Gravel Bike vs Road Bike: Which One Is Right for You?

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If you enjoy being outdoors, cycling is a fun way to stay fit and healthy and see the world while you’re doing it.

Most of us are aware that different types of bikes are suitable for different terrains and needs.

But how do you choose between them?

Today we’ll look at the gravel bike vs road bike to see the main differences.

Once you know more about each, it will become clear which type of bike is more suitable for your needs.

Gravel Bike vs Road Bike: What’s the Difference?

Although they share some similarities, gravel bikes and road bikes are actually quite different from one another.

At first glance, they do look fairly similar because they both feature drop handlebars that offer the rider multiple seating positions.

Once you look past the handlebars, though, the differences in their frames, tires, and gear become more apparent.

It’s these variations in design that allow each bike to excel on different terrains.

Bike Tires

One of the most obvious points of difference can be seen in the tires of each bike, as they usually differ in both thickness and tread.

Gravel Bike

A gravel bike will usually carry tires measuring 33mm and upwards, which are bigger and thicker than tires usually found on a road bike.

That is because you can get away with lower pressures in wider tires, sometimes 40PSI or less.

Lower tire pressures mean that you have more contact with the road, which offers you better grip and comfort on uneven surfaces.

It also offers you more stability, especially when riding your bike on loose surfaces or in slippery conditions.

Another factor that affects a gravel bike’s handling is the tread you’ll often see on the tires.

You can choose how heavy you want your bike tread to be, but a gravel bike will usually have at least light treading on its tires, if not much heavier treading.

Heavier bike tread is incredibly useful for traversing heavy gravel paths or slippery, muddy trails.

Road Bike

Typically speaking, the tires on road bikes are a lot slimmer.

Somewhere between 25 and 28mm and potentially up to 35mm, depending on whether they’re a racing bike or an endurance road bike.

Race bikes have narrower tires, often with room for up to 28mm tires, to make them more aerodynamic and offer less rolling resistance.

Endurance road bikes may have a slightly wider tire allowance because grip and comfort are more important factors in endurance cycling.

It’s also unusual to see a road bike with tread on its tires as it’s designed for riding on smooth surfaces, such as tarmac and concrete.

A bike tread isn’t often used on a smooth surface like this, as there is nothing for it to gain traction from.

Therefore, road bikes usually have slim and fairly smooth tires.

Bike Frame

Once you know what to look for, you can also spot differences in each bike’s frames.

Gravel Bike

The frame’s angles are slightly wider on gravel bikes, allowing for more space between the two wheels.

The placement of the front tire on a gravel bike will often be further forward than on a road bike, giving it a longer wheelbase.

This extra space offers you better handling on unpredictable surfaces that you often experience off-road.

However, despite the front wheel being further forward, the handlebars and seat are actually positioned slightly closer together than on a road bike.

That means the bike’s riding position is slightly more upright, offering greater comfort on longer rides.

More importantly, it allows you to shift your weight around more easily to accommodate the technical terrain.

Finally, the frame on a gravel bike is more durable, capable of withstanding debris that’s kicked up from loose surfaces.

This, combined with the thicker tires found on a gravel bike, also contributes to a significant overall weight difference between the two bikes.

Road Bike

On a road bike, the angles of the frame are sharper, and the wheelbase is shorter.

Everything about the road bike is usually designed to have the best aerodynamics for achieving higher speeds.

The frame build offers you a very low, crouched-over riding position to decrease wind resistance.

Road bikes are also usually lighter due to the materials used to construct the frame and slimmer, lighter tires.

difference between gravel bike vs road bike

Bike Brakes and Gear

The brakes, gear, and the way the chains look, are also quite often different on gravel and road bikes.

Gravel Bike

A gravel bike will always come with disc brakes that offer you greater power and control.

That is often needed when tackling more tricky terrain, while disc brakes offer superior performance in all weather conditions.

A gravel bike will often be more focused on lower gearing to make steep climbs easier and more manageable.

You may also notice that gravel bikes tend to feature just one drivetrain and a rear derailleur with a clutch to keep the chain tighter.

This feature helps prevent the chain from bouncing around and coming off its track when you’re riding on uneven surfaces.

Road Bike

Road bikes will often feature rim brakes as they’re lighter but still perform perfectly when riding around on tarmac.

They’ll also often feature two drivetrains at the front of the bike chain, instead of usually one on a gravel bike.

Manufacturers of road bikes don’t need to be as concerned with the chain jumping off of its cogs because of the flat surfaces they’re designed to ride on.

This provides you with a higher number of gear pieces, not necessarily a higher range, offering the rider smoother transitions between gears.

Bike Accessories

Another difference between the two bikes is the accessories or extras that the bike is usually designed to accommodate.

Gravel Bike

A gravel bike may be fitted with or possess eyelets for you to add your own mudguards, bottle holders, and racks.

Mudguards come in handy when it’s raining, but they also help keep the mud off your clothes and bike when cycling in muddy conditions.

A rack will also mean that you can take your gravel bike on longer bike-packing adventures.

Road Bike

On the other hand, a road bike is usually designed to be as light and streamlined as possible, so it may not have these extra features.

That said, it is possible to find road bikes with eyelets for attaching mudguards to commute in the rain.

Companies have also designed clip-on mudguards for road bike users to get around this problem.

Can You Use a Gravel Bike as a Road Bike?

Yes, gravel bikes have been designed specifically to perform well on and off the road, offering smooth transitions between various terrains.

It won’t be as fast on roads as a road bike, but gravel bikes are ideal for people who commute during the week and then like to take an adventure on weekends.

How Much Slower Is a Gravel Bike Than a Road Bike?

With the extra weight, thicker tires, taller rider position, and lower gearing, experts estimate that gravel bikes are around 5% slower than road bikes.

However, when buying a gravel bike, you should be aware that some are better at achieving higher speeds than others.

They take slightly more design elements from a road bike, while others are more influenced by cyclocross or touring bikes.

Are Gravel Bikes Good for Long Distance?

Yes, gravel bikes can be great for long distances, which is another reason they’re becoming so popular.

If you enjoy long-distance cycling and bike-packing, then make sure you lookout for a gravel bike that focuses on the qualities you need for these activities.

The frame of a gravel bike can vary a lot in terms of how aggressively it’s shaped.

For longer journeys, slacker frame angles that offer you a more upright seating position will make your future adventures a lot more comfortable.

Should I Buy a Road Bike or Gravel Bike?

In summary, with a road bike’s design, it’s not really that safe to take it off-roading at all.

It will handle light gravel and dry mud paths fairly well, but it can be a dangerous ride if you encounter anything more challenging.

When you look at a gravel bike vs road bike, the main difference is how well a gravel bike handles these unpredictable terrains.

It is slightly slower on roads, but it is a more versatile bike.

So, if you plan on taking your bike on multiple terrains, a gravel bike may be a better option for you.

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