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Road or gravel bike? The answer to the dilemma

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Road or gravel bike?  The answer to the dilemma

If you have finally decided to buy a proper bike, you will be faced with the dilemma of choosing between a road or gravel bike. And if it’s hard for you to decide, we’ve listed the pros and cons of each to help you choose without regretting it a moment after you leave the shop on your new bike.

Road or gravel bike: what should I buy?

If you’re spending time on bike sites, social groups and shops and you’ve already ruled out MTB, choosing between road or gravel bikes is one of the first decisions you need to make. Do you opt for the sheer speed of a road bike or the versatility of a gravel bike? Lightness and performance or comfort and adventure? To get a better idea of ​​which bike is right for you, and which is best, we’ve outlined the pros and cons of each type of bike, so you can make the right decision.

The dilemma: race or gravel

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to the road or gravel dilemma, starting with price: both types offer comparable levels of quality for a similar price, and choosing between the two depends on your riding style.

First of all: the price

The first thing to clarify here is that at any price level, a road bike and a gravel bike will have equivalent level components and an equivalent quality frame. There may be a slight discrepancy between the two, or a price shift in one direction or the other, but in the end they will be broadly similar in quality and price. Of course, they will be designed and built differently, but at the same level.

For example, a decent entry-level road bike will probably cost around 1200 euros and have a Shimano 105 groupset, aluminum wheels, a carbon fork and a good set of road tires.

The same brand could also produce an entry-level gravel bike around the same price point, and it could have a Shimano GRX 600 groupset, aluminum wheels, a carbon fork and a good pair of knobby tires.

For most brands, a gravel bike and a road bike of the same price will be of the same quality. The difference is in the design intent. For the road bike, the goal is to make a bike that is light, aerodynamic and agile. On the gravel bike, versatility, durability and stability are key. So that gravel bike will probably weigh more and may not be as aerodynamic, but it will have off-road capabilities and more built-in resilience.

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Which types are the most useful?

The answer depends on your riding style, what you want to do for fun on your bike and the terrain you will find or want to ride on.

Gravel bikes perform quite well in all types of riding. They can go fast on the road, tackle rough terrain and can be loaded with fenders, racks and bags for bike touring or bikepacking.

Obviously you can’t do technical MTB trails, but for new cyclists this multifunctionality can be ideal. If you’re just starting to ride, it’s hard to know what type of riding you’ll end up doing more of. A gravel bike allows you to dive into each discipline of cycling and understand what you like best.

For cyclists of any experience level who just want one bike, a gravel bike is a good choice. Gravel bikes are fast enough on the road to be used for physical training, and tough enough for off-road fun. Whatever terrain you find, you’ll have a bike that will do the job.

Gravel bikes make great commuter bikes. Typically, they have mounting points for racks and fenders, both essential for year-round commuters, and their more upright, stable geometry is perfect for weaving through traffic or riding with a backpack.

Disadvantages of gravel bikes

At first glance, it’s easy to assume that a gravel bike can do everything a road bike can do and everything a mountain bike can do. If that were the case, obviously, the gravel bike would be the best value: it would mean you’d get the functionality of two bikes in one. Ideal!

But it’s not that simple. Yes, a gravel bike will be fine on the road, but if you’re riding with a group of friends and everyone is on road bikes, you’ll have to work harder than others.

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First of all, because gravel bikes have wide, robust tires that roll slower on asphalt. Even if you replace them with thin road tires, your gravel bike won’t be as fast. Gravel bikes place the rider in a more upright position, and their sturdier frames are less aerodynamic. It may seem like a small detail, but when you start to feel your leg you realize that it isn’t.

Gravel gears may not have high enough ratios for fast road riding, and the intervals between gears on a 1x gear may feel awkward when riding on asphalt. Finally, there is geometry. Gravel geometry is designed to give stability over rough terrain, but it won’t make you feel as agile or lively as a road bike on asphalt.

Likewise, while gravel bikes are great off-road, they have their limitations. Horse trails, gravel roads and soft trails are all within reach, but you’ll struggle to get down too difficult terrain with a gravel bike.

With a gravel bike, you might find yourself in the middle: you have a bike that’s worse on the road than a road bike and worse off-road than a mountain bike. Riders who want to push the limits and keep up with others may end up wanting a more specialized machine.

READ ALSO: But what can you really do with a gravel bike?

Road bikes are specialized

On that topic, let’s talk about the reasons why a road bike is a better value. Road bikes are designed for riding on asphalt: they roll fast, have a close gear range to help you find a good cadence, and have frames and aerodynamic adaptations to help riders cut through the wind. They are agile and light, feeling lively and fast while driving.

Obviously they’re unusable off-road, but they make up for it by being really good at what they’re supposed to be good at: driving on the road. If that’s all you do, or even if it’s 90% of what you do, a road bike is the right tool for you.

For that final 10% or so, you might be surprised at what your road bike is capable of. Today, road bikes benefit from mountain bike technology like disc brakes and tubeless tires, so they’re not completely useless on uneven surfaces. Don’t expect gravel bike levels of resilience and handling, but for a light dirt ride every now and then, a road bike will do the job.

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Disadvantages of road bikes

The speed difference between a road bike and a gravel bike is substantial, although with a pair of slick tires fitted to the gravel bike it can become marginal. Who really needs that little extra speed? Maybe if you race, or if you ride with a particularly fast group, you’ll benefit from that little burst of speed that a road bike gives you.

But really, how many of us are in this category? For most people, a gravel bike is more than sufficient on the road, making the road bike seem like overspecialization – and therefore overpriced for essentially a single purpose. Sure, you might appreciate the nimble handling, especially if and when someone suggests a jaw-dropping weekend of road cycling.

READ ALSO: Dimensions, features and prices: advice for buying a racing bike

So, which is better, road or gravel bike?

For less experienced cyclists, gravel is the most versatile and useful. It may not be as fast or refined as a road bike, nor as capable off-road as a full mountain bike. But it’s good enough both on and off-road to get you into all kinds of trouble (the good kind). With a gravel bike, no terrain is out of reach.

For cyclists who have been riding long enough to have found their niche (and, crucially, that niche is asphalt riding), a road bike might be a better choice. Of course, it’s a specialist who does its intended job very well, so it’s perfect if the idea of ​​getting the seat of your trousers covered in dirt or dust doesn’t even cross your mind in the slightest.

READ ALSO: 6 differences between a racing bike and a gravel bike that you need to know


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