Onguza launches Gravel Model 1 at the Bespoke Handmade Bicycle Show
Onguza released its first bike, a steel-framed gravel bike called Gravel Model 1.
Introducing the Gravel Model 1 at the Bespoked Cycle Show in London, brand founder and former professional cyclist Dan Craven said the bike was meant to represent the small town of Omaruru, Namibia, Africa, where Onguza is based. .
Craven says the bike also has features that should make it appealing to an international market.
Onguza was first released in 2021, but only now has the brand officially released its first bike, with 15 framesets and five complete builds available.
Craven says when the bikes are gone they will be gone and you will have to wait for Onguza to release a new batch of bikes in the future.
Why build a gravel bike?
Craven spent his professional career on the road, finishing the Vuelta España and crowned the Namibian national road champion four times.
He also planned to ride an Onguza road bike at the Tokyo Olympics last year, before having to retire after contracting Covid-19.
As a result, the fact that Onguza’s first publicly available bike was a gravel bike might seem unusual. Surely the road racer would launch a brand with a road bike?
However, the reason Onguza launched a gravel bike in the first place can be attributed to an attitude that Craven will share with many people who have embraced this style of bike.
“The reason gravel bikes are so popular is that you can do anything with them,” he explains.
“Even when I was living in Girona training for the Olympics, the only bike I had was a gravel bike.”
For Namibia and beyond
In an effort to make the Gravel Model 1 as versatile as possible, Craven designed the bike to come equipped with 700x42mm gravel bike tires.
Craven says that back when he was riding in the UK, Girona and elsewhere, it was the most popular gravel tire size he had seen.
He attributes this to the all-terrain capability of the tire, but also to the fact that it doesn’t limit you too much on the road.
A gravel rider in London, for example, will spend a lot of time driving roads out of town to find gravel tracks.
That said, Craven still wants the Gravel Model 1 to reflect where he lives in Namibia.
“I still want the essence of cycling to be so you can bike across Africa,” says Craven.
To that end, you can install 650b wheels in the Gravel Model 1 frame for extra tire clearance, which would help you tackle the terrain around Omaruru.
“If you want to cycle around London, you can do that. But if you want to go to places that are far away and magical, you can put other wheels on it and experience that magic,” says Craven.
In Namibia, the theory is that the bigger the tire you use, the more comfortable the bike will be, thanks to its stiff frame.
But ultimately, Craven doesn’t see this as ideal for a global audience: he says a narrower gravel tire will be more suited to those needs.
The Gravel Model 1 might not be “right” with road wheels and tires, but it will still be a great ride, according to Craven.
The beauty of small places and the practicality of standard frames
Drawing on the expertise of Bicycles Academy, Matthew Sowter of Saffron bikes and frame builder Robin Mather, Craven believes Onguza will make some great bikes, especially with the skills of those he works with.
“Namibia is a land of creators,” adds Craven. “The skills of the Namibians mean they can do things without tools – it’s amazing.”
But Craven says he wants to build bikes that “do something else.”
“In a nutshell, I believe in the beauty of small towns. When you cycle through London, it’s a mix of people and things. But if you go out into the Scottish mountains, you’re not just going to walk past another person.
“If you come to Namibia and you cycle on our gravel roads and you see another cyclist, you stop. You get off your bike to talk.
That’s why the bike can fit either 650b or 700c wheels, but also why it’s available in stock size rather than custom versions like most of the other bikes on display at Bespoked.
“My faith in stock geometry is very different from the folks at Bespoked,” says Craven. He says he raced for many years on production bikes, descending mountains at over 100 km/h.
“My philosophy is that there is a time and a place for custom geometry, but I think the average person can be very happy with stock geometry,” Craven adds.
The other reason to build bikes with stock rather than custom geometry is location.
Namibia is far from many of the markets Craven wants to sell to, so building custom bikes is logistically difficult.
Craven believes that creating standard mounts will allow Onguza to sell in these markets and help achieve one of his other goals: changing people’s perception of his origin.
“People are not used to the beautiful things that come from Africa. How about doing something that goes overseas? All of a sudden it’s spreading the love and showing that small towns can get out there and be seen.