The gravel bike is becoming more and more popular all over the world. With the development of the design, you can now find so many different options on your gravel bike. You can find an aero, stiff, classic or even unique geometry. In this post, we will walk you through all the details you need to know to start riding gravel bikes. Let's jump in!
- What is a Gravel Bike?
What is a gravel bike? Gravel is a mode of cycling that is practiced on a bike that is similar in appearance and geometry to a road bike, but with the frame and wheels adapted for use on surfaces other than asphalt.
So, for those of you who haven't heard of gravel bikes yet, we should put these bikes in a situation. They are not road or cyclocross bikes, with larger and thicker wheels. We will explain the differences between cyclocross bikes and road bikes versus gravel bikes in the next few lines. But as a curriculum, geometry is the right choice. a little different, more comfortable, designed for longer journeys, with long carrying bags and saddlebags. But they're not cyclocross bikes either because they are not designed for competition.
* What is a Gravel Bike for?
Gravel bikes are made for roads away from traffic, regardless of its state of conservation, and especially gravel or sand paths. But we will also enjoy pedaling on easy and clean paths, without stones or roots.
But we're going to give you some good reasons why you might want to get a gravel bike:
Adventure cycling: Have you heard of bikepacking? This mode is of adventure cycling combines cycling with camping, where you will cover itineraries on dirt and sandy paths or even on the road, which will allow you to spend several days overnight in campsites. You will carry everything you need on the bike in the saddlebags. Well, this mode of cycling is good for you if you have gravel bikes.
Commuting to work or commuting to the city: Gravel bikes will be ideal for commuting because they are easy to ride. The handlebar on them is much better and less stressful than road bikes. Therefore, with a more precise geometry, being more relaxed will allow you to go to work or move around the city comfortably and safely.
Find your way: Gravel bikes are like chameleons; they adapt very well to different environments. Perhaps it is not the best bike for going downhill among the rocks, but it will allow you to to move fast on the road, where cyclocross or MTB are very slow, or on trails where you wouldn't be able to move with a road bike. And with this bike being in full swing, you will now find countless competitions where you can use your new gravel bike.
* Gravel bike versus road bike
There are many similarities between gravel and road bikes, but now we're going to describe the differences:
Speed: Road bikes are faster for 3 main reasons. The first is the tire, which offers less resistance when rolling on the road. The second big difference is the cassettes that road bikes use, which allow you to transform more and power at speed for each pedal stroke. The last of all is aerodynamics, gravel bikes are designed for a much smoother and comfortable ride, which means greater resistance of the cyclist's body with the air.
Fun: Here it depends on each cyclist. There will be cyclists who want to have more fun than others. to climb mountain passes at high speed, and there will be others who prefer to enjoy dirt trails and leave the roads. But since each bicycle has a different purpose, the fun will be the same. For gravel it is a point in favor of the dirt road. You can enjoy a variety of different routes and paths with its flexibility.
Comfort: The gravel bikes have a relaxed geometry that will allow you to ride easily and to do many kilometers without thinking too much about maintaining an aerodynamic posture on the bike.
We find other differences such as the weight, which is slightly heavier in gravel bikes. In the frame where the stack is, shorter on gravel bikes or rims, but we will explain all this in the next topics of our guide.
* Mountain bike vs Gravel bike
Following the same steps as for a road bike, we will list the differences you will find between an MTB and a gravel bike:
Geometry: Gravel bikes have a geometry like that of road bikes, while the MTB has a shorter frame which is less comfortable because what we want is maximum responsiveness while grinding hard on the pavement instead of a relaxed run 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 more rugged and heavy due to the possibility of carrying saddlebags on the bike. The lightness of the MTB ensures better maneuverability on the ground and greater ease when you carry your bike.
Tire size: For a more comfortable ride you need a bigger tire. Therefore, gravel tires are a bit thinner than MTB ones but thicker than those for road bikes. On the other hand, in an MTB – a lot of traction in terrain that can be muddy, so the tire must be thicker to provide this traction.
* Cyclocross vs. Gravel Bike
It's most likely we have also heard that a gravel bike is a must-have like a cyclocross bike, but in the following lines we will discover the differences between the two types of bikes:
Use and purpose: Cyclocross bikes are designed for competition, road bike geometry for muddy circuits, the reason is the speed. Gravel bikes are designed for long distance riding or even bikepacking, while there are some competitions for gravel bikes, the design is not intended for pure competition but for comfort.
The geometry of the bicycle: The gravel bike is designed to be comfortable and stable as you ride long distances. On the other hand, cyclocross bikes must be aerodynamic to reach maximum speed possible for only 1 or 2 hours of racing, so comfort is not as important. It is sacrificed by giving more stiffness to the frame.
The weight of each bicycle: The cyclocross bike is lighter because it is designed for competition and every extra gram of weight is an extra force that we need to apply to the pedals. On the other hand, gravel bikes are designed for bikepacking use and carry saddlebags, so if it were very light the frame of the bike could be bent and damaged. Hence, the structure must be more complex. robust and this translates into weight.
Top tube: The top tube on a gravel bike will have a length. a certain 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 stiffness and aerodynamics.
- Types of gravel bikes
We will show you the different options you'll find on the market when choosing your ideal gravel bike. From the manufacturing materials of frames and other components, such as different types of gravel bikes:
* Carbon Gravel Bikes
Carbon fiber is unique and one of the most popular materials required in the bicycle industry. This is serious due to its rigidity and hardness while providing a lightness that other materials do not achieve. And it is a material in great demand also for gravel bikes. It is tough enough to carry saddlebags on the bike while being lighter than other materials at the same time.
The disadvantage that carbon fiber has is fragility, that is, in the event of a strong impact it could break. But if we consider that this is a bike designed not for downhill but for relaxed rides, it is certainly a great material for your gravel bike.
If we talk about the price, carbon fiber gravel bikes are not that expensive like the titanium ones, but they are more expensive than those in steel or aluminum.
* Steel Gravel Bike
Steel is perhaps a material that is falling out of use year after year because it is heavy. The major bicycle brands have eliminated steel bikes from their high-end bike catalogues. For the competition it is a very heavy material that doesn't provide any benefits.
The priority of gravel bikes is not lightness but durability and steel is a very rigid material which in the event of an impact is easy to repair. The problem we can find on steel bikes is corrosion due to rust. And the big plus, the price. Gravel bikes with a steel frame will be much more comfortable and cheaper than those in carbon fiber, aluminum, or titanium.
* Titanium Gravel Bike
Among the materials that we will analyze in this guide is titanium. A material that offers us the advantages of carbon fiber and steel at the same time. It is a very light and robust material. It is not as breakable as carbon fiber, so you can ride any road with a titanium gravel bike. If the bike hits some rocks, nothing should happen to the frame.
But this wonderful material has also some drawbacks. The price. If we want a lightweight, unbreakable titanium frame we're going to have to pay a lot more for our new gravel bike. But it will be a safe investment.
* Single Speed Gravel Bike
This type of gravel bike has a single chain and single sprocket drivetrain. We will not need to think of changing the speed and the chain will always be in place.
The only problem is we will have to pedal much more. If we go up a slope, we will have to apply more time, power more with the legs. If we go down the slope, we will not be able to pedal.
* Gravel Bike flat handlebar
The flat handlebar provides us with a more relaxed posture and more aerodynamics. Maybe if you have back problems, it is not for you. Being completely flat, they make the position of the hands more comfortable. It is low compared to double height handlebars.
The advantage is that we get a better position that provides more aerodynamics.
The disadvantage is this will make us put more weight on our hands so we will get tired sooner and sensations such as tingling are likely to appear more frequently.
* Aero Gravel Bike
Even if comfort is essential within gravel bikes, we also find aero gravel bikes on the market, which seeks to achieve even more performance via improved aerodynamics on the bike. It is a new trend in the market and surely in the near future, we will see many more aero bikes on the market.
- Setting up the gravel bike
In this section we will analyze the setup adopted by gravel bikes and the components they incorporate:
* Setting up the Gravel Grinder bike
We have many options, but we will focus on analyzing two of them, double or single sprockets:
Double wheels (2x): With this configuration, we will have more variety and we can “play” more with the transmission. It will be more comfortable but at the same time, the transmission can give us more trouble.
Single wheel (1x): Fewer speed options but it keeps the gravel bike simpler.
* Gravel bike tires
We have a large variety of tires for gravel bikes with some differences between them:
Diameter: We can find 700C or 650B tires. It depends on where you are located (Europe, America, Asia…), it will be the same. more popular to use one diameter or another. The circle must have 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 even if the normal configuration would be 40mm or 42mm.
Types: Here we find the Clincher and the Tubeless. The most recommended are the tubeless ones, more comfortable and difficult to puncture.
Design and studs: If what you're looking for is more speed, you will be interested in equipping your wheels with tires with a small pattern 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 ensure that the wheel grips more to the surface.
* Gravel bike wheels
It is possible to find the complete wheelset for your racing bike. You can find them in sizes of 700C and 650B.
Another aspect to keep in mind about the wheel is that gravel bikes usually come with disc brakes.
Because the rims are not required for braking, the manufacturers have the option to build larger circles with lightweight aluminum and carbon. In general, Gravel bike wheels also have a slightly larger rim. wide to allow the tires to settle in a safe and solid way.
* Gravel bike frameset
While 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 made of carbon fiber, while in gravel bikes we find more carbon fiber, with a larger variety of materials. For the low cost we have steel frames that is more heavy but cheap, for the medium range we will find gravel bikes in aluminum and some in carbon fiber. If what we want is a very light and high-end bike, the material that the manufacturers use is carbon fiber or "unbreakable" titanium.
In this guide, we have not talked about suspension because these bikes are not designed for downhill riding, so it is not a necessary component.
* Handlebars for gravel bikes
We can mount two different types of handlebars on our gravel bike:
Flat handlebar: It is the handlebars that make the cyclist assume a more relaxed posture for racing and to provide more aerodynamics. 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 bend is more pronounced, so the position of the hands is more comfortable. The only advantage is more stability when driving on rougher surfaces.
This type of handlebar is designed to be used as a handlebar, ideal for adventure cycling, although there will be riders who prefer conventional handlebars and without any flare.
* Gravel bike fork
When we choose our fork for gravel, we must consider the type of wheel that our bike will carry. On the other hand, these bicycles are not designed to carry suspension, so the fork will be completely rigid.
Almost all manufacturers use carbon forks for the advantages in terms of weight, stability and durability and cushioning. When using disc brakes, a rigid fork can transmit braking power evenly and the ability to brake evenly.
* Fenders for gravel bikes
For fenders it is not the most aesthetic aspect of the bike, but which will prevent us from coming back home with the face, body and bike full of mud. Therefore, if we want our bike to have a longer useful life; long, it will be good to equip the bike with these mudguards on rainy days or when we ride on muddy trails.
Mudguard on the front wheel: It will prevent us from riding. to splash us in the face and will protect our fork and wheel chain from the mud.
Mudguard on the rear wheel: We can come 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, it will protect our sleeping bag. Therefore, being cheap and light is an important element.
* Gravel bike pedals
Gravel cycling by its nature covers a wide variety of terrains and surfaces. We can tackle purely asphalted surfaces on the road or more difficult bumpy surfaces. Therefore, mountain bike pedals and mixed pedals are ideal. Road pedals can be a bit bumpy, more problematic, and more difficult to release.
The pedals for MTB or Touring allow you to wear normal shoes.
Now let us know or have a look at how do you think of our gravel bikes here:
What brand of gravel bike are you riding now?
How do you think the road bike compares to the gravel bike?
Or are you looking for a carbon frame for gravel bikes?
In any case, let us know in the comments.