Gravel Bikes and Road Bikes can look incredibly similar, and they do in fact have a lot in common. Importantly, there are subtle differences between the two types of bikes - which makes a dramatic difference when it comes to riding style, performance and capability. Depending upon the types of road bikes and gravel bikes compared, these differences can be incredibly subtle - or more pronounced.
Endurance road bikes have a lot in common with gravel bikes - featuring a comfortable geometry which is designed for all day cycling. Race focussed road bikes however, have less in common with more off road bias gravel bikes. In this post, we look at some of the distinctions between these two popular types of bikes, as well as some of the conditions where you can use either, for peak performance.
Gravel Bike VS Road Bike Geometry
The geometry of road bikes and gravel bikes is one of the biggest distinctions between the two types of bikes. Geometry of these bikes is different, because gravel bikes are expected to perform off road, whilst a road bike needs to concentrate on providing stability and speed, as well as agility and handling performance on tarmac.
To aid off road performance, gravel bikes have a longer wheelbase, as well as slacker head tube angles for increased off road stability. Gravel bikes also have a more upright riding position, so have a shorter reach than road bikes - this riding position is not too dissimilar from the riding position of an endurance bike.
One of the most noticeable differences when it comes to gravel bike geometry, is the angle of the top tube on the frame - which is usually sloped, allowing for an easier ride over rough terrain compared to a straight tube typically found on a road bike.
Gravel Bike VS Road Bike Tyres
Although gravel bikes can run tyres which are very similar to road bike tyres, gravel bike tyres usually run bigger than road bike tyres. Gravel bike tyres are usually wider than 35mm and run up in sizes, to almost match mountain bike tyre sizes. Road bike tyres usually run around 28mm, although some road cyclists choose to fit wider and larger tyres to increase comfort levels.
Gravel Bike VS Road Bike Clearance
As discussed above, gravel bikes have greater clearance compared to road bikes - which requires greater clearance in the design of the bike. Another benefit of the additional clearance of a gravel bike compared to a road bike, is the fact that gravel bikes need to be able to cope with riding across muddy trails, which can build up within the bike.
Gravel Bike VS Road Frame Materials
One area where road bikes and gravel bikes are very similar, is the materials used on the frame. Both alloy and carbon fibre are commonplace materials used on both types of bikes - and both types of material have advantages and disadvantages. Alloy frames are common at the lower end of the budget range - but work very well. Carbon fibre is the most sought after frame material, it’s stiff, weighs very little and is comfortable to ride on, thanks to great vibration absorbing qualities.
Gravel Bike VS Road Bike Luggage & Mounting Points
Endurance road bikes and gravel bikes are very similar in the amount of mounting points that they have - bottle cages, mudguard mounting points, racks for luggage and more bottle holders can be found on both. Aggressive, race bias road bikes however, do not have such mounting points - providing bottle mounts only, to maintain an aerodynamic profile for maximum speed.
Gravel Bike VS Road Bike Components
Subtle differences can also be spotted between road bikes and gravel bikes at a component and parts level. Seatposts, stems, saddles as well as handlebars are usually different - with gravel parts being designed to be more comfortable and provide more handling and position options compared to road bike parts. Gravel bikes also have more advanced parts, such as seatstays with suspension systems built within them and dropper posts - which are not required on road bikes.
Gravel Bike VS Road Bike FAQ
Can I Ride my Gravel Bike on the Road?
Absolutely, many cyclists choose to use a gravel bike on the road. If riding predominantly on road, gravel riders can choose semi slick gravel tyres. Road is an important part of riding a gravel bike, with sections of road perfectly linking areas of off road riding. If you plan on riding your gravel bike on the road, you can use a 2x drivetrain to provide the maximum range of gears, for long descents.
Endurance Road Bike VS Gravel Bike
If you just want to challenge yourself on rough roads and compacted gravel, an endurance based road bike should be fine. If you want to do this in greater comfort, as well as have the flexibility to venture further off road, including singletracks - then the extra clearance and design features of a gravel bike will be beneficial.
Gravel Bikes as winter bikes
Gravel bikes are naturally good winter bikes, they can be fitted with mudguards and luggage for carrying cold weather supplies. Their disc brakes always perform, no matter the weather conditions and the comfortable position - makes winter riding easier and more pleasurable.
Buying Spare Wheels for Gravel Bikes
One of the best ways to maximize the effectiveness of owning a gravel bike, is to purchase and use two different gravel bike wheelsets - one set with an aggressive off road tyre on, with the other set having a semi slick/less aggressive tyre.