A gravel bike is a bicycle designed for riding on unpaved roads. It is similar to a mountain bike but with narrower tires and a lighter frame. Gravel bikes are ideal for depending on rough terrains, such as dirt, sand, and rocks.
Read this article to have more information about what is a gravel bike and what to consider when buying one.
- 1 What Is A Gravel Bicycle?
- 2 What’s It Used For?
- 3 The History Of Gravel Bikes
- 4 How Has Gravel Bikes Changed Over The Years?
- 5 Material For Frames
- 6 Geometry
- 7 Tyres
- 8 Wheels
- 9 Disc Brakes
- 10 Gearing
- 11 Mounts
- 12 Additional Features
- 13 Electric Gravel Bikes
- 14 Gravel Bike Vs Road Bike
- 15 Gravel Bike Vs Cyclocross Bicycle
- 16 Gravel Bike Vs Mountain Bike
- 17 Who Should Use A Gravel Bike?
- 18 Who Should Not Use A Gravel Bike?
- 19 Benefits Of Gravel Bikes
- 20 Risks Associated With Gravel Bikes
- 21 Environmental Impact Of Using A Gravel Bike
- 22 Is It Possible To Keep A Gravel Bike Functioning?
- 23 Is A Gravel Bike Required To Be Ridden In A Designated Area?
- 24 What To Wear When Riding A Gravel Bike?
- 25 What Accessories Are Recommended For Gravel Bike Use?
- 26 Conclusion
What Is A Gravel Bicycle?
A gravel bike has a drop bar bike that allows you to ride on many surfaces. Thanks to the drop handlebar and road-bike-like design, you can still make significant progress on the roads. However, you can also enjoy more freedom off the beaten path with wider tires, lower gearing, and better handling.
Multi-terrain biking is possible by riding a bike that can connect gravel roads in new ways. You can also take in forest tracks, trails and bridlepaths. You can also load your gravel bike up with camping gear for multiday bikepacking adventures.
A gravel bike can look different from one manufacturer to another, just like any other bike category.
The type of riding you plan to do will determine the best gravel bike. Let’s look at the critical design elements that make up a gravel bike.
What’s It Used For?
Gravel bikes are great for many types of cycling. These adventure bikes are great for road riding and off-roading. They can often carry luggage and are sturdy, comfortable, and durable. This makes them great for short trips and longer commutes.
The History Of Gravel Bikes
Given their popularity, it may surprise you that gravel bikes are one of the most recent models to hit the market. Only a few years ago, the first gravel bike was created.
Salsa Cycles, a Minnesota-based company that designed the first gravel bike, was the first to do so. The Salsa Cycles team created the ‘Warbird bike’ in 2012 after they realized that road and cyclocross bikes weren’t sufficient for gravel racing.
They wanted to create a bike that could do everything and include all the features required for gravel racing.
So, the Warbird bike was born. Since then, most gravel bikes have been a prevalent subtype of bicycles in the cycling community. They are also the most popular type of bike and the fastest growing for many years.
How Has Gravel Bikes Changed Over The Years?
Gravel bikes typically have been a niche player in the bike market since their inception in 2012.
As we have already mentioned, gravel bikes are relatively new compared to more established models.
Although this type of bike hasn’t seen any significant changes in design since its conception, gravel bike manufacturers continue their growth and adaptation, offering more tyre and gear options.
Material For Frames
Gravel bikes can be made of various frame materials, just like other bicycles.
Aluminium and carbon are the most popular options.
Aluminium is a durable, affordable and lightweight material used to build a gravel bike.
Carbon frames are lighter than aluminum frames. Carbon frames can be designed to provide more aerodynamic tube shapes and stiffness.
You’ll find other options than carbon and aluminium for your titanium gravel bike.
A gravel bike looks similar to a road bike but is built for better off-road handling. This usually means a longer wheelbase, a shorter frame, and more stable angles for the forks and frame.
Cannondale uses its OutFront geometry for its Topstone gravel bikes. This is a result of Cannondale’s mountain bikes. It places the front wheel further forward than the rider for increased stability.
A gravel bike is more upright than a road bike and has a shorter head tube and reach.
This will allow you to ride longer and more comfortably and will enable you to shift your weight to overcome obstacles and off-road descents.
The frame tubes will be shaped to cushion the ride, especially in the rear triangle. Curved and flattened sections within the seat stays and chainstays will provide in-saddle comfort. A seatpost may also be designed to absorb vibrations.
Consider the terrain you will be using your gravel bike on, and choose a built bike to handle it.
You’ll want to ride primarily on roads with occasional off-road tracks. If this is the case, you will need a bike that feels more like an endurance bike.
Many endurance road bikes come equipped with light-gravel riding tyres.
You might prefer a gravel bike that is more capable on off-road terrain. There are also machines with wider tyres and smaller 650b wheels.
This is what we will be discussing suspension, dropper posts, and other features that are straight out of our MTB counterparts.
The tyre width, usually 40mm, is an essential feature of gravel bikes. The tyre size impacts how much technical terrain you can ride, more so than any other component of a gravel bicycle.
Gravel bike tyres have more volume, so you can run lower pressures (40psi or below), which provides comfort and traction on uneven surfaces.
There will likely be a tread pattern to aid grip on slippery surfaces.
The conditions will determine how much tread you require. You may only require a light file or diamond tread for dry trails. However, mountain bike tyres designed for winter tracks will need more aggressive patterns and side lugs to provide extra grip.
Most wheels and tyres can be run tubeless (without an inner tube). This lets you keep your tyre pressure down and avoid pinch flats (where the inner tube gets stuck between the tyre’s rim and the tyre in a regular clincher setup).
The sealant in the gravel bike tires will withstand punctures caused by thorns, flants, and other factors. It forms a seal around small cracks in the rubber to prevent air from escaping.
A gravel bike’s frame and fork blades will have enough space for oversized tyres. This allows for extra handling for any mud they may collect. However, clearances can vary between bikes.
There are two sizes of gravel bike wheels: 700c or 650b.
The 650b wheel has a smaller diameter and can be shod with wider tyres for more traction. However, the wheel’s rolling diameter is similar to that of a road bike, which allows for comparable gearing and feels.
Many gravel bikes are equipped with 700c wheels with tyres and tyres. You can swap to 650b later if you wish. However, increasing numbers of cycles come with smaller sizes out of the box, especially for bikes that are more focused on off-road riding.
Want to know more dimensions of the wheel, read this guide: How To Measure Bike Wheel Size?
These disc brakes used on gravel bikes tend to have a fairly small rotor, making them lighter weight. They use on modern road bikes and a standard feature on gravel bikes. Gravel bikes were made possible by hydraulic disc brakes that can be used with drop-bar gear shifters.
Disc brakes provide consistent, effective stopping no matter the conditions – essential for gravel bikes – and plenty of space for wider tyres for off-road riding.
When it comes to gravel bike setup, gearing is crucial.
To tackle challenging terrain and steep climbs, you will need to use lower gears if you are going off-road. You can’t climb on slippery surfaces because of reduced grip. To avoid getting out of the saddle, spin up the gradient.
With a wide-range cassette, gravel bikes should have at least a 50/34t compact-road chainset.
Super-compact chainsets, however, are common. Shimano’s GRX gravel set allows you to climb more challenging routes by reducing the chainring size to 48/31t and 46/30t, respectively.
A super-compact set of gears is recommended if you intend to ride your gravel bike off-road over technical or steep terrain.
Another popular option for gravel riding is single-ring groupsets.
The front derailleur is gone, and you can use just one chainring. This makes it simpler and less risky. A single chainset gives you the same range as a double one but with slightly more incredible jumps between gears.
A chainring will have alternating narrow and wide teeth. This, together with a clutched rear derailleur, helps to keep the chain in its place and keeps it running smoothly when it gets bumpy.
If you have trouble with bike chains, this article may help you: How To Fix A Bike Chain?
A common feature of gravel bikes is the many mounts that can attach accessories or luggage.
Many gravel bikes come with mounts for mudguards and racks. This makes them great for commuters or winter riding.
For long rides, where water may be scarce, a typical set of mounting points will include bolts to attach a third water bottle underneath the down tube. These can be used to keep your hands free by holding a tool keg inside a bottle cage.
Some gravel bikes have mounts that allow for a feed bag to be placed on the bike’s top tube, just behind the stem.
Mounts for extra luggage or bottle cages can be found on the fork blades. Some bikes also have a mountain to mount a dynamo lamp on the fork crown.
Gravel bikes often have bars that flare to the drops. Flared drops offer additional stability and improve handling, especially when descending quickly.
You won’t need to reach too low for the bars.
Dropper seat posts are also helpful in descending off-road. They can be borrowed from mountain bikes.
A lever can control dropper posts at the lower bars or raise your saddle. This allows you to get out of the way when it is steep or rough.
You’ll increasingly see suspension features on gravel bikes. Cannondale Topstone Carbon’s suspension system, Kingpin, is built into the seat stays. It allows for up to 30mm movement. Topstone Carbon Lefty bikes feature a single-leg Lefty Oliver suspension.
Electric Gravel Bikes
E-gravel bikes and electric bikes are rapidly gaining popularity. Many brands make electric gravel bikes.
E-gravel bikes offer electric assistance while you pedal (up to a certain speed, at which point the motor will cut off) – applicable when you’re trying to tackle steep climbs or when you want to go further afield.
The type of electric bike motor you use will determine how much assistance you receive. Range depends on battery size, terrain, and the aid level needed (most systems provide a variety of levels of service).
Gravel Bike Vs Road Bike
As we mentioned, a gravel bike is more relaxed than a road bike. This means you will be more comfortable and stable if you sit up straighter.
You’ll also have the option to buy wider tires with more tread and comprehensive gear options that include lower ratios.
However, gravel bikes aren’t much slower rolling than regular road bikes, primarily if your tyre selection is geared towards riding on the tarmac.
Gravel Bike Vs Cyclocross Bicycle
Cyclocross bikes have wide tyres and big clearances. What’s the difference between a CX bike from a gravel bike?
A gravel bike is meant for exploration and endurance, while a traditional cyclocross bike is built to race, often more than an hour.
A crosser has a more aggressive and twitchier geometry, which allows you to accelerate quickly and maneuver around tight obstacles on a race track instead of the all-day riding position that a gravel bike offers.
Cyclocross bikes’ tyres are usually narrower to meet race regulations. (UCI sanctioned events allow tyres to be 33mm wide at UCI-sanctioned events) This helps cut through muddy trails and sandy ground.
This means there may not be as much clearance on gravel bikes, and you won’t have as many mounting points to mount mudguards or other accessories.
Gravel Bike Vs Mountain Bike
Hybrid bikes are similar to gravel bikes in that they have wider tires and lower gear ranges. However, they come with flat bars instead of drop bars.
Hybrids are more geared towards cycling and road use, so their tread patterns will be less aggressive.
You’ll still be able to mount mudguards if there isn’t a lot of mud.
However, this all means that hybrid bikes have the less off-road capability. So while they are great for commuters, leisure riding, and light trails, you will need to be more cautious if you venture onto anything technical off road terrain.
Who Should Use A Gravel Bike?
It isn’t easy to describe a typical gravel bike rider, as this bike is suited to many cyclists with different needs and abilities.
As we mentioned, versatility is the defining characteristic of these bikes. Therefore, gravel bike riders can be very versatile.
Gravel bikes are the best choice for cyclists who don’t want to be tied down by purchasing a bike. These bikes can handle many environments and make it easy for you to participate in many types of cycling events.
This bike is ideal for beginners who want to experience traditional and off-road biking.
G gravel bikes are a favorite choice for those who love bikepacking and multiday adventures. These bikes can be used on any road surface without damaging or wearing down the tyres.
A gravel bike is an excellent option for commuters living in tight spaces. It’s great to have a bike that can handle a variety of terrains in places where space is limited.
Who Should Not Use A Gravel Bike?
Gravel bikes are not suitable for riders who have only one goal, as their primary purpose is to cross multifaceted terrains.
A road bike is the best choice for leisure riders who want a simple bike to commute on paved roads. A road bike is cheaper than a gravel bicycle, so don’t buy one if you aren’t going to use it all.
A gravel bike is a good choice if you want to ride in urban areas but still need a sturdy bike to handle extreme weather conditions. Suppose you have the money to buy one.
Benefits Of Gravel Bikes
Most riders find the advantages of gravel bikes to be more beneficial than the disadvantages. It is essential to consider both the benefits and drawbacks of this type of bike.
Among the best pros of gravel bikes are:
- Clearance sale to adjust tire size
- Sturdy rigid frames
- Great for bikepacking
Gravel bike riders love the versatility of their bikes, which can be used on a variety of trails. You can travel from gravel roads to mountain trails in one ride.
Risks Associated With Gravel Bikes
Be aware that a gravel bike can come with a steep price tag.
Their versatility is a plus for those who prefer to own one bike over multiple, saving you money down the line.
There are also safety risks, mainly because gravel bikes can be used on uneven terrain.
When riding your gravel bike, always wear your helmet.
If you plan to go on a long hike, tell someone where you are going and when you can expect them back. If you become injured or stranded along your journey, you can tell someone where you are.
Environmental Impact Of Using A Gravel Bike
Bicycling is an eco-friendly alternative to cars, as it reduces pollution from exhausts and during manufacturing.
Many green-conscious people choose to ride their bicycles over driving, especially in densely populated areas where smog can be a concern.
It is possible to arrive at your destination quicker by biking than by car in congested cities.
You can help nature thrive off-road by riding a gravel bike. However, it would help if you stuck to the trails and did not tear up the ground.
Is It Possible To Keep A Gravel Bike Functioning?
Regularly checking and maintaining the tyre pressure on bikes are essentially to keep it running at its best. You should also be aware of the tread condition of your tyres as they can be exposed to a variety of terrains over time.
As a rule of thumb, the more complex or softening the terrain, the lower your tire pressure should be.
You should also make sure your gravel bike is serviced once in a while and cleaned after each ride.
Is A Gravel Bike Required To Be Ridden In A Designated Area?
Gravel bikes can be used on rougher terrain, such as back roads that are bumpy or uphill and mountain trails.
Gravel bikes can handle most terrains thanks to their durable, thick tyres. Casual and competitive cyclists can also use them.
Gravel bikes, a more agile, adaptable version of a bike hybrid, are better suited for commuting and gentle offroad riding.
What To Wear When Riding A Gravel Bike?
Safety and comfort are the most important aspects to consider when choosing an outfit for riding a gravel bicycle.
Because you’ll be spending hours on the saddle, this is important. You can choose to wear a loose-fitting or tighter cycling jersey. Whatever is most comfortable for you, it is the best choice.
For those problematic trails, knee pads and gloves can be a great addition to your protection. Protective cycling glasses are also recommended for riders who ride on loose gravel tracks.
These will prevent dirt and particles from entering your eye and stop your eyes from tearing up when you are trying to focus on the next course.
Don’t forget your helmet.
What Accessories Are Recommended For Gravel Bike Use?
You can make your gravel bike the best companion for adventures-seeking rides. Here are some accessories that you can purchase to make your journeys more seamless.
These could include but are not limited to a GPS and bottle cage, lights, the basics of a helmet and lock and a tyre pump.
A couple of waterproof frame bags are essential for anyone who plans to go bike touring, bikepacking or cycling with a gravel bike. They will protect your luggage and keep you dry while keeping your body light.
Many riders change their bars to suit their riding style (8-bar bikes).
A gravel bike is a bicycle designed for riding on unpaved roads. It is a relatively new type of bike, and it is growing in popularity among cyclists who want to explore more places and depend on different types of terrain.
BSXInsight hopes this guide was provided you with valuable information. If you have any comments, suggestions or concerns, do not hesitate to add them in the comment section below.