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An Introductory Guide to Gravel Bikes

An Introductory Guide to Gravel Bikes

What is a Gravel bike?

A Gravel Bike, or simply Gravel, is a bicycle with a style similar to a road bike but designed and equipped to handle gravel and dirt without any issues.

The term Gravel, in fact, literally means gravel.

A 2022 De-Rosa Gravel with 700x42mm wheels and Sram Rival 12-speed electronic groupset.

Gravel Bike Features

Gravel bikes were born from the desire to take full advantage of the huge amount of so-called “white roads,” featuring good smoothness and very little traffic. A real treasure for every pedal lover. For these kinds of roads, you need a bike that is as easy and comfortable as an MTB, but as fast as a road bike. It was therefore decided to start from a structure similar to the latter, but combine it with the philosophy of the former.

Gravel bikes were born from the desire to take full advantage of the huge amount of so-called “white roads,” featuring good smoothness and very little traffic. A real treasure for every pedal lover. For these kinds of roads, you need a bike that is as easy and comfortable as an MTB, but as fast as a road bike. For this reason, manufacturers have created a real mix of the best features of both categories.

The Frame

The frame of gravel bikes is very similar to the road ones. Only upon close inspection can the differences be seen: a more closed steering angle combined with a more pronounced rake (the “bend” of the fork), a taller head tube, and a longer chainstay. This means a more upright and comfortable torso position, greater stability, and more gentle dynamic behavior. Gravel frames also feature mounts for fenders, luggage racks, and often extra water bottles. This comes at the expense of weight but to the benefit of comfort and versatility.


The most obvious difference between gravel and road racers is the handlebars. Although the backward curved ends (wings) may make them look similar, in gravel bikes the bar is set higher (up to 3 centimeters) and is also wider. The wings then slope outward to allow a more comfortable grip. Depending on the bend we identify different types: they range from the Cowbell (with the wings inclined by 12°) more similar to road handlebars to the Cowchipper (24°) ideal for mixed terrain, finishing with the Woodchipper with the bends inclined by 38° and an additional 26° on the end.

Wheels and Tires

The similarities with MTBs we find first of all on the tires. We are not talking about downhill tires for launching over steep cliffs and boulders, of course. Gravels mount mild or intermediate tread blocks to give grip on dirt and gravel without compromising smoothness on asphalt. The tire cross-section is also wider, to better absorb bumps and ensure greater comfort: it ranges from 32 to 40-42 mm, compared to 25 on road tires. As a diameter, the standard size on gravel bikes is 700C (28″), but 27.5″ MTBs can also be found when needed.

A versatile bike then, capable of positioning itself somewhere between the MTB’s desire for adventure and the speed of road bikes. The Gravel Bicycles convince everyone by its ability to make people discover forgotten emotions and get almost everyone to agree.

Differences between Cyclocross and Gravel bikes

The Team Elite Selle Italia Cyclocross Team’s Guerciotti Eureka CX.

Considering what has just been said, it would seem that Gravel bikes are basically Cyclocross bikes. Nothing could be more wrong: they are designed for very different trails and situations and differ from each other accordingly.

Cyclocross bikes are racing bikes, designed for short trails with technical sections, mud, grass, and changes of direction. So they have more “stressed” geometry, a shorter wheelbase, and a riding position that allows more weight to be loaded on the front to increase grip. They also have more ground clearance, with the bottom bracket up to 20 mm higher to help with both obstacles and pedaling in the crease.

Gravel bicycles, on the other hand, we know are made to ride long distances on dirt roads, free of big obstacles and with gentle curves. Therefore, they have a longer wheelbase, a more upright riding position, a shorter reach, and a lower bottom bracket. This means more stability, greater comfort, and speed.

If you are looking for a bike to race through mud and grass, then better a cyclocross bike.

If you are looking for a versatile bike with which to hike and move in comfort on asphalt or dirt roads with some mild off-road riding, then opt for Gravel.

Gravel and bicycle touring

A Specialized equipped for cycle touring. Photo

In recent years, the number of people who have decided to travel exploring the world on a bicycle has increased by leaps and bounds. Because of their comfort and versatility features, gravel bikes are the best candidates for the purpose. They are all equipped with special fender mounts and luggage racks, so you can load them with panniers in which to cram your tent, clothes, spare parts, plus everything you need to tackle tours lasting days or weeks just with your beloved two-wheeler.

In addition, many of the touring routes within the reach of most can be tackled by riding only on asphalt or dirt roads. A gravel bike is therefore the ideal means of tackling the most panoramic and exciting routes with comfort and relative ease.


A Cube for Gravel in a typical bike-packing setup.

Bikepacking meets almost the same need as cycle touring but with different characteristics. Bikepackers typically load up with much less weight than cycle tourists, for more “spartan” and physically demanding trips.

Forget bulky luggage racks and rigid side bags. These have the advantage of a large carrying capacity, yes, but vibration, noise, and especially weight are not unimportant.

Instead, backpacking involves the use of panniers only: on the handlebars, in the frame triangle, and under the saddle, the market offers many solutions. All are secured directly to the bike. The reduced and higher positioned load is a clear advantage in difficult passages such as sand, rocks, fords, climbs, and mud.

This is a more typical approach for MTB travel, but it is also well suited for gravel bikes if you want to travel lighter.

The choice is entirely up to you, are you more bike touring or bikepacking?

Buying Tips

We have figured out what a gravel bike is and who it is suitable for, and now you may be thinking about buying one. What do you need to know to buy the right one?

It is important to know that the gravel market is quite diverse: changing tires, handlebars, and gears can greatly vary the attitude of the bike.

So the first thing to think about is undoubtedly the use you intend to put it to. If you will use it on the road and with some mild gravel, then choose smoother tires and narrower handlebars. If, on the other hand, you have a lot of bumps and dirt roads nearby, you’ll want to go for more clawed, larger-section tires, perhaps combined with a more comfortable saddle and a wider handlebar or more angled wings.

If you do a lot of climbing pay attention to the gear ratios as well; a few more gears can make all the difference. As a matter of safety then always opt for disc brakes possibly hydraulic and tubeless tires, or at least tubeless ready. Also, consider buying a pedal-assisted gravel bike: it increases fun, and freedom and is an ideal solution for those who also want to use the bike as a means of transportation, perhaps to get to work.

At Bike-room we have a wide selection of Gravel and Cyclocross bikes, all ready for delivery!

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