This whole gravel thing, apparently there's something to it. What was once a niche-of-niche market segment has rapidly become the place for new product development. How do we know this? Well, when industry giant's such as Shimano start holding press events and launching ambassador programs centered 100% around gravel, it's a safe bet the drop bar dirt road riding trend is more than just a passing fad.
That evidential event occurred in mid-May, when a handful of cycling press plus a gaggle of selected influencers converged on Spring Valley, Minnesota, to both ride the Almanzo 100 gravel road race - and get the full download on a host of new gravel'centric Shimano product from the people who developed it.
The lead item was the Shimano Ultegra RX rear derailleur, which actually launched back in early April at the Spring Classics. You can read its consumer pitch here and stay tuned to RoadBikeReview for a more in-depth review next week. But suffice to say after getting a chance to race (more like ride, actually) a very bumpy 100-mile Almanzo route on the new clutch-equipped chain-quieting derailleur, we came away exceptionally impressed. More soon.
But a revised derailleur alone does not make a full-blown gravel revolution. Indeed, Shimano also has a gravel specific shoe (the XC5 that's out now), and a short travel dropper post, wide flaring handle bars, and a set of bike packing bags, which are all slated to debut at the Eurobike tradeshow in July.
The XC5 shoe actually launched last year, but to keep interest high, Shimano has rolled out a semi-limited edition camo version that they showed off for the first time in Minnesota. Like its solid color cousins (see photo gallery below), the camo XC5 features a lightweight and semi-rigid carbon fiber reinforced midsole (rated 7 out of 12 on the stiffness index, high-end road shoes are 12).
They also have a mini power strap shoe lacing system and Michelin-made high-traction/mud-shedding tread. The upper is made from a supple synthetic leather with perforated venting for improved fit, and there's a rubber anti-slip arch outsole pattern and reinforced spike mounts. Claimed weight is 301g (size 42).
The shoes come with flashy yellow laces, but also include a black set if you want to tone things down. Available sizes are 38-50 in whole sizes only. Approximately 1000 pairs will be sold worldwide, and price is $150, the same as the grey-orange and black versions. The camo shoes are being sold exclusively at independent bike dealers and not on the internet.
You can find more info on the Shimano XC5 camo shoes at bike.shimano.com.
Also in the pipeline are a host of PRO gravel components. The seatpost will have 70mm of travel, is externally routed, and uses a universal remote lever. The flared alloy handlebars come in two options, 12-degree flare with ergonomic tops and 30-degree flare with rounded tops. Finally the bikepacking bag set will include a top tube bag, frame bag, handlebar bag, and seatpost bag.
And again all these products are set to launch in July. Check back then for more details and pricing. In the meantime, check out the photo gallery below for more pictures, which are all courtesy Shimano and/or Eric Wynn.