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The differences between road and gravel bikes

In this Article

The differences between road and gravel bikes

In this Article

Published on September 14, 2023

The differences between a gravel bike and a road bike aren't always obvious. For most people, it's even hard to recognize a gravel bike. Yet each has its own characteristics, performance and uses. So what are the differences between road and gravel bikes? How do you choose between gravel and road? What's a gravel bike worth on the road? These are just some of the questions we aim to answer in this article, with a detailed comparison of gravel and road bikes.

The differences between road bikes and gravel bikes


The differences between a gravel bike and a road bike in terms of equipment

There are, of course, hundreds of different road and gravel bike models. The differences we'll discuss in this section are therefore trends, not universal truths.

The frame

More focused on aerodynamics, road bike frames are generally lower than gravel models.. The rider's position is more elongated, and the center of gravity is also lower. In addition to a significant gain in wind resistance (at equivalent speeds, a road bike is estimated to save 10% in watts), this is also beneficial in terms of handling. Road bikes are more responsive, easier to get into the path of a bend.

On the other hand, the position they impose will be less comfortable over the long term. They will also be much less pleasant on poor road surfaces. On a road bike, the rider is more at one with the machine... and therefore feels the smallest shocks more acutely.

More globally, the frame of a gravel bike has a longer wheelbase (distance between the two hubs)making it more comfortable.

Finally, the bottom bracket is higher up on a gravel bike. This too allows for a more upright riding position, with the double advantage of being more versatile when the road is littered with small obstacles.

The Handlebar

While the trend on the road is for ever-narrower handlebars (less than 40 cm for some riders!) to improve aerodynamics, gravel handlebars are wide and often flared. (the bottom of the handlebars extend outwards, known as "flare" handlebars).

There are two reasons for this:

  1. The difference in speed between gravel and road: in gravel, the aero plays a lesser role.
  2. Gravel riding is more technical, and wider handlebars offer better maneuverability.

The differences between road bikes and gravel bikes: the Handlebar

A fine example of Handlebar flared gravel.

The transmission

This is one of the major differences between a road bike and a gravel bike. On the road, performance is much better and you go faster, so you can use bigger gearing.

At the front

When it comes to numbers, you'll be riding with over 50 teeth at the front on a road bike, whereas on a gravel bike you'll generally be riding with between 42 and 48.

Another difference is that single chainrings are very common on gravel bikes. On the other hand, the Cassette is much more extensive and covers a wider range.

Nevertheless, on the road, the Jumbo-Visma is gradually converting to the 1x group. And the domination of the black and yellows this year is likely to give other teams ideas...

At the rear

Road bikes are equipped with narrow 10, 11 or 12-speed cassettes. The development range is relatively limited (around 11-28 or 11-34), since the number of possible gears is multiplied by playing with the front chainrings. The difference between two neighboring sprockets will be one or two teeth, and the gap between them is narrowed to maintain maximum pedaling cadence.

On gravel, where single chainrings are more common, it's essential that the Cassette offers a pretty broad palette. All the more so as these bikes are designed to be ridden on small, steep paths. So you'll find wide cassettes with a range from 10 to 40, 45 or even 48 teeth! Enormous spacing for riding on the widest possible range of surfaces and gradients.

The differences between road and gravel bikes: the Cassette

A wide choice of Cassette.

The wheels

While only 700C wheels are available for road use, gravel bikes can also be fitted with 650B wheels. However, the majority of gravel bikes will also be fitted with 700C wheels, as they roll better and allow you to pick up speed on small, stony trails (where gravel bikes are most enjoyable, admittedly). 😉). 

With 650B wheels, we're closer to mountain biking. You'll be able to put on wider tires to tackle rougher sections, where you'll want to favor relaunching rather than maintaining speed.

But if this is the kind of riding you're after, you need to ask yourself whether the mountainbike would be more suitable for you. We've got just the article to help you decide. gravel or mountain bike.

The tires

For greater stability and reliability, gravel tire sections are wider. While road bikes are generally fitted with 25 or 28 mm tires, gravels are generally fitted with 40 mm tires.

Once again, it all depends on your riding style. If you often use your gravel bike for road riding, you'll be able to opt for thinner sections. On the other hand, if you're used to rough roads, stick to 40... or even more.

☝ To make sure you use the right pressure in all circumstances, find out more about our tips for road, gravel and MTB tires.

Road vs. gravel bikes

It's hard to draw a real comparison between the two, because they're so different at heart. To caricature a little, you could say that road biking is more performance-oriented and perhaps inherently less fun. In gravel, it's more fun... Let's settle for a 3-way tie: versatility, speed and comfort.

The most versatile

Gravel, without a doubt! It's the all-rounder par excellence, capable of cruising along the road without ever faltering on the trickier sections.

The fastest

Road advantage, of course! With better aerodynamics, a position more conducive to speed and lighter weight, road bikes are clearly the Formula 1 of the cycling world!

The most comfortable

It depends... Some might think we don't want to get wet, but the variety of models is such that we can't say loud and clear that gravel is more comfortable.

Endurance road bikes for ultra-distance or gran fondo racing, for example, are designed for maximum comfort.

🚴‍♂️ Also find our complete guide to choosing the right gravel bike !

Choosing between a road bike and a gravel bike? What's it for?

Although they have many differences, road bikes and gravel bikes are similar enough that you don't necessarily have to make a choice... We explain!

Graveling with a road bike

Obviously, you don't want to venture into the woods with high-profile carbon wheels and tires inflated to 7 bar... The chances of you and your equipment coming out unscathed are almost nil! But with a spare set of wheels fitted with wider-section tires, it's possible.

Just make sure in advance that your wheel arch is wide enough to allow you to ride with 40 mm tires, for example. This probably won't be possible on pure aero bikes, but most endurance bikes and the most versatile models should allow you this kind of little folly. 😉

Road riding on a gravel bike

When you have a gravel bike, it's perfectly possible to enjoy 100% road riding from time to time. You won't even have to change wheels. A priorinothing could be simpler...

However, you'll soon reach a ceiling because of the gear ratios! On the road, you're bound to take along a bigger gear. If you want to get close to the performance of a road bike, you may have to change chainrings before your ride. Not always practical...

Now you can tell a road bike from a gravel bike at a glance!

If you're hesitating between the two, we've seen that it's possible to adapt your bike to enjoy the pleasures of the trails or the road... But if you really want to perform well in both disciplines, then you'll need a bike of each type in your garage. We take this opportunity to invite you to discover our selection of gravels high-performance and our formidable road bikes

And to discover a new bike every week and receive our latest cycling news, subscribe to our newsletter!

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