Gravel or road bike?
Gravel or road bike? This is a question we are often asked.
Basically, they are two completely different types of bikes: the road bike for long distances, the gravel bike for rough terrain and dirt roads. However, with the latest models on the market, the two types have become quite close, sometimes even overlapping.
“Modern” road bikes are becoming more and more comfortable, lighter, more aerodynamic and, thanks to the increased wheelbase, can also be used on roads that are not too hilly.
The world of gravel bikes is a different matter: there are many differences between one model and another. Some look almost like a road bike, others are practically mountain bikes.
So, let’s try to analyse the main differences to understand which bike is the most suitable for us.
1. Geometry and saddle adjustment
Both bikes allow a relaxed position, with high handlebars and a not too long torso, to pedal for a long time without difficulties. However, there are differences in geometry and design that allow us to arrive at this scenario.
The stack is fairly similar between the two types of bikes, but gravel bikes tend to have a shorter head tube.
The real difference is the horizontal development of the bike.
Gravel bikes have a longer reach and top tube, with a short stem and a very open head angle. All these features are inspired by the world of MTB.
These options tend to allow for a more stable off-road ride. In addition, for better stability, both the wheelbase and the lower chainstays of the frame are longer.
This is perhaps where the various configurations can accentuate or diminish the differences between the two types.
Road bikes use road tyres with an average cross-section between 28 and 32 mm.
In gravel, the standard is 38 mm and above, but sometimes they can have tyres up to 50 mm: these are practically MTB sizes.
There is no doubt, then, about the choice of technology: if in road cycling, we can still argue about tubeless or tube, in gravel cycling tubeless is the only option because it allows to ride at lower pressures to avoid punctures.
Endurance bikes almost always have road gears with double chainrings and a nimble but not extreme sprocket set. On gravel bikes we often find dedicated groupsets and the use of a single chainring: a solution in which the overhang between the sprockets is greater, but which allows a greater range and therefore gives the possibility of having a good compromise both on dirt climbs and on asphalt sections.
- Stem and handlebars
The big difference is in the length of the stem. Gravel bikes have very short stems to limit the “deceleration” effect of the wider tyres, in order to make the steering more agile.
As for the handlebars: while road bikes use road handlebars, gravel bikes use wider handlebars with an accentuated opening, i.e., with the lower part of the curve flaring outwards. This allows for a more stable ride and also makes it easier to attach a handlebar bag to the bike.
Even in this case it is not uncommon to find the options “reversed”, so that the differences between the two bikes diminish considerably.
Road bikes weigh less. Only a little, but they weigh less. How much less? About 1 kg. Not so much on the frames, but the components, especially the wheels and tyres.
4. In conclusion
Road bikes are designed to be used primarily on asphalt; gravel roads are permitted as long as they are well groomed. It’s the perfect choice for those who want to cover long distances without obsessing about performance.
If instead the goal is to cover many kilometres on gravel roads, then it is essential to choose a gravel bike.
However, as life teaches us, not everything is black and white: there are plenty of shades of grey. By changing one or two components, you can create the bike to your liking, suitable for your actual use. Experience, trial and error will help you with that.