Gravel Bike Vs. Road Bike: Which One Is Right For You?

It’s tough to decipher the differences between the countless bikes on the market. Whether it be a mountain bike, road bike, or gravel bike, they are each unique in several ways. So, what is the difference between gravel bikes and road bikes?

Road bikes sit lower to the ground than gravel bikes, so you must adjust your posture so your chest and face are close to the handlebars. Road bikes have pedals with three bolts whereas gravel bikes feature two bolts. Gravel bikes feature tires that measure between 38 and 50mm, while road bikes have tires that measure 23-28mm

You can ride road bikes on gravel, but you won’t have as much stability because the tires are so smooth. However, gravel bikes are perfect for the road, even if they offer less speed than road bikes. Follow along as we explore the key difference between gravel bikes and road bikes.

Gravel Bike Vs. Road Bike

Purpose

Gravel bikes and road bikes differ in purpose. Road bikes are less diverse than gravel bikes and are primarily ideal for smooth roads. The shape, wheel size, tire tread, and weight of road bikes let you easily traverse roads without too much debris or too many cracks.

Conversely, gravel bikes are built and designed to withstand less consistent surfaces. Gravel often features debris as well as many bumps and cracks. You are better suited for a gravel bike if you live in an area with harsh sidewalks and roads.

Otherwise, a road bike should be perfect if you primarily ride smooth concrete trails without many bumps or too much debris.

Shape

The difference in shape between road and gravel bikes is quite clear when you look at them. Road bikes are typically lower to the ground which means the rider must hunch over slightly more than they would on a gravel bike. Gravel bikes typically stand taller which removes the need for the rider to hunch over quite as much.

That said, you can find road and gravel bikes that break the mold and have different shapes. The standard shape of gravel bikes is meant to be as aerodynamic as possible because gravel sidewalks and roads are often difficult to navigate. Road bikes are still quite sporty and aerodynamic, but they put less emphasis on aerodynamic design than gravel bikes.

Tire Size

The tires on road bikes are much smoother than gravel bike tires. That is because road bike tires are meant for smooth concrete and asphalt surfaces. You can quickly roll over smooth surfaces with precision and speed on road bikes.

Gravel bike tires are quite smooth as well, but they aren’t quite as slick. The tires on road bikes often measure 23-28mm. However, you can also find athletic road bikes with tires as big as 28-32mm.

Gravel bike tires typically have a bigger width than you will find on road bikes. The standard tire width of gravel bikes is 38-50mm, but it varies based on the brand and model. Road bikes typically require a tire pressure of 40-90 PSI, whereas gravel bikes require just 20-45 PSI in most cases.  

Image by Jeff Klugiewicz from Pixabay

Brakes

Gravel bikes are different from road bikes in that they contain disc brakes. Road bikes instead feature rim brakes which aren’t considered as strong or durable. However, it’s much easier to maintain rim brakes than disc brakes in most cases.

You can stop much faster with disc brakes than with rim brakes. That said, rim brakes typically weigh less than disc brakes which means you will be more aerodynamic on the road.

Pedal Design

Gravel bikes and road bikes are primarily similar when it comes to the pedal design. The key difference is that gravel bike pedals feature two bolts in most cases whereas road bike pedals feature three bolts. You get a bigger platform with gravel bike pedals which is necessary for rough terrain. The difference is slight enough that it shouldn’t affect your decision between the two styles.

Image by Lars Nissen from Pixabay

Handlebars

Road bikes and gravel bikes sometimes have similar handlebars, but they often vary as well. For example, standard gravel bikes are easy to recognize for the flared handlebars. Many seasoned bikers prefer flared handlebars because they are wide and comfortable to grip.

This offers plenty of control whether you ride at slow or fast speeds. Gravel is typically much less even than smooth concrete roads, so extra comfort and control are necessary.  Conversely, road bikes typically feature drop handlebars.

Drop handlebars offer plenty of precision and control as well, but they are generally considered less comfortable than flared handlebars. However, flared drop handlebars offer the best of both worlds. You can typically modify a gravel or road bike and install drop handlebars to get comfort and precision. However, that’s only possible if the handlebar is compatible with the bike’s stem.

Comfort

Road bikes may be fast, practical, and efficient, but gravel bikes typically offer more comfort. That is mostly because you don’t have to hunch over as much on a gravel bike as you would with a road bike. Both types of bikes come with comfortable seats, but the difference in posture ultimately makes gravel bikes more comfortable.

That said, the comfort that gravel and road bikes offer also varies based on where you ride them. You will be more comfortable riding a gravel bike on a rough surface than a road bike. However, you won’t notice much of a difference in comfort when you ride a gravel bike on a smooth road.

Speed

Gravel bikes and road bikes are essentially the same when it comes to speed. For example, road bikes only typically go 0.77mph (1.24 kph) faster than gravel bikes, on average. This difference isn’t huge and also varies on other factors, such as the surface, weather conditions, tires, and weight of the rider.

Price

The starting price for gravel bikes is typically more expensive than road bikes. High-end gravel bikes typically start at $1,500, whereas high-end road bikes often start at $800. That said, you can still find cheap gravel bikes for as little as $500, but they aren’t typically on par with the quality standard of premium bikes.

The difference in price doesn’t necessarily mean that gravel bikes perform better than road bikes. As many Redditors pointed out, bike companies often set exorbitant prices to compete with one another because people are willing to pay them.

Can You Ride a Gravel Bike on the Road?

You can ride a gravel bike on the road without a problem. However, you will sacrifice some speed when you ride a gravel bike on the road, but that only matters if you are racing someone. It’s also more comfortable for some people to ride gravel bikes on the road instead of using road bikes because you don’t have to hunch over the handlebars.

Image by Simon from Pixabay

Can You Ride a Road Bike on Gravel?

You can ride a road bike on gravel, but you may notice a difference with the tires. Road bikes have smoother, softer tires that may not be able to withstand the inconsistency in the gravel’s surface. However, you shouldn’t have a problem if you don’t encounter too many cracks or too much debris on the gravel.

So, What is the Difference Between Gravel Bikes and Road Bikes?

The main difference between gravel bikes and road bikes is their shape. Road bikes are shorter than gravel bikes, so you must hunch over closer to the handlebars when you ride a road bike. You can also ride slightly faster on road bikes because of how aerodynamic they are.

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