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The difference between Cross and Gravel bikes

Cyclocross and Gravelbiking (Recreational) This has to be the most physically intense sport ever invented. It's high speed bicycle racing on a short off road course or riding the off pavement rides on gravel like :The Dirty Kanza". We also have a dedicated Racing forum for the Cyclocross Hard Core Racers.

The difference between Cross and Gravel bikes

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Old 07-10-18, 01:38 PM
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chas58
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Handling difference between Cross and Gravel bikes

How does Cross and Gravel handle differently? Specifically, When would one want Cross vs Gravel? How do they handle and ride differently? So here is the answer, based on my own research, experience, and validated with an OEM designer of CX and gravel bikes. These are generalizations, your results may vary. ;-)

The background:
Gravel is longer/lower/slacker meaning:
  • Longer chainstays/wheelbase,
  • lower bottom bracket,
  • shallower head tube angle
along with:
  • more tire clearance and
  • more frame stack
  • More compliant ride
These features make gravel bikes more suitable for 3+ hour rides, while a cross bike is designed to be ridden hard for <60 minutes.

Short chain stays help CX bikes respond sharply to power bursts, the long chain stays on gravel bikes do a lot to keep it stable on loose terrain.

Lower bottom bracket gives a slightly lower center of gravity (and longer chain stays), while a higher BB gives more clearance for obstacles and less pedal strike.
Slacker geometry slows the steering down a bit for more stability.


This leads to the following handling differences:*

Cross bikes: Quicker handling at the cost of stability.
Dynamically, a cross bike would be more agile, designed to be ridden more aggressively, accelerates and climbs a little faster, could corner harder/sharper (requiring more care on sweeping loose turns), less worry about pedal strike.


Gravel bikes tend to be more stable in loose terrain, and fast descents, a bit easier and more comfortable to ride, require a little more intention on turn-in (swinging wide too wide on very tight turns) and a generally more relaxed demeanor.

*Note that this is a generalization - some gravel bikes are more aggressive, and some CX bikes are more laid back, and some manufacturers use the same frame for both gravel and cross (often with different gearing and different stock tire size).

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Old 07-10-18, 02:03 PM
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You should also separate gravel out into race gravel bikes which fall somewhere inbetween and touring/adventure/bikepacking style gravel bikes. Basically a continuum
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Old 07-10-18, 02:35 PM
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So, I've been checking out the differences lately and think you have pretty much hit the nail on the head with your description. Although, with Kona who changed their cross lineup to be slacker, longer, lower this past year the lines are truly blurring. My own Kona Jake the Snake which is only a few years old but still not the newer geometry gets a little squirrelly when getting fast on steep descents. It's hella fun on a cross course though.

I kinda like how a cross bike can be a blast to ride in a grassy city park set up to be a race course and on some single track mtb trails where the quick handling really comes into its own...and no pedal strikes.
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Old 07-10-18, 02:48 PM
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Originally Posted by RJM View Post
So, I've been checking out the differences lately and think you have pretty much hit the nail on the head with your description. Although, with Kona who changed their cross lineup to be slacker, longer, lower this past year the lines are truly blurring. My own Kona Jake the Snake which is only a few years old but still not the newer geometry gets a little squirrelly when getting fast on steep descents. It's hella fun on a cross course though.

I kinda like how a cross bike can be a blast to ride in a grassy city park set up to be a race course and on some single track mtb trails where the quick handling really comes into its own...and no pedal strikes.
True - some cross bikes are becoming more gravel like - with more gravel like geometry and the ability to carry 40c tires. Shoot, just a few years ago the original gravel bikes were designed for 35c tires max. Some newer cross and gravel bikes are even using a mountain bike like "forward geometry" (long top tube with shorter stem) which apparently helps with the stability and really helps on smaller frame sizes (below 54m)
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Old 07-10-18, 03:44 PM
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Gravel bikes also tend to be more versatile, in that they are more likely to come with ample rack/fender mounts, etc. That, combined with greater flexibility on tire width, makes them (on average) a much better "do anything" bike.
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Old 07-10-18, 06:13 PM
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Originally Posted by RJM View Post
So, I've been checking out the differences lately and think you have pretty much hit the nail on the head with your description. Although, with Kona who changed their cross lineup to be slacker, longer, lower this past year the lines are truly blurring. My own Kona Jake the Snake which is only a few years old but still not the newer geometry gets a little squirrelly when getting fast on steep descents. It's hella fun on a cross course though.

I kinda like how a cross bike can be a blast to ride in a grassy city park set up to be a race course and on some single track mtb trails where the quick handling really comes into its own...and no pedal strikes.
I've sort of decided I just don't want to think about geometry anymore lol. I've been looking at every cross bike under the sun for the last couple weeks, and can't decide what I want, or even really like in a bike. Decided I'm just going to sit down with a pro fitter that runs a bike shop and custom orders/builds bikes. Full fitting included with any bike purchase.

Have an appointment for a fitting/consultation on next Tuesday. Going to make this guy make the decision for me lol.
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Old 07-10-18, 06:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Abe_Froman View Post
I've sort of decided I just don't want to think about geometry anymore lol. I've been looking at every cross bike under the sun for the last couple weeks, and can't decide what I want, or even really like in a bike. Decided I'm just going to sit down with a pro fitter that runs a bike shop and custom orders/builds bikes. Full fitting included with any bike purchase.

Have an appointment for a fitting/consultation on next Tuesday. Going to make this guy make the decision for me lol.
General bit of advise....If you're going to do custom, know what you want. Not knowing what you want, and don't, will frustrate both parties. Many bespoke companies have their bespoke-order-forms online, which will give you an idea how to fine tune what you want. I had to fill in this doc when I did my Seven back a decade ago:

http://sevencycles.com/order/Seven-C...tic-2018.4.pdf

Note all the blanks for fit and features and characteristics.
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Old 07-10-18, 06:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Marcus_Ti View Post
General bit of advise....If you're going to do custom, know what you want. Not knowing what you want, and don't, will frustrate both parties. Many bespoke companies have their bespoke-order-forms online, which will give you an idea how to fine tune what you want. I had to fill in this doc when I did my Seven back a decade ago:

http://sevencycles.com/order/Seven-C...tic-2018.4.pdf

Note all the blanks for fit and features and characteristics.
No no, I'm not going for a custom frame or anything like that. It's a fitting, and the guy also helps choose the right bike based on body type/limitations. He also places custom frame orders, but I'm not going that route. And I've got a fairly good idea of what I want the bike to do...but I'm just not well versed enough in bike geometry to know if I'm choosing right. And it's not like I can't figure it out....but the bikes I've been looking at don't seem to really have any deals going. So I get his advice for free, plus a free serious fitting, which at my age is something I've been thinking about paying for anyway.
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Old 07-10-18, 07:32 PM
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Originally Posted by jfoobar View Post
Gravel bikes also tend to be more versatile, in that they are more likely to come with ample rack/fender mounts, etc. That, combined with greater flexibility on tire width, makes them (on average) a much better "do anything" bike.
Agree on this too. I use my gravel bike as my everything but MTB bike. All road days, all trail days, some of both, some singletrack, and even multiday gravel tours with rack and panniers.

One other differece is gravel bikes seem to come with slightly wider gearing options. With popularity of 1x growing, those lines are blurring.

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Old 07-10-18, 07:38 PM
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Cross will be lighter and more agile, gravel bike will probably give you toe strike at times.

Stability of lower bottom bracket seems nutty to me, it's like saying oh man I like riding gravel as a teenager but I'm going to have trouble when I grow 1 inch taller because my center of gravity will be higher and I won't be stable enough. Actually the difference is less than 1" between my cross bike and the Diverge which has a very low BB -- low enough to hit my toes on the ground, on rocks, etc, but still less than 1" and I certainly can't notice any difference in stability or figure out why there would be one.

Having said all that, others have ridden many more bikes than I have and may be able to notice the difference in stability.
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Old 07-10-18, 07:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Abe_Froman View Post
I've sort of decided I just don't want to think about geometry anymore lol. I've been looking at every cross bike under the sun for the last couple weeks, and can't decide what I want, or even really like in a bike. Decided I'm just going to sit down with a pro fitter that runs a bike shop and custom orders/builds bikes. Full fitting included with any bike purchase.

Have an appointment for a fitting/consultation on next Tuesday. Going to make this guy make the decision for me lol.
I hear you, the choices can get overwhelming.

But, I just put down money on a Trek Crockett frameset that I'm going to build into a sweet single speed cyclocross machine. I have made my choice now! bwahahahahahaha!!!
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Old 07-11-18, 08:04 AM
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Originally Posted by curttard View Post
Cross will be lighter and more agile, gravel bike will probably give you toe strike at times.

Stability of lower bottom bracket seems nutty to me, it's like saying oh man I like riding gravel as a teenager but I'm going to have trouble when I grow 1 inch taller because my center of gravity will be higher and I won't be stable enough. Actually the difference is less than 1" between my cross bike and the Diverge which has a very low BB -- low enough to hit my toes on the ground, on rocks, etc, but still less than 1" and I certainly can't notice any difference in stability or figure out why there would be one.

Having said all that, others have ridden many more bikes than I have and may be able to notice the difference in stability.
I hear ya on the BB. My old school mountain bike has a 40mm drop, and does fine off road (although a modern bike is easier on fast downhills). One frame designer said that BB drop was directly proportional to chain stay length – large drop equated to long chain stays, shallow drop was needed for short chainstays.


I think a Gravel bike would have less toe strike due to the longer wheelbase and slacker head tube angle.
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Old 07-11-18, 08:09 AM
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Good lord, those group set prices are insane. I knew Seven frames were expensive but that’s just robbery.
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Old 07-11-18, 08:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Jazzguitar View Post


Good lord, those group set prices are insane. I knew Seven frames were expensive but that’s just robbery.


Bike part/frame/toy prices are going up 10%+, probably by next month. You Know Who has decreed 10% tariffs on imported bike parts as part of his latest retaliatory tariff package:

https://www.bicycleretailer.com/nort...-chinese-goods

Originally Posted by Bicycle Retailer and Industry News
WASHINGTON, D.C. (BRAIN) — On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced that it would assess an additional 10 percent tariff on up to $200 billion of Chinese goods. The latest list and round of tariffs comes on the heels of two other rounds of tariffs imposing 25 percent duties on $34 billion and $16 billion worth of Chinese imports.

The latest round targets hundreds of imports and includes many bicycle products and components including cable casing for derailleurs and caliper brakes, bike tires, rim strips, inner tubes, complete bicycles, frames, steel tubing, forks, wheel rims, wheel spokes, alloy hubs, three-speed hubs, two-speed hubs, freewheel sprockets, brakes and brake parts, saddles, pedals, cranksets and speedometers.
If you're going to be buying anything...best do it now.


Bearings/materials are going up in prices as well...due to You Know Who's tariffs

https://www.bicycleretailer.com/indu...s#.W0VVwiMrKM8

Originally Posted by BRIN
LOUISVILLE, Colo. (BRAIN) — When you buy 5,000 pounds of aluminum every day, you notice quickly when the cost per pound goes up 20 percent — or more — in a matter of months.

Dave Batka, owner of Wheels Manufacturing, is noticing. Since the start of the year, he's seen aluminum prices skyrocket, in part because of the tariffs the U.S. imposed on most imported steel and aluminum, and also because of rising material costs generally, stemming from a strong economy and other factors.

Batka is bracing for another price hike next month when a new 25 percent tariff on Chinese bearings kicks in. Along with Chinese GPS units, bearings of many varieties were included in the list of Chinese products subject to the new tariff starting July 6.

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Old 07-11-18, 10:28 AM
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Originally Posted by curttard View Post
Having said all that, others have ridden many more bikes than I have and may be able to notice the difference in stability.
I've noticed general differences in feel or different bikes but never "this is unstable" or "handles like a noodle" etc based solely on geometry. BB height I have noticed. I have a gravel bike and a XC that I ride in the same areas. Big difference between the two pedals turning and straight on with the large chainring hitting

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Old 07-11-18, 12:41 PM
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I've heard it claimed on a bicycle podcast that cross and gravel bikes have approx 80% overlap. As already pointed out in this thread gravel bikes are more likely to have rack and fender mounts.
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Old 07-11-18, 01:16 PM
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OP sums up basically whats been stated many times on many different platforms(websites, blogs, forums, YouTube, etc).

Pretty accurate.
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Old 07-11-18, 04:16 PM
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You probably will not shoulder your gravel bike and run up a hill,
carrying it.. every lap around the course..
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Old 07-11-18, 07:30 PM
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Not to be an ass but I've literally seen this explanation so many times I've lost count.
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Old 07-11-18, 08:18 PM
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Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
You probably will not shoulder your gravel bike and run up a hill,
carrying it.. every lap around the course..
I do it all the time around my yard and usually while singing random Beatles songs. Just enough laps until the neighbors grab their kids and go inside.
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Old 07-12-18, 07:11 AM
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Originally Posted by mstateglfr View Post
OP sums up basically whats been stated many times on many different platforms(websites, blogs, forums, YouTube, etc).

Pretty accurate.
I see your point. I'm more interested in the handling differences than the geometry. The industry has been pushing gravel so hard lately. There is a lot of "why is gravel better." But I can’t remember ever seeing an unbiased valid comparison – i.e. why/when is a cross bike better for someone not cross racing? It really depends on how aggressive you ride.

Clint Gibbs did a good comparison of his cross vs gravel bike on you tube, but never really compared the handling of the two – never really said what type of riding a cross bike excels at.

Example: Yeah, a gravel bike does great on a flowy single track designed for a long/low/slack bike. But on a tight course, I can carry a lot more speed through a tight corner and exit faster on a cross bike. So – tight course favors a cross bike, a flow course favors a gravel bike. It depends on how aggressive you want to ride.

Cross bikes are better for some people, but no one objectively speaks to that.

Gravel is not always the answer (even though that is all the rage now).

AMANDA NAUMAN said it well in this cxmag article:

“[Gravel] is your Cadillac, and your BSB cyclocross bike is your race car,” she added.
So, do you want a Cadillac or a sports car? The answer isn’t always Cadillac

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Old 07-12-18, 08:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Ghazmh View Post
I've heard it claimed on a bicycle podcast that cross and gravel bikes have approx 80% overlap. As already pointed out in this thread gravel bikes are more likely to have rack and fender mounts.

This is really dependent on the specific bike you're talking about. As noted above, this is really a continuum. A traditional Belgian style cross bike is designed for 1 hour all out efforts on twisty courses where the bike needs to be picked up frequently. In contrast, a "traditional" gravel bike is designed for lower effort endurance riding on long straight roads while carrying all the crap you need to ride all day. In that respect, the needs of the bike and the resulting design of the bikes could not be more different. My gravel bike has basically the geometry of a hard tail mountain bike from the 80s with drop bars, tons of room and mounts for bags, a heavy duty steel frame and 2 inch tires. Compare that to something like the Canyon Inflite (which is 17 lbs, extremely racy, stiff as a bridge truss and has 33mm tires) and they could not be more different.

The issue is that manufacturers started blurring these lines a few years ago, making cross bikes less racy and gravel bikes more racy. Now it really all labeling. I generally ignore the "cross" vs. "gravel" label at this point and just focus on the specifics of the bike.

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Old 07-12-18, 09:55 AM
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Originally Posted by hiro11 View Post

the issue is that manufacturers started blurring these lines a few years ago, making cross bikes less racy and gravel bikes more racy. Now it really all labeling. I generally ignore the "cross" vs. "gravel" label at this point and just focus on the specifics of the bike.
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Old 07-12-18, 10:20 AM
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I think the bigger point is there are no hard lines and really never were. Don't consider the title or marketing. Throw in monster cross, adventure bike, combo 650/29/700 and > 2.1 tires and oh man... Get the one or more that suits you best and call it whatever you want. There are hundreds of choice from one end to the other and the title is not specific at all. To some it may be confusing, to others the choice is great. I will mention this though. Looking back on what I bought 16 months ago what I have now just under 5000 miles later. The frame and fork, seat post, calipers, and brifters are the same but through tweaks, breakage, comfort, and scope changes everything else on it has changed.

EDIT: yes, like hiro11 said above.

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Old 07-12-18, 01:35 PM
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Originally Posted by Abe_Froman View Post
I've sort of decided I just don't want to think about geometry anymore lol. I've been looking at every cross bike under the sun for the last couple weeks, and can't decide what I want, or even really like in a bike. Decided I'm just going to sit down with a pro fitter that runs a bike shop and custom orders/builds bikes. Full fitting included with any bike purchase.

Have an appointment for a fitting/consultation on next Tuesday. Going to make this guy make the decision for me lol.

That original post was intended to be more about handling differences more than geometry. How important to you is: agility vs stability, fast downhills vs tight cornering, wide turns vs sharp turns, enduro vs aero positioning, weight vs everything, cushion vs feedback, pedal strike, toe overlap, turn in, tire width, acceleration, etc?

long/low/slack bikes take a little more intention to turn, and are going to cut a wider arc. I find myself missing the apex or turn out and going off trail, as the bike won't always turn hard enough - eather that or I just slow down more.
For some, pedal strike can be an issue.

Cross type geometry can turn in a lot harder and carry momentum through a hard turn with enough traction, but may also require steering corrections (scaloping) if not piloted smoothly. This is what people sometimes refer to squirrelly. Sometimes I find myself turning in too sharply, backing off, and then correcting again.

These are some of the things that we should be asking ourselves when purchasing a new ride. I'm sure your frame dude will talk you through these things. :-)

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