I currently own a cheap-ish road bike (2019 Giant Contend SL: welded aluminium frame, wheels with narrow rims, maximum tire size 28mm, fairly few spokes, carbon forks, rim brakes, 2x11 Shimano 105 gears, fairly wide ratio rear cassette)
I've recently moved to a location that has really poor roads - even the major roads have large cracks, bumps, and potholes. Plus on the few stretches of road where the surface is not full of craters, people just feel encouraged to drive like total lunatics, so it's safest to stick to smaller roads or tracks anyway.
Buying a half-way decent hardtail mountain bike or a gravel bike would cost 800-1000 euros, plus choice is very limited here unless I import something, which would add to the cost and hassle.
Hence I'm hoping to use my existing road bike, with modifications if necessary to make it safer/more suitable.
I can obviously put stronger wheels on but there's not a huge amount of clearance to put fatter tires on. Officially the clearance is 28 mm, but perhaps there's room to squeeze slightly larger in? I appreciate fatter tires will improve comfort and grip, but how important are fat tires for protecting the frame and forks from damage due to uneven road surface?
The climate is dry, so I don't need disk brakes or a 1x transmission, do I? My understanding is the main benefit of these is they work better in the wet and mud, so in dry conditions my rim brakes and 2x 11 transmission won't be an issue?
The Contend SL has fairly relaxed geometry, and I wouldn't be hurling it down mountainsides. I think wider handlebars and some adjustment of stem length and saddle position would be fine for comfort and safe handling on rough roads?
Am I kidding myself that this bike could be made suitable for use on rough roads and gravel tracks? Could I risk breaking the frame or the forks? Do gravel bikes in the 800 - 1000 euro price range actually have stronger frames than road bikes of similar price and build quality? Or are they, at this level, just different parts on the same base frames?