Gravel Bike vs Road Bike: What’s the Difference


road bike vs gravel bike

A bicycle can take you for the ride of your life. But not all bikes are created equally, and this is for good reason. With endless terrain types and personal objectives, it’s no wonder that there are so many types of bikes around nowadays. Today’s focus is on gravel bikes and road bikes.

So what exactly is the difference between a gravel bike and a road bike? Gravel bikes and road bikes are very similar. A road bike is best-fit for traveling on paved paths, while the other is built for comfort and can handle all sorts of terrain.  But there are some minor distinctions such as the frame design, brakes, tires, and bike-optimization options.

When should you choose a gravel bike as opposed to a road bike? You should choose this option if you’re dealing with rugged terrain and rough riding conditions. Is there any way to transform a road bike into a gravel bike? Absolutely.

Stay tuned as we cycle down the path of details to learn a little more.

Difference Between Gravel Bikes And Road Bikes

Here are some fast facts: gravel bikes can handle more wear-and-tear than your common road bikes. And they can reach speeds way higher than that of a mountain bike. Gravel bikes can be thought of as the fusion between cyclocross bikes and road bikes.

Bike Frame

A gravel bike has a large clearance for tires. The frames and forks allow for many different sizes of tires to be mounted to the gravel bike. This can be a huge advantage if you’re the type of person who travels through various terrains. A frame that holds bigger tires will add to your stability and safety during your ride.

Gravel bikes also have taller head tubes with head angles that are designed for more efficient steering in tough situations. There’s also a difference in the size of the wheelbases. Typical road bikes will have shorter wheelbases than gravel bikes. The longer wheelbase on the gravel bike will help you to control your stability while riding. The gravel bike’s longer wheelbase also helps you stay comfortable for long-distance adventures.

Brakes

This is one of the most important safety features of a bicycle. The two main types of brakes for bicycles include disc brakes and rim brakes. Disc brakes are far more advantageous than rim brakes. This is because they have superior stopping power in tough biking situations (rainy weather, mud, rough terrains, slopes). Disc brakes also give you the opportunity of mounting larger tires on your bike. Disc brakes take some of the weight off of the rims on your wheels. Disc brakes are just all-around the safest and most efficient in current times.

Gravel bikes are capable of taking you through all types of terrain and weather. This is why all of them come equipped with disc brakes. That’s right, 100% of gravel bikes produced today are equipped with your best safety interests in mind. It should be noted that road bikes can have disc brakes as well. But you’ll find that a lot of road bikes come equipped with your typical rim brakes. This can be fine, since road bikes won’t typically be ridden through rough conditions like gravel bikes.

It should be noted that earlier models of gravel bikes had cantilever brakes, which are a form of rim brakes. However, it’s rare to see rim brakes on a gravel bike in today’s world. That’s because disc brakes are just safer and more efficient than rim brakes when it comes to traveling offroad in potentially hazardous weather conditions.

Tires

It was mentioned earlier that the frame design for a gravel bike allows for larger tires. The forks and frames of gravel bikes have a huge clearance in comparison to road bikes. You can mount a tire up to 55mm onto a gravel bike. How about the case of the road bike? You probably won’t be able to mount any tire that’s wider than 32mm. But if you’re riding on the road only, then you won’t really need to prioritize larger tires anyway.

Why do gravel bikes accommodate for bigger tires? It’s because you’ll be able to get a better grip with the terrain when you go off-road adventuring. Bigger tires also allow for extra comfort on long-distance trips that involve rough paths. You never know what you’ll be going up against when you take that leap off of the pavement. And you’ll want to be as prepared as possible.

Bike Optimization

As noted above, gravel bikes have a wide range of tire sizes that can be mounted. This comes in handy when you’re dealing with a broad range of terrains. This is one way that gravel bikes can be better optimized than road bikes.

Another customization option typically included in gravel bikes: extra eyelets. Eyelets are the places (tiny holes) where you can add accessories such as mudguards and racks. Road bikes don’t typically come with so many customizable options. Gravel bikes can be built around whatever season/weather/terrain you wish.

Should You Choose A Gravel Bike Or A Road Bike?

By now, you’ve probably realized that you can accomplish a lot more with a gravel bike as opposed to a road bike. The customization options for gravel bikes make them great options for well-rounded and experienced bikers who like to take the action off the asphalt. But this doesn’t mean that you should just wipe “road bike” completely out of your vocabulary. Road bikes can be handy for certain situations. Especially if you’re a beginning biker.

Let’s say that you’re a pavement/asphalt -only rider. If this is the case, then there’s no reason to jump into the extra features that are included with a gravel bike. You’re not going to need huge tires if you’re riding on the road. Although disc brakes can come in handy, they’re not really necessary if you don’t ride in harsh conditions or on harsh terrain. And how about those shorter wheelbases on road bikes? This isn’t really an issue when you’re riding on flat pavement throughout your entire journey.

So, when should you choose a gravel bike? Well… you should choose one if you plan on doing any type of off-road adventuring. And if you plan on riding in extreme weather conditions, such as heavy rain. All of the added features of a gravel bike will help you stay safe and comfortable during your off-road treks. It should be noted that gravel bikes are absolutely fine to ride on the road as well. Gravel bikes really can be used year-round in all sorts of conditions.

Transforming A Road Bike Into A Gravel Bike

Do you already own a road bike? Did you know that you can actually turn your current bike into a gravel bike? It’s possible that you can go off-roading with your road bike without applying any changes at all. But it’s ideal to think of your safety and travel conditions. And that’s why I’m going to give you 6 tips on converting your road bike into a gravel bike. It should be noted that some of these conversions will require a bit of “handyman” skills. Ready for the transformation?

  1. If your road bike is equipped with rim brakes, consider making the switch to disc brakes. This is specifically for safety reasons. If you plan on riding off-road under extreme conditions, then you’ll want the best stopping power possible. Disc brakes will also help to prevent you from sliding. A gravel bike always has disc brakes.
  2. Equip the largest tires possible on your road bike. First, you’ll need to figure out exactly how large your current frame will allow the new tires to be. You’ll not only have more comfort. But you’ll have more safety as well. Tires with larger volumes will help give you the traction and stability you need when journeying through the unknown.
  3. Try getting tubeless tires. You’ll be protected against pinch-flats and low-pressure. The last thing you want is to blow a tire in the woods without proper backup. And if you’re in the middle of a downpour? This would be a difficult situation. You’ll probably save more money and effort in the long run if you invest in tubeless tires.
  4. Invest in strong, high-quality wheels for your bike. You never know what you’ll be running into on your adventure. Stumps, logs, you name it… you need a good set of wheels. You’ll want a pair of wheels that have deep rims and lots of spokes. You should be able to find decent deals without killing your wallet.
  5. Do you have more than 1 bike? If so, choose to convert the one which is the longest. Gravel bikes are known for their longer, more-relaxed frames. So you’ll need to pick the one which is most similar to this geometry. You’ll have more stability when riding under those tougher conditions.
  6. Put some extra padding on your seat. This is going to be important for your comfort. This is no longer a flat-road joyride. You’ll be riding over sticks, stones, and other various objects. There’s no need to put yourself through unnecessary hardships. Other than padded seating, you should also look into better hand protection as well. Consider putting thicker bar tape on your handlebars. Comfort is going to be huge when you’re riding over various bumps and hitting constant holes outside of the asphalt.

Conclusion

Gravel bikes and road bikes are extremely similar. But there are some differences that really set them apart. A typical road bike will be just fine if you’re riding on the pavement alone. Many people choose not to venture off that paved path. But you’ll want to take a gravel bike for a spin if you plan on riding under tougher conditions and terrain.

Gravel bikes come with all sorts of customizable options. You’ll have the ability to mount larger tires on gravel bikes. You’ll be guaranteed to have more safety with your brakes, as all of them are equipped with the superior disc brakes. And gravel bikes are really “jack of all trades” kinds of bikes because you can fit them to any season or terrain. Nothing will stand in your way.

Before you go fishing through your bank account for an investment in a gravel bike, remember that you can always transform a typical road bike into a gravel bike. All you’ll need to do is put a little investment into your own safety and comfort. Just like that, you can have your very own gravel bike without actually having to buy one from scratch.

Which type of bike should you use? It all comes down to your specific needs. Your choice will depend on the weather, season, and terrain. Now that you have the proper knowledge, it’s time to go out there and make the most of your future biking adventures!

Ruben

I always had a thing for extreme sports and love almost anything that involves bikes and boards. I work part-time as a designer in the tech industry and work on my blogs whenever I can.

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