Gravel bikes are becoming increasingly popular among cyclists as they offer a unique combination of speed, comfort, stability, and versatility. Road bikes are undeniably faster, particularly with their range of gears and disc brakes, but that doesn’t mean they are better.
There are pros and cons to both gravel and endurance road bikes, and they perform equally well under different conditions. Their handling, resistance, and derailleurs contribute to each bike’s unique ride experience. Want to know the specific differences between Gravel Bikes vs. Road Bikes? Read on!
Shopping around for a new bike can be intimidating for anyone starting to get more serious about the sport, even if they’ve been capable of riding for years. Road bikes have historically been a popular choice for pros and beginners, but many cyclists have been gravitating toward gravel bikes with modern and innovative features in recent years.
If you’ve ever wondered which type of bike would be the best fit for you, then you are not alone. Bike shops worldwide offer endless options that can be overwhelming and confusing for new customers. Inexperienced bikers may not notice much of a difference between gravel bikes and road bikes at first glance, but the minor contrasts, even within their gears, can heavily affect the performance of each one.
When I first started riding, my life existed within a ten-mile radius and was linked by asphalt roads. But, whenever I felt like avoiding traffic and taking the scenic route, I would hop on dirt roads and unpaved trails with gravel bikes more suitable for that terrain.
Since then, I’ve owned both types of bikes. Still do, in fact. I’m keenly aware of the differences, and after you read this article, you will be too!
You can think about a gravel bike as a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. Unlike road bikes, they can be all-terrain workhorses without excelling in specific areas.
A gravel bike won’t provide you with the speed and smooth navigation you would get with a road bike on paved roads, but you won’t be able to enjoy off-road adventures with a road bike like mountain biking. They are good for gravel riding or a little off-road riding.
- Able to ride on off-road surfaces that most road bikes can’t handle.
- A gravel bike can also be your road bike.
- It is easier to equip for long-distance trips.
- Doesn’t excel in any terrain.
- Unable to go as fast as a road bike.
Thicker, more durable frames
There are a few reasons why gravel bicycles can’t travel as fast as road bikes. The heavier weight of the gravel bike frame can slow them down a bit, but it can also keep the bike more composed and stabilized while riding over rough terrain.
Gravel bike frames usually come with thicker, big tubes that can handle more abuse, and their longer wheelbases and slacker headtube angles make them more stable than road bicycles.
Steel seems to be the choice material for most gravel bike designers, probably because of its strong and durable quality. It effectively dampens vibrations that one might experience while riding on rough ground.
Wider wheels with tread patterns
One of the most noticeable differences between gravel and road bikes involves their wheels. Gravel bikes have wider wheels with tread patterns and knobs that can dig into soft surfaces, making navigating off-road terrain easier.
The tires and wheels also make the bike heavier and slower. A wide variety of tread patterns suitable for certain weather and terrain are available for gravel tires.
Gravel bikes use gravel tires that are 40 mm wide, which can easily maintain lower tire pressures, improving comfort and grip while riding on sand and dirt.
As an attempt to prevent the common problem of punctures while riding off-road, many of the best modern gravel bicycles now come with tubeless wheels and tires. Much like with everything else in life, including handlebars, shifters, brakes, and saddles, tubeless wheels, and tires have their strengths and weaknesses. The right equipment, such as a good derailleur and drops, can make all the difference in your riding experience.
Two bikes in one (Road and Gravel bike)
One of the best parts about buying a gravel bike is that you are pretty much buying two bikes for the price of one. Gravel bikes offer enough tire clearance between the forks, seat stays, and chainstays, allowing you to use even wider tires or narrow ones like those used in road bikes. You could easily use narrow road bike tires on a gravel bike if you wanted to, but you wouldn’t be able to put wide tires on a road bike. This versatility makes their purchase more valuable, even at different prices.
Road bike tires can make a gravel bike slightly lighter, faster, and smoother, but the weight of other components, such as brakes and derailleurs, prevents them from providing the same feeling you would get from a road bike. Using different-sized tires should not cause any severe changes to the maneuvering characteristics of a gravel bike.
Having the option to use different tire sizes is a plus, but there is nothing wrong with using a gravel bike with its regular wide wheels on a tarmac road, even if you can’t reach the same speeds that you could on a road bike. This tire feature makes gravel bikes very convenient if you can only have one bike capable of riding through diverse landscapes.
Brands that build gravel bikes tend to approach their designs with adventurous rides in mind and usually include several mounting points for luggage, fenders, bottles, and more. Extra weight from those accessories may slow down a gravel bike, but they can also keep you properly equipped for long-distance rides with the potential for harsh and wet winter conditions.
Many people believe that gravel bikes ride more comfortably since their shorter reach and higher stack allow riders to sit in a more relaxed, upright body position than a road bike. Beginner cyclists might want to buy a gravel bike, believing it to be the more comfortable. Still, personal preferences can vary, and it’s always best to take a bike on a test ride before purchasing, if possible. This includes testing handlebars, saddle, and brakes to ensure you are comfortable with all aspects of the bike.
Shop the best gravel bikes on the market today. Visit Trek.com to compare models and prices. Free shipping on orders of $49 or more.
Contrary to popular belief, road bikes can be used for some off-road riding, but their limitations become quickly noticeable when riding on loose gravel roads. If you are looking for speed, then a road bike is what you need.
- Lightweight and fast.
- Best way to ride on smooth, paved roads.
- Endurance bikes can handle some rough landscapes.
- Frames are more fragile than gravel bikes.
- Mostly limited to paved roads.
- Beginners may find them more challenging to ride.
Built for speed
Unlike gravel bikes, road bikes reach higher speeds as comfortably as possible. These celebrated and historical bikes have lightweight frames composed of thin tubes, and their stiff, aerodynamic shapes can help reduce air drag.
The long reach and low stack characteristic of many road bikes put riders in an aggressive position, giving them better mobility at high speeds and making them more aerodynamic, helping them flow smoother on the road.
The combination of a light frame with narrow tires and aerodynamic features results in a road bike that doesn’t weigh much and can reach unmatchable speeds for gravel bikes.
Inexperienced riders may have difficulty getting used to the aggressive riding position associated with road bikes at first, which has them bending their backs more and can cause complications after a ride.
Adapting to that riding style should not be much of a challenge after a few rides and can be rewarding when you have to be somewhere on time or not fall behind in a group ride with friends.The slick tires used on road bikes tend to be slick, unlike the wide ones used on various popular gravel bike models, which usually feature a tread pattern for extra grip and control on rough surfaces.
Different categories of road bikes, such as race and endurance bikes, come with unique tire design, frame material like aluminum, and bottom bracket positioning to cater to specific demands of the road surface.
Light and narrow wheels
When riding at full speed on gentle asphalt roads, there is no need for tread patterns on a road bike’s wheels. The lack of tread and a minimal amount of spokes make these tires lighter but weaker than their counterparts used on gravel bikes. Additionally, road bike tires often exhibit reduced rolling resistance to suit smooth terrains.
Tubeless tires are less common for road bikes than gravel bikes since punctures on smooth, paved roads are less likely. However, with the increasing popularity of tubeless tires, more options for tubeless road bike tires frequently appear on the market as their technologies keep improving.
Road bikes have tires that are 28 mm wide, but some endurance road bikes can fit tires as wide as 32 mm.
Two types of road bikes
Nowadays, road bikes are divided into two camps: race bikes and endurance bikes.
As the name implies, race bikes give riders as much speed as possible by featuring light tube geometry and parts that can lower aerodynamic drag. The pros push these road bikes to the limit every year in worldwide competitions.
Endurance bikes are more like a middle ground between road and gravel bikes. This modern type of road bike can offer a more comfortable ride that’s easier to maneuver and more stable than race bikes. Some rough terrain can be tackled with endurance bikes, but they tend not to perform as well as gravel bikes.
Some even feature built-in storage and have mounts for racks similar to gravel bikes. They prioritize speed and comfort equally.
Bicycles are fun to ride, whether you are cruising down a smooth coastal highway or bouncing on some muddy hills. Biking is also a great exercise that allows you to traverse your surroundings in ways you usually wouldn’t be by driving a car.
Shop the best road bikes for your budget. Visit Trek.com to compare models and prices. Free shipping on orders of $49 or more.
Wrapping It Up
Gravel bikes allow you to venture through a wide variety of terrains but don’t perform as well as mountain bikes on rough ground with abrupt hills or as good as road bikes on smooth, paved surfaces.
The ability to easily switch between wide and narrow tires means that your gravel bike can also be your road bike, capable of riding in different landscapes, and easier to store if you are low on space.
Speed freaks will undoubtedly prefer to ride lightweight road bikes with aerodynamic features that can be slightly more challenging to control but provide the fun raw power to go as fast and smooth as possible on paved roads and paths.
If you are a beginner who is unsure of what kind of terrain you will mostly be riding on, or if you are planning a long bike trip that you want to be fully equipped for, or even if you only have room to fit one bike at home, a gravel bike should be your weapon of choice.
So, what is the difference?
Gravel bikes are generally more resistant than road bikes and can be ridden and maintained in harsh climates.
Road bikes make a perfect match for individuals who live in cities or towns where most tarmac roads are linked and for riders not interested in off-road adventures.
If cruising or speeding on smooth asphalt is all you want to do, you should have no problem with just owning a road bike.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask any questions that will help you decide which type of bike is better for you and if possible, try to take bikes out for test rides before buying them.
Getting information from knowledgeable people in the bike community is always helpful, but remember that their preferences might differ slightly from yours.
Fun Outdoors Team
The FunOutdoors team is comprised of seasoned writers and editors with a passion for outdoor living.