[2020 NEW] The Ultimate Gravel Bike Guide - All questions answered
Gravel bike is becoming more and more popular across the world. As the design develops, now you can find so many different options on your gravel bike. You can find aero, stiff, classic or even unique geometry. In this post, we will guide you through all the details you need to know to start riding gravel bike. Let’s jump into it.
Table of Contents
1. What is a Gravel Bike
What is gravel bike? Gravel is a cycling modality that is practiced on a bike that is similar in appearance and geometry to the road bike, but with the frame and wheels adapted to be used also on other surfaces than the asphalt.
So, for who still does not hear about gravel bikes, we should put these bikes in a situation. They are not road bikes or cyclocross bikes, with thicker wheels. We will explain the differences between CX bikes and road bikes with gravel bikes in the next lines. But as a resume, the geometry is a bit different, more comfortable, designed for longer trips carrying bags and saddlebags. But neither are CX bikes because these are designed for competition.
* What is a Gravel Bike good for?
Gravel bikes are made for roads away from traffic, regardless of its conservation status, and especially the gravel or sand trails. But we will also have fun riding on easy and clean paths, without stones or roots.
But we are going to give you some good reasons why you could get a gravel bike:
Adventure Cycling: Have you heard about bikepacking? This modality of adventure cycling combines the bike with the camping, where you will ride routes on dirt and sand trails or even road, and that will allow you to take several days of overnight stays in campsites. Everything you need you will carry on the bike in saddlebags. Well, this modality is ideal for gravel bikes.
Commuting to go to work or move in the city: Gravel bikes will be ideal to go to work because riding on them is much better and less stressful than road bikes. Therefore, with a more relaxed geometry will allow you to get to work or move around the city in a more comfortable and safe way.
- Find your way: Gravel bikes are like chameleons, they adapt very well to different environments. It is clear that perhaps it is not the best bike to go downhill through rocks, but it will allow you to move quickly by road, where the CX or MTB are very slow, or by paths where you could not move with a road bike. And being this bike in full swing, now you will find countless competitions where you can use your new gravel bike. Maybe the competition is your way?
* Gravel Bike vs Road Bike
We have already said this, there are many similarities between gravel and road bikes, but now we are going to describe the differences:
Speed: Road bikes are faster for 3 main reasons, although there are more. The first is the tires, which offer less resistance while rolling on the road. The second big difference is the cassettes that use road bikes, which allow you to transform more power into speed for each pedaling. The last of all is aerodynamics, gravel bikes are designed for a much more comfortable and longer ride, and this translates into more resistance of the cyclist’s body with the air.
Fun: Here it depends on each cyclist, there will be cyclists who enjoy more climbing mountain passes at high speed, and there will be others who prefer to enjoy dirt trails and leave the roads. But since each bike has a different purpose, the fun will be a point in favor of gravel. You can enjoy a variety of different paths and trails, so its versatility will guarantee fun.
- Comfort: As we have already said, gravels have a relaxed geometry that will allow you to make many kilometers without thinking too much about maintaining an aerodynamic posture on the bike.
We find other differences such as weight, which is heavier in gravel bikes, the frame where the stack is shorter on gravel bikes or the rims, but we will explain all this in the following topics of our guide.
* Mountain Bike vs Gravel bike
Following the same steps as for the road bike, we are going to list the differences you will find between a MTB and a gravel bike:
Geometry: Gravel bikes, as we have already mentioned, have a geometry similar to road bikes, while MTB has a shorter frame and is less comfortable because what we want is maximum responsiveness while grinding hard on the paved wilderness instead of a relaxed ride along an unobstructed path.
Frame: The composition of the frame could also be different. MTBs are made of aluminum or carbon fiber, while gravel bikes are heavier due to the possibility of carrying saddlebags on the bike. The lightness of the MTB provides better maneuverability on the ground, and more ease when carrying the bike on you.
- Tire size: For a faster ride, a thinner tire is needed and therefore gravel tires are a bit thinner than MTB, although thicker than on road. On the other hand, in a MTB what is needed is a lot of traction on lands that may be muddy, therefore the tire must be thicker to provide this traction.
* Cyclocross vs Gravel Bike
It is very likely that we have also heard that a gravel bike is like a CX bike, but in the following lines we will discover the differences between both types of bike:
- Use and purpose: Cyclocross bikes are designed for competition, the geometry of road bikes for muddy circuits, the reason is speed. Gravel bikes are designed for long distances or even bikepacking, and although there are some competitions for gravel bikes, the design is not intended for pure competition but for comfort.
- The geometry of the bike: An aspect that we have already said previously. The gravel bike is designed to be comfortable and stable since long distances are ridden on it. On the other hand, cyclocross bikes have to be aerodynamic to reach the highest possible speed for only 1 or 2 hours of competition, therefore comfort is not as important and is sacrificed giving more rigidity to the frame.
- The weight of each bike: The cyclocross bike is lighter since it is designed for competition and every extra gram of weight is extra strength that we have to apply to the pedals. On the other hand, gravel bikes are designed for the use of bikepacking and carry saddlebags, so if it were very light the structure of the bike could be bent and damaged. Therefore the structure has to be more robust and that translates into weight.
- The pedals: A characteristic of cyclocross bikes is that the pedals are placed in a higher position than on road bikes. This is because the possibility of a pedal hitting a rock must be reduced. This situation will never occur on a road, but in a cyclocross circuit, the pedal can impact the ground easily. In the gravel bikes, the road bike configuration is maintained and the pedals are placed in a lower position.
- Horizontal tube: The horizontal tube in the gravel bike will have some curvature to make the bike more comfortable, while in the cyclocross bike this tube is practically parallel to the ground to give the bike more rigidity and aerodynamics.
2. Types of Gravel Bike
At this point in the guide, we will show you the different options that you will find in the market when choosing your ideal gravel bike. From the materials of manufacture of frames and other components, such as different types of gravel bikes:
* Carbon Gravel Bike
Carbon fiber is one of the most demanded materials in the bike industry. This is due to its rigidity and hardness while providing a lightness that other materials do not reach. And it is a very demanded material also for gravel bikes. It is hard enough to carry saddlebags on the bike, and that it is a lightweight material that will always be an advantage.
The disadvantage that carbon fiber has is that it is a fracturable material, that is, in case of a strong impact it could break. But if we consider that this is a bike designed not to downhill but for relaxed routes, it is certainly a great material for your gravel bike.
If we talk about the price, carbon fiber gravel bikes are not as expensive as titanium bikes, but they are more expensive than steel or aluminum bikes.
* Steel Gravel Bike
Steel is perhaps a material that is falling into disuse year after year because it is very heavy. The big bike brands have been removing the steel bikes from their catalogs of high-end bikes. For competition it is a very heavy material that does not provide any advantage, but in the world of gravel, this is different.
As we have said, the priority of gravel bikes is not lightness but durability, and steel is a very rigid material that in case of an impact is easy to repair. The problem we can find on steel bikes is corrosion due to rust. And the big advantage, the price. Gravel bikes will be much cheaper than carbon fiber, aluminum or titanium bike.
* Titanium Gravel Bike
From the materials that we are going to analyze in this guide, the last one is titanium. A material that offers us the advantages of carbon fiber and steel at the same time, that is, it is a very light and robust material. It is not fracturable like carbon fiber, so you can travel any route with a titanium gravel bike. If the bike hits any rock, nothing should happen to the frame.
But this wonderful material should have some inconvenience, and this is the price. As expected, if we want a titanium frame, light and unbreakable we will have to pay a little more for our new gravel bike. But it will be a safe investment.
* Single Speed Gravel Bike
Maybe it’s not the most common gravel bike we can find in the market, but a single-speed gravel bike is a reality, and some manufacturers have launched their own. This type of gravel bike has a drivetrain with a single wheelchain and a single cog. What we will get is a more relaxed ride, without thinking of changing the speed, and the chain will not give us problems, it will never get out of the drivetrain. It will always be in its place and will have longer durability. We can even protect it with a fender.
The problem we will find is that we will have to pedal much more. If we climb a slope we will have to apply more power with our legs, while if we go down the slope, we will not be able to pedal.
* Flat Bar Gravel Bike
The flat handlebars provide us with a more “racing” posture, that is, more aerodynamic. So you must keep in mind what you are looking for, if comfort or efficiency.
Maybe if you have back problems, it is not the most recommended handlebar for you.
Being completely flat they make the position of your hands lower than with the double-height handlebars, this has its pros and cons.
Starting with the advantages, we get a more aggressive position that makes us gain aerodynamics by being more lying on the bike, this is ideal if we want to make the most of our downhills taking advantage of aerodynamics.
The disadvantages also come because the position we take is more inclined than with the double-height handlebars, this will cause us to put more weight on our hands so we will get tired before and it is likely that sensations such as tingling appear more frequently.
* Aero Gravel Bike
Although comfort has been a priority within gravel bikes, we also find aero gravel bike on the market, which tries to get even more speed by providing a more aerodynamic geometry on the bike. It is a new trend in the market and surely in the near future we will see many more aero bikes in the market. It can be seen that the tubes of the frame are more square, and are more similar to the time trial bikes, although the geometry is not so aggressive.
3. Gravel Bike Setup
* Gravel Grinder Bike Setup
We have many options, but we will focus on analyzing two of them, double chainwheels or single chainwheel:
Double chainwheels (2x): With this setup, we will have more variety and we can “play” more with the drivetrain. It will be more comfortable but at the same time, the drivetrain can always give us some problems.
- Single chainwheel (1x): Fewer speed options, but the assurance that in our adventure the drivetrain will not give us problems. We will have to pedal and try harder on some slopes, but it is a completely valid setup for gravel bikes and that many manufacturers incorporate in their bikes. We can combine it with an 11 speeds cassette for a 1×11.
* Gravel Bike Tires
We have a wide variety of tires for gravel bikes, from Rinasclta’s opinion, we will try to explain the differences between them:
Diameter: We can find 700C or 650B tires. It depends on where you are (Europe, America, Asia…), it will be more popular to use a diameter or another. The rim will have to be the same diameter as the tire.
Width: Here we can find a very wide range of values, which for gravel bikes would be between 37mm and 45mm although the normal configuration would be 40mm or 42mm.
Tire type: Here we find the Clincher and the Tubeless. The most recommended at this time are the tubeless for being much more comfortable and difficult to puncture.
- Drawing and studs: If what you are looking for is more speed, you will be interested in equipping your wheels with tires with a little drawing and without studs. On the contrary, if what you are looking for is more traction, the drawing will help you to evacuate the water, and the studs will make the wheel cling more to the surface.
* Gravel Bike Wheelset
It is possible to find the complete wheelset for your gravel bike. As we have already commented with the tires, it is possible to find them in dimensions of 700C and 650B. On the other hand, the width of the wheelset will be important. The most common width is usually around 21-24mm internal for gravel.
Another aspect to keep in mind about the wheel is that gravel bikes usually are equipped with disc brakes.
Since the rims are not necessary for braking, manufacturers have the possibility to build lighter rims made of aluminum and carbon. In general, the wheels of the Gravel bikes also have a slightly wider rim to allow the tires to settle securely and solidly.
* Gravel Bike Frameset
We have already said that the frame is similar to road bikes, but with some differences. It is a little less aggressive in geometry to adopt greater comfort on the bike.
On the other hand, road bikes are usually carbon fiber, while in gravel bikes we find more variety of materials. For low cost we have the steel frames that will be heavier but cheap, for the middle range we will find aluminum gravel bikes and some made of carbon fiber. If what we want is a very light and high-end bike, the material that manufacturers use is either carbon fiber or the “unbreakable” titanium.
In this guide, we have not talked about suspensions because it is not a component equipped usually in the gravel bikes. These bikes are not designed for downhill therefore it is an unnecessary component.
* Gravel Bike Handlebars
We can mount on our gravel bike two different types of handlebars:
Flat handlebars: We have talked about them before, they are the handlebars that make the cyclist take a more racing posture, and therefore more aerodynamic. On the other hand, they are less comfortable.
- Handlebar with flare: This type of handlebar is the most common in gravel bikes. The flare or angle of the handlebar curve is more pronounced, and therefore the position of the hands is more comfortable. But this is not the only advantage, we will also achieve more stability when riding on more complicated surfaces reaching more control of the bike.
This type of handlebars is therefore ideal for adventure cycling, although there will be riders who prefer conventional handlebars and without any flare
* Gravel Bike Fork
When selecting our fork for gravel we have to take into account what type of wheel our bike will carry. On the other hand, as we have said before, these bikes are not designed to carry suspension, therefore the fork will be completely rigid.
Almost all manufacturers use carbon forks due to the advantages with weight, stability and cushioning.
When using disc brakes, a rigid fork manages to transmit the braking power evenly and the braking capacity increases.
* Gravel Bike Fenders
It is time to talk about the fenders. That component that perhaps is not the most aesthetic on the bike, but that will prevent us from returning home with the face, the body and the bike full of mud splashes. Therefore, if we want our bike to have a longer useful life, it will be good to equip the bike with these fenders on rainy days or when we travel muddy trails.
Fender on the front wheel: It will prevent us from splashing in the face and will also protect our fork and wheelchain from the mud.
- Fender on the rear wheel: We will return home with a dry back and protect our partners from splashes.
And let’s not forget that if we use our gravel bike for adventure cycling and bikepacking, what we will protect will be our sleeping bag. Therefore, an indispensable, cheap and lightweight element.
* Gravel Bike Pedals
Gravel cycling by its nature covers a wide variety of surfaces. We can face purely asphalt on the road or more rugged surfaces where a quick release is essential. Therefore, we think that Mountain Bike and Mixed pedals are ideal. Road pedals can be a bit more problematic because they are more difficult to release.
The pedals for MTB or Touring allow you to carry a shoe that is possible to walk with it and in addition, many of them are designed with double-sided anchoring being easier to penetrate. CX pedals would be a good option too.
But as we have said, it will depend on the surface you are going to travel, and as with our gravel bike we can cross any terrain, it will be at your choice.
Now we would like to hear from you
Which brand’s gravel bike are you riding now?
How do you think compare road bike vs gravel bike?
Or you are looking for a carbon gravel bike frame?
Either way, let us know in the comment 😉