What Are Gravel Bikes? Pros and Cons Explained

What Are Gravel Bikes?

Gravel Bikes, also known as Adventure Road Bikes, are essentially a cross between the classic mountain bike and a road bike. They are designed to be faster than a mountain bike and more durable than your standard road bike. They can ride on tarmac, mud, and most surfaces in between.

It’s not surprising to find that this new concept came from the USA; there are hundreds of miles of rarely used tracks that exist predominantly to help fire trucks manoeuvre through forests. These are perfect for any level of biker who has access to a gravel bike – these tracks are too rough for your standard road bike. It will be shaken apart.

READ: Best Gravel Bikes under £1000

Of course, they are also too fast to be fully appreciated on your mountain bike. That’s why the gravel bike, or road adventure bike, is the perfect solution.

The best thing is that this bike can perform on any surface. You only need one bike to cover the daily commute, your road training, and your off-road fun.

It’s worth noting that geometry is the main difference with this type of bike. The head tube is usually taller while the angle is slicker, making the steering experience more relaxed than a road bike but less responsive than a mountain bike.

You’ll also notice that the bikes are generally a little longer than road or mountain bikes. This is to improve stability and comfort on all surfaces. Gravel bikes also have disc brakes as these provide better response and more confidence when you’re off-road.

Gravel Bikes – Pros & Cons

No bike is perfect, which means you need to consider the good points and the bad points of it before you commit to purchasing one. Below we take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of buying a gravel bike.

Pros: Gravel Bike Advantages

Accessories

Your gravel bike can easily have mudguards and the usual accessories fitted to it, allowing you to ride in comfort throughout the year. This is especially important if you use it as your daily commute. However, most bikes can be accessorised in this way.

The real advantage of the gravel bike is that you can switch the tire and fit much larger wheels and tires, giving you improved grip and comfort on the bumpiest of tracks. In other words, you can turn it into a fat bike!

Two Bikes

On the same vein as the first advantage, you can purchase skinny road tyres and put them on your bike when you need to go road racing. You’ll need just one bike to cover all your usual activities, that’s going to save you money and reduce the amount of space you need for storage.

Go Anywhere

These bikes are designed to handle the rough stuff better than road bikes. But they handle the really rough stuff just as well as a mountain bike. You can go anywhere with a gravel bike.

Slow It Down

There are times when you need to be bent over double with your feet going like Billy Whizz. But, in most cases, this isn’t really necessary. Gravel bikes don’t usually have a dropper post or dual suspension, this encourages you to go at a more sedate pace and actually enjoy the experience!

Simplicity

Gravel bikes are designed simply and have far fewer components that can go wrong or break. That means you really can get on and just ride, making the most of the time you have available and reducing surprise costs.

Cons: Gravel Bike Disadvantages

Slower

A gravel bike is slower although there is not much difference in the weight of the frame. The main issue is the width of the tyres, larger gravel bike tires create more resistance and slow the bike, compared to a road bike.

But, the effect is minimal and you can always fit road wheels…

Weight

Gravel bikes are a lot heavier than road bikes. So if you ever need to carry your bike (e.g. if you live in an apartment block and have to carry your bike upstairs). You can see how much gravel bikes weigh in the sections below.

Cost

It is more expensive to pick up a gravel bike compared to a basic road or mountain bike. Of course, you’ll only need one bike in the future but it’s important to be aware of the potential cost difference at the start. This is especially true if you’re looking for a lightweight gravel bike.

Gravel Bike Tyres

There are several different types of gravel bike tyres, your decision on which is best for you depends on your budget and whether you want the fastest gravel bike tyres possible, or not.

The size of your gravel bike tyre can vary, for example, 28″ (700mm) models are available in widths between 28mm to 57mm, the wider the tyre the better the grip but the slower the bike is likely to be because it takes more effort to turn the wheels.

How Heavy Are Gravel Bikes?

The exact weight will depend on which gravel bike you choose but the average gravel bike weighs in at just over 11kg, that’s approximately 2kg heavier than the average road bike.

That’s going to slow you a little on roads and light country lanes, but you’ll want the extra weight for the strength and durability it provides when you’re on the rougher stuff.

How Fast Are Gravel Bikes?

The fastest gravel bike is not going to be as fast as a good road bike,. However, while this is generally blamed on the wider tyre and therefore an increase in drag, the real issue is actually the rider. The more aerodynamic you make yourself the faster you’ll ride, bent right over the handlebars on your gravel bike will be less comfortable than on a road bike, but it will negate the extra width of the tyres and help you to go as fast, especially if you’re going downhill.

But gravel bike speed is still very good. In short, unless you’re a professional racer the difference in speed won’t be noticeable, giving you more than enough speed wherever you’re going.

Best Gravel Bike Brands

There’s a difference between a budget or affordable gravel bike and the best gravel bike on the market. Of course, most people don’t need the best; they need a good balance between the two, which is why it pays to be aware of the best gravel bike brands currently available.

These include:

  • Canyon
  • Giant
  • Enigma
  • Trek
  • Ribble
  • Genesis

It’s worth taking a look at everything they have to offer before making a decision.

Best Gravel Bikes

Great value

Easy and versatile: single chainring 38-11/42, mechanical disc brakes, XL flared handlebar, tubeless wheels and 38 tyres.


Great ride!

Lightweight, dependable and amazingly versatile, this Substance CRS-1 Adventure Road Bike from Vitus is hi-modulus carbon built and features a SRAM Apex 11-Speed drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes for the ultimate in pace, reliability and control.


Very popular

A bike with a strong sense of purpose - to do anything and everything. A mix of cyclocross and road bikes, the Limba can easily be ridden on the road, towpath and woodland tracks thanks to its nimble frame and 16 speed Shimano gears.


Strong and sturdy

Offering comfort and performance on trails and rolling terrains, the Triban RC520 Gravel adventure bike is great fun and easy to ride. Key features include wide handlebars with 16° flare, 700 wheels and size 35 tubeless-ready tyres, a Shimano 105 R7000 groupset and effective hydro-mech disc brakes.

Final Thoughts

If you’re considering a gravel bike then you need to go a step further and treat yourself to one. For the average rider, this is the best option available and will allow you to enjoy cycling, whether on or off-road.

Take your time choosing and testing the different bikes available, you want the one that suits you best, not the one that everyone says is the best!

READ: Best Gravel Bikes under £1000