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Help Deciding on a Rebuild or Buy for Gravel

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.

Help Deciding on a Rebuild or Buy for Gravel

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Old 09-06-18, 09:32 PM
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shermanbz
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Help Deciding on a Rebuild or Buy for Gravel

Hey all, I'm just getting (back) into cycling... I've been in and out (very) casually over the years, but this summer purchased a Trek Domane ALR3 specifically for road and to get back into triathlon. I've loved riding it and discovered that riding a drop bar bike is MUCH easier on my hands and wrists than is the flat bars on my old GT Tequesta MTB (hardtail/rigid fork).
However, I'm in Iowa, and gravel is BEGGING to be ridden.

My goal is to have a drop bar bike which I can enjoy using on gravel, some commuting (though the Trek is working for that), and maybe light touring. I think I'd want the option for fenders and racks at least.

I've got a source for some used brifters, drop bar, stem(s), which should be able to get my GT converted to drop bar, and at least try it out... but I'm concerned about the geometry not working for me. I like how the Trek roadie fits me, and I'm concerned that putting drops on the GT will force me to bend significantly more than on the Trek. I already feel like I bend a lot on the GT, and drops might make it worse since riding on the hoods would extend my reach, and certainly riding on drops would... well... drop me lower. :-)

If the fit did work, I'd eventually be looking to swap the cranks and chainrings, as I'm sure they aren't what I want in the long run, but I'm ok with it for the interim. (42/34/22T and 11-28 7-speed cassette)

Beyond the fit, the GT is 26"... what am I missing by not running 700c? I'm not sure if I'd be able to fit them if I wanted.

Is it worth doing the project to learn and maybe I'll get lucky and enjoy it? Or is this a doomed experiment, and I'd be better off looking for something used that is closer to what I want?

Thanks in advance for feedback!
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Old 09-07-18, 05:06 AM
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With how important fit is to enjoying your ride, I would suggest putting the funds towards a gravel specific bike. The Trek can be your road bike, so the gravel bike can have the mounts for fenders and racks and such, but I would focus on fit and built for purpose (Iowa gravel).
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Old 09-07-18, 05:33 AM
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Here's an old but active thread here about drop bar mtbs
Show Your Vintage MTB Drop Bar Conversions

I'd grab a tape measure and compare your treks reach measurement to your mtb, then see if you can match them without getting too ridiculous. I'd stay with 26" if doing gravel, just to save money and have bigger tires. Spend a little money just to get the feel for it, then invest more into a better bike? Or upgrades. If you end up staying with the GT I'd spend a little money and put a 9 speed setup on the back while keeping the front as is.

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Old 09-07-18, 05:42 AM
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Oh snap are you in Des Moines? Have you ever been to the bike collective there? If not you should before starting your project!

https://www.dsmbikecollective.org
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Old 09-07-18, 06:06 AM
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I had a couple Trek 930 Singletrack MTB's I tried converting to drop bar road-worthy rides that could handle gravel, but I just could not get comfortable on them due to the geometry. Like you, my bikes required a lot of drop, due to the low bar position and short head tube, plus the long top tube designed for flat bars also compromised my position. Also, the front end geometry was suspension-adjusted, making out of the saddle sprinting feel extremely awkward and inefficient.

Maybe with enough adjustment, different stems, etc., I might have gotten something to to work but I got rid of my MTB's and tried doing the same thing with a couple 1990's hybrids, a Trek Multitrack, and Bianchi Boardwalk. Similar problems with those, low stretched-out handlebar position that I found impossible to correct, and terrible geometry and awkward feel when sprinting out of the saddle, which is an indispensable part of riding a road bike for me, and if I can't do that, it's not a road bike as far as I'm concerned.

So after several years, I have found the solution. Old road bikes from the 70's and early 80's, especially Euro brands like Raleigh and Peugeot, have tons of tire clearance (my '76 Raleigh with take 38 mm off-road tires) since they were designed to accommodate fenders and wider tires on bad roads / bad weather in a rainy climate.

For me, these are the solution I have been looking for, Just put some wide tires on and go. I have the classic road bike feel and handling that I'm used to and love, steel ride goodness, and the ability to run wide tires on a stylish vintage bike. I have 3 bikes set up for on-road / off-road use. Below are two of them, a 1985 Peugeot PGN10 in Reynolds 501, and a 1976 Raleigh Carlton Competition in Reynolds 531, both purchased for under $200 locally.
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Old 09-07-18, 06:21 AM
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I have done a drop bar conversion myself, and it can be tricky to get the bars where you want them for sure. Without comparing geometry, it’s hard to say if it will work but the two biggest potential problems with fit are being “too long” and “too low”.

if you have an older MTB, “too long” tends to not be as bad of a problem, but on newer MTB it seems like the trend is very long top tubes, which might make you overstretched with drops, even with the shortest stem you can find. For “too low”, that can be remedied with many different high angled stems. Google “gooseneck stem” if you want to see something that is used almost exclusively for drop bar conversions, there are also steering tube extenders. If you have a quill stem, there are longer quill stems you can find, or you can get a quill to threadless converter...the quill can be set to the right height for you, and then you’d buy the threadless stem that has the right length.

other issues include:

gearing compatibiles (if you put on road brifters you’ll be mixing road shifters with MTB derailers...I think 7 speed is pretty universal, but you might look into it)

Brake compatibility (road levers are short pull, MTB brakes are long pull...you might have to put on short pull brakes or buy an adapter pulley)
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Old 09-07-18, 06:52 AM
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Originally Posted by Colnago Mixte View Post
my '76 Raleigh with take 38 mm off-road tires). 1976 Raleigh Carlton Competition in Reynolds 531
Dang I'm liking that Raleigh, that's pretty much exactly what I'm looking for. Those are 38mm tires??
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Old 09-07-18, 07:55 AM
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Not in that pic, those are 28's, which are all I need in my area.

Below is the Comp with 38's. They clear, technically. But 35's are more practical because you don't have the brake calipers rubbing dirt off the tire constantly due to the tight clearance.
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Old 09-07-18, 08:35 AM
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You can see all the clearance in the original ad. Seems a shame to set up a bike with that much clearance on 20's, but that's how they rolled in 1976:

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Old 09-07-18, 09:04 AM
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Originally Posted by shermanbz View Post
....but I'm concerned about the geometry not working for me. I like how the Trek roadie fits me, and I'm concerned that putting drops on the GT will force me to bend significantly more than on the Trek. I already feel like I bend a lot on the GT, and drops might make it worse since riding on the hoods would extend my reach, and certainly riding on drops would... well... drop me lower. :-)....
If you cant make it work without being even more bent-over..... then dont do it.

My opinion. Fit leads. Other considerations follow. This gets even more important as you get older. You may need a crazy stem to make the mtb fit. Thats ok. Old rigid mtbs make fine gravel bikes imo.
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Old 09-07-18, 09:49 AM
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Wow! So much great feedback and quickly, too! Thank you!

First I'll reply to the stuff that's leaning towards not modifying the GT mtb.

Originally Posted by Noonievut View Post
With how important fit is to enjoying your ride, I would suggest putting the funds towards a gravel specific bike. The Trek can be your road bike, so the gravel bike can have the mounts for fenders and racks and such, but I would focus on fit and built for purpose (Iowa gravel).
This is exactly the thought I've had... but I'm also a bit impatient, want to start riding the gravel... but without spending a lot since I just dropped a decent chunk of change to get started on the road side.

Also, it feels like my GT mtb will never get ridden if I get a "dedicated" gravel bike, so there is a part of me that wants to make it work for nostalgia.

Originally Posted by Colnago Mixte View Post
... I just could not get comfortable on them due to the geometry. Like you, my bikes required a lot of drop, due to the low bar position and short head tube, plus the long top tube designed for flat bars also compromised my position. Also, the front end geometry was suspension-adjusted, making out of the saddle sprinting feel extremely awkward and inefficient.
...
So after several years, I have found the solution. Old road bikes from the 70's and early 80's, especially Euro brands like Raleigh and Peugeot, have tons of tire clearance (my '76 Raleigh with take 38 mm off-road tires) since they were designed to accommodate fenders and wider tires on bad roads / bad weather in a rainy climate.

For me, these are the solution I have been looking for, Just put some wide tires on and go. I have the classic road bike feel and handling that I'm used to and love, steel ride goodness, and the ability to run wide tires on a stylish vintage bike. I have 3 bikes set up for on-road / off-road use. Below are two of them, a 1985 Peugeot PGN10 in Reynolds 501, and a 1976 Raleigh Carlton Competition in Reynolds 531, both purchased for under $200 locally.
Hmm... good info... I've been trying to keep my eyes open for used/vintage that might accept wider tires, so it's nice to see some specific examples. Thanks!

I haven't actually TRIED the modification yet, so I'm not sure it would be bad, I'm just concerned. :-)

Originally Posted by GrainBrain View Post
Oh snap are you in Des Moines? Have you ever been to the bike collective there? If not you should before starting your project!
Hey GrainBrain! I liked your post about Whiterock! :-) Yeah, I tried to go to the Bike Collective Sunday before Labor Day... of course, they were closed then. :-) I will have to try again.
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Old 09-07-18, 10:33 AM
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As others have said- fit is most important. If you are going to be stretched further than your road bike- its probably not a good idea.
There are riser stems(dirt drop stem) that help offset the stretch of long top tube MTBs. They are function over form for sure. Not beautiful, but get the job done. You aren’t giving much up with 26” tires, assuming the gearing is adjusted for the wheel size(it is, since its on an MTB already).

My first gravel bike was a Univega 700C Hybrid from the early 90s that I converted to a drop bar. It was too small, but I made it work to fit and had a blast learning if I like riding gravel.
Sometimes conversions can be a good idea and save you $. Sometimes they end up costing too much and the end result is cool, but not ideal.

I found a Trek 750 hybrid at the bike collective and my brother in law built it into one of his gravel bikes. He slapped drop bars, new stem, wider tires, and some bar end shifters on the bike and has ridden it a bunch over the last few years.
His other gravel bike is a converted Bianchi hybrid from the early 90s. Same deal as the Trek, but with STI shifting.

90s hybrids can be great templates for 1st time gravel bikes(I like em since I just meantioned 3 of them!). The frames are solid and stable platforms.

No idea what you want to spend in total, but there are some solid new entry gravel bikes in the $600-800 range.
That $ would also build up a sweet older steel hybrid conversion.
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Old 09-12-18, 05:40 PM
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I have done two drop bar conversions now and they have come out well in the end. However, it was a lot of trial and error getting the comfort correct. I also learned that I am picky with handlebars, so I had to go with a 31.8 clamp to use my desired bars. Both bikes have Salsa Cowbell bars and Microshift STI shifters.

This Trek 520 (1990) was originally a drop bar, but I bought it cheap since it was converted to a flat bar. I believe it can fit up to 42mm tires, but I run 35mm as it is my main commuter. I have heard the Trek Multitrack 750 and 790 hybrid from these years were the same frame, but with lower end components.


This Trek 950 (1992) is my mountain bike conversion. This one took some more time to figure out, mainly with the stem length and height. I have a 2cm shorter stem on it now than the one in the photo. It also has 2.15" tires on it, but can probably go up to 2.4".


I am comfortable on both of these bikes and can ride them for a good amount of time, but it did take awhile to get them to feel right. With a new bike, you can usually tell if the bike is going to work by test riding, which was the case with my Vaya. It also helped that I could compare the geometry numbers with my Vaya before building the above bikes. I probably wouldn't of done the mountain bike if I didn't have experience converting the 520 first.
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Old 09-12-18, 05:45 PM
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I could never get used to MTB geometry on either of my Trek 930 Singletracks. Sprinting out of the saddle just did not feel right, and no amount of stem height or length could fix it. Both of mine were "suspension-corrected" models, which only seemed to make the bikes feel even less roadworthy.

I switched to old road bikes with good clearance for fenders, used that clearance to run larger tires, and I'm completely satisfied now.
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Old 09-13-18, 01:15 PM
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Originally Posted by katsup View Post
This Trek 520 (1990) was originally a drop bar, but I bought it cheap since it was converted to a flat bar. I believe it can fit up to 42mm tires, but I run 35mm as it is my main commuter. I have heard the Trek Multitrack 750 and 790 hybrid from these years were the same frame, but with lower end components
Yup- the 750 is a 520 frame. My brother in law has a 750 as his drop bar gravel bike. I found it at our local collective and it was built into an awesome cheap gravel bike. Its a '92(i think) thats blue and is lugged with True Temper tubing. Tons of brazeons- its capable of handling full touring too.
He has 41mm Knard tires on it and the clearance is tight, but perfectly fine during dry gravel riding which is all he does.
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Old 09-13-18, 03:26 PM
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MTB Conversion

Originally Posted by shermanbz View Post
Hey all, I'm just getting (back) into cycling... I've been in and out (very) casually over the years, but this summer purchased a Trek Domane ALR3 specifically for road and to get back into triathlon. I've loved riding it and discovered that riding a drop bar bike is MUCH easier on my hands and wrists than is the flat bars on my old GT Tequesta MTB (hardtail/rigid fork).
However, I'm in Iowa, and gravel is BEGGING to be ridden.

My goal is to have a drop bar bike which I can enjoy using on gravel, some commuting (though the Trek is working for that), and maybe light touring. I think I'd want the option for fenders and racks at least.

I've got a source for some used brifters, drop bar, stem(s), which should be able to get my GT converted to drop bar, and at least try it out... but I'm concerned about the geometry not working for me. I like how the Trek roadie fits me, and I'm concerned that putting drops on the GT will force me to bend significantly more than on the Trek. I already feel like I bend a lot on the GT, and drops might make it worse since riding on the hoods would extend my reach, and certainly riding on drops would... well... drop me lower. :-)

If the fit did work, I'd eventually be looking to swap the cranks and chainrings, as I'm sure they aren't what I want in the long run, but I'm ok with it for the interim. (42/34/22T and 11-28 7-speed cassette)

Beyond the fit, the GT is 26"... what am I missing by not running 700c? I'm not sure if I'd be able to fit them if I wanted.

Is it worth doing the project to learn and maybe I'll get lucky and enjoy it? Or is this a doomed experiment, and I'd be better off looking for something used that is closer to what I want?

Thanks in advance for feedback!
Just a suggestion, as I have a flat bar bike that I use now just as a winter bike. If what you are primarily looking for is additional hand positions, your GT might lend itself to an upgrade where you don't have to worry about the long top tube quite so much, without the expense of a drop bar conversion. Velo-Orange crazy barns might do the trick. You'd get the more stretched position of bull horns, but with the more traditional swept back bars too. Surly makes another variation on this theme too. You'd at least get to dabble in gravel without much money out the door.
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Old 09-13-18, 04:25 PM
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Originally Posted by shermanbz View Post
but I'm concerned about the geometry not working for me. I like how the Trek roadie fits me, and I'm concerned that putting drops on the GT will force me to bend significantly more than on the Trek. I already feel like I bend a lot on the GT
Important questions are why you're bending a lot, and how much shorter/taller of a stem you could use.

How does your saddle setup compare between the two bikes, in terms of saddle height and fore-aft position relative to the bottom bracket? What's your stem setup like on the MTB?

As @Craptacular8 brought up, something like a VO Crazy Bar might be a reasonable alternative if you're not sure that drop bars would work out. Plenty of folks gravel ride on straight bars just fine, and the bullhorns would give the bike a bit of extra road attitude.

Beyond the fit, the GT is 26"... what am I missing by not running 700c?
Some intermediate gravel tire styles, mostly.

26er MTB tire variety has thinned out, but there are still some decent tires available. Interestingly, the selection for slicks is actually pretty good at the moment, if that'll work for your riding.
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Old 10-12-18, 08:22 AM
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Thanks for the Feedback!

Apologies for not replying sooner. I had a huge post ready a few weeks ago, but it apparently did not post, and then I got busy.

At this point, I'll just say thanks to all the great feedback! After posting specific answers to everybody a few weeks ago, I don't feel like doing so again. :-)

TL;DR : I upgrade the bike and I really like it!

I decided to move ahead with the conversion since it was a relatively low cost (and fun) experiment. I drove to Minneapolis for a weekend to hang out with a buddy who had the crucial parts and MUCH more experience than I, which made the project more fun and successful than if I'd tackled it solo.

We added:
  1. cheap Nashbar (i think) high rise stem (35 deg, i think, had been laying around friend's garage)
  2. WTB dirt drops (had been laying around friend's garage)
  3. Shimano RX100 brifters (had been laying around friend's garage)
  4. new cables

Having an extra person to help was huge. My buddy had several stems to try out, so we spent a lot of time trying to get a decent fit. Though the stem we ended with isn't my favorite, it does provide the best fit, and one that feels more comfortable than the flat bars were previously. I'd like to get a black stem of same dimensions as this one is silver and doesn't match the bike well.

I haven't ridden a ton, as after this build I finished up another triathlon, but since then I've ridden on a few short 6-7 mile loops. I really enjoy it! It feels a bit heavy, compared to my Trek Domane, but it is comfortable and happily cruises along on the gravel roads (and beyond, I'm sure).
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Old 10-12-18, 08:32 AM
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Hahah! I'm trying to post pics, but I haven't met the minimum required to do so. :-)
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Old 10-12-18, 08:49 AM
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Further Modifications

Swapping handlebars was a test... would this bike be a reasonable platform for playing around in gravel and/or some commuting?... Well, on the gravel side, YES!
I have yet to do a commute on it, though.

As we were doing the build, I realized the brakes needed replacing... well, at least the pads, but they were difficult to adjust, so I found a set of Avid Shorty 4's and slapped those on last weekend. Huge improvement! In no small part this is due to having new-ish, rather than 20-year-old-ish pads.

Another problem is the drivetrain has some issues. It's got a 7-speed 11-28 and whenever I'm in the 21T or 24T cogs (say, climbing a hill), the chain does NOT want to stay on the proper cog. This is not new since changing shifters out, I had the problem before, but I would avoid those cogs if possible by dropping into the 22T chainring. With this brifter setup, I lose my 22T chainring (2x8 brifters)... so the problem is more apparent.

Sheldon Brown indicates I can buy a 9spd cassette, remove one cog, and replace my 7spd without having to redish the wheel. So that's the next planned project.

Certainly this a project bike, and probably it's not the "best" bike, but I am finding the whole process fun and VERY educational. And I actually enjoy riding the bike, so that's a win in my book!
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Old 10-12-18, 08:54 AM
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Pics!



GT Tequesta (1996) (please ignore the broken saddle)


GT Tequesta (1996) Now with drops, brifter, and new saddle!

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Old 10-12-18, 09:46 AM
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Originally Posted by shermanbz View Post
GT Tequesta (1996) Now with drops, brifter, and new saddle!
Nice conversion! Too bad the weather has been terrible for over 2 weeks now as it would be great to get out on gravel and test. At least we havent floated away yet due to all the rain!
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Old 10-12-18, 10:45 AM
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Good stuff in this thread!
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Old 10-12-18, 03:01 PM
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Metieval
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Originally Posted by shermanbz View Post

Beyond the fit, the GT is 26"... what am I missing by not running 700c?
First I am glad I reserved posting. Your conversion is VERY nice! Ride the heck out of it!!!!

To answer this, Nothing!

maybe on some serious distance at speed you'd be loosing out. that's just math though. As for riding enjoyment, you are missing nothing with 26"
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Old 10-12-18, 04:20 PM
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CliffordK
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I think the old HYBRIDS make excellent "cyclocross" base bikes. 700c, often V-Brake, or Cantis, etc.



Quite a few upgrades went into this bike. So, basically a frame donor. But, it turned out nice.

I like the Tektro levers (rl340 (short) or rl520 (long)). They are easy to deal with. In my case, I chose bar end shifters. Still experimenting a bit. These were vintage friction shifters, but I may go with the Microshift Mega bar-end shifters.

I'm not a big gravel rider, but rather wanted more of a general purpose bike.

I haven't been happy riding on either large stone gravel, or on loose gravel, and might consider going to fatter tires.

I do have a 29er in the plans.
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