Have you always wanted to learn more about these two popular types of bikes? Although in appearance you may not see a significant difference—and to be fair, there are a lot of similarities between cyclocross and gravel bikes—these two types of bikes have some specific differences that make them unique in their own class. Whether you clicked on this article out of sheer curiosity or you’re pondering which bike to choose, we will gently nudge you to make the right choice by providing you with all the information you need to know on cyclocross vs. gravel bikes.
What Is a Cyclocross Bike?
A cyclocross bike is a specific type of bike made to be used in racing called cyclocross. Cyclocross bikes are designed to handle mud, grass, and sand terrains, even snow, as well as handling sharp turns, corners, and acceleration, while keeping you comfortably ahead of the race. The range of terrain a cyclocross bike can handle is so wide that even many commuters chose it as their bike.
What Is a Gravel Bike?
A gravel bike combines the best of both worlds—appropriate for smooth surface roads and also designed for more rugged roads. With their low handlebars and their wide tires, you can ride a gravel bike pretty much on any terrain. Their versatility is what makes them the perfect choice for any cyclist. However, they are not designed to handle sharp turns and corners as much as cyclocross bikes as riding on gravel involves straighter roads.
Difference Between Cyclocross and Gravel Bikes
Now that we have described the purpose for which cyclocross and gravel bikes have been designed, we will explore the specific features that distinguish them from one another, focusing our attention on the geometry, handlebars, mounting, gearing, wheels, and comfort. Read on to find out more about these features in order to make an informed decision should you be considering the purchase of one of these bikes.
The main difference in geometry between cyclocross bikes and gravel bikes is the cyclist’s position. A gravel bike offers a shorter reach which instantly gives a more upright position, leading to a comfortable ride on long roads. The seat stays and chainstays are also designed in such a way to make the saddle more comfortable, even in the most challenging terrains.
Cyclocross bikes are designed for races, so their geometry is particular and unique. The height of their bottom brackets is higher, making it easier for the rider to cycle through corners and tight spots; they also have smaller chainstays which helps make cyclocross intense.
There is a similarity in the type of handlebars. Both kinds of bikes use drop bars, but the difference is the reason. Gravel bikes use drop bars in order for the cyclist to have an upright position, resulting in a comfortable ride. A comfortable position, however, is not the priority in cyclocross bikes. Cyclocross bikes are designed for races, so the main idea is for the cyclist’s position to go as fast as possible and fit through tight corners.
Cyclocross bikes use drop bars as it is required by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) to keep the width of the bike under 50 cm. This has a number of advantages, such as allowing for an aerodynamic position and better climbing efficiency as you have to lean your body as forward as possible.
Cyclocross bikes do not have the option to attach a water bottle or other accessories to the frame because of the inconvenience of having to lift up the bike while riding through challenging terrains. However, they do allow for attachments like racks or panniers to carry things.
In contrast to cyclocross bikes, gravel bikes have a lot of space for mounting all kinds of personal items. You can mount luggage to the bike, mudguards, and there is even space underneath the frame for the 3rd bottle of water. Having this much space is what makes gravel bikes more convenient for cyclists.
Gravel bikes use lower gears, especially when riding off-road and steep terrains. On the other hand, cyclocross bikes use higher gears as they are designed to accommodate difficult terrain.
Gravel bikes use 40mm tires, and they are all tubeless to avoid high tire pressure that could result in a flat tire. The frame around the wide tires of gravel bikes leaves space to prevent mud from getting stuck in them when going through muddy terrains.
UCI requires cyclocross bikes to have 33 to 40 mm tires; they are also more textured to add more grip and resistance to more challenging terrains.
Gravel bikes are admittedly one of the most comfortable types of bikes. With their upright position frame, their short reach, and textured wheels to provide better cushioning and stopping power, gravel bikes are arguably very comfortable for any type of cyclist.
Despite being racing bikes, cyclocross bikes are actually quite comfortable, and they provide you safety while riding through uncomfortable terrains. The saddle position is higher, which allows for an upright position of the rider and, in turn, better control.
How to Decide Which Bike to Choose
Choosing between a gravel bike and a cyclocross bike is really just a matter of what kind of cyclist you are. If you’re into racing and difficult trails, cyclocross bikes are the choice for you since they are meant for that purpose.
If you’re looking for a more versatile bike that can take the role of a road bike and a cyclocross bike (in terms of speed), then the comfortable gravel bike is the choice for you.
We suggest that you plan ahead of time and see what kinds of riding you will be doing during the year ahead of you; for sure this will help you make a decision as to which bike would suit your purpose better.
If after reading this, you are still not able to decide which bike is better for you, know that bikes offer a level of versatility. Let’s say that most of the time you do gravel riding; however, one day you want a pump of adrenaline and want to experience cyclocross riding. Could you use your gravel bike? In short, although not ideal, yes you can! If you’re still not convinced, you can also explore the option of getting a bike that allows for adaptations that would make your bike suitable both for cyclocross and gravel. The world is your playground!