Gravel Bikes vs Cyclocross Bikes – 4 Key Differences


For people just starting, they might not notice much of a difference between gravel bikes and cyclocross options. They are similar at first glance, and they both work roughly the same way for those not all that familiar.

However, there are some distinct differences that people start to notice the more they get into one discipline over the other.

There are four distinct differences that people should keep a lookout for, and it gives them a better understanding overall.

Gravel Bikes VS Hybrid Bikes – 6 Key Differences

1. Bike Geometry

Gravel Bike Geometry

The quickest way to tell the difference is to know what to look for with bike geometry. Designers have spent a lot of time making the frames as efficient as possible to do what they are designed to do.

Gravel bikes are designed for a more comfortable ride over long distances. They can handle many different terrains, and being able to transition fairly quickly is something to keep in mind.

For a cyclocross bike, it is more about shorter rides and a slightly higher speed around courses. Almost all cyclocross rides are less than two hours, and riders need to have the right amount of maneuverability to make tight turns.

Cyclocross Geometry
By Robs80 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47090689

This means that the geometry favors agility and speed over giving a rider a comfortable ride. Companies try to get the best of both worlds, but they are always going to side on the speed aspect.

If shopping for a gravel bike, they will usually have a longer chainstay and wheelbase. They also have a slacker head tube angle and seat tube angle. Finally, their bottom bracket will be just a little lower than a cyclocross bike.

Think of a gravel bike as more of a mountain bike type of option, while a cyclocross bike is a little more like a road bike with its geometry.

2. Tire Clearance

Gravel Bike Tire Clearance

A high-quality gravel bike is going to have a tire clearance that is a bit higher than a cyclocross bike. Most are going to be at least 40 mm, which means a person can put some wider tires into a gravel bike and not run the risk of them rubbing against the frame or fork.

Some people like having bigger tires and a gravel bike, as it gives more comfort in general. The downside is that it usually is a little bit tougher to pick up speed, but not everyone is looking to go as fast as possible when they are using a gravel bike.

For cyclocross bikes, they are usually going to be somewhere in the low 30s for tire clearance. There is no need to go higher than that, as most the time it is just going to get in the way.

People want a skinnier tire so that they can cut through any obstacles in their way. Some people feel like they might need a bigger tire than they do with the cyclocross bike, as people are going to be pretty comfortable with riding.

The good news is that most high-end bikes in either category are going to offer some pretty good tires as stock options. If a person wants to go ahead and make an update, gravel bikes tend to have a bit more leeway in providing a genuinely customizable option.

3. Gears

Groupset Gravel Bikes (Photo Credit Canyon.com)

Since gravel bike riders are going to be on a variety of terrains, they need to have a wide range of gears so that they can tackle everything. The goal is to make the ride as comfortable as possible.

The less a person has to fight with their bike, the better. This is why most beginners specifically will be looking for gravel bikes that offer some high-quality options worth considering with gears.

A common suggestion to people starting is to try to find the perfect gear as quickly as possible when riding, and that will help to stay as fresh as possible during the entire ride.

For cyclocross riders, there is usually not nearly as much change in terrain or elevation. There is no need to have a huge gear range, as it just adds weight and complicates the matter.

Professionals will go with a very narrow gear range overall because they want to get after the ride and not worry too much about everything else.

The gap is not nearly as wide for entry-level options for cyclocross or gravel bike riding, simply because beginners need to have options. It takes a while for people to get the hang of switching and figuring it all out, but it eventually comes together.

Electronic Shifting Gravel Bikes

4. Weight

The final major difference between a gravel bike and a cyclocross bike is pretty noticeable as soon as a person picks two different bikes up. It becomes even more apparent after a very long ride. The weight of a bike plays a huge role in not only fatigue but how fast a person can build up speed.

Gravel bike riders are not that interested in setting speed records by any means. The majority of people are looking for an excellent, robust option that is relatively easy to go on any different type of terrain.

Since gravel bikes are meant for longer rides, they need to be able to carry bags and supplies at all times. This all leads to a bike that is not incredibly light, but it is more of a jeep when comparing it to a car.

Cyclocross bike riders are much more competitive, and that means looking for a lighter weight. Just like a road bike, people want to trim as much as possible.

They can’t get by with a build that is not nearly as rugged, because they are not going to carry much else besides a person. That means having thinner tube sets, a carbon or lightweight aluminum frame, and so much more.

There are ways to cut down the weight of a gravel bike, but the majority of people do not want to spend that type of money. Not only is money an issue, but most people are going to notice that one all-around bike to handle a bunch of different types of riding is the way to go.

Are There Bikes Out There That Are Good For Gravel And Cyclocross Riding?

If a person wants to do one or the other, it just makes sense to invest in a specific type of bike. However, for those who just want a bike that can handle many different types of riding, there are some options out there. They might not always be the best for one particular kind of riding, but they still do the trick.

The excellent news about bikes like these is that people do not have to spend extra money on a second bike. They also do not need to figure out a storage option for the second bike as well. It may not always end up being an ideal situation, but a lot of people are going to be happy with having a few solutions.

Which Type Of Riding Is More Popular?

It is pretty impossible to come up with exact numbers, but a gravel bike riding seems to be the more popular overall option compared to cyclocrosss.

That is because, for a lot of people, they like the slower-paced gravel bike option so that they can enjoy their surroundings. It is more about the adventure with these bikes, and not necessarily about racing.

With that said, both are becoming trendy options that go beyond the basic bikes that are out there. Everyone knows about the road, mountain, and dirt bikes, but there are more specific options out there as well. Now that people are figuring this out, they are having a good time exploring some of the specialized options.

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