Is this the original gravel bike? The Specialized Rock Combo Fresh from the 1980s

Get up close with the world’s oldest and newest gravel bikes at Rouleur Live

There are plenty of firsts stashed away in Specialized's archives. Alongside the first mass-production mountain bike, 1981’s Stumpjumper, the Californian firm has also excavated what looks to be the world’s first gravel bike. Called the Rock Combo it was released in 1989 and described as an ‘on/off-road bicycle’.

With drop handlebars, 26-inch wheels, comparatively wide gearing, and a geometry that was more road than mountain, it nailed many of the trends now popular. Sadly, it failed to catch the zeitgeist at the time and spent just a single year in Specialized’s catalogue. Limiting the Rock Combo’s production run to just 500 bikes, this makes it both an incredibly rare and forward-thinking design.

Described at the time as ‘the ideal bike for all tastes’, its makers claimed it was ‘fast on the road and at home on the dirt’. With ‘steeper angles and agile handling’ plus clearance for tyres up to 2.2-inches, its marketing spiel sounds remarkably like almost every gravel bike blurb we’ve read in the last five years.

Something of a vindication for its designers just over three decades later, the Rouleur Live show will present an opportunity to get up close with this historic bike should you have missed it the first time around.

New gravel thinking 

With gravel now a huge focus for Specialized, the brand will be bringing the retro Rock Combo along with its latest Crux and Diverge models to Rouleur Live. Taking inspiration from the firm’s earlier design, among these will be Ian Boswell’s customised Diverge. The winner of Kansas’ Unbound Gravel race in 2021, it replicates the ivory and turquoise paint job found on the original Rock Combo. A recent guest on the Rouleur Tech Podcast, where she discussed the bike ahead of the event, you’ll be able to see the machine in the flesh on Specialized’s stand.

Also making an early appearance in the UK will be the firm’s redesigned Crux. Having recently pivoted from cyclocross towards gravel, this versatile off-road racer claims to be the world’s lightest gravel bike. Taking design inspiration from the firm’s consumer-focused Aethos superbike, it still retains the ability to go and play in the mud if you wish. At the same time, a switch of tyres will also see it achieve a more than respectable impression of a road bike too. Featuring easy-to-get-along-with standards, including semi-external cabling and a threaded bottom bracket, both ensure you spend more time riding and less on maintenance.

Offering a chance to speak to the people behind each of these designs, Rouleur Live takes place in London between the 4-6th November. More information and tickets can be found here.

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