Alright, little creative visualization.
You're riding over a mountain pass. Just as the road begins to pivot downhill, you happen upon an inviting trailhead that disappears off into the forest. At that moment, after a day of asphalt, you yearn to bomb some dirt. Under normal circumstances, you would look down at the bike between your legs in despair: your skinny-tired $10,000 road bike would never make it past the first root jutting up out of the trail.
This is where the adventure bike comes in.
These are are rigs that will not only let you cover several different terrains in the space of one ride — hence the “adventure” moniker. This new, rather amorphous category of bike has been really hyped in the past few years (as the market for "adventure" has grown) for good reason. In some ways, the bike itself is being rethought, if not reinvented.
As with the pioneering of mountain biking in the mid ‘70s — when adventurous riders customized Schwinn Cruisers (and eventually built their own purpose-driven machines) to meet the demands of riding over muddy, rocky terrain — we are now seeing the invention of not only a new way of riding bicycles, but also the birth of a technology that allows us to traverse various terrains with ease. In our estimation, this category includes gravel bikes, fat bikes, off-road tourers ... anything that lets you mix it up, and take as little or as much with you as you need.
Unsurprisingly, finding the right tool for the job(s) can be a bewildering task; many of the bikes that meet these needs look wildly different from one another. So first ask yourself: What, exactly, do I want my bike to do?
Here are a couple ideas to get you started.
The Trailmaster: Trek 920
The 920 pays homage to the tourers from Trek's golden era while delivering a modern, all-road aluminum-framed ride with mountain-bike DNA. Equipped with hydraulic disc brakes, bar end shifters and 29er MTB wheels, the 920 also has enough screw mounts to please Inspector Gadget. This is the bike to get if you're trying to sell your car and go full Portland, but also want something that could ferry you along all 4,600 miles of EuroVelo Route 7. As a proud owner of one, the author can also personally vouch for the 920's badassness. ($1,989.99 MSRP)
The Gravel Jock: Cannondale Slate
From back when it was announced in late 2014, the Slate has both polarized and excited the cognoscenti. Regardless of what you think, it is a strangely compelling beast. With 650b wheels and Cannondale's Lefty MTB fork, this is not so much a road bike than an all-road-and-off bike. The Slate embodies what lots of roadies want from an adventurer: a bike that can open their training rides to all kinds of terrain. ($2,980.00 MSRP as shown)
The Tundra Buster: Surly Wednesday
Part of Surly's OmniTerra line of fat bikes, the Wednesday is the ultimate adventure bike, capable of tackling snow, sand dunes and, of course, mud. So much mud. But not just that. The Wednesday is also set up to become the ultimate all-weather, all-season trainer, tourer, commuter … basically, this is the unkillable bike you would want in a Walking Dead-type scenario (or maybe just the midweek rush hour). ($1,500.00 MSRP)
The Do-It-All: Niner RLT 9 Steel
Niner is a mountain bike company, so they know a thing or two about off-roading. On the face of things, the RLT (which stands for Road Less Traveled) is their gravel bike … but really, it's so much more. It's that bike that truly does it all: you can race it, train on it, rip trails on it, commute and even do some light weekend touring. Their steel-framed offering — made with lusty, heat-treated Reynolds 853 tubes — totally seals the deal (not to mention the wide array of stock build kits available). ($3,000.00 MSRP as shown)