What is a gravel bike?
If you’re relatively new to the cycling scene or returning to the hobby you may not have heard of the term “gravel bike”. Gravel bikes have exploded in popularity over the past few years with demand for them soaring due to their versatility and off-road capabilities over the standard road bike. If you’re looking for a way to handle tarmac as well as rocky trails, then a gravel bike may be the perfect answer.
So, what exactly is a gravel bike and what makes a gravel bike special? Find out with our handy guide below and decide if a gravel bike is the perfect type of bike for you.
What exactly is a gravel bike?
Gravel bikes are the well-designed and efficient Frankenstein monster of the bike world. A complex mash up of a mountain bike, a road bike, and a cyclo-cross bike, they offer a comfortable ride and the assurance that you’re prepared for pretty much whatever terrain you come across.
Gravel bikes will probably look very familiar to you – they keep the iconic drop-bar handlebar design that classic road bikes have and pair it with wider tyres, lower gearing, and a change to the overall handling so it’s slightly less sensitive, allowing you to go from the road onto a trail with minimal fuss.
These small changes to the bike’s design mean that you can include more variety in the routes you plan to take on your ride. Whether its forest tracks, gravel roads, trails, bridlepaths and of course, classic road cycling, you’ll be able to open a whole new world of exploration on a gravel bike. Depending on the model you pick you can still use them as your bike of choice for long endurance rides, speedier runs and even for bikepacking if you’re considering multi day trips.
Gravel Bike Frames
One main difference you’ll find with gravel bikes versus a classic road bike is that the frame tends to be quite a bit heavier. While this heavier frame isn’t ideal for speed, it gives the bike increased durability, extra support, and attachment points for accessories like mudguards which can become a necessity during winter rides when you want to stay dry.
Like most bike types there are a variety of frame materials available. The most common types you’ll find are;
- Aluminium frames are an affordable, durable, and lightweight option for a budget gravel bike.
- Carbon frames are typically the lightest frames and can be designed economically to help improve overall comfort and aerodynamics of the bike, giving you improved performance. If you’re looking for a speed and performance, carbon frames are your best bet.
- Steel frames are the heaviest of all the frame types but provide the most comfort and durability of the frame materials. Steel frames are ideal for bikepacking.
Like we discussed in our guide to road bikes, selecting the frame type really depends on what you want to use the bike for and the budget you’re limited by. For instance, you don’t want to be riding on a heavier steel framed bike if you’re planning on performing long endurance or speed runs up hill and a carbon framed bike might suffer if you’re planning on focusing mainly on wilderness trails. We recommend deciding this before you begin purchasing a gravel bike.
As you may have noticed, a gravel bike looks very similar to a road bike but don’t let that fool you – the geometry of a gravel bike is designed specifically to create stability and comfort. Firstly, the fit of the bike is designed to be more “relaxed” than a standard road bike, putting the rider in a more upright position for improved comfort and vision, particularly when you’re handling wilderness routes or riding on gravel. This relaxed position also reduces the fatigue on your back and shoulders while providing increased stability over bumpy ground.
Gravel bikes have adjusted steering, too, with a change in angle on the “head tube” from road bikes, giving the bike better handling at lower speeds so the bike doesn’t feel so sensitive when steering. This is particularly important when you’re handling uneven terrain as you’ll want to have good control over the handling of the bike.
Gravel Bike Wheels and Tyres
When looking at gravel bike tyres you’ll notice that most of them feature a fast-rolling centre tread and enhance grip on the shoulder of the tyres to help you handle corners. Most gravel bikes use tubeless tyres which offer a good level of protection against punctures, and this also allows you to use the tyres at a lower pressure to further enhance their grip when it matters most.
Picking the correct tyres depends on what you intend to use your gravel bike for. Most gravel bikes come with 38mm tyre sets as standard but can range from 32mm to 38mm depending on your requirements. If you’re planning on handling a lot of off-road trails for most of your riding time, considering opting for wider 48mm tyres. While they may sacrifice some speed, they’ll be perfect for uneven terrain. On the other hand, if you’re looking for something a little faster on tarmac, then 32mm tyres are suitable.
Thankfully the 38mm tyre sets that come with most gravel bikes tend to be good for all-round performance. If you really want to be fully prepared and budget isn’t an option, you can consider purchasing another gravel wheelset to switch out regularly.
Insuring Your Gravel Bike
Purchasing a gravel bike can be quite the investment. It’s always recommended that you find a flexible bike insurance policy that covers you; whether that’s for weekend racing or for commuting to work daily, as you need to protect yourself and your bike.
Find out how Assetsure can protect you and get a quote to insure your bike today.