Gravel bikes are trending as cyclocross bikes limit the adventure. What are the differences?

The bike that is trending and evolving quickly, is the gravel bikes. Bike brands offer different models built for slightly different purposes, from “all-road” bikes optimized for paved and dirt surfaces to “adventure” bikes with bigger tires that are mountain bike terrain ready. On the other hand, dedicated cyclocross bikes seem to be declining in popularity. The cyclocross pool is shrinking, and bike brands offer fewer dedicated cyclocross models and build options. There’s not a lot of new tech or design coming down the line for ‘cross bikes; they seem to be pretty set at this point.

The most significant differences between a modern gravel bike and a dedicated cyclocross bike are four things:
• Tire clearance
• Frame geometry
• Gearing
• Accessory mounts

Tire Clearance between gravel bikes and cyclocross

Gravel bikes have room for wider tires. It seems the most common tires on gravel bikes in the 42-48mm range and even up to 52mm. In order to have that tire clearance, gravel bikes sometimes have to be creative in design to fit all that between your crank arms. Gravel bikes often have dropped chainstays which create more clearance to fit a wide tire and the chainstays between the cranks. On the other hand, cyclocross rules limit tire size to a maximum of 33mm, so frame clearance is optimized for that tire width. Typically, cross bikes have enough room for tires a bit wider than that, like 36-38mm, but most cannot safely run larger tires.

gravel wheel front tire
Gravel bikes allow for wider tires and can go up to 52mm
cyclocross front wheel
Cyclocross tires safely can go up to 36-38mm

Frame Geometry is slightly different between gravel and cyclocross bikes

Cyclocross bikes and gravel bikes and typically have slightly different geometry. Gravel bikes are optimized for more comfort and versatility. You generally want a gravel bike to be more stable over rough roads riding in a straight line and on car-sized turns in the road. Therefore gravel bikes tend to be a little longer wheelbase, lower bottom brackets, and slacker head angles. A priority for gravel bikes is also on all-day comfort. You will see more features that help prevent rider fatigue as they get jostled on the bike for hours at a time. This is accomplished with increased frame compliance, rubberized vibration dampening inserts, or even active suspension.

Cyclocross bikes are built to be super quick turning, making many tight turns around obstacles. In a cyclocross race, you’re maneuvering the bike around a lot to find grip, avoid obstacles, and go quickly around a course with hundreds of tight turns. This requires a higher bottom bracket to help avoid pedal strikes on the ground when pedaling through tight turns. These races are on the shorter side, so rider comfort isn’t a high priority.

gravel bike
Gravel
Cyclocross

Gearing

Gearing can differ between gravel and cyclocross bikes due to climbs and descents. On a gravel bike, depending on where you ride, you may encounter extended steep 20% grade climbs on gravel AND screaming fast descents in the same ride. This requires a much more extensive range of gearing options. You don’t typically need a huge range of gearing options on a cyclocross bike. If it gets too steep, you’re probably off and running anyway. There’s also not a lot of extended steep pedaling descents that would require the wider gear range.

Gravel bikes require a more extensive gear range due to a variety of riding conditions.
Cyclocross bikes typically don’t require a big gear range. If the terrain gets too steep, you are probably going to hop off and push.

Accessory Mounts

The last big difference between gravel and cyclocross bikes is accessory mounts. Many gravel bikes have mounts for multiple bottles, fenders, and frame bags to easily carry all the things you need for long hours over rough terrain. Some cyclocross bikes don’t even come with water bottle mounts, which limits the ‘adventure’ that the bike can properly handle. Bags and fenders can oftentimes be used, but options may be more limited than with a gravel bike.

Summary

So, can you use a cyclocross bike for gravel riding? Absolutely, but it might not be the most ideal as your gravel adventures get bigger and longer. We prefer to have the best tool for the job, so it’s important to think about the type of terrain, races and adventures that you want to conquer. Check out our GGX-SL wheels. They are a good for any road or surface.

At Gulo, we love all bikes, and but most of all, we love adventure. If you have any additional questions about the differences between gravel and cyclocross bikes, please reach out to us at info@gulocomposites.com or visit our FAQ page for more.

Josh started his cycling journey as a Brevard, NC native on the trails of Pisgah National Forest in the 1990’s. Throughout his late teens and early 20’s, Josh became a professional mountain bike racer, traveling the USA and Canada to compete in the old NORBA National Championship Series and domestic World Cup events. Afterwards, he moved into a career in outdoor education leading backpacking, mountaineering, and rock climbing courses all over the world. Tired of full time field work, Josh moved back to NC and returned to his cycling roots. Josh is now a full time cycling coach and MTB skills instructor while also pursuing his personal racing goals in mountain biking, cyclocross, gravel, and road races. In 2018, Josh was the Mountain Bike National Champion for the 40+ age group and is commonly found on the podium at National Championships in other disciplines. You can usually find Josh pounding the roots and rocks on the trails around Brevard or exploring new gravel adventures, often while teaching clients the skills they need to ride with more stability, control, and confidence.

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2 Comments

  1. Norman Bein on April 2, 2021 at 5:35 pm

    77 years old and living in brevard…recently cleared to return to biking by my neurosurgeon.. have trek e bike for four years and like the quiet roads in Rosman.. am interested in getting more info and perhaps more confidence for my rides up Avery creek etc…thanks

    • john on April 2, 2021 at 6:04 pm

      This is great! We are here to help and would be happy to get you set up with all information you need. Feel free to stop by our Gulo Composites Wheel House located at 33 W Probart St, Brevard NC 28712. We are on the second floor.

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