What Is a Gravel Bike? Pros & Cons Explained

Orange Giant Revolt gravel bike hanging on a log of wood.

Gravel bikes are among the most versatile bike types. Although they are a subcategory of road bikes, you can use them for riding on paved and unpaved roads. This versatility is what makes gravel biking so appealing.

You can think of gravel bikes as road bikes with wider tires. They also have relatively sporty geometry and drop handlebars, and are usually relatively lightweight and aero.

A gravel bike is ideal for people who don’t want to limit themselves to paved roads only and also want to experience off-road adventures.

On the other hand, gravel bikes don’t excel in any terrain due to their versatility. They are not as fast as road bikes on paved roads and not as suitable for MTB-like terrain as mountain bikes.

Continue reading to learn more about their components, benefits, and disadvantages.

NOTE: Gravel bikes are also sometimes called adventure or touring bikes.

The Pros and Cons of a Gravel Bike

The following table summarizes the main features, benefits, and disadvantages of gravel bikes compared to other bike types.

FeatureRoad BikesGravel BikesHybrid BikesMountain Bikes
GeometryEndurance or performance orientedEndurance or performance orientedUsually endurance
Sometimes performance oriented
Usually more upright
Suitable forPaved roadsPaved, gravel, dirt, or forest roadsPaved, gravel, dirt, or forest roadsAll types of terrains
Unsuitable forMost terrains except paved roadsMTB-like terrainMTB-like terrainPaved roads
Sometimes 1X
1X or 2X
Sometimes 3X
3X or 2X
Sometimes 1X
1X or 2X
Sometimes 3X
SuspensionNo suspensionSometimes front suspension
Occasionally suspension seat post
Sometimes front suspensionFront suspension
Rear suspension
BrakesDisc or rimUsually disc brakesDisc or rimDisc or rim
Relative comfortBadBadGoodGreat
HandlebarsDroppedDroppedFlat or curvedFlat
TyresNarrowNarrow or wideNarrow or wideWide
Wheels diameter700c650b, 700c700c, 26″26″, 27.5″, 29″
BrowseRoad BikesGravel BikesHybrid BikesMountain Bikes
Comparison of different bike types, their features, benefits, and disadvantages.

Frame Materials and Geometry

The frame plays a crucial role in determining the bike’s performance and handling characteristics.

A blue steel gravel bike in a forest.
A (steel) gravel bike with a relaxed geometry

Gravel bike frames are typically made from carbon, aluminum, steel, or titanium.

Entry-level gravel bikes are made of aluminum or steel, while the higher-end ones are from carbon or titanium (eventually steel).

They are designed like road bikes (lightweight, stiff, and aerodynamic) but have wider tire clearance to accommodate wide tires, and their geometry is slightly more relaxed.

TIP: Check out this in-depth comparison of gravel vs. road bikes.

But as always, it also depends on the type of gravel bike. See the following picture for illustration.

Examples of gravel bike types - all-road, standard, and MTB-like gravel bikes.
Gravel bike types | Product images credit: specialized.com

For example, All-road gravel bikes are like endurance road bikes. The differences between them are not clearly defined but usually boil down to different gearing, tires, and geometry.

The wheelbase of gravel bikes is usually longer. Together with slacker angles between the frame and fork, they contribute to better handling.

MTB-like gravel bikes often have mounting points for bags and panniers and front (and rear) suspension, just like mountain bikes.

Their riding position is more relaxed, resulting in better riding comfort and easier handling.

Wheels & Tires

Gravel bike wheels are usually wider than road bike wheels. Most of them are tubeless-ready, meaning that you can use tubeless gravel tires with them.

TIP: Learn the differences between tubeless, clincher, and tubular tires.

The general rule is the wider the tires, the more difficult terrain they can handle. See the following table for an illustration.

GradeDefinitionSuggested Tire Size
1Tarmac, bad paved roads with cobbles700×25 – 700×32
2Dirt roads700×28 – 700×35
3Light gravel 700×32 – 700×38
4Rough gravel700×35 – 700×40+
5MTB terrain700×38+ / 650b
Gravel gradients, their definition, and the recommended tire size according to Cycling Tips
Source: cyclingtips.com

Of course, there are countless different tire patterns, all suitable for slightly different terrains.

Gravel wheels also differ in rim depths. The deeper the wheels, the better aerodynamics, but the higher the weight and worse crosswind stability.

Rim depth vs aerodynamics (the deeper wheels, the more aero)
Rim depth vs. aerodynamics (simplified)

You can learn my article on carbon vs. aluminum wheels to learn more about their pros and cons.


A bike drivetrain typically includes the cranks, chainrings, chain, cassette, and derailleurs.

Most modern gravel bikes use 1X chainring with an 11-spd or 12-spd cassette. However, exceptions like 2X or even 3X groupsets apply (especially in the low-end spectrum).

The 1X chainrings are simpler (you shift just the rear gears), lighter, and fewer things can go wrong (like a dropped chain). On the other hand, the jumps between gears are larger.

Gravel bikes have relatively easy gears to allow you to tackle steep climbs. You will often have to remain in the saddle to keep traction, so easy gears are handy.

See the following table that summarizes gravel bike groupsets and their price range.

Entry levelGRX 10spdMechanical
Mid rangeGRX 11spdForce XPLR eTap*EkarMechanical
ProGRX Di2 11spdRED XPLR eTapElectronic
A comparison of gravel bike groupsets (from entry-level to pro) of the major manufacturers (Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo) and their type.
*Force XPLR eTap is electronic.

Did you know there are two types of groupsets? You can buy a gravel bike with a mechanical or electronic groupset. The electronic ones are more convenient but also more expensive.

Handlebars, Shifters, and Brakes

Drop handlebars are one of the main characteristics of gravel bikes. They allow more hand positions, each suitable for slightly different purposes than flat bars. Read this comparison between flat and drop handlebars for more info.

Some gravel bikes have flared drop bars to give you better leverage when riding out of the saddle.

A gravel bike standing over his gravel bike with flared drop handlebar.
Flared drop handlebar on a gravel bike

Shifters and brakes are mounted on handlebars for easy access. They are integrated, so you can easily control gears and brakes.

Each manufacturer has a slightly different shifting mechanism, but they are intuitive and easy to get used to.

The brakes are almost exclusively disc ones on gravel bikes. They provide great efficiency in all terrains and conditions. Read this comparison of disc vs. rim brakes for more details.


Believe it or not, gravel bikes are not always rigid, but some have a suspension fork.

A gravel bike with a suspension fork is suitable for more demanding terrain because it can handle larger bumps and rocks. It’s also more comfortable.

Rigid gravel bike - Canyon Grizl 7.
Rigid gravel bike – Canyon Grizl 7 | Picture credit: canyon.com
Front suspension gravel bike - Canyon Grizl 7.
Front suspension gravel bike – Canyon Grizl 7 Suspension | Picture credit: canyon.com

On the other hand, the suspension adds more weight and is less aero, making it less suitable for fast-paced rides or climbing.

NOTE: There are also full-suspension gravel bikes, but they are rare and not widespread (yet).

Mounting Points

Unlike most road bikes, gravel bikes usually have additional mounting points for accessories like bottles, panniers, bags, fenders, etc.

Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 with highlighted additional mounting points.
Additional mounting points on the Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 | Picture credit: trekbikes.com

It again depends on the gravel bike type. For example, some may not have mounting points on the front fork or rear triangle.

So, you have to consider how much cargo you will need for your bike adventures and choose the bike accordingly. Read this bikepacking on a gravel bike guide for more info.

Gravel Bikes FAQ


This was just a quick introduction to gravel bikes. Feel free to read my How to choose a gravel bike guide, which includes more detailed info if you want to make an educated decision on your first gravel bike.

You might also be interested in learning more about gravel biking. This guide includes tips on equipment, nutrition, accessories, and more.

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