Gravel Bike Vs Road Bike: What Is the Difference and Who Is Faster?

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The article is about gravel bike vs road bike its differences and what makes one faster on what surface and how to two in one makes a difference.

road bike vs Gravel bike
Road Bike and Gravel Bike

Road bikes are lighter and faster but are limited to paved roads, while gravel bikes can be ridden in various types of terrain and work better under harsh weather conditions.

Shopping around for a new bike can be intimidating for anyone who is 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 seem to offer endless amounts of options that can be overwhelming and confusing for new customers. Inexperienced bikers may not notice at first glance any major visual differences between gravel bikes and road bikes, but the minor contrasts can heavily affect the performance for each one.

As someone who spent most of his college years using a variety of gravel bikes and road bikes as a main form of transportation, I can assure you that each type excels under different conditions. Finding the right bike will require you to think about the environment that you plan on riding the most. Road bikes always provided a smooth and fast ride to classes by sticking to paved roads, while gravel bikes allowed me to explore dirt trails around campus and town.

Road bikes were always undeniably faster, but that didn’t mean that they were better bikes overall. Living in a college town where my apartment, classes, and jobs were all linked by asphalt roads, the road bike was a reliable choice for a fast, effortless ride. Whenever I felt like avoiding traffic and taking the scenic route, I would hop on dirt roads and unpaved trails with gravel bikes that are more suitable for that terrain.

The truth is that no bike is “better” than others. There are pros and cons to gravel bikes and road bikes, but they also perform well under different conditions. If you are looking for speed on tarmac roads and paths, a road bike would be the right choice. Gravel bikes work for those who also want to venture out on off-road trails and can also handle rougher weather conditions. Read along to learn more about each type of bike.

Gravel Bike Vs Road Bike:

Gravel Bike 

You can think about a gravel bike as a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. They can be all-terrain workhorses without really excelling in any specific areas, unlike road bikes which are considered the best way to ride on tarmac roads. A gravel bike won’t provide you the speed and smooth navigation that you would get with a road bike on paved roads, but you also won’t be able to enjoy off-road adventures with a road bike like mountain biking. They are good for gravel riding or little off road riding.

Pros

  • Able to ride on off-road surfaces that most road bikes can’t handle.
  • A gravel bike can also be your road bike.
  • Easier to equip for long-distance trips.

Cons

  • Heavyweight.
  • Doesn’t excel in any terrain.
  • Unable to go as fast as a road bike.

Thick and durable frames

There are a few reasons that justify why gravel bicycles can’t travel as fast as road bikes. The heavier weight of 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, which effectively also dampens vibrations that one might experience while riding on rough grounds.

Wide wheels with tread patterns

One of the most noticeable differences between gravel bikes and road bikes involves their wheels. Gravel bikes have wider wheels that feature tread patterns and knobs that can dig into soft surfaces, making it easier to navigate on off-road grounds, but which can also make the bike heavier and slower. A wide variety of tread patterns that are suitable for certain types of weather and terrain are available on the market for gravel tires.

Gravel bikes use gravel tyres that are 40 mm wide, which can easily maintain lower tire pressures, improving the 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, tubeless wheels and tires have their strengths and weaknesses

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 would easily be able to 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. 

Road bike tires can make a gravel bike slightly lighter, faster, and smoother, but weight from other components prevents them from providing the same exact 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 definitely 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 that is capable of riding through diverse landscapes. 

Comfort

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 option. Still, personal preferences can vary, and it’s always best to take a bike on a test ride before purchasing if possible. 

Road Bikes

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 speed is what you are looking for, then a road bike is what you need. 

Pros

  • Lightweight and fast.
  • Best way to ride on smooth, paved roads. 
  • Endurance bikes can handle some rough landscapes.

Cons

  • 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 that are designed mostly for navigating through rough terrains as comfortably as possible, road bikes reach the highest speeds. These celebrated and historical bikes have lightweight frames composed of thin tubes, and their stiff, aerodynamic shapes can helpfully reduce air drag.

The long reach and low stack that is characteristic of many road bikes put riders in an aggressive riding position, which can give them better mobility at high speeds and makes them more aero, 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 is capable of reaching speeds that are unmatchable for gravel bikes.

Inexperienced riders may have a hard time getting used to the aggressive riding position associated with road bikes at first, which has them bending their back 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 when you are not falling behind in a group ride with friends. 

Light and narrow wheels

The slick tyres used in road bikes tend to be slick, unlike the wide ones used on gravel bikes which usually feature a tread pattern for extra grip and control on rough surfaces. There is no need for tread patterns on the wheels of a road bike when you are riding at full speed on gentle asphalt roads. The lack of tread and a minimal amount of spokes make these tires lighter but weaker than their counterparts used on gravel bikes.

Tubeless tires are not as common for road bikes as they are for gravel bikes since there is less risk for punctures on smooth, paved roads. Having that said, 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 separate into two camps known as race bikes and endurance bikes. 

Just like the name implies, race bikes give riders as much speed as possible by featuring light tube geometry and parts that can lower aerodynamic drag. These are the road bikes that the pros push to the limit every year in worldwide competitions. 

Endurance bikes are more like a middle ground between road bikes 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 at that as gravel bikes. Some of them even feature built-in storage and have mounts for racks similar to gravel bikes. They prioritize speed and comfort equally.

Wrap Up

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.

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. 

So, what is the difference?

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. Gravel bikes are also 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 to each other and for riders who are 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 keep in mind that their personal preferences might end up being slightly different than yours. 

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