What is a gravel bike? Is a gravel bike right for you?

bicycle tire pressure

A gravel bike is a drop-bar road bike with wider tires and more versatility in the frame design. This combination gives you the speed of a road bike with the capability to explore dirt roads and trails. The result is a fun, fast, and capable bike that’s suitable for a range of riding styles (and budgets).

As cycling has grown in popularity, so too have the types of bikes available to riders. Bikes are now being designed around specific terrain, such as pavement or dirt roads. Gravel bikes are one such design that has increased in popularity over the past few years. If you’re looking for a versatile bike that can handle almost any type of riding surface, from smooth pavement to rough gravel and even some single-track trails, then it might be time you considered getting your own gravel bike.

Gravel bikes are designed for adventure

Gravel bikes are designed for adventure, which is why their tires are bigger and more treaded than you'd find on a standard road bike. They can handle the rigors of off-road riding and will often be offered with features such as eyelets for panniers. Most gravel or adventure bikes will be fitted with drop bars, but some flat bar options are beginning to emerge.

What should you look for in a gravel bike? It really depends upon your purpose. If you're planning to use it as a regular commuter then components like mudguards and racks may take priority while those starting to explore rough terrain could do well looking at suspension forks and larger tires.

You don't have to pay top dollar either; there are plenty of sub-$1,000 options out there that'll provide ample fun on the trails without breaking the bank. If it's just one part of your collection of bikes then budget can go out the window, but make sure you've got something suitable for winter training or fast rides before splashing too many notes on an adventurous steed.

Gravel bike tires

Gravel bike tires are typically wider than road bike tires, but not as wide as mountain bike tires. Wider tires provide more traction on loose surfaces and can offer more cushioning. The tradeoff is that those same traits cause the tire to require more energy to pedal (because of rolling resistance) and the tire can limit performance on hard surfaces.

Many gravel bikes come with 700c wheels, which are nearly identical in size to a 29-inch mountain bike wheel. Road bikes typically come with narrower 700c wheels or 650b wheels, which are smaller than a 700c wheel. The smaller wheel size allows for thinner, lighter tires that offer less rolling resistance on pavement, but lack the stability of a wider tire.

Gravel bike Frame Geometry

The main difference between the gravel bike and a road bike is that the gravel bike's geometry is longer, more relaxed and less aggressive. A more relaxed head tube angle allows for more stability at speed, more control in the drops and a more comfortable ride over rough surfaces. The fork length on a gravel bike is longer than that of a road bike, with extra rake to increase compliance and comfort.

A longer wheelbase, because of the slightly slacker head tube angle — provides greater stability when descending at high speeds as well as increased tire clearance. A higher stack height or lower head tube puts you in an upright riding position without sacrificing the ability to get low in an aggressive position when it comes time to sprint or climb steep hills. The chainstays on most gravel bikes are shorter than other drop-bar bikes, giving them nimble handling over technical terrain while still providing ample stability at speed.

Gravel bike vs Road bike

Let's break down the pros and cons of riding a gravel bike vs. a road bike when it comes to off-road riding.

  • Gravel bikes are designed to accommodate wider tires, usually up to 45mm, whereas road bikes can typically fit up to 28mm wide tires. The wider tire of the gravel bike is more stable on slippery surfaces, like dirt and mud.
  • Gravel bikes have longer wheelbases than traditional road bikes, which makes them more stable in loose or slippery terrain. On top of that, they often have slacker head tube angles (the angle between the steering axis and the ground), which gives them a more upright geometry and a less aggressive ride position that is better suited for long days in the saddle over rough terrain.
  • Gravel bike handlebars are flared out at the ends, allowing you to take advantage of several different hand positions while riding so you can switch things up and relieve pressure on your hands during long rides.

Gravel bike vs Mountain bikes

The wheels of a gravel bike are generally 700c, which is the same size used on road bikes. Mountain bikes, however, have 26-inch wheels. The smaller diameter of the mountain bike's wheels allows the frame to be built more sturdily than a gravel bike's because they can use shorter chainstays and forks. Generally, this results in more responsive handling on a mountain bike than on a gravel bike due to the shorter wheelbase and quicker handling that results from it.

Gravel bikes also tend to have a more relaxed geometry (a higher head tube and less aggressive position), allowing you to ride comfortably for long periods of time without putting too much strain on your back or neck. You may also see some gravel-specific components, such as wider handlebars for better control through rough terrain and disc brakes instead of rim brakes for better braking power in wet conditions.

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Conclusion

With their wider tires, stable handling, and lightweight construction, gravel bikes are a great choice for any type of off-road riding. From the beginner to the expert, they're designed to provide you with a smooth, comfortable ride on all sorts of surfaces. At their core, gravel bikes are meant for adventure: no matter where you take yours, it'll be ready for whatever you throw at it.

Now that we've covered what gravel bikes are and what makes them different from other types of bicycles, we'll next go over why you might want one for your next cycling adventure.

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