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Are Gravel Bikes Worth It? Here’s What You Need to Know

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If you’re a bicycling enthusiast, then you might be wondering why gravel bikes are becoming so prevalent. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that most gravel bikes are versatile and comfortable for newbies to use. Many people find that learning how to explore the world on a gravel bike is quite easy. Once you learn how to ride a gravel bike, you’ll be able to enjoy time outdoors and even commute to work for some exercise.

Are gravel bikes worth it? Gravel bikes offer many benefits and are an excellent choice if you want a beginner-friendly bike. Plus, with a gravel bike, you’ll be able to ride on any surface so that you can explore new roads and areas. Gravel bikes can take you places that other bikes won’t get you to, and that’s one of the reasons it’s beneficial to own a gravel bike. 

Since there isn’t a lot of information available on the Internet today regarding gravel bikes, we created this article to help you out. Below we’ll cover everything you need to know about gravel bikes so that you can feel out whether or not a gravel bike is right for you.

Are Gravel Bikes Just a Fad?

Since gravel bikes have risen in popularity so quickly in recent years, many people are wondering if these types of bikes are just some fad. However, it seems unlikely that the rising demand for gravel bikes is just a fad. That’s because gravel bikes are straightforward to learn how to use, attracting many beginning-level riders. Also, these bikes offer a lot of versatility of style and size choices, and you can ride a gravel bike anywhere. 

If you think about, the gravel bike industry offers a bevy of choices, much like the road bike sector does. For example, gravel bikes provide several options like 29” mountain bike wheels, different options in drivetrains, choices between lightweight and heavy-duty, etc. So, the gravel bike industry is already well on its way and offers the ability to adapt and provide a lot of different kinds of bikes for individuals. That means you are likely to be able to find the gravel bike that’s just right for you. 

Another reason why it seems unlikely that gravel bikes are just a fad has to do with the fact that gravel bikes open up all kinds of new avenues to adventure. You can do just about anything and go just about anywhere with a gravel bike. And, if you want some distinctive features added to your bike, you’ll be able to make those modifications easily

Benefits of Gravel Bikes

So, why might you want to purchase a gravel bike? Gravel bikes offer several amazing advantages, including the fact that they are lightweight and quick, they can go anywhere and do anything. They provide a lot of fun and enjoyment in the process. We’ll discuss these concepts in a little more detail below.

Lightweight and Quick

If you decide to purchase a gravel bike, you’ll wind up with one of the lightest and quickest bikes you can own and ride on a bevy of different kinds of terrain. Now, if you opt for a gravel bike, you don’t necessarily always need to ride at top speed. However, you probably will wind up moving quickly, since that’s what these types of bikes do.

Bicyclist riding a gravel bike on winding mountain trail
Gravel bikes can be used on most mountain trails.

If you enjoy riding quickly and you’d prefer to have something lightweight to ride around on in case of an emergency, then you’ll wind up with a bike that’s minimal. The point of that is, of course, to reduce the weight on the bike and to keep it as speedy as possible. The less weight you have on the bike, the faster it will move. So, everything on these types of bikes will be small and light, designed to give that gravel bike a rapid push down any terrain

Ride Anywhere

Another significant advantage of owning a gravel bike is the fact that you’ll be able to ride just about anywhere. Gravel bikes make it very easy for individuals to ride over any surface. Since you’ll be able to hit all kinds of terrain, you’ll be able to have a lot of fun varying up your rides. You won’t be stuck riding the same roads and paths you are used to hitting daily. Instead, you’ll be able to explore new types of terrain.

Gravel bike against forest background

Gravel bikes can be used on just about any terrain;

With a gravel bike, you have an endless amount of potential when it comes to where you want to ride. You’ll be fine on the paved road, dirt, and even the harshest of gravel trails. So, the question becomes, can you go just about anywhere on this type of bike? Honestly, there aren’t many limitations to where you can take gravel bikes.

We feel that the only limitation you’ll get with a gravel bike is the limitations you place on yourself and your riding skills. However, hopefully, you’ll be able to open up and try new things with your gravel bike and try to let go of your fears. If you’re able to do that, you’ll be able to ride in some tranquil, natural areas and enjoy an endless amount of gorgeous, natural scenery. Who doesn’t enjoy that?

You Will Have Fun

Another reason why you should consider owning a gravel bike has to do with fun and enjoyment. As long as you aren’t too obsessively focused on “being the best,” you’ll have plenty of fun. That’s especially true if you are new to the entire game of gravel bikes. While everybody’s concept of fun is relative, for people that enjoy riding bikes and being in the great outdoors, gravel bike riding is one of the most enjoyable outdoor activities with which they can partake.

Gravel bikes allow you to enjoy an adventure and have an unmatchable feeling of freedom that no other bike can give you when you are out riding. Since you can go anywhere on a gravel bike, the possibilities are endless for you. And, as long as you stay focused on having fun and improving your skills, especially at first, you’ll get the hang of riding your gravel bike quickly. We’ve already mentioned that gravel bikes are straightforward for beginners to ride so that only increases the potential for fun.

Options in Gravel Bikes

We’ve already mentioned that you can go just about anywhere and do just about anything with a gravel bike. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t differences when it comes to comparing gravel bikes. There are different options for gravel bikes. To help you select the type of gravel bike that’s right for you, it’s a good idea to start thinking about where and how you’ll ride your bike, and then you’ll be able to figure out precisely what you need.

There are several different options in gravel bikes available on the market today, and the possibilities are quite varied. Depending on the manufacturer of the gravel bike, you’ll notice subtle differences and varying strengths and weaknesses between bikes. Different brands offer different types of bikes that are more suited for either on-road or off-road, as well.

Below we’ll cover your three options in gravel bike categories. We’ve based these three options on geometry, specs, and features of each type of bike.

Category #1: Backroad Gravel Bikes

Backroad gravel bikes resemble regular road bikes by comparison. Also, backroad gravel bikes are the most widely offered type of gravel bike you’ll find on the market today. Backroad gravel bikes are typically designed to be lightweight and agile, and the features on these bikes are very similar to your classic road bike.

Many of the bikes in this category use a combination that features 700C wheels, 40C width, and a minor profile or no profile at all. Although these bikes do resemble your regular road bike, you’ll still be able to ride your backroad gravel bike in more areas then you could take a regular road bike. A backroad gravel bike can endure dirt roads, gravel, and forest roads easily. However, these bikes aren’t made for very rough, heavy-duty types of terrain.

Category #2: Adventure Gravel Bikes

When comparing adventure gravel bikes to backroad gravel bikes, remember that the backroad gravel bike resembles your standard road bike, although it will be able to handle more types of terrain. On the other hand, an adventure gravel bike, which is our second category, resembles a mountain bike. You’ll notice that the bikes that fall into this category have larger XC tires, a more extensive profile, more significant tire widths between 1.9” and 2.1”, and wheel sizes that are between 27.5” or 29”.

If you opt for an adventure gravel bike, then know that these bikes aren’t typically used often on standard paved roads. While you can use an adventure gravel bike on a paved road, these bikes are designed for more off-road styles of bike riding. So, if you enjoy single trails rides that only last an hour or you’re planning a weekend backpacking and riding adventure, then this might be the bike for you.

Adventure gravel bikes also offer one significant benefit over your standard mountain bike. Adventure gravel bikes tend to move much faster than your standard mountain bike, especially on gravel and tarmac roads. So, many bike riders feel adventure gravel bikes are better for off-road bike riding than mountain bikes are.

Since adventure gravel bikes are not minimalist bikes like the backroad gravel bikes we discussed above, you’ll also wind up with a bike that offers far more features if you opt for this category. With an adventure gravel bike, you’ll get great features like bags, racks, bottle holders, and other helpful little extras. Many of these types of bikes feature a slacker head-angle and also have wider set handlebars, making them perform well on steep terrain. 

Category #3: Specialty and Custom-Built Gravel Bikes

For this last category of gravel bike, we’ve placed in everything else you’ll discover that doesn’t fit the primary two types above. Some riders prefer to get specialty and custom-built gravel bikes so that their bikes fit their preferences well. If you are a beginner, then this is probably a category to avoid, because if you don’t know what you need on your bike, it’s best not to custom-build one. 

Many riders find that gravel bikes with similar wheel and tire concepts still don’t necessarily ride the same way depending on the bike’s frame. With customizing a gravel bike, you’ll need to know the distinct types of parts you’ll want for the bike, which we recommend doing if you are a more advanced bike rider. 

Are Gravel Bikes Like Cyclocross Bikes?

If you’ve ever confused a gravel bike with a cyclocross bike, then know you aren’t alone. Many people confuse these two types of bikes. However, you should know that these two different categories of bikes don’t wholly fit the same concept. 

The Cyclocross Bike Close-Up

First, the end goals behind riding a gravel bike and riding a cyclocross bike are very different. Cyclocross is a type of competitive cycling that can be done by professionals. On the other hand, gravel bike riding is a non-competitive sport that provides a great workout and a lot of fun in the great outdoors. In cyclocross racing, people compete both on and off-road, racing their bikes when it’s muddy. The sport is trendy in Northern Belgium. 

Cyclocross bikes have an impressive center of gravity. Note the high bottom bracket on this cyclocross bike in the image. This is for clearance of obstacles during cyclocross races.

If you’ve ever examined a cyclocross bike before, then you know that it resembles a road racing bike in the wheel area, and also in the frame. On a cyclocross bike, the wheelbase area isn’t tall, which helps when you are cornering or trying to get more power from your legs. Road racing bikes, by comparison, don’t have the same types of frames because cyclocross bike frames require wider tires. Since cyclocross bikes need to jump over obstacles, they need an impressive center of gravity. 

The Gravel Bike Close-Up

So, why do gravel bikes often get confused with cyclocross bikes? Much of it has to do with the appearances of the tires and handlebars on both categories of bikes. Both gravel bikes and cyclocross bikes have tire and handlebar structures that look similar. However, the way these two types of bikes perform is very different. 

If we dive a little deeper into the different structures of each type of bike, you’ll see there are significant differences between gravel bikes and cyclocross bikes. For starters, gravel bikes have longer wheelbases, so that’s a considerable difference. Since gravel bike riders might wind up out on the trails for longer, the wheelbase on a gravel bike has to be longer to balance out the weight across a larger footprint. Gravel bikes also don’t need steep frame angles like cyclocross bikes.

However, a cyclocross bike does offer a seat that’s at a steeper angle. So, that means you’ll be exercising those quads often when riding on this type of bike. Using your quads will help you win races in cyclocross. However, gravel bikes use a different angle when it comes to the seat. 

You’ll notice that with a gravel bike, the seat isn’t at such a high angle, and also works out your hamstrings as well as your quads. You’ll be using more muscle categories because that will allow you to have more endurance and travel greater distances. 

Another significant difference between a gravel bike and a cyclocross bike has to do with the bottom bracket. The bottom bracket on a gravel bike does not sit as high as the bottom bracket sits on a cyclocross bike. Cyclocross bikes feature high bottom brackets because they are racing bikes giving better pedal clearance for cornering and obstacles.  Gravel bikes can hit the same terrain as a cyclocross bike, but on a gravel bike, you can hit multiple types of terrain and have some adventure instead of racing competition.

Are Gravel Bikes Like Sport-Touring Bikes?

Gravel bikes have plenty in common with sport-touring bikes by comparison. Sport-touring bikes first emerged in the 1970s to give cyclists one platform to commute. Sport-touring bikes are also known for being quick, light, and fast. Most sport-touring bikes nowadays exist as custom bikes, like the Waterford, for example. However, recently, we’ve seen them make a comeback to the market with bikes like the Raleigh Clubman. 

When we examine the shape of the gravel bike compared to the form of a sport-touring bike, there are many similarities. However, gravel bikes don’t have the same types of tire width as sport-touring bikes, which is usually used for flotation when off-roading. That’s the most significant difference between these two types of bikes. 

By examining these bikes, we also get a feeling for the way the bike-riding world has changed since the introduction of sport-touring bikes in the 1970s. In today’s world, the concept of touring features the idea of adventure as well as racing. Many old train routes across America are being made into gravel trails so that people can walk and bike ride on them. Remember, the gravel bike isn’t meant to use only for gravel, but instead, it works more like a sport-touring bike because of its versatility. 

Gravel bikes are excellent commuter bikes, much like the original sport-touring bikes were. If you like to go long distances, then a gravel bike might be great for you. Gravel bikes aren’t like road racing bikes because gravel bikes are made to handle more complicated types of terrain and dirt trails. So, gravel bikes typically come with solid wheels, while road bikes don’t usually feature durable wheels. 

If you’re a commuter, you’ll probably get a lot of use out of your gravel bike. You’ll wind up with a bike that uses multi-position drop bars and rides like a road bike, so it’s effortless for you to learn. You can also ride it quickly, and go longer distances than you could travel on a road bike. So, if you want a speedy bike for a longer commute, a gravel bike is an excellent product. 

Gravel Bikes: Bike-Packing Vs. Bike Touring 

When it comes to bike riding, there are typically two different activity styles that most riders fall under, bike-packing, or bike touring. When it comes to bike touring, the shorter the type of tours you take, then the fewer items you’ll carry. Bike touring can involve both shorter and longer rides, but it doesn’t usually require a long time spent on the road.

On the other hand, bike-packing gear is built around the assumption that most people don’t have time for this sort of event. However, this category is more for diehard riders that enjoy camping out and going out on their bikes for days on end. So, when it comes to bike-packing, you’ll need to think about all of the items you’ll have to take along with you on your ride, and how you will arrange those items so that you don’t affect the bike’s performance. 

woman bike-packing on gravel bike
Gravel bikes used for bike-packing. Most gravel come with mounts in the frame and fork for mounting bike luggage.

With bike touring, you’ll be placing much of the weight of the extra items you carry on the sides of the bike. The more you put on the sides, the wider the bike will be, making it slower and less agile. However, people that enjoy bike-packing don’t have the same problem because bike-packing typically doesn’t make the bike any wider. Instead, with bike-packing, the items on the bike are placed in a way that keeps all the weight on the same vertical plane, making the bike as agile as it can be

Where Do Gravel Bikes Fit?

So, what type of activity are gravel bikes better for bike-packing or bike touring? In truth, gravel bikes can handle both types of riding styles with ease. However, you will need to keep in mind that depending on the terrain you’re covering, you’ll need to purchase a bike that fits that style. So, you’ll either be buying a backroad gravel bike, an adventure gravel bike, or a custom gravel bike. 

While you could easily customize a gravel bike to meet the needs of either riding style, you’ll need to know enough about gravel bikes to accomplish that move. So, if you plan on purchasing a more standard type of gravel bike, then know that backroad gravel bikes are typically better for bike touring. That’s because they are smaller and lighter and designed not to hold a large number of items.

On the other hand, when bike-packing, you more than likely want to purchase an adventure gravel bike. Since adventure gravel bikes are a bit heavier and resemble mountain bikes, you’ll be able to carry more items on them for longer trips. 

Gravel Bikes and Commuting

Gravel bikes are excellent bikes for those that enjoy commuting while bike riding. Gravel bikes relate to long-distance bike designs because most bike commuters who travel far need good drop bars, sturdy wheels, and durable tires, so they avoid problems when hitting potholes.

Gravel bikes are designed with great wheels, tires that grip well, plenty of gears, and high-quality disc brakes. The drop bars on gravel bikes can provide several different types of positions for longer rides. However, the primary issue you’ll need to focus on with your gravel bike if you are planning to commute long distances with it is frame material.

If you’ve purchased your gravel bike because you mostly want to commute with it, then steel would be the better frame material for your bike.

Here’s why:

  • Steel is 30% stronger when compared to bikes with aluminum frames.
  • If you have to lock your bike often, you’ll find out that steel doesn’t dent and scratch as easily as aluminum, either.
  • It will still stay strong even with a dent. However, if an aluminum frame gets dented, you’d need to replace the entire structure.

If you do purchase a gravel bike with a steel frame, you will need to be careful, however, steel rusts easily, so you’ll need to make sure you cover your tubes with a protector. We also suggest covering your bike when it isn’t in use. However, other than that, purchasing a bike with a steel frame offers plenty of advantages, especially for people that want to ride for a more extended period.

Steel is more compliant as well when you are riding across steep, bumpy terrain. Since most gravel bikes are designed to be taken across difficult areas, you’ll get a much smoother ride with a steel frame. However, aluminum also offers some advantages when it comes to bike frame material that is worth mentioning.

Aluminum frames are great for city riding. One of the best brands out there making aluminum frame gravel bikes is Devinci, who makes a stable, solid aluminum frame that will hold up when you lock your bike up on poles. These frames won’t rust, but they aren’t very compliant. So, an aluminum frame will feel stiffer when you ride it.

Final Thoughts

Now that we’ve covered why gravel bikes are worth the purchase, you can make your decision about what type of gravel bike is right for you. Before you pick out your bike, think about the riding you’ll be doing. Will you be going long-distances, or short distances? Do you need to bring a lot of items for longer rides, or do you plan to take shorter trips? 

Once you know where you’ll be riding and how you’ll be riding, you’ll be able to pick the type of gravel bike that’s right for you.

Related articles:

Choosing the Best Gravel Bike for Women Under $2000

Are Gravel Bikes Good for Touring?

Do Gravel Bikes Come With Pedals?

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