Eric
New here and new to the sport of gravel riding. Little bit about me I'm from Huxley, IA, 38 and I've decided as I'm getting older its time to get off my behind and start exercising more, well some to start!  Riding bike has always been something I've enjoyed just was never interested in becoming a "road" rider and paved trails get boring to me after awhile.  After doing some exhaustive research I stumbled upon gravel road riding on other forums and somehow found my way here, and I'm glad I have.  The self proclaimed experts of other sites don't seem to grasp the knowledge I've just begun reading here over the last 24 hours.

I'm gonna apologize up front as I am new to all of this and have lots of questions that I have so please bear with me.  My current bike is a 2010 Cannondale Quick 6 hybrid, is is definately a lower tier bike, but its what I have currently at my disposal to work with.  My intentions are to change the saddle because the stock sadle is uncomfortable, and replace the tires with either MSO, USH, or LAS from the Clement lineup.  Haven't totally decided which one at the moment.  I will primarily be riding the heart of iowa crushed limestone trail for the near future while I work on getting my endurance up to speed.  Im looking for recommendations for various sadles to look at, not which is best, as i know this is different for each individual person, but for certain ones that work for you guys that I could start narrowing my search a little. Two I currently have in mind are the Specialized Power, and the Nasbar FR1! Totally different price points but the nasbar gets good reviews.  Im wandering if there are any other changes I could make to this bike that would make it better to fill in the gap while I save for the bike I want, which at the moment im not sure what that is.

Link to the specs on my current Bike:
http://www.bikepedia.com/QuickBike/BikeSpecs.aspx?year=2010&brand=Cannondale&model=Quick+6

As far as what the future holds I plan on purchasing a new bike next year. Hoping to stay around the $1500 plus or minus a few hundred.

The following are bikes that are on my current short list: Niner RLT9 Complete, Specialized Diverge DSW Elite, Giant Anyroad, 2017 Salsa Deore Vaya, Trek Domane, Marin Gestalt, and the Raleigh Tamland and Willard.  I was hell bent on purchasing the DSW but as I do further research I've stumbled upon the others.  Any insight you all could provide on bikes I'm missing or those which I should rule off my list would be greatly appreciated.

I'm just beginning to scratch the surface here as this is all new to me so any help or insight would be greatly appreciated.

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RoverAl
I like my WTB Pure V Pro or race  I got it from nashbar on sale. Long rides short rides good control and comfy. Owned it about 2 years. I would probably buy another WTB saddle when I need to. ]http://www.wtb.com/collections/saddles

Added: Check out the Raleigh Willard series a lot of bike for the money you can get 10% off this price too.
 http://www.jensonusa.com/Complete-Bikes/Raleigh-Willard-1-Road-Bike-2016
A very nice mid tier bike for not a lot of money, very comfortable, stable and decently fast.
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bobknh
Here are some modest suggestions from someone who has been around the block a few times -- on many different bikes.
- You can buy lots of very good beginners GG bikes at your budget - for example you can get my current GG bike, the Diamondback Haanjo Comp for around $1k on Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Diamondback-Bicycles-Haanjo-Complete-Alternative/dp/B013WEW0S0/ref=sr_1_1?s=outdoor-recreation&ie=UTF8&qid=1470056416&sr=1-1&keywords=haanjo+comp . I own this bike and have bashing it around on hilly NH roads all summer. Everything you'll ever need.
- Virtually all the top manufacturers are putting out hydroformed alu bikes at this price point. 
- If you happen to have a good local bike shop in your area, I would strongly suggest using them. They may cost a few bucks more initially; but you'll get your money's worth in good advice and service.
- Tire size and clearance is very important. Anything you buy should run at least 35 mm- 40 mm rubber. Some of the bikes on you short list fail. The more clearance the better if you hit muddy conditions.
- As you say saddles are a personal choice, but my 2 favorite saddles are the Brooks Cambium C17 for unpaved roads, and the Selle Italia Flite for pavement. You may have trouble finding the Flite - the saddle came out about 25 years ago. I've been riding one ever since- including many NY State Road and TT Masters TT Championships, and a Silver Medal at Masters Nationals. The Brooks is a bit clunky, very comfy and durable for off pavement riding.
- Don't dither too much. There are just so many good bikes out there now, that you almost can't go wrong -- especially if you can get some help from a local shop,
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dangle
Eric wrote:
I'm from Huxley, IA


Huxley! I have been to Prairie Fest a couple times. What a great little town.

The bike you have now would be great since could hold whatever tires you want. A saddle is something to NEVER pick out online or based on what other people think. The Ames Bike World is probably your closest one, but the two to the South/Southwest are also great. Skunk River in Ames is an excellent shop too. Check any of them out and they will be great resources for finding a saddle that fits you, not the one getting the most/best reviews online.

There's tons of great tires out there right now. Let them know exactly where you want to ride and they will know your best option. It's pretty hard to go wrong with a Clement MSO though.

The seat and tires can always go to a new bike in the future once you know exactly where you like to ride and if the gravel scene is right for you. Don't get too worried about a new bike until then.
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Eric
Thank you thus far for the input, I believe the best route at the moment while I conduct research is indeed put a new saddle and rubber on my current bike and ride it.  Just not sure if there are any other moddest modifications that can be done to increase the quality of ride.  Im going to stop by the 2 shops in Ames tomorrow and take a look at the saddles they have to offer, I know for sure that Skunk River carries WTB saddles as I have been in there numerous times over the past few weeks kickin tires.  I am going to start researching tire clearance on various bikes and use that to start narrowing the search some, but like I said a new bike purchase isnt in the cards until next year, so I need to take the one I have make it the best I can at the moment and ride the snot out of it!

Would something like this be an upgrade or wasted money? Not sure if it would be 7 speed compatible.
http://www.nashbar.com/bikes/Product_10053_10052_566766_-1___204727
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RoverAl
That would be both. I ordered a set of cx wheels from nashbar awhile ago and when they arrived I pulled one out of the box and it was completely different than what was described. They took them back no questions asked and said it was marketing depts fault. 

Personally I wouldn't upgrade that bike if I was going to get another in a year. Sure new wheels feel great but unless your old ones are worn out or won't stay true, why bother. A good saddle and tires are essentials. Your money though do what you want with it.

When I had a nice hybrid type bike I could not get comfortable for long distances anything around 20~ miles. I tried bar ends, jones bars ergo grips. I learned a valuable lesson about upgrades too. They all made a difference but when I bought a nice drop bar gravel bike it transformed my riding ability.


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bobknh
Eric wrote:
Thank you thus far for the input, I believe the best route at the moment while I conduct research is indeed put a new saddle and rubber on my current bike and ride it.  Just not sure if there are any other moddest modifications that can be done to increase the quality of ride.  Im going to stop by the 2 shops in Ames tomorrow and take a look at the saddles they have to offer, I know for sure that Skunk River carries WTB saddles as I have been in there numerous times over the past few weeks kickin tires.  I am going to start researching tire clearance on various bikes and use that to start narrowing the search some, but like I said a new bike purchase isnt in the cards until next year, so I need to take the one I have make it the best I can at the moment and ride the snot out of it!

Would something like this be an upgrade or wasted money? Not sure if it would be 7 speed compatible.
http://www.nashbar.com/bikes/Product_10053_10052_566766_-1___204727
My $.02 -- I purchased some low end bikes from Nashbar to be beater bikes or single speeds. Despite my low expectations, I was very disappointed and returned all of them. My advice is to avoid these Nashbar "bargains". You could get lucky with Nashbar, but I think the advice to play with your old bike for awhile is a good suggestion. BTW, you can sometimes get good buys at Nashbar on name brand components --- but be careful when bottom feeding. 
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