On paper you could be forgiven for thinking a gravel bike and a road bike are very similar but take a closer look and you will see some significant differences. In this guide we will explore what makes a gravel bike differ from a road bike. Read on to learn about what to look for when choosing either a gravel or road bike and find out what type of bike is best suited to your needs.
What is a gravel bike?
A gravel bike is designed for gravel riding or gravel racing and is sometimes also known as an adventure bike. These machines are perfect for those looking for the refinement of a road bike but with the offroad capabilities of a mountain bike.. Very similar to a cyclocross bike, gravel bikes are often a bit more versatile, with mounting options for luggage accessories and mudguards. Although not possessing the straight out speed of a pure road bike, if you switch out the knobbly tyres for something a bit slicker and narrower and the bike’s performance will be brought slightly closer on the tarmac to that of a road bike.
The frame lends itself to long days in the saddle, with comfort prioritised. Ensuring the rider can handle whatever if thrown their way, especially off road, there is often careful consideration made towards handling. Frame materials such as aluminium, carbon and steel are commonplace and are chosen to balance weight with durability.
Wheels and Tyres
Wheels should be carefully considered as a gravel bike typically endures rougher roads and trails and takes more of a beating compared to a road bike. More spokes and a tough carbon or aluminium rim are good starting points, as are opting for rugged and knobbly tyres, which can be run tubeless and at lower pressures, if required. A wider tyre makes sense, providing additional comfort and grip even in the most challenging of conditions.
Confidence and stability are both key considerations when riding a gravel bike and the handlebar contributes to this. Gravel bikes usually use a wider and, in some cases, a flared handlebar to compensate for the rough terrain many bikes encounter.
Gravel bikes traditionally featured double or even triple chainrings but as technology has evolved 1x (a single chainring setup) have become the norm. This does away with the front derailleur and reduces the chances of the chain slipping off the chainring. A 1x setup puts a greater emphasis on the cassette, with wider and larger sprockets often chosen to allow the rider to tackle everything from fast descents to super steep climbs.
Gravel bikes, in the majority of cases, use disc brakes to provide assured and powerful stopping performance. Perfect for when conditions worsen or when the bike is heavily laden with luggage, the predictability of disc brakes provides confidence whatever the terrain.
What is a road bike?
As the name suggests, a road bike is designed for riding or racing on tarmac and are perfect for those looking to travel long distances, at speed, while maintaining a level of comfort.
Road bike frame design varies greatly depending on the bike, with endurance-focused models using a more relaxed geometry, compared to performance and race-orientated options opting for tighter angles and a more aggressive stance. Material-wise, aluminium and carbon are both commonly used for their lightweight, durable and responsive characteristics although you can find road bikes made from steel and titanium.
Wheels and Tyres
Road bikes run typically lighter wheels than their mountain or gravel bike counterparts and tyres that have less tread and are thus designed to offer a lower rolling resistance. Road tyres vary in width but are generally no wider than 30mm.
The handlebar on a road bike is dropped in design and has a width of anywhere between 36 - 44cm. This means you have multiple positions to control the bike from. The hoods (where the brake/shift levers are located) allow easy access to braking and changing gear, the top of the bars provide a more relaxed perch and the drops are ideal for tucking down to get more aerodynamic and thus increasing the speed with less effort.
Usually featuring two chainrings (although in rare cases 1x options are available), a road bike’s gearing is set up to tackle a wide range of gradients, whether that be with a compact (often 50x34 teeth) semi-compact (52x36 teeth) or standard double (53x39 teeth) chainsets.
The cassette (sprockets found on the rear wheel) can be 9, 10, 11 or 12-speed. The ‘speed’ refers to the number of sprockets. The more sprockets, the more options available when it comes to gears. Road bikes often feature relatively tightly spaced gears, so you can maintain a consistent cadence whatever gear you are in.
Road bikes historically have opted for rim brakes but in recent years disc brakes have become the norm for many £1000+ models. Disc brakes afford more predictable stopping power than their rim alternatives and shave off speed faster too.
Whether you decide a gravel bike or a road bike is best for your needs you can be assured that there is a fantastic range of options out there to cater for a variety of budgets. Browse our complete range of gravel and road bikes below or get in touch with one of our experts should you need assistance choosing your next bike.