Gravel or adventure bikes are now a staple part of the main manufacturer’s range with new models coming out with regular frequency. The category is huge in the US but still fairly nascent in the UK, with sales a small but growing fraction of road bikes. Many riders are now seeing a gravel bike as a necessary addition. The UK has pot holes galore, crumbly tarmac and a whole host of beautiful and peaceful tow paths and bridal paths to discover. The crowded and sometimes angry roads are a prohibitor to growth in road riding so gravel riding seems the perfect antidote.
But what’s the difference to the previous category reserved for cross racing bikes? Surely a CX can be used as a Gravel bike? When does an adventure bike become a cross country mountain bike just with drop bars instead of flats ? We take a look and run you through the main differences and similarities.
What is it?- Gravel is a fairly new term in the cycling industry. Some manufacturers are still trying to distinctly define the term and what the bikes should be. Normally gravel bikes have clearance for tyres up to 40c, above in some cases. Some frames can accommodate a smaller wheel size, 650b. This means that even wider tyres can be used. Most Gravel frames will have mounts for bags, panniers and extra bottle cages for those who are doing multi day events or longer rides. Disc brakes a pretty much standard on all bikes in this category.
Geometry differences- Gravel bikes usually have a more relaxed geometry, designed for use over longer miles to provide the necessary comfortable position. Extra comfort is also built in to some frames with technical features such as the Future Shock on the Specialized Diverge and the Iso Speed on the Trek Checkpoint. They have a lower bottom bracket and a longer wheelbase to provide the necessary stability on uneven terrain.
Examples- Specialized Diverge, Trek Checkpoint, 3T Exploro, Cannondale Slate
What is it?- Designed for riding in mud and racing around a circuit for an hour. Cross bikes are designed to be jumped on and off and ridden up and down steep banks and sometimes bunny hopped over hurdles. They don’t have as much tyre clearance as a gravel bike usually topping out at 32c tyres. As the bikes are designed to be jumped on and off cable routing is usually on the top tube or internally in the frame, leaving the frame clear from snagging on clothing etc.
Geometry differences- Higher bottom brackets on cross bikes means they can be rolled over obstacles and are more manoeuvrable. Usually a slightly slacker head angle on cross bikes means they can be turned quickly on the tight CX courses.
So in ‘off road’ terms gravel is engineered toward the sportif or endurance rider whereas cross bikes more toward the racier side of riding. Make sense ? As clear as the mud they’ll be ridden on !
Examples- Kinesis CX EVO, Specialized Crux, Trek Boone
Mountain Bike (MTB)
What is it?- When does a Gravel or cross bike turn into a drop handle MTB? MTB can usually take a much wider tyre than both CX and Gravel bikes, this means more grip over the more technical terrain MTB’s are meant for. Now we are losing paths altogether and moving towards trails.
Obviously, the main difference between the 2 are the handlebars, MTB are built with flat bars, this means that control and manoeuvrability are vastly improved. Suspension is a common sight on MTB, with some coming with just front suspension and other with both front and rear, this aids comfort, support and stability on the most technical terrain.
Geometry differences- Slacker head angles are usually common on MTB’s again to aid with stability and control on rough terrain. Built around a flat handlebar this means that top tubes are very different to those of a drop bar road bike. There are different types of MTB with long travel on the suspension for downhill bikes to lightweight cross country whippets, which are stiffer and faster.
Examples- Trek Procaliber, Specialized Enduro, Giant Anthem