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Unscientific Evidence that Gravel Bikes Are As Fast As Road Bikes

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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 : "Unbound Gravel". We also have a dedicated Racing forum for the Cyclocross Hard Core Racers.

Unscientific Evidence that Gravel Bikes Are As Fast As Road Bikes

Old 08-24-21, 07:48 PM
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Random11
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Unscientific Evidence that Gravel Bikes Are As Fast As Road Bikes

Until recently, my only bike for the past two years has been a Specialized Diverge gravel bike with 700x38c tires. I mostly ride solo on pavement and have a frequent route that is 15.5 miles. I don't have a good measure of my speed except that I'll look at the clock in my bedroom as I leave to get my bike out of the garage and go ride, and then look again when I'm back in my bedroom after my ride. The fastest I can remember doing this is 58 minutes and the slowest is 64 minutes. I'm usually around 61-63 minutes.

I recently bought a Cervelo Caledonia road bike with 700x30c tires that feels a bit lighter than my Diverge. I've only put about 160 miles on it so far and have ridden that 15.5 mile ride four times, with elapsed times between 60 and 62 minutes. It should be faster than the Diverge, and based on these rides probably is by a minute or two, which amounts to about 10 seconds a mile. There's not that much difference in the speed of these two bikes, based on only a few rides on the new one.

I don't doubt that if we were racing these bikes in precisely timed rides, the Caledonia would be faster. But for people (like me) who are going out for exercise, trying to push it a bit but not precisely measuring performance, my experience suggests that the gravel bike is just about as fast as th road bike. Plus, I do take the Diverge off-road from time to time and it's nice to have a bike that is versatile enough to do that.

It's nice to have a second bike, but if you only have one, a gravel bike seems like a good option. You don't give up much on the road, and get a more versatile bike when you want it.
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Old 08-24-21, 08:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Random11 View Post
It's nice to have a second bike, but if you only have one, a gravel bike seems like a good option. You don't give up much on the road, and get a more versatile bike when you want it.
I agree with this.

As for the rest, well, you did promise that it was unscientific...
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Old 08-24-21, 08:47 PM
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Why have just one!
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Old 08-24-21, 09:14 PM
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Originally Posted by shelbyfv View Post

Why have just one!
Maybe 20 years ago while climbing in Indian Creek, before it became a wasteland of trustfunders in Sprinter vans, we stopped in Monticello to get some brews.

We got back to camp with some Polygamy Porter to go with whatever camping version of thanksgiving dinner we had invented.

It was terrible. Like undrinkable motor oil and rancid inner tubes or something. Iím probably not an alcoholic but I know beer and this was bad. Much like polygamy itself I imagine, seems like a great idea at first but is going to leave you disappointed.
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Old 08-25-21, 02:03 AM
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Originally Posted by rosefarts View Post
Much like polygamy itself I imagine, seems like a great idea at first but is going to leave you disappointed.
or broken / broke
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Old 08-25-21, 08:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
I agree with this.

As for the rest, well, you did promise that it was unscientific...
Yes, I wanted to post a provocative title, but my point is that if you're riding for enjoyment, or for fitness, your riding experience will be much the same on a gravel bike as a road bike, and unless you're keeping careful track of your time and speed, you won't really notice much of a difference there either.
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Old 08-25-21, 08:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Random11 View Post
Yes, I wanted to post a provocative title, but my point is that if you're riding for enjoyment, or for fitness, your riding experience will be much the same on a gravel bike as a road bike, and unless you're keeping careful track of your time and speed, you won't really notice much of a difference there either.
Agreed, again. I don't understand the obsession with uber-fast and expensive bikes for recreational riders who don't race.
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Old 08-25-21, 10:19 PM
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rosefarts
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I think most Porsche owners rarely speed. I bet theyíre still enjoying the drive.

This is my road bike. A little dated and a bit heavier than modern with all that Columbus tubing. Still, itís comfortable and fast, descends like itís glued on the road, and it just feels like Iíve got the entire pro peloton chasing me, and Iím gaining time. Itís not that fast. Certainly neither am I. But damn, itís so fun to ride. Itís not about turning another loop a little bit faster.





And hereís my gravel bike. Only 2 lbs heavier and so much more capable. Those Maxxis Ramblers are basically slicks. I can mix it up with anyone on this bike. If I put a double on it, it would probably be a better road bike than my road bike. But itís not the same. Roads are boring on it. I want a dirt road, some unexplored miles, a friggin mountain. It would be a shame to reign it in, just because it can handle it.





And while Iím posting pictures. Here is my slowest drop bar bike. A true beauty, a super bike of its day and a pleasure to ride. It hammers the triceps more than the legs. The shellacked cotton tape isnít that forgiving. Itís pounds heavier. Itís way too high geared and Uniglide Dura Ace in reasonable gears didnít exist 35 years ago and doesnít now. It is actually quantifiably slower. Iím smiling so big on it that itís never been a problem.



Really digging the matching Silca pump
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Old 08-26-21, 12:16 AM
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Yeah, it's not a night and day difference. Cruising on flat ground I noticed a roughly 2km/hr difference between my gravel and road bike at the same power, which is noticeable, and which is almost certainly due to a difference between wider gravel tires and shallow wheels and road tires with deep wheels (the aero tubing on the road bike probably contributes slightly, too). Trying out the difference on a climb there really wasn't really much to it, surprisingly - a couple of seconds over a 6 minute climb at the same power, which is basically down to the weight difference. Set up the gravel bike to put me in a similar position as the road bike, the bars are about 12mm higher and 2-3mm shorter, same width (36cm... I know), though, so they're directly comparable.

If I carry a spare aero wheelset with road tires, it's almost as good as having another road bike. That's exactly my plan on vacations, only space for 4 bikes on the rack, so I can't carry more than one, but I can always cram a spare wheelset in the van.

It's nice to have both, of course, but yeah, I'm totally digging the gravel bike.
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Old 08-26-21, 06:51 AM
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At 15 mph they are the same.
At 20 plus less so
At 26 mph not the same.

Your mph may differ slightly.
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Old 08-26-21, 10:32 AM
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I ride weekly with fixed, road and gravel bike riders. Honestly, the bike is the least important difference in the group ride. There are insanely fast and strong hill climbers riding fixed and slow as molasses road cyclists with carbon everything. In fact my whole notion of fitness has gone out the door. Some riders just have an insane amount of glycogen stored in their body and don't even look athletic whatsoever. One of the fastest and strongest guys in the group routinely rides a cheap single speed with loose chain, worn out tires and scratched up steel frame. The motor is everything.
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Old 08-26-21, 10:51 AM
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The local U-18 CX champ does the River Ride (local Saturday morning world championships) on his CX bike with road tires. He needs to spin a bit quicker on the flats due to lower gearing, but it doesn't seem to be a problem for him. As the saying goes "It's not about the bike."
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Old 08-26-21, 11:05 AM
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It's totally pointless to compare different people. While most everyone could improve the engine with more training, some people are just blessed with unusual aptitude for athletic performance, and some have below average potential, and that's just not something you can do anything about. You can change the bike to suit what you are doing, however.

​​​The bike matters in relation to your performance, whether your physical performance is. The same guy who is fast on a poorly maintained single speed would be yet faster and more capable on a good bike.

When we had some local TTs, I was surprised to be overtaken by a guy in a flappy jersey on a totally nonaero, shallow wheel road bike which looked straight out of the late 90ties, with cruddy mid range tires. Strong engine. On the other hand, first place was taken by a pro triathlete with a fully tricked out tri bike. If this guy was on a TT bike with proper kit, probably he would have been in the first three.

Last edited by Branko D; 08-26-21 at 11:14 AM.
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Old 08-26-21, 11:21 AM
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Fast is not a word I associate with, if I can do 15 mph over 30 miles then I'm killing it. I have a Diverge and a road bike and for me there is no difference in speed. Road bike is 4-5 lbs. lighter and climbs a bit better on roads. Diverge does downhills way better and once up to speed is equal on the flats. I have a speedometer on each bike so this is somewhat verifiable. I ride the Diverge 80% of the time.
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Old 08-26-21, 12:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
Agreed, again. I don't understand the obsession with uber-fast and expensive bikes for recreational riders who don't race.
No offense, but how can you not understand this? The vast majority of bike marketing across multiple disciplines is centered around performance and speed being directly related to cycling enjoyment. Road bikes are the ultimate expression of this, but nearly every segment of bikes are marketed at being better because they are light, fast, quick, agile, etc.

These are commuter/city/fitness bike descriptions, not race bikes:

Specialized: "The Sirrus provides road bike geometry with flat bar handling so you can ride fast on longer rides, but also be stable and quick in town. The 24-speed drivetrain with wide gearing allows top speed with hill climbing capabilities, too."

Trek FX: "This anywhere, anytime fitness bike is fast, agile, and fun whether youíre crushing a morning workout or cruising to the market."

Giant: "Roll through the city with speed and style on one of our menís city commuter bikes. Whether youíre beating the traffic in urban environments or taking the long route for fitness and fun, these menís city bikes put some adventure into your daily routine."

Cannondale Quick (the name says it all): "A swift, sporty bike thatís perfect for getting a workout, city cruising or just getting out and feeling good."

Canyon: "Light, agile, fast. With road bike speed and flat handlebar control, the Roadlite is your choice for high-tempo workouts and effortless excursions into nature."

Also lets be honest here... fast bikes are cool. Even if I'm not fast enough to fully take advantage of the go-fast stuff, it's still awesome and is an aspect I love about bikes.
I also think sports cars are kind of cool, and have little interest in racing them.

All that said, I do a lot of road riding on a CX bike (with road tires) and I can keep up with the group rides just fine.
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Old 08-26-21, 01:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Metieval View Post
At 15 mph they are the same.
At 20 plus less so
At 26 mph not the same.

Your mph may differ slightly.
The slower you go, the faster the gravel bike gets.

And it's getting late earlier.

Last edited by tyrion; 08-26-21 at 01:35 PM.
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Old 08-26-21, 01:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
Agreed, again. I don't understand the obsession with uber-fast and expensive bikes for recreational riders who don't race.
Faster is funner.
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Old 08-26-21, 01:41 PM
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I think what you are also finding out is that most people ride at a certain speed. If you are used to riding at 16-17 MPH, you will continue to ride at 16-17 MPG. Bike won't change that much - unless you get an e-bike!
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Old 08-26-21, 01:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Metieval View Post
At 15 mph they are the same.
At 20 plus less so
At 26 mph not the same.

Your mph may differ slightly.
THIS ^ bears repeating.

@ 15mph there is no difference between this




and this



Let the pace heat up to 18-26 mph or add climbing and there's a WORLD of difference.
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Old 08-26-21, 01:59 PM
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Speed isn’t even a factor when I’m choosing which bike to ride. It’s entirely about the terrain. I only choose a road bike if I’m going to be 100% on pavement. So I never choose a road bike.
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Old 08-26-21, 02:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
Agreed, again. I don't understand the obsession with uber-fast and expensive bikes for recreational riders who don't race.
Originally Posted by msu2001la View Post
No offense, but how can you not understand this? The vast majority of bike marketing across multiple disciplines is centered around performance and speed being directly related to cycling enjoyment.
I guess I'm not very susceptible to marketing...?
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Old 08-26-21, 03:47 PM
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Nice beer, and 2 bikes are always better than one, no?
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Old 08-26-21, 04:07 PM
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Originally Posted by nomadmax View Post
THIS ^ bears repeating.

@ 15mph there is no difference between this




and this



Let the pace heat up to 18-26 mph or add climbing and there's a WORLD of difference.
Even at 15 mph there's a difference... the varsity is much prettier. Of course, it was my first "real" bike so I may be biased.
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Old 08-26-21, 04:32 PM
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Like the matching color pump!
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Old 08-26-21, 04:40 PM
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I used to commute to work about 14 miles each way on my road bike. After I bought a mountain bike, I set it up with road tires just for the commute. I timed myself over multiple days and was surprised to find that while it was a little slower, the difference was much less than I expected.

Later, I bought a heavy fat tire touring bike (similar to a gravel bike) and started using that to commute. Again I timed myself over many trips and could not find a significant difference between a touring bike and a dedicated road bike.

I have a gravel bike now (Specialized Diverge). I plan to use it for touring. I pump the tires up to 60 psi for the road. I haven't timed it to get empirical data, but it does feel like it might be just the tiniest bit slower. A lot of that feeling is probably subjective since my riding position is different and the gravel bike is a little heavier.

Back to the point... if I could only have 1 bike, it would be a gravel bike because I think they're the "do-it-all" bikes and close enough to the speed of a dedicated road bike that most cyclists would never notice the difference.

A little bit of rant to follow:

I also happen to think that the whole concept of gravel bikes are mostly an invention of bike manufacturers to create demand for a niche product. Other than for competitive gravel cyclists, road bikes could be designed to fit 35c wheels (which many now are) and we could basically be turning our road bikes into gravel bikes just by swapping tires.
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