Gravel Bike Vs. Road Bike: The Buyer's Guide in 2023
We all love to ride bikes, but what bike should we get? The answer is simple; it depends on your requirements and lifestyle choices. Riding a gravel bike has never been more attractive than at present, even though many people still think of them negatively. In recent years, they have become trendy because of their ease of use, great comfort while riding, low maintenance costs, and high safety levels. Gravel bikes are not far different from road bikes except for a few points, such as the suspension system with the frame. Gravel bikes also do not include disc brakes or water-proof tires. This article includes in-depth information, including the gravel bike geometry against the road bike. So take time out to read carefully.
What are a gravel bike and a road bike?
'Gravel bike' refers to bikes explicitly made for off-road travel and dirt roads. Both experienced cyclists and beginners can enjoy this type of biking - it is a hybrid version of cross country (XC) racing bicycles and mountain bikes and can be used indoors or outdoors. Gravel bikes come in various designs such as standard frames, folding bikes, or single speed vs. geared.
They are available in various frame sizes, such as 26-inch wheels or 700c up to 29-inch wheels, and in numerous styles, from complete to mini bikes. They are usually designed for long-distance rides through forests and hilly areas, so gears are no need. These bikes work well on unpaved surfaces like sand, mud, dirt, grass, rocks, and loose gravel.
Road bikes are commonly known as bikes for commuting and leisure outdoor activities. They are best suited when you require something fast and efficient.
Road bikes are usually equipped with drop handlebars or flat bars, disc brakes, and sometimes even hydraulic brakes. Usually, these bikes have rigid construction, including aluminum tubing. The most common size for road bikes is 27 inches. They vary in price depending upon the quality.
Now that we know what a gravel bike and a road bike are, let us look into some differences and similarities. Here are some essential things to consider before choosing a bike, either for recreational purposes or severe competition.
Sources: photo from online
A typical gravel bike has a hardtail design, whereas a road bicycle will probably have a more comfortable frame. You may find that some models of gravel bikes are built similar to road bikes. They often have a step-through frame design with drop handlebars and disc brakes. The materials used for the frames are aluminum and steel - some other road bikes are made using titanium, such as Reynolds 531.
Most road bikes have rear suspensions to absorb bumps in the road. On the other hand, gravel bikes don't usually have any suspension mechanism. When going over rough terrain, the rider needs to hold tight onto the handles without being thrown around. Also, a gravel bike is not meant for heavy loads and does not require any shock-absorbing features.
All gravel bikes tend to use large 28 inch or 700c sized tires. Some older models usually have 6 spoke rims instead of 8 spokes rims. They will typically have wider rubber tread and knobby tires and are considered better for dirt roads than smooth surfaces. Road bicycles will mostly use smaller 20 mm or 24 mm rims - most road bikes have narrower tire treads ranging from 1 2/32 to 1 3/8 inches. There are many types of road tires - mainly tubular, clincher, cross-country racing, dual compound, or even triathlon style tires.
As mentioned earlier, road bicycles do have hydraulic brakes while gravel bikes do not. Although not always necessary, it's good to have hydraulic brakes that better control during emergency stops. If you have worries about getting stuck in a hole, mud, grass, then you should get yourself some robust braking systems because there are plenty of chances of hitting those unkind spots on your journey. It also helps if your brake pads are replaced frequently to prevent them from wearing out too quickly. Disc brakes are often seen on gravel bikes, but road bicycles rarely use them.
Most gravel bikes use big wheels like 26", 29", or 700c. Sometimes you will find larger tires measuring up to 32". Road bikes rarely come with bigger diameter tires. Road cyclists prefer smaller diameter tires ranging between 35mm to 45mm. The advantage of this size is that it can go through potholes and rocks much easier and provide more traction.
The most common road bike rim material is alloy. Gravel bikers use steel rims. Gravel bike rims typically range between 30 to 50 millimeters wide and can be found in various designs, including flat bars, dropper post, stem. Many people use flat bar gravel bikes, and they are very versatile. Depending on the riding one might want to choose, whether offroad or commuting, different kinds of rims will suit them best. For example, a carbon fiber rim would make sense if one wants to ride long distances and is concerned about weight. Otherwise, choosing a steel rim offers the same advantages as most others in terms of durability.
Road bicycles' handlebars are designed to fit the rider's hands well when pedaling. On the other hand, Gravel bikes need bars that work together with their size and shape. Handlebars are an essential part of a bicycle's design, so it makes sense that they are what people pay attention to first. Flat bars are usually recommended for all types of rides where you aren't worried about having many vibrations. Drop bars are generally for comfort-based activities such as touring. Some manufacturers offer slightly different shapes of handlebars for specific purposes.
While both road and gravel bikes use pedals to move forward in motion, many people use gears in place of chainrings when it comes to gravel bikes. Road pedals have a longer sprocket on one side, while gravel bike pedals have two shorter ones. It is because one needs to climb hills whereas the other doesn't. When selecting a pedal system, you need to think about how often you'll be using them. If you only ride once every couple of weeks, you wouldn't need any special features as far as pedals are concerned. Conversely, if you plan to use your road bike several times per week, you probably won't want to spend money on an expensive pedal set that isn't needed.
One of the differences between road and gravel bikes lies in saddle height. On-road bikes, saddles generally reach from just below your collarbones to the top of your hip bones. All-mountain style saddles sit higher than usual and tend to be lower to help promote stability. A higher seat provides extra clearance for rough terrain and allows for smoother riding for gravel bikes. Lower seats may cause a problem when carrying anything heavy.
Most road bikes have posts that rise vertically from the center of the rear wheel out past the dropout. These allow riders to adjust the saddle position without altering the overall geometry of the frame. Saddle posts can also support racks, fenders, and lights. There isn't a standard or rule book for gravel bikes when it comes to seatpost height. However, there are some guidelines. The industry has settled on 135 mm being the standard and maximum. Other companies produce their line of suspension models at this height.
In addition to saddling height, stems play an equally prominent role in gravel bike design. As stem length increases, the distance between the bottom bracket shell and the headset. This gives the fork more room to maneuver through rugged terrain and helps prevent damage if you happen to hit a rock. Most road forks also come with adjustable lengths to get closer to the BB, depending on the length of the stem. As far as choosing a fork goes, you'll want to consider whether you will be doing offroad or road riding. Off-road forks are typically lighter and more durable but less flexible. Road forks are more robust and provide better handling on pavement. A good manufacturer can make almost any fork suitable for either purpose.
On-road bikes, derailleur pulleys attach directly to the crankset and pull up and down a chain. In contrast, most gravel bikes lack a direct connection between the rear cassette and shifters. Instead, a clutch mechanism holds the back wheel steady until the rider moves into gear by clicking the lever. Once clicked, the mechanism releases, allowing the back wheel to spin freely.
Gearing is essential because the faster you pedal, the harder you work. Faster gears mean more effortless pedaling, which means improved performance on uneven terrain. To select your gearing, you need to consider where you intend to ride and what type of terrain you will encounter. If you're planning to go all the way to 100 miles per hour on dirt roads, you'll likely need a very high gear ratio when compared to someone who rides mostly singletrack trails. Additionally, the number of teeth determines the speed achieved with each click. More minor tooth counts give larger ratios, making it easy to climb hills quickly.
Larger tooth counts increase speeds over flat surfaces but place a lot of stress on the back tire's tread. On long climbs, you may find yourself needing two or three shifts, each one going slower. Gravel bikes rarely come equipped with derailleurs due to the limited shifting options. Many are sold preadjusted with different ratios and usually only offer a single rear sprocket. The most significant front cog for most road bikes is 18T, while smaller cogs are measured in multiples 11 or 12 (14/11, 16/12, etc.). Instead, gravel bikes often use multiple 10-, 11- and 12-speed cassettes. Cassette manufacturers claim that these configurations create more powerful combinations for creating various cadences. However, most people stick to fewer ratios like 13x37, 14x32, 15x30, and 17x28.
Sources: photo from online
Do I really need a gravel bike if I have an endurance road bike?
If you have an endurance road bike, then yes, you most likely don't need a dedicated gravel bike. However, there's nothing wrong with owning multiple bikes--especially if you know, you'll be switching back and forth between a road and gravel bike. You can save some money by having a single bike you can switch out quickly instead of purchasing a completely new bicycle just because you want to try something else. If you decide to buy a second bike, try to choose something different, so you're not just buying another carbon fiber creation.
Can I use my gravel bike on the road?
Yes. It is outstanding to ride your gravel bike on the road. Most people find it challenging to keep up while walking alongside cars and trucks, but it shouldn't be too difficult if you stick to the shoulder lanes. Some gravel bikes feature wider tires which offer better traction on asphalt. Don't forget about using handrails when cycling on city streets. They are often present and will help keep you steady until you've got enough momentum to propel yourself into traffic.
Can I use a gravel bike as a winter road bike?
You bet! Gravel bikes work great in all weather conditions. Although gravel bikes aren't built for cold weather due to thinner tires and lack of knobby tread patterns, they can handle snow reasonably well. To go along with snow, you may want to invest in a set of studded tires. Not only will the studs add shock absorption and grip, but they'll also protect your drivetrain from rocks and debris. Keep tabs on your chain tension and lubricate as needed. Also, make sure you wear proper gloves and clothing to stay warm and dry.
Gravel and road bikes share many similarities in terms of riding style. Both require technical skill, physical strength, and stamina - they both provide ample opportunities for enjoyment and challenge. A gravel bike is just a different experience than a road bike. There are no rules or restrictions when riding a gravel bike. If you enjoy exploring off-road areas, you won't regret investing in this type of bike. If you prefer riding for fitness, you'll probably be satisfied with a road bike. Either way, you'll get the best of both worlds when taking advantage of the vast array of gravel and road bikes available these days.