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Grand Finale:
Gravel On a Dustbowl Budget PT IV

Necessity is the mother of invention. Twelve months on, Ursula’s frame succumbed to some minor structural issues requiring a frame builder. This induced a strip down and Michael Stenning waking the Dawes from its slumber.

bicycle bike strip down

Led Astray

Having not fitted cantilevers, instated a set of Ursula’s 26-inch mtb hoops, sans tyres, I’d fooled myself into doubting myself and dare I say it, Paul’s word. Cantilevers in situ and yes, 700c. Silver linings? I had confirmed the rear dropouts were 135mm, so finding a decent mtb hub wasn’t an issue.

Now, I had the Evaura/SP SL9 hoop up front and some suitable rubber- the 38mm Specialized Crossroads Elite and this 37mm Continental Contact Plus and of course, several compatible tubes. I couldn’t escape the fact I needed a rear wheel and I’d have to break my no-buy rule. I had a couple of options.

Find a suitable rim on sale and employ the rebuilt Deore hub, which might save some face on the principles front, or see if I could find a complete wheel with decent specification. A bit of searching and some intermittent handwringing later, I settled Upon a Ryde/XT pairing, which was hand built and on sale, so only marginally pricier than a rim, spokes and build using the Deore.   

bicycle maintenance chain deraileur drive train

While waiting for this to arrive, I decided to fit a 106-link chain, holding everything together with a sleeping hub, until I could get the magic link locked fully in place. A sleeping hub like this Pro is great for keeping the chain aligned and untangled while giving the bike a deep clean, or just routing a fresh chain through the derailleur jockey wheels. Magic link pliers are a useful, especially for removal, or replacement, but not essential. I tend to lock magic links by pressing down on the pedals while holding the rear wheel.

More revisions but back on the right path

cycle bicyclebike handle bars

I decided the reach was too long using the otherwise excellent Redshift Sports Shockstop Suspension Stem   so switched for this cheap but vey cheerful XLC and the MK1 Soma Condor Shallow Drop  I stuck with the Tektro RL200 levers and Shimano CX50 cantilevers that had sat on Ursula’s bosses and just needed a quick buff-pads and other parts still in great shape.

A lick of Wolf Tooth WT-G Precision Bike Grease on the posts   and on they went.  Two inner brake wires, some nice lengths of quality cable, a single gear inner and outer ... things were looking up ... I decided I’d poach Ursula’s right Microshift Bar end shifter, since the old girl had a fresh set awaiting her and slipped that in the Soma’s end. 

Tight Arsery         

Now, despite having everything ready on paper, I couldn’t find any cable ferrules to go with said cables. I didn’t want to buy another load, knowing that I had a bunch that had gone into hiding somewhere. So, having spent far longer than was economic, I found five compatible ferrules and slipped them on the housings before coupling everything in situ and leaving the inner wires overnight. Satisfied everything was essentially working as it should and allowing for the fact, we hadn’t a wheel, I left the chain snugged but not properly joined courtesy of the sleeping hub.

Making best use of time, I dressed the bars in T-One Mr Fantastic Bar Tape .  Orange might not sound the most obviously complimentary colour to teal but seems to work very well here. 

cassette dirty gunk cycle bicycle

I also gave this gunky 12-25 cassette a deep degreaser clean, so it could simply be slipped on the freehub, and then fitted.

cassette cycling gear cogs

Etiquette varies when it comes to greasing. Some folks have been known to go the copper paste route, but this tends to get grotty - especially in winter when the gritters come out. I prefer a light coating of decent quality synthetic grease, not forgetting a lick on the lock ring’s threads.

Bolted Together 

bicycle gravel bike re build

Bulk of the build done, it was a question of fine-tuning things. Inner wires were pruned and the ends super glued. I needed to straighten the stem and adjust the seat post but obviously, wanted to do the latter once to avoid scratching, Components tend to bed in anyway- brakes and gears being the most obvious, but headsets need snugging tight given a few rides, especially with some trail and green lane action thrown in for good measure.

Ready, Steady Refine

gravel bike build

There were a few musts on the accessory front. Decent lighting, luggage and a computer. I’d wanted to make use of the hub dynamo, so found my 12- year-old 800 lumen Exposure Revo dynamo lamp. I discovered the wiring was essentially toast, so bought a new kit. For a moment, I feared the SP SL9 hub might not provide enough power for the Revo lamp but then I recalled it has powered all the K-Lite systems without missing a beat. A few spins late and a diode came to life, a few more, two- phew. Chances are I’ll be running it in tandem with another high-power rechargeable light for more adventurous exploration, but I do like a dynamo and essentially providing my own light. 


The Sigma Buster HL2000 is the most likely candidate. Behind, I’ve gone for Topeak Redlite Aero USB Rear Light in my experience is simple, but effective and super frugal light. However, I always run a second light, in case of unexpected powering down. Computer wise, I went for a 9 function Giant Continuum. Pink, since it was drastically cheaper and I’m extremely comfortable in my masculinity. Luggage wise, I went for the Carradice SQR Tour- fully waterproof and plenty of scope for tubes, pumps and other odds 'n’ ends. Mine looks characterful (read decidedly weathered) but has served me very well for 23 years and remains very solid. Clearance between tyre and bag is closer than ideal but still very passable and will also double as a mudguard. The mount hardware though generally reliable and durable, can get overlooked- so a quick lick of grease on the fasteners is another must. Especially on a bike used in all weathers, and off road. 

First Impressions & Bonding 

cycle ride handle bars gravleroad

A lot has changed in terms of geometry over the last thirty plus years. However, the first twenty-mile, mixed terrain shakedown ride confirmed the fillet brazed 631 frameset is very relevant, giving a responsive and engaging ride that makes excellent transition to gravel duties. The bigger, 19 inch frame and subtler sloping top tube also makes shouldering over rougher ground, or more technical sections easier. A consideration if you’re looking at repurposing a mountain bike as a gravel/monster crosser.

The Soma bars and boxy XLC stem were perfect both in terms of reach and height, the latter giving ample control through green lanes, while allowing me to remain on the drops- as I can with Ursula. I was a little concerned as to how whippy the quill converter might be. This proved a moot point, although heavier riders may find otherwise.

These also have a reputation for seizing, so periodic inspection and re-greasing with a synthetic blend are sensible precautions. I’d set the USE suspension post at zero travel but eased things out slightly for some gentle bob. At this point, I didn’t want to go the whole strip and re-grease hog (sometimes it’s best to quit while you’re ahead) so lifted the boost and gave the moving components a moderate blast of Muc-Off Silicon Shine .

Everything feels unusual, good, or otherwise, to begin with.  The post’s inline design won’t suit everyone, but I have always preferred to be positioned directly over the bottom bracket shell and though subtle, this also helps on the reach front, too. Changes were slick and dependable- no cable stretch, or tension tweaking necessary.

A 12-25 block is adequate for the time being, although I may go for something wider as time goes on. I needed to centre the front CX50 cantilevers mid ride- just a matter of turning the spring tension screws with the Phillips bit of this Cyclo 20 Function Multi Tool . The Specialized and Continental pairing also seem well suited to the design brief, giving decent grip on muddied section without being sapping reserves, or being unduly noisy on tarmac. 

gravel bike build

I wasn’t surprised to discover the Stronglight headset had loosened very slightly over the course of our first 50 miles. However, the most difficult part of this process was finding my old school headset spanners.  

bicycle spanners campagnolo

The rear wheel, though not dancing the samba was a little out of true, complicating brake setup and a reminder that courier depots are notorious for treating fragile with contempt. Don’t believe me? I’ve witnessed boxed carbon fibre framesets being hurled from one end of a depot to the other. I’ll get everything bedded in and then whip it down to my wheel builder.   

Specification & Costs     

I’ve kept to the script in the sense of no new money being spent. Unwanted kit has been swapped or sold and monies recycled. Yes, I bought a rear wheel, but I’d also sold some unwanted stuff to cover the costs. The black, one-inch Stronglight A9 headset was bought for my Holdsworth when I first got it, fifteen years back. My experience with Ursula and similar drop bar, mtb based builds has also meant I planned very carefully to avoid wastage or spending money unnecessarily.

Conversions, regardless of genre can become money pits. 

No real trial and error, I had a clear idea what would work. Sure, there have been some slight revisions- the boxy stem being the most obvious example. If I cannot get the rear CX50 cantilevers to behave impeccably, I may switch them for an old school Suntour SE (self-energising) unit. Once everything has settled, chances are, I’ll go for a 42cm Continental at the rear and next headset service, may add a lower race boot but other than testing, the specification will remain as is:


Frameset: 19-inch Dawes Edge Reynolds 631 modified to accept 700c wheels. Refinished by Maldon Shot Blasting & Powder Coating .

Wheels: Front White Line Evaura laced to Shutter Precision SL9 dynohub 

                   Rear Ryde Sputnik 32 hole laced 3x to Shimano XT hub

Tyres: Front : Specialised Cross Roads Elite (700x38c)

              Rear: Continental Contact Plus (700x37c)

Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 1x10 crank and bottom bracket

                        Rear dérailleur : Shimano Tiagra Short Cage

Cassette: Shimano Tiagra 12-25

Shifter: Microshift Bar end (10spd)

Chain: 10spd KMC 106 links

Bars: Soma Condor XL

Tape: T-One Mr Fantastic Silicone 

Stem: XLC 31.8mm Quill to Ahead Converter

Seatpost: USE SX suspension

Saddle: Pro Turnix Gel (142mm)

Pedals: Wellgo MO94B SPD

Brakes: Shimano CX50 cantilevers

Levers: Tektro RL200

Cables: Jagwire throughout

Headset:  1-inch  Stronglight A9

Accessories: Topeak bottle cages X2 

Carradice SQR Tour bag 

Lighting: Exposure Revo Dynamo (front)

Topeak Redlite Aero USB rear

Computer 9 function Giant Continuum




Ryton On Dunsmore

Coventry  CV8 3FH


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