Gravel Vs Road Bike: The tech, ride feel and on-road performance comparison
In this video, we look at the main tech differences between gravel and road bikes, we offer insights into the ride feel of each and we reflect on our many test rides on the road doing a bit of a performance comparison between the two bikes – which actually produced some unexpected results.
The Tech – What’s the difference?
The Frame | Compared to road bikes a gravel bike has a slacker head angle by about 2degrees, a longer wheel base by about 5cm and a longer reach per corresponding frame size. There’s usually some extra compliance built into the frame. All this means is on a gravel bike your body position is a bit more upright, the bike is less twitchy and more stable.
The Handlebars | The bars on a gravel bike are generally wider and have some flare. This means you are a little less aero but when the terrain becomes techy you’ll have more control, and confidence.
The Gearing | Gravel bikes usually have a slightly lower gearing setup with a cassette that covers a wide range giving you more gear and cadence options at lower speeds, to climb better.
Wheels and Tyres | Gravel bikes are mostly 700c sized wheels but some can accommodate a smaller 650b wheel which riders sometimes chose when they need more tyre volume. Gravel bikes are generally fitted with knoblied 40mm or wider tyres while road bikes have slick tyres with around 25 to 30mm width. Meaning with gravel bikes you have more climbing and corner grip on the dirt but more rolling resistance and a marginal aero disadvantage.
The ‘Ride Feel’ explained
On a road bike | The geometry creates a responsive, lively and sometimes twitchy ride feel. They generally have smaller volume tyres which makes them more responsive under acceleration but also a little harsh on rougher surfaces. Your body position will be a little more stretched out, with a lower front end and they are generally a one trick pony – designed for the tar!
On a gravel bike | You’ll be in a more upright body position which is more comfortable for most riders. The ride can be defined as far more stable and planted than a road bike. The bigger volume tyres mean the ride is very smooth and forgiving on rough surfaces. Whilst they are not as capable as a modern mountain bike, Gravel bikes can cope with just about any off-road terrain.
Firstly, the off-road capability of a gravel bike exceeds what is possible on any road bike making it a far more versatile offering. The differences in geometry and compliance mean most riders will be able to get a better fit out of a gravel bike and be far more comfortable on it. Finally, for most riders, a gravel bike almost matches the performance of a road bike – the overall difference is not huge.
The bottom line is, if you are ready to focus more on comfort, versatility and safety, and are keen to have more fun out there, then next time you are bike shopping you should take a closer look at gravel whips. After all, if you are not racing seriously, who cares how fast you are going.
| IMAGES: Max Sullivan |