As I may have mentioned before, I own a motorcycle. And, while I do not ride it as often as I would like to, I like the ability to explore on it. The motorcycle is a V-Strom 650, and while it is not the fastest, the most capable, or even best looking motorcycle out there, it is incredibly versatile. It's this versatility that drew me to that particular motorcycle in the first place, it can go nearly anywhere.
My current most-often-ridden bicycle is the Fargo I built up last summer. Like my V-Strom, it is the Fargo's versatility that drew me in. I can roll on skinny 700c road tires, or I can throw on some 29x2.3's and ride on nearly any trail, albeit slower than on my full suspension mountain bike.
Where am I going with this?
This year, while following the coverage of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show from the comfort of the internet, I was struck by the pictures upon pictures of... well... practical road bikes.
I'm sure that Grant Peterson of Rivendell Bikes is saying a lot of I-told-you-so's. You see, Grant has been selling well built bikes for a number of years that are comfortable to ride, while not being the most flashy, or lightest weight. His bikes fit wider tires, have higher handlebars, and are made of steel to smooth out the ride.
Many of the bikes at NAHBS were road bikes by design, but featured clearance for wider tires, some had more upright riding positions, and most, were made of steel. Though Grant would frown upon the included disc brakes.
So, why do I care? And, more importantly, should YOU care?
I think so. This type of bike is easier to ride long distances without the pot-holed roads beating you up or puncturing your tires. If/when the road turns to gravel, you won't feel the need to turn back. In fact, you might go looking for gravel roads.
For example, in the map below, highway 47 (red) is a busy 2-lane highway. But Evers is a rarely used gravel road (blue). Both lead to similar areas, but I prefer to ride Evers.
Because there is so much tire clearance on the Fargo, I am usually riding on the Continental Travel Contacts. They roll reasonably well on the pavement, are quiet and wear like iron. Also, they allow me to take the occasional trail that might present itself...
Really, it's all about options.
Now, to be totally fair, these bikes aren't as fast as their race-bred counterparts. At one time, this might have bothered me. Sadly--happily?--this is no longer the case. While I have never been fast, at one point I could hold my own with the local group rides. No longer is that really the case. So when I ride, I tend to explore--much like I do when I'm on the motorcycle. I am more interested in the pleasure of being on the bike, than getting from point A to point B as fast as possible. This has led to both more adventuresome rides and more diverse terrain.
Back to the point: bikes like those sold by Rivendell, many of the ones shown at NAHBS, and my Fargo allow the ride to ride any road, anywhere, anytime. Even if that "road" might degenerate to single track.