Gravel Bike Vs Road Bike: The Complete Comparison In 2021

Updated on 03/11/2021

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Gravel Bike vs Road Bike

The bicycle has become one of the most popular vehicles worldwide since it’s not only flexible but also environmentally – friendly.

Depending on different riding purposes and terrains where you ride, you need a specific type of bike. Among various bike types on the market, gravel bikes and road bikes are two outstanding types that you should purchase.

While a gravel bike is robust and ideal for both on and off-road, a road bike is easy to use every day. So gravel bike vs. road bike – What’s more suitable for you?

If you are looking for the answer, don’t miss this article!

Gravel Bike Vs. Road Bike – What Are The Similarities?

The GMC Denali Road Bikes

The GMC Denali Road Bikes

Once you look at a gravel bike and a road bike, you might not realize the difference between them.

These bikes might have the same outlook with the same size. For example, both gravel bikes and road bikes could come with 700c wheels. Also, 650c wheels are compatible with both gravel bikes and road bikes.

Moreover, they might be made of the same frame materials such as steel, aluminum. Sometimes, you could see these bicycles come with carbon fiber frames. However, this material is more common in road bikes than gravel bikes.

A gravel bike’s geometry and an endurance road bike might look very similar to a longer wheelbase. However, with road bikes which are created for racing, there are many differences.

What Are The Differences?

Even though a trekking bike and a roadie could be the same in many ways, there are several significant differences that make these bikes beneficial in particular ways.

Different using purposes

The Fuel EX 9.9 Trek Bikes

The Fuel EX 9.9 Trek Bikes

Firstly, you could use a road bike and a gravel bike for varied purposes and activities. Road bikes are ideal for riding on tarmac roads that have easy-to-handle and straightforward terrains.

Most road bikes are equipped with skinny tires and drop handlebars which are very beneficial in fast riding. Moreover, almost all road bikes have handlebars with a short wheelbase that could enhance riding quality and speed. As such, you could use a road bicycle for riding on smooth pavement and racing.

Meanwhile, if you use a gravel bike for racing, it could be challenging since this bike’s design doesn’t support fast speed. Most gravel bikes are equipped with one chainring in the front. That means you could not ride speedy on a gravel bike.

On the other hand, if you are looking for an off-road bike that could help you conquer a challenging trail,  a gravel bike might be a more intelligent option than a road bike. Gravel bikes feature many unique components to withstand various terrains.

A typical gravel bike will come with a long wheelbase that adds stability on rough terrains. Thanks to that, you could overcome obstacles on the routes more efficiently. This specific wheelbase also brings more comfort when riding. As such, you could use a gravel bike for your long travel.

More importantly, a gravel bike is typically more decadent than a road bike since it has a robust and heavy-in-weight frame and wheels. Thus, it is more suitable for carrying stuff and holding a large weight load.

Road bikes are designed with lightweight kept in mind. Manufacturers have to reduce the road bike’s weight to a minimum. In this way, riders could maximize the speed. Therefore, you might find it inappropriate for long-distance trips. A road bike is just ideal for commuting with a small amount of load.

Different levels of safety

If safety is your priority, you could consider a gravel bike a safer bike than a road bike because of some reasons.

The first reason that I want to mention is the tire design. While the road bikes are made with skinny tires, which ensure the lowest rolling resistance, most gravel bikes come with wide tires with large tread areas. As a result, the road bikes could roll faster on the road, but they also bring more risks.

For example, when you cycle on a slippery road or in the rain, the road bike tire’s design might make you lose control and cause accidents.

By contrast, gravel bikes with large tires with tread patterns on the surface will be compatible with a wide range of terrains. Moreover, this design will offer more grips and make your rides more stable and secure.

The second feature that makes a gravel bike safer than a road bike is the braking system.

In most gravel bikes, disc brakes are the common component. The reason is that gravel bikes with large tires require a type of brake that could make them compatible with them. As such, the basic rim brakes are too small to fit their tires.

In many cases, disc brakes are much more outstanding than the traditional types of brakes. It offers a better stopping power, especially in mixed riding conditions and off-road rides.

In terms of road bikes, not every road bike is equipped with disc brakes. Actually, disc brakes have appeared on road bikes recently. The most popular type of brakes that you could see in most road bicycles is rim brakes, which could not be as reliable as disc brakes.

With a taller and angled headtube, gravel bikes help you ride with all confidence and stability. When you need to turn left or right, every movement in gravel bikes is much smoother and safer.

In comparison, road bikes, especially road bikes for racing, usually come with aggressive geometry. This geometry with a short wheelbase and drop handlebars might be hard to control and ride for beginners.

Different wheel sizes

The Epic Specialized Bikes

The Epic Specialized Bikes

Both gravel bikes and road bikes could be equipped with 700c wheels. However, in many situations, this wheel size might be varied flexibly.

You could see some gravel bikes with 650c wheels. This small wheel size will be very beneficial in enhancing the speed of gravel bikes. With the bulky design, a gravel bike might not be as fast as a road bike. As such, if you want to explore rugged trails with higher speeds, you should go to 650c wheels.

Moreover, the 650c wheels also have large-volume ties, which could offer better grip and shock – absorption on bumpy roads.

The wheel sizing chart is varied, but the most popular sizes are 26-inch and 29-inch.

Different speeds

Gravel bikes have lower speeds compared to road bikes.

Road bikes will allow riders to cycle with an aerodynamic position thanks to their drop handlebars and aggressive geometry. Thanks to that, you could efficiently decrease the wind resistance.

By contrast, most gravel bicycles come with a long wheelbase. That means you will have an upright position during your riding experience.

On the one hand, this feature provides better relaxation when you have to sit on the bike for a long time. On the other hand, it makes you respond to the majority of wind resistance.

Moreover, the rolling resistance is another factor leading to the fact that a gravel bike is slower than a road bike.

As could be seen in the road bikes, the wheels are designed with a smooth surface. Thanks to that feature, a road bike could have the least rolling resistance.

Also, a road bike requires less power than a gravel bike. You might feel smoother and comfier with a gravel bike’s wheel design in terms of road bikes, which have an effective tread-area. However, this detail could reduce the speed when riding. This type of wheel will absorb more power than the road bike’s wheel style.

Finally, you should notice that the heavier weight in a gravel bike will cause low cycling speed. To fix this problem, you could choose lighter tires for your gravel bike. Even though the weight difference is not much, you could clearly feel the change in speed.

Different comfort

The Dynacraft Firestorm Mountain Bike

The Dynacraft Firestorm Mountain Bike

Last but not least, the comfort will change as you ride different types of bike. When you ride a gravel bike, you will feel more comfortable than a road bike since gravel bikes have many features to ensures your comfort.

A gravel bike features a relaxing geometry and large tires as well. Thanks to that, you don’t need to be frantic to ride but can sit comfortably to enjoy your adventure.

With a long wheelbase, this bike offers an upright riding posture and effectively avoids back pain and shoulder pain. Also, this feature will help your movements smoother. In comparison, road bikes with a short wheelbase might be difficult to control sometimes.

Another comfy feature that you should consider in a gravel bike is the tall headtube. Thanks to that, you could have an upright posture during riding time and avoid back pain, shoulder pain.

In terms of road bikes, they usually use drop handlebars in design. That means you need to keep the “drop” position when riding on it. This position is truly not comfortable, especially for beginners.

Moreover, the vast and thick wheels will work as a bump-absorption feature, making your ride smooth even on the roughest surfaces.

In addition, most gravel bikes come with suspension in the front and rear, which boosts stability and comfort when you overcome bumpy roads.

Most gravel bikes have specific components which could enhance the rider’s comfort. For example, a gravel bike will come with flat pedals, which create more interaction between your feet and the bike and help you ride more stably.

Meanwhile, for road cycling purposes, a typical road bike is equipped with clipless pedals. That type of pedal might transfer the energy from your feet to the bike faster and more efficiently. However, it also causes some pain for a long time.

Different Durabilities

The Diamondback Century 2 Endurance Road Bikes

The Diamondback Century 2 Endurance Road Bikes

Since these bicycles are made for various riding needs, their durabilities are not the same.

For gravel bikes, their frames are generally stronger and more durable than road bikes’ frames. Since these gravel bikes often have to pass through mud and rough terrain, they are often made of heat-resistant and corrosion-resistant materials.  Thanks to that, you can use them for a longer time.

By contrast, road bicycles, which are only intended for flat roads, cannot withstand the harsh driving conditions. Most road bikes come with aluminum or carbon fiber frames which are lightweight to help riders increase their speed. However, this type of frame cannot hold a large weight and it is also easy to erode.

To learn more about this different durabilities of gravel bike vs road bike, please watch this review video:

Watch video: Gravel Bike vs Road Bike - What's The Difference?

FAQs

Can you use a gravel bike as a road bike?

Yes, you can definitely ride a gravel bike as a road bike. This kind of bicycle is designed for flexibility and versatility so you could use it on all roads.

In some way, a gravel bike might be more comfortable than a road bike since it’s designed with larger tires offering more stability and cushioning when riding.

Are gravel bikes faster than road bikes?

No, they are not. In some cases, a gravel bike could not perform as well as a road bike.

For example, if you prefer to race, a road bike might be better than a gravel bike since most gravel bikes are equipped with a single chainring in the front, while road bikes have a wide range of gears. As such, there is a significant speed difference between them.

Which one is better for traveling a long distance?

In my opinion, a gravel bike might be more excellent for a long-distance riding experience than a road bike for some reasons.

Firstly, a gravel bike with a more flexible frame design will help you feel more comfortable in a long-term ride. Moreover, this type of bike also could handle more terrains than a road bike.

On the other hand, most road bikes on the market could not hold a large weight capacity. As such, it’s not suitable for touring at all.

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The Author

Jim Felt

Jim Felt, a man with a genuine love of speed. A man who designed his very first triathlon frame for Johnny O’Mara – the star of Motorcross at “The O-Show” – then got big successes in 1990. In 1994, Felt incorporated with Answer Products to launch his brand, starting a 7-year relationship until 2000. In 2001, Jim Felt relaunched the Feltracing brand in conjunction with Michael Müllmann and Bill Duehring. Our product lines were then expanded into a full line of commuter bikes, cruisers, MTBs, MBX, even road and tri bikes. The total number of models were up to 140 distributed in 27 countries.

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