What Makes a Gravel Bike a Gravel Bike? 9 Key Differences

Gravel bikes are popping up more and more in today’s world, as riders are looking for a new type of option that fits what they are doing. Versatility has always been a calling card for this type of bike, and more and more people are figuring out that it works best for them.

Before making an investment, what exactly is a gravel bike? Does it fit all the needs a person has? It is worth taking an extra look to see before buying.

What is a Gravel Bike?

A gravel bike is designed as any drop bar bike capable of handling several different terrains. In many ways, it is viewed as a hybrid option since riders can go on anything from gravel roads to actual bike paths.

Many use these bikes on bike packing adventures thanks in large part to their versatility.

To further break down what makes up a gravel bike, it is worth looking into all the different qualities of a bike in general. This gives people a good idea of whether or not it is actually worth it for them to use.

Frame Material

Frame material is not too much different from other modern bikes out there. Almost all options come in either aluminum or carbon. Aluminum is always more affordable, and both are satisfied with the durability and overall weight of the metal.

Carbon is obviously a little more expensive, but it can help people feel like they are getting the best performance possible. It is an even lighter weighted option, and riders will feel like they have a much more comfortable ride in general.


Best Gravel Bike For Women

At first glance, a gravel bike looks a lot like a road bike from a geometry standpoint. However, it is made more for a better way of handling the bike when going off-road.

That starts with a longer wheelbase, and riders also get a chance to use slacker angles for both the frame and fork.

Every company is slightly different with its geometry, but some of the top brands are really trying to make sure that that front wheel gives some extra stability. Putting it a little further ahead of a rider makes a pretty significant difference.

Another thing that riders will notice is that they sit in a more upright position than a road bike. This means riders can stay a little more comfortable, and it is easier to shift the weight around when necessary.

Since there are some variations as far as geometry is concerned, a lot of people should think about the terrain they are riding on.

If the majority of riding will be on some type of road, a more road bike type of gravel option makes sense. However, if the goal is to be off-road as much as possible, it needs to gravitate more towards a mountain bike.


Trying Different Gravel Bike Tires

Tires for a gravel bike are usually somewhere between the width of a road bike and a mountain bike. They are designed to go on many different terrains, giving riders the versatility they are looking for.

It is beneficial for a lot of riders to run a tubeless option so that they have a lesser chance of a flat. It is a little bit more to get a tubeless setup, but most believe it is well worth the extra price.

Just like with other off-road bikes, there will be enough room for larger tires to still have extra space if they collect any mud.

Having a little bit of extra clearance will make for a much smoother ride experience overall.


Wheel choices for gravel bikes are pretty limited, as the majority people will pick from 650b or 700c. Going with 650b wheels means a small diameter, but wider tires for added traction.

A lot of people like that combination to really feel like they are riding a road bike in a lot of ways.

The vast majority of people will stay with a 700c wheel, which should be just fine as well. Most people starting out are not going to notice much of a difference either way. And more and more frames are being designed so that people can use them for either wheel size.


Gravel bike options almost always use disc brakes for the best in stopping and starting. Hydraulic disc brakes, in particular, are very good and helping with gravel bikes, as people can get a very consistent stop in any type of condition.

Most people are not too picky about brakes, just as long as they work. Disc brakes are going to be the best option for those who want something that is as dependable as they come.


Groupset Gravel Bikes (Photo Credit Canyon.com)

Having a range of gears can make a huge difference in how the gravel bike performs in general. If someone wants to make sure that they are going just about anywhere on their own, they want gears that will hold up in the long run.

The number of gears is obviously very necessary for anyone who is going off-road and trying to tackle the toughest of climbs. Shoppers need to keep in mind where they live in order to make sure they get the proper amount of gears necessary.

Keep in mind that with gravel bikes, there is less getting out of the saddle and climbing since the grip is not the best, so being able to stay in the saddle and pedal quickly helps out.

Try to look for a gravel bike that has a pretty compact drivetrain with a wide-range cassette to really maximize a gravel bike and how it is used in general.

There are some people who are also going with a super compact instead of something standard if they are going to do a lot of tough, steep rides.

Finally, single-ring groupsets are also popular in the gravel biking industry.


Trek Checkpoint Gravel Bike for Bikepacking – Photo Credit Trekbikes.com

Since gravel bikes are very commonly used for multi-day exploration, it makes sense that they always come with a lot of mounts for all types of accessories to be attached.

Being able to conveniently carry a lot of stuff can really maximize how much the gravel bike could be used.

Along with traditional mounds for storage, there are also mounts for other items as well. For example, most people want to have mudguards put in place to help protect them a little bit from dirt and mud kicking up.

Adding an additional water bottle cage also helps with hydration.

Seat Post

People who are used to riding mountain bikes are going to like the fact that gravel bikes come with a dropper seat post.

Although this is mostly seen on higher-end gravel bike options, some of the entry-level options are going with this setup as well.

It is something that helps to lower or raise the saddle, making climbs that much easier if needed.

A good seat post, in general, is going to make riding a lot more comfortable than many realize. It is definitely worth exploring for anyone who is trying to take their riding to another level.


Gravel bikes are pretty notorious for having bars that will flare out to the drops. By doing this, there is a little bit more stability on all types of terrains, and that means that are hanging in control whenever a person is starting to learn how to ride.

Getting a little bit of extra leverage also helps when going downhill.

Most bars are going to have a pretty shallow drop, so there is no need to reach down too far. This is a nice little added feature that most gravel bike riders are not that familiar with until they get a chance to be on the bike themselves.

How Does a Gravel Bike Differ From Other Types of Bicycles?

Most people are familiar with road bikes and mountain bikes, as they are the two most popular options for adults. If someone already owns one of these bags, they might not necessarily know what makes it different from a gravel bike.

Gravel Bike Versus Road Bikes

The biggest general difference is that a gravel bike does not have the same type of aggressive setup that a road bike does.

This means riders can be a little more relaxed when they are riding instead of being bent down in an aggressive position at all times. Gravel bikes are meant more for stability and comfort, while still offering some speed overall.

The tires are also going to be much wider with extra tread, which allows people to go off paved road. Yes, this means that a gravel bag is probably going to lose in a race to a road bike, but they are much closer in speed than a lot of people realize.

Gravel Bike Versus Mountain Bikes

Gravel bikes are meant for some pretty casual off-road biking, but those who are really going out there and attacking tough terrain will want to go with a mountain bike.

Mountain Bike tires will be bigger, and the suspension will be better to smooth out the ride. Gravel biking is more for some light offroad terrain, which is what the vast majority of people come across anyway.

An advantage is that a gravel bike is going to go much faster. It is usually much lighter as well. It falls somewhere in between a road and a mountain bike, which might just be the all-around option that a lot of people are looking for.

Gravel Bike Versus Hybrid Bikes

If it is true that a gravel bike is somewhere between a road and a mountain bike, does that not make it a hybrid? While there are a lot of similarities, hybrid bikes are usually meant more for using on the road and commuting.

Not everyone is comfortable with super skinny road bike tires, so hybrid bikes give people a little more stability without really giving them the flexibility to go off-road too much. A gravel bike is a more rugged option that is meant for longer rides.

Why It’s Worth Investing In A Gravel Bike

There might not be a better all-around bike option for people who want to do a little bit of everything than to go with a gravel bike.

It is perfect for bike packing, but it can also be used as a commuter or just a casual option for some exercise.

The gravel bike industry is growing more and more all the time, and people are trying to catch on that this is a bike so many people have been looking for throughout their life.

With plenty of customization options for any type of frame that is purchased, getting a gravel bike up and going is easier than ever. No one should buy a brand new bike without first exploring if a gravel bike is a perfect option for them.

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