Its no where near as slack as today’s mountain bikes. 71.5 isn’t slack by “modern” mountain bike or gravel bike standards – but slack compared to CX or road bike standards (medium frame)

Generally, the long/low/slack is good for descending (stability), but not necessarily for climbing. I have a bike like the crux, and it climbs like it has a motor on it compared to a mountain bike. Its amazing. I’d say the short wheel base and trail hold it back on fast decents.

Ultimately – go to your LBS and get some demo or rental bikes that have geometry like you are interested in.

Personally, I’m happy with 2 wheel sets.

32mm tires give me snappy handling, then fatter tires (up to 50-54 in the front) give me more trail, more pneumatic trail, and just slower handling if I have knobs (and as I tend to go bigger on the front, that reduces HTA & my trail even more).
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Old 07-21-20, 02:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Wilbur76 View Post
Try https://bikeinsights.com/home

I used it to compare different brands and sizes.
Dude I'm way ahead of you. I've got an excel spreadsheet. #engineer
https://drive.google.com/file/d/11MM...ew?usp=sharing

I've even calculated how the spacers and stem angle effect the stack and reach. Am I sick? Possibly.

Originally Posted by chas58 View Post
Ultimately – go to your LBS and get some demo or rental bikes that have geometry like you are interested in.
Demo-ing is tricky right now with the 'Rona, and I'd like to try it with the correct reach and take it on a couple hour spin with some real climbs and real descents.. I can rent a Revolt though for $80/day at a shop in Brevard though. I don't think they'd mind swapping stems for $80/day, and I wouldn't mind giving it a bit of a thrashing if I'm paying them for it.

I'd like to try a Stigmata and a Crux too, maybe a new Kona Major Jake too, which is just an updated geometry, carbon version of my current bike.

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Old 07-21-20, 03:26 PM
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My gravel bike has 58mm of trail. I dont find it to be twitchy or sketchy. I dont think about the steering input when climbing or descending, its quite neutral to me, i guess.
admittedly, i dont have 30min climbs or the descents that follow. Mine are a bunch of 5 min climbs over and over.
Perhaps if my descents were minutes on end instead of seconds, I might want a different trail measurement.

The bottom bracket height on your kona is classic CX high, but neednt be for gravel. You can get something at 75m or so and sit in the bike more than on the bike. Its a good feeling.
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Old 07-21-20, 03:46 PM
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I think you should check out the YouTube channel Path Less Pedaled. It's about gravel biking and bike packing, and you can find reviews of many, many bikes and geometry explanations.
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Old 07-21-20, 04:46 PM
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I have no feedback on the geometry, but that situation you hit with the Tacoma is what happened to me when I tried to get hot hatches to be useful but fun to drive - they weren't enough of either. Now I drive a GX460 that can take the bikes upright, and I've pretty much given up on sportiness for now.
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Old 07-21-20, 05:20 PM
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Phatman,

Crux is a very close geo match to your Kona. Lower bb drop is good for a little more stability.

You could always consider swapping in an angleset from Works Components UK, to get the trail close to what you're chasing.

I also like a light build. Going over you list, I'd say there's more options out there if you have a decent budget.
If buying a complete you may need to tweak the low end for climbing.

Have you also considered if you may need/want to run a larger tyre than Crux specs?
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Old 07-21-20, 06:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Wilbur76 View Post
Try https://bikeinsights.com/home

I used it to compare different brands and sizes.
That is a cool site.
I compared my Miyata 1000 touring bike to a few gravel bikes. I was surprised how similar their geometry are. If I could put 40-42's on it I wouldn't need a gravel bike.
Thanks for posting, makes online buying easier.
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Old 07-21-20, 07:04 PM
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Originally Posted by balto charlie View Post
That is a cool site.
I compared my Miyata 1000 touring bike to a few gravel bikes. I was surprised how similar their geometry are. If I could put 40-42's on it I wouldn't need a gravel bike.
Thanks for posting, makes online buying easier.
I stand corrected on many gravel bikes, just some are similar and the stack is often different. Plus some gravel frames seem based more on mnt bike frames.
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Old 07-21-20, 08:18 PM
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I dislike bikes with a lot of flop. I suspect a bike with 70.5hta and 50mm of rake is going to be annoying while standing on a climb. My understanding of why MTB's designers have been moving to slacker angles is because when the suspension fork is compressed, the HTA can get pretty steep. That doesn't happen on a gravel bike.
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Old 07-21-20, 11:16 PM
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I built my Tacoma to be a real truck, 8-pack leafs replacing the underbuilt 3-leaf crud Toyota puts on all their rear axles. Skids, winch, sliders, coilover fronts with high articulation UCAs and no sway bar, +1" E-range tires, 24" of flex on a ramp etc. Still gets better mileage than full size trucks due in part to the composite bed that's 1000 lbs lighter than a steel bed. I guess I don't get why anyone would expect a truck to handle like a car, or what it has to do with bikes.

Oh right bikes - I personally don't tend to get a shuttle or ski lift to the top of my MTB trails; I like to pedal. So I have disliked trail/enduro/DH MTBs from the start, who cares if I can huck walls or blast through rock gardens if the majority of my time in the saddle is loathsome on a long-low-slack gravity sled that can't steer. I have more fun using the brakes a little more on a scalpel that can steer around obstacles, instead of a 30+ lb sledgehammer that soaks them up. All the same logic applies to gravel bikes, I prefer something that's basically an endurance road bike with big tire clearance. Currently happy with 420mm chainstays, 72/73 HT/ST, 73mm BB drop, 51mm fork offset - and, critically, a dropper post so I can put my center of mass where I won't go OTB at the first bump.

I don't get why droppers haven't completely dominated gravel yet, as it really opens up the design space to have a crisp handling bike that's safer to descend. I have a MTB friend who told me he'd rather give up his front brake before his dropper, and while that's obviously an exaggeration, he has a point. Just wanted to throw that out there since I hadn't seen it mentioned.

Of course as always this is extremely terrain dependent, and what works for me on my terrain could be a sick joke for you on your terrain.
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Old 07-22-20, 09:00 AM
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Originally Posted by fourfa View Post
I don't get why droppers haven't completely dominated gravel yet, as it really opens up the design space to have a crisp handling bike that's safer to descend.
...
Of course as always this is extremely terrain dependent, and what works for me on my terrain could be a sick joke for you on your terrain.
I wouldnt use one for even 1% of my riding. I have yet to come across a moment where I am on my gravel bike and wished I could lower my COG more than it already is. I ride gravel roads on my gravel bike and gravel roads are simply roads that are unpaved, lower traveled, and typically a bit steeper. Roads nonetheless though. Oh, and Ill use it for some twisty river bottom singletrack too- that for sure doesnt need a dropper post.

Its all about how the bike is used. If you are using it as a pseudo-MTB, then sure it makes sense for a dropper post to be added. If you ride fire roads that have steep long descents with massive craters and boulders, then sure it makes sense for a dropper post to be added. If you are riding gravel roads, then perhaps you wont benefit much from a dropper.
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Old 07-22-20, 09:06 AM
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I dislike bikes with a lot of flop. I suspect a bike with 70.5hta and 50mm of rake is going to be annoying while standing on a climb. My understanding of why MTB's designers have been moving to slacker angles is because when the suspension fork is compressed, the HTA can get pretty steep. That doesn't happen on a gravel bike.
Negative trail sux. Hasn't happened to me much, but it will wake me up! Yes, on a gravel bike.

A big part of the slack MTB head tube angles is to give you long trail like on a motorcycle - its great for downhill at speed where you really need stability. Not so much for climbing.
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Old 07-22-20, 09:19 AM
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Originally Posted by unterhausen View Post
I dislike bikes with a lot of flop. I suspect a bike with 70.5hta and 50mm of rake is going to be annoying while standing on a climb.
Awesome, this is the convo I think I wanted to be having. What all goes into "flop"? Can you have two bikes with identical trail and different amounts of "flop"?
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Old 07-22-20, 09:30 AM
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I don't get why droppers haven't completely dominated gravel yet, as it really opens up the design space to have a crisp handling bike that's safer to descend. I have a MTB friend who told me he'd rather give up his front brake before his dropper, and while that's obviously an exaggeration, he has a point. Just wanted to throw that out there since I hadn't seen it mentioned.
True, but I can still move my body back and down without a dropper for the occasional hard downhill turn on a gravel road. But I agree, there are times when I lower my CoG on gravel - just not enough to justify the weight, cost, complexity of a dropper in my case.

My gravel bike has 58mm of trail. I dont find it to be twitchy or sketchy. I dont think about the steering input when climbing or descending, its quite neutral to me, i guess.

True. People adapt to these minor geometry change in about 10 minutes - so its easy to "argue" the merits but does it really make that much difference?
Besides 58mm of trail isn't twitchy because bikes aren't twitchy, riders are. I can ride any of my bikes with "no hands." But if I stiff arm the bike, i'm riding twitchy. Twitchy is just an odd term that should be applied to riders, not to bikes.

Along with that -
A bike with slack head angel and more trail is going to have slower turn in. This can be good for a novice rider who needs to learn not to stiff arm things.

I find that gravel bikes with slack head head tubes be manhandled into a swift turn, and will overshoot the apex and the track out anyway. Not necessarily what someone with experience wants.
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Old 07-22-20, 10:41 AM
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Youre definitely not overthinking it imo. 50mm rake sounds a bit extreme for a gravel bike. Id got 47mm. With a HT angle around 72.3 or so.

I like shirt chain stays, around 420... but 430-435 is good too.

I also like being more in the frame.. so 75 to 80 BB drop is my preference.

Agree about the dropper post. Especially if your compact frame provides enough exposed seat post.

good luck!
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Old 07-22-20, 10:52 AM
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Originally Posted by Phatman View Post
Dude I'm way ahead of you. I've got an excel spreadsheet. #engineer
https://drive.google.com/file/d/11MM...ew?usp=sharing

I've even calculated how the spacers and stem angle effect the stack and reach. Am I sick? Possibly.



Demo-ing is tricky right now with the 'Rona, and I'd like to try it with the correct reach and take it on a couple hour spin with some real climbs and real descents.. I can rent a Revolt though for $80/day at a shop in Brevard though. I don't think they'd mind swapping stems for $80/day, and I wouldn't mind giving it a bit of a thrashing if I'm paying them for it.

I'd like to try a Stigmata and a Crux too, maybe a new Kona Major Jake too, which is just an updated geometry, carbon version of my current bike.
The best solution to your problem is to throw a leg over, it will be $80 well spent.
In regards to a dropper post, if you need one you may be on the wrong type of bike, you would be better off with a 29er hardtail.

One of the great things about a gravel bike is that it is much lighter than more traditional MTB bikes. A dropper post defeats that purpose.
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Old 07-22-20, 11:23 AM
  #20  
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Originally Posted by RadDog View Post
The best solution to your problem is to throw a leg over, it will be $80 well spent.
In regards to a dropper post, if you need one you may be on the wrong type of bike, you would be better off with a 29er hardtail.

One of the great things about a gravel bike is that it is much lighter than more traditional MTB bikes. A dropper post defeats that purpose.
Well it wouldn't just be $80. I'd probably be looking at $80 a test ride per day, which would probably add up if I don't narrow my shortlist significantly. But I get your point though, the feel of the wheel will seal the deal.

Also, I think dropper posts are silly on gravel bikes too. Probably just as silly as adding 8 pack leafs and E-range tires on a Tacoma! ( fourfa ) Not only is there added weight, the dropper adds a significant amount of harshness to the ride. I've got one on my mountain bike, and I've actually considered removing it because it significantly harshens the ride. There significant singletrack gnar in and around Pisgah though, so I've kept it on. My gravel bike is kept off of the gnar though and the singletrack it sees is usually just to cut through somewhere for a short distance.
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Old 07-22-20, 11:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Phatman View Post
Well it wouldn't just be $80. I'd probably be looking at $80 a test ride per day, which would probably add up if I don't narrow my shortlist significantly. But I get your point though, the feel of the wheel will seal the deal.

Also, I think dropper posts are silly on gravel bikes too. Probably just as silly as adding 8 pack leafs and E-range tires on a Tacoma! ( fourfa ) Not only is there added weight, the dropper adds a significant amount of harshness to the ride. I've got one on my mountain bike, and I've actually considered removing it because it significantly harshens the ride. There significant singletrack gnar in and around Pisgah though, so I've kept it on. My gravel bike is kept off of the gnar though and the singletrack it sees is usually just to cut through somewhere for a short distance.
I take that you are doing an internet fitment. Here is the thing about that: Like you I carefully scrutinize all the numbers but even doing so is not foolproof. I look for people/reviews of the bike I am buying.
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Old 07-22-20, 02:03 PM
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Originally Posted by RadDog View Post
I take that you are doing an internet fitment. Here is the thing about that: Like you I carefully scrutinize all the numbers but even doing so is not foolproof. I look for people/reviews of the bike I am buying.
Enh, reviews aren't foolproof either. If the person paid for their bike, they won't trash it too much because it makes them look like an idiot for spending too much money on something that sucks. If they get it for free, they'll DEFINITELY not tell you if it sucks...because they want to keep the flow of free stuff coming.

Math and test rides, man. Math and test rides.
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Old 07-22-20, 04:14 PM
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Youre definitely not overthinking it imo. 50mm rake sounds a bit extreme for a gravel bike. Id got 47mm. With a HT angle around 72.3 or so.
Huh, that is interesting. Does that come from test riding bikes, comparing geometry, or changing forks? Personally, I can't tell the difference in a couple of MM. Takes about 5mm for me to really feel anything different. But rake by itself means nothing.
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Old 07-22-20, 06:42 PM
  #24  
unterhausen
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I think you can definitely tell 10mm rake. I'm going to go ahead and say 3mm is all confirmation bias. I'm glad to see designers are no longer wedded to 45mm rake since they are going with slacker head tube angles. My gravel bike has 72 degree HTA and 45mm rake and I think that's just silly.
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Old 07-23-20, 12:22 AM
  #25  
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Originally Posted by unterhausen View Post
My understanding of why MTB's designers have been moving to slacker angles is because when the suspension fork is compressed, the HTA can get pretty steep.
A big part of it is that the wide stance on the handlebars gives the rider a ton of leverage on the steering. Geometries that are excessively weighty and floppy in road posture with 42cm drop bars can feel natural in an MTB posture with 80cm flat bars.
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