Gravel bikes are a relatively new type of bike option that many people are trying out for the first time. It seems like another option that can sometimes clutter the bike shopping experience, but people find them to be versatile the more they give them a shot.
In fact, more and more people are giving gravel bike options a try beyond what they are intended for.
Can gravel bikes be one of the best commuter bike options out there? We decided to take a closer look at gravel bikes and how they work specifically for commuting.
What we found might shock some people who are shopping around looking for a perfect option that truly fits them.
Defining a Gravel Bike
Gravel bikes derive from a combination of a cyclocross bike, and a traditional sports-touring bike. Like cyclocross biking, gravel bikes are designed to be on-road and off-road options.
They can handle a lot of different terrains, and it looks like a road racing bike in many ways other than the wheels and the frame angles.
What makes a gravel bike different from a cyclocross bike? Geometry is one of the basic ways to know. Gravel bikes do not need a short wheelbase to perform.
Gravel riders want a wheelbase that is a little longer to help spread out the weight as much as possible. There’s also no need for sharp frame angles, as cyclocross relies on that for using power muscles.
A gravel bike is much more relaxed, which the average rider seems to enjoy more overall. This is especially great for a commuter not trying to go out there and set speed records.
The final difference between a gravel bike and a cyclocross bike is the bottom bracket. With a gravel bike, the bottom bracket isn’t quite as high.
When a person is carrying weight on a bike, gravity needs to be as low as possible. This setup makes it a perfect option. No matter if a rider is just riding themselves, or they have a lot of bags attached, it feels comfortable the entire time.
When comparing a gravel bike to a touring bike, there are a decent amount of similarities. They have almost the same geometry as a gravel bike, but they just don’t have that tire width for off-road rides.
Commuters tend to like that extra tire width so that they can float over some of the tougher terrains. All it takes is a pothole or two to really frustrate riders to the point that they are in harm’s way.
Since gravel bikes are so new to the scene, it’s important to actually know what makes a gravel bike in the first place. First, it starts with whether or not a rider is looking for competition, or performance.
Both professional gravel cyclists and performance cyclists want speed and the ability to cover a lot of distance, but what they want to sacrifice will be vastly different.
A professional gravel bike rider will want to really focus on one type of ride in general. They care about comfort to a certain degree, but it’s all about how well it rides the way it is supposed to. The goal is to win, and everything else secondary.
For a performance gravel bike setup, riders want to go fast, far, and have some versatility. That’s where a traditional gravel bike can come into play for all types of riders, since they work in so many different situations.
What Makes a Gravel Bike Perfect For Commuting?
Some bikes advertise themselves as being made for commuting, but some like to look beyond that category. For example, gravel bikes can be perfect for getting to and from a place safely, even though they aren’t advertised as such.
They share a lot of similarities, and it might even entice people to stick with gravel bikes over others.
Commuters want pretty tough wheels overall so that they can go over just about any type of terrain on their way to a destination.
Ideally, it would be nice to have very smooth roads and ride a road bike setup, but most people know that’s not going to be the case. Wheels on any type of commuter need to be tough and rugged so that they can withstand the daily wear and tear.
Gravel bike wheels are fairly thick, yet keep it a lightweight feel overall. Just as people don’t want a super skinny tire when they are commuting, they also don’t want an extra fat bike tire.
This is a perfect blend that provides the best of both worlds. The tires are very grippy, and the wheels in general are tough enough to handle some of the bumpiest terrains out there. Even if riders have to go off-trail, they can obviously do so with a gravel bike.
Like many commuter bikes out there, there are steel and aluminum options for gravel bike riders. Most people already have a preference one way or the other, but there are positives to each type of setup.
Steel is a stronger solution, and it’s going to withstand a lot of wear and tear when commuting every single day. They are very compliant frames that provide comfort over all types of distances.
The only drawback that people find with a steel frame is that it’s a bit more vulnerable to rusting out. No one likes to have to deal with the rusting part of any type of bike.
Aluminum is just a little bit more lightweight, and the sacrifice isn’t too much. For example, while they aren’t as stiff and strong as steel frames, they still do a pretty good job for lighter commutes. It’s easy to lock up, and there’s not a fear of rust being a huge problem.
Finally, there are some people out there who might invest in a carbon fiber frame for their gravel bike. While these obviously offer outstanding performance, it comes out at a pretty hefty price as well.
A lot of people will want to make sure that they store the carbon fiber framed bikes inside so that they don’t run the risk of getting them stolen. Not only that, but it increases the longevity of the bike so that the investment is there for a long time.
The best thing to keep in mind is that riders wanting a balance of feel and top-end speed will opt for aluminum or carbon, depending on their budget.
Carbon works especially well if a lot of gravel riding is necessary on the commute. For performance speed and versatility, carbon is a top-end option to go with. All are going to provide decent value, but little changes can make all the difference.
There’s always a good range of gears on every type of gravel bike out there. They are designed to handle all types of inclines, so a person is never working too hard to get where they want to be.
It’s nice not to have to be stuck in just a few gears because most commuters are not trying to overexert themselves.
Changing gears are easy, as is making any other adjustments on the fly. It makes a ton of sense for people to have everything very easy to maneuver so that the ride is never a complicated part of the overall experience.
A gravel bike is viewed as a great value overall thanks in large part to carrying so much at once. There are multiple locations for people to put bags if they want to, as some riders will go on long expeditions with a gravel bike.
Commuters might not be carrying nearly as much, but being able to carry something certainly helps.
There are too many bikes out there that make it very cumbersome to carry anything on board. It makes a person feel like they have to wear a backpack or find other ways to carry something from one place to another.
Commuters might not have a lot with them, but a little bit of storage can go a long way.
Finally, there’s something to be said for any commuter bike that is pretty simple overall. When people initially think of a specialized bike like a gravel bike, they might think that it is going to be too complicated to ride on a regular basis.
This is just as simple to ride as a standard commuter bike, but obviously, a bit more versatility is provided for off-road adventures.
No one should ever be intimidated by any type of bike out there, as there’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve when investing in a new option.
With that being said, gravel bikes are pretty easy to jump on and start using right away. It usually takes people just to look at a time to get started.
One Bike For Everything
Commuters really like versatility more than the average bike rider. They understand that when they buy a commuter bike, they aren’t getting the best of the best. What they want is a dependable ride that gets them to where they need to be safely.
A gravel bike fits that description perfectly. Instead of investing in multiple bikes for all types of discipline, what many will realize is that they can spend a little bit more money on a gravel bike that can cover just about everything.
Who Ultimately Needs a Gravel Bike For Commuting?
Commuters of all types could benefit from a gravel bike, but it really pays off for a specific type of rider. This is someone who not only wants to commute but wants to escape and ride a bit more off-road as well.
Ultimately, gravel bikes are designed for off-road terrain, as people can ride around and handle it as well as possible.
Those who might not live close to areas where people can ride off the road right now might not find gravel bikes as valuable overall.
This is especially true for people who already ride on pretty smooth roads as well, because a thinner tire might pay off a bit more. For everyone else, a gravel bike is versatile enough for just about anything.
As with any type of bike, there are ways to enhance the bike, even more, to make it safe and clean. Adding mudguards could help keep people clean when they are commuting to work.
Making some slight upgrades to the bike can allow for more storage, more comfortable riding, and so much more. Think of gravel bikes as one of the most versatile bikes out there right now, and it’s pretty easy to see why they are taking off in popularity in the commuting world. As long as this continues, they won’t be fading away at any point.