Yes, you can use a gravel bike as a road bike, although this largely depends on how you like your cycling experiences, as well as treading patterns and tire widths. If your aim is to use the gravel bike on the road extensively, for instance, you may need to change the tires for sleeker options if the gravel bike tires have aggressive treads. This will help to reduce the rolling resistance, which can make gravel bikes feel sluggish.
If you happen to primarily be a road bike racer, gravel bikes will not work for you, because it will not have enough high gears for use when you want to go at very high speeds like 30 mph. however, if you only seek to enjoy cycling at your own pace or go cycling with friends at reasonable speeds, the gravel bike is fine for use and will be more comfortable in some aspects compared to the typical road bike.
What makes gravel bikes unique from other bikes?
The appearance of a gravel bike and road bike are similar to the untrained eye, but the details are what make gravel bikes stand out – even from other bikes. These details include components, gearing, wheel size options, tire clearance, and geometry. For this reason, they offer much more to the everyday cyclist that wants a bike to handle the rougher off-road trail environments, without struggling too much on tarmac.
These aspects that separate them from the road bike include:
Most gravel bikes use carbon and aluminum, which are both lightweight and comfort-personified. Aluminum is the budget-friendly option of the two, while carbon frames allow for more fine-tuning in comfort and stiffness, as well as aerodynamic shaping.
The geometry of gravel bikes is meant to enhance comfort and stability in off-road environments, so they will have slacker angles for the forks and frame, as well as a larger wheelbase. They also have shorter reaches and longer head tubes, which results in a more upright cycling position.
The rear triangle of the frame also helps to cushion you, through the modifications of flattened and curved sections in the seatstays and chainstays.
Choosing a gravel bike’s geometry depends on your intended use – if you want to use it on roads, you will want a bike that looks similar to an endurance road bike. On the other hand, using the gravel bike primarily on off-road paths will require a bike that looks similar to a mountain bike.
The tire choice plays a major role in the terrain type it can handle, with many gravel bikes having wider tires, usually with a width of around 40mm, as well as tubeless tires that keep the pressure down without risking punctures and pinch flats.
The additional volume of the tires will add traction and comfort, and the tread pattern also adds grip – the environment you cycle in will determine the tread depth as well.
Gravel bikes usually have two sizes – 650b and 700c. The 650b types will have smaller diameters and can work with wider tires, which makes them good as road bike substitutes. The 700c types will have a wider diameter and can swap to 650b, but they tend to handle off-road biking better.
What makes road bikes unique from other bikes?
Road bikes come in different forms, depending on their intended use. They will share some similarities in their appearance though, such as the ‘skinny’ tires, narrow wheels, curved handlebars, and sleek appearances.
Types of road bikes
- Aero road bikes – These are built to reduce wind resistance through their aerodynamic shaping. They are comprised of carbon fiber, but tend to be heavier than normal racing bikes due to the extra material required for their aerodynamic design.
- Bikepacking bikes – These are accessorized to carry gear, so their frames are built for stability and strength instead of speed. They are made from steel, have higher spoke counts, and wider tires.
- Commuter road bikes – They tend to be strong in their framing to handle the daily commutes you may have. They can feature puncture-resistant tires, a more upright setup, and slight differences in gearing.
- Cyclocross bike – Mostly for off-road short courses, they can move across different terrain, and they are similar to gravel bikes in their build.
- Dual-sport bike – These are hybrid bikes for cyclists that want a more aggressive or faster cycling experience.
- Endurance bike – These bikes emphasize comfort, although they look like racing bikes. They have wide gear ranges and disc brakes for all-weather use.
- Race bikes – Built for speed due to its lightweight design and narrow tires.
Traits of road bikes
Most road bikes use carbon and aluminum, with more niche models using titanium and steel. They also have shorter seatposts and sloping top tubes for compact geometry. Therefore, it is important to choose the right frame size for you.
Wheels and tires
Aerodynamics are essential in road bikes, with modern road bikes using wider, tubeless tires for more comfort. Most race bikes will have a width of 25mm, while endurance bikes will have 27mm to 30mm tires.
Road bikes have 2 chain rings – most will have the ‘semi-compact’ 52/36t or ‘compact’ 50/34t gearing, where ‘t’ is the number of teeth. The groupsets are changing in modern road bikes, which accounts for more cycling conditions the bikes are being used in.
Road bike gears are always tightly packed together for more ideal speeds. The budget-friendly bikes will have between 8 and 10 sprockets (speeds), while the high-end ones will have 11 or 12 sprockets.
Summary of differences between road bikes and gravel bikes
|Road bike||Gravel bike|
|Aim of usage||Aims to achieve a responsive ride, so it has more precision in handling||Aims to achieve comfort for long rides, as well as maximizing stability through tough terrain|
|Geometry||Slacker head tube and longer wheelbases to promote upright body positioning|
|Tire clearance||Usually 28mm up to 32mm||Usually higher than 35mm, and can extend to 50mm|
|Wheels||Very slick, and usually have 700c types, with some bikes using 650b or 650c wheels for more proportional geometry||Always have tread patterns, with the tread depth depending on intended use|
|Frame||Usually use carbon fiber due to vibration absorption and lightweight qualities. May also use aluminum frames if the bike is on a budget.||Mostly uses steel due to its vibration dampening, strength, and durability|
|Finishing kit||Meant for maximum efficiency, so they have more aerodynamic-shape seatposts and bars||Meant for maximum stability, so they can have flared or flat handlebars, suspension seatposts, suspension headsets and stems, and dropper posts on some bikes.|
It is possible to use gravel bikes as road bikes, although that will require some adjustments in the wheels as well as other components.
Are gravel bikes better than road bikes?
It depends on your intended use, as they may suit certain conditions and struggle with others. They are best for off-road terrain, as they have longer wheelbases and bigger clearances.
What is the highest speed a gravel bike can achieve?
On paved roads, they can reach up to 16 mph, while downhill terrain can achieve speeds of 20 mph on average.