Which is superior for gravel racing, a gravel bike or a mountain bike?
A gravel bike, obviously.
But is the answer really that obvious?
The fate of riders in the inaugural Migration Gravel Race in Kenya may have breathed life into a debate that most informed cyclists thought was dead and buried.
Laurens Ten Dam, Suleiman Kangangi and Thomas Decker filled the top three positions in the men’s field after stage 1, and Betsy Welch, Nancy Akinyi and Mieke Luten were the first three women. All six riders are competing on gravel bikes.
Fourth in the men’s field heading into stage 2 was Kenyan Kenneth Karaya, riding a hardtail mountain bike. Karaya was unable to get his hands on a gravel bike and, like many of the East African riders, is tackling the brutal 4-stage race on a hardtail MTB. Jordan Schleck of Uganda, finished 5th, and Edwin Keiya 8th. All are riding mountain bikes.
Most of the international riders, who hail from counties such as The USA, the Netherlands, Spain, Ireland and Great Britain, are riding high quality gravel bikes with competition-level components. Bikes that have proven their worth in tough gravel races and bike packing tours in other parts of the world.
But this is Africa.
The gravel roads are rougher and more punishing than many international riders anticipated.
Ian Boswell learned that the hard way on stage 1, and he was not the only rider. Boswell punctured more than once and spent a considerable amount of time attempting to repair his ride and get back in touch with the leaders. He wasn’t able to, and started the second stage 1hr and 17 minutes behind Ten Dam.
Numerous other international riders lost sight of the course when their GPS devices slipped off their handlebars on the unexpectedly bumpy and treacherous dirt roads of Kenya. Devices for securing bike computers which work in Europe or North America don’t necessarily work in Africa. Some riders strayed so far off track they enjoyed their own private wildlife safari along the animals tracks of the Maasai Mara.
That said, Schleck did not escape mechanical issues. A bolt fell out of the gear shifting mechanism on his hardtail, and he crossed the finish line at the end of day 1 with the shifting mechanism zip-tied to his handle bars. An African rider, on African roads, with an African solution.
Maybe no bike is tough enough for Africa. Is any rider tough enough for Africa?