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Can A Gravel Bike Be A Good Road Bike?

Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Can A Gravel Bike Be A Good Road Bike?

Old 09-24-18, 07:08 AM
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JayNYC
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Can A Gravel Bike Be A Good Road Bike?

Assuming you have a separate wheelset with 25-28mm tires, can a gravel bike be a decent road bike?

I live in Manhattan where space is a premium, so one bike that can have multiple functions seems like a good idea to me. In talking to the owner of a reputable bike shop he seemed pretty skeptical that a gravel bike could be a good road bike. His opinion was that a dedicated road bike would always be the better choice – enough so that it would make sense to have separate bikes. So I'm wanting other people's opinion…

For starters the circumference of 650b x 47 is the same as 700C x 28. So the geometries stay pretty much the same swapping between those two wheel sizes. I've been thinking if a bike is designed to run 650b x 47, then running 700C x 28 should be just fine, and so I've been hoping to kill two birds with one bike (and an extra set of wheels). The gravel bikes I'm looking at are designed to run a variety of tire sizes – so running 650b x 47 would result in your bottom bracket being lower which would increase stability, while running 700C x 42 would raise the bottom bracket, increase the trail, and help avoid pedal strikes.

Here are my current top two contenders, and some stats for each of them at my size (size 56)…
(Imagine each with skinny wheels – don't be distracted by the fat tires on them)

Felt Breed 30
Hyroformed aluminum frame w/ carbon fork
105 level derailleurs front and back
48/32 chainrings
11-34 cassette
105 level hydraulic disc brakes (160mm front, 140mm rear)
Stack: 59.1
Reach: 38.9
Stack/Reach Ratio: 1.52
Wheelbase: 103.5
Seat tube angle: 73º
Head tube angle 71º
Rake/Offset: 50mm
BB drop: 72mm
BB height (w/ 700C x 28): 263mm
Range of gear inches (w/ 700C x 28): 25 to 116
Trail (w/ 700C x 28): 64mm
Handlebar width: 46cm
Carbon seatpost






Fuji Jari 1.1
"A6-SL Super Butted" Aluminum frame w/ carbon fork
105 level derailleurs front and back
46/30 chainrings
11-34 cassette
105 level hydraulic disc brakes (160mm front & back)
Stack: 59.2
Reach: 37.9
Stack/Reach Ratio: 1.56
Wheelbase: 102.7
Seat tube angle: 73º
Head tube angle 72º
Rake/Offset: 48mm
BB drop: 67mm
BB height (w/ 700C x 28): 268mm
Range of gear inches (w/ 700C x 28): 24 to 113
Trail (w/ 700C x 28): 60mm
Handlebar width: 42cm
Alloy seatpost
Claimed weight: 21 lbs (not sure what size that's for and that's with stock 700C x 38 wheels, would be lighter configured as a road bike)


Is there anything about those stats that would make you think a dedicated road bike would be significantly better? As a road cyclist, how would you feel if you had to ride either of those bikes instead of a similarly equipped road bike?

And just a bit more about context – since I live in Manhattan I always start my rides on pavement. The club rides around here are almost always geared towards road bikes (though that's slowly changing). But I'm in my "happy place" when I get away from cars/traffic and onto trails. Most of the trails are paved, but my favorite ones are gravel and/or dirt, and the ones that are paved almost always have a problem with tree roots. So the road bike configuration would be used for club rides and when I just want to do an easy ride on one of the well-traveled routes around here (Central Park, "River Road" along the Hudson, etc.), and the gravel configuration would be used when I'm being more exploratory and/or getting out into nature.

Thanks in advance for your input!
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Old 09-24-18, 07:22 AM
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I personally think you would be better off starting out with a road bike, and converting that to a gravel bike. 70's and early 80's Raleighs and Peugeots are undeniably credited road bikes, with road bike geometry, often being built with Reynolds 531 or similar high-grade tubing. Many of them also have very generous tire clearance, as an added bonus, being designed to take fenders for muddy European roads.

Below is my 1976 Raleigh Competition, in Reynolds 531, with 700x38 tires.


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Old 09-24-18, 07:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Colnago Mixte View Post
I personally think you would be better off starting out with a road bike, and converting that to a gravel bike. 70's and early 80's Raleighs and Peugeots are undeniably credited road bikes, with road bike geometry, often being built with Reynolds 531 or similar high-grade tubing. Many of them also have very generous tire clearance, as an added bonus, being designed to take fenders for muddy European roads.
Thanks, but I'm pretty confident that's not a route I want to go. I definitely want a gravel bike. The question is whether I buy a decent set of road wheels for the gravel bike or look for a used road bike. The price would be about the same.
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Old 09-24-18, 08:00 AM
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I have a gravel bike. It is perfectly fine as a road bike. I have two wheel-sets. One is for on-road with slick tires, the other is off-road with serious treads.

Although I have run narrow tires (28mm is narrow for me), I'm now using 38mm slicks and 38mm treaded tires (both Compass) on the two wheel sets. I detect no performance hit with wider slick tires on road, and it allows me to take it on modestly challenging gravel roads too.

In other words, a gravel bike does not inflict any significant penalty, and it gives you the advantage of running wider tires if you so choose. You might not even need two sets of tires/wheels, depending upon what kind of gravel you ride.

A gravel bike is a road bike with fewer constraints on your riding.
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Old 09-24-18, 08:01 AM
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I have GT Grade set up as a road bike with 28mm Conti 42ksii tires and have the weight down to just a bit above 19lbs. IMO, it works great, though I'm a solo rec rider FWIW.

Factually speaking what are the real differences once the wheelset is swapped?
- stack and reach: can you get low enough for the road? I went with a slammed -17 deg stem to get low. I'm not tall but if you are, you might be fine just removing spacers and flipping the stem.
- wheelbase, headtube angle, trail: does the handling feel sluggish to you once you've test ridden it? Subjective.
- handle bars: the wide flared bars sucked on the road. I went with a narrower bar for more comfort and more aero.
- gearing: 46x11 is good enough to spin out at 40mph IIRC. Mine is 50-12, which is the same top gear as 46-11 last time I checked.

Last edited by Mounttesa; 09-24-18 at 08:05 AM.
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Old 09-24-18, 08:02 AM
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Depending on how fast you ride the road, the front chainrings on these bikes (48/32 or 46/30) as opposed to the standard compact (50/34) on a road may not be satisfactory. You may 'spin out' from time to time. YMMV

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Old 09-24-18, 08:06 AM
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Every concession a gravel bike makes in order to improve off-road performance, will negatively impact its performance on the road. So you need to ask yourself which kind of riding is most important to you. You can't have the best of both worlds, but you can decide which kind of riding matters most to you, and then make accommodations.
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Old 09-24-18, 08:22 AM
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I think it would work just fine, as long as you aren't intending to race and try to "cat up".

A gravel bike would not be a good choice for a criterium, in particular.

However, if you are wanting to do road rides for fitness/enjoyment, and participate in "sportif" type events (not sanctioned racing), I think a gravel or CX bike would work beautifully.
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Old 09-24-18, 08:24 AM
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IMO you will be happy with what you propose to do.

I have a Niner RLT RDO gravel bike that is a pretty good road bike. I’m still running with the OEM wheels and 38mm tires but will soon buy some carbon road wheels and run road tires 28-32mm (haven’t made up my mind yet). I’ve also taken it on rides where I know the pavement is less than stellar for the added comfort.

I’m giving up a little but don’t have any trouble keeping up in my club rides. Pretty sure once I change the wheels it will be pretty comparable to my Roubaix. It’s geometry is pretty much that of a road endurance bike.
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Old 09-24-18, 08:33 AM
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Originally Posted by pinsonp2 View Post
Depending on how fast you ride the road, the front chainrings on these bikes (48/32 or 46/30) as opposed to the standard compact (50/34) on a road may not be satisfactory. You may 'spin out' from time to time. YMMV

P2
I was worried about this, but the only gear you will be missing is 50x11; you still have the equivalent of 50X12 with a 46X11.

(My gravel bike came with a 50/34 crank, and I replaced it. I think 46/30 and 48/32 are still pretty rare.)
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Old 09-24-18, 08:33 AM
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Yes. I have a second wheelset with road tires for my gravel bike, and I keep up with the weekly A group ride just fine.

I happen to know that the recent world record winner in the individual men's pursuit rides his Specialized Crux in road races when he's not racing track, and usually tears everyone's legs off doing it. (He also tore everyone's legs off at a local crit a few years ago on a C&V bike with downtube shifters just because he wanted to.)
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Old 09-24-18, 08:40 AM
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In addition to a few road bikes, I have a Canyon Grail gravel bike with a 50/34. It's light for a gravel bike - around 18 pounds. And, I have a second set of narrower wheels with an 11-28 cassette and 28mm road tires.

It is "good" road bike, but not a great road bike. As Colnago Mixte pointed out, everything that makes it a great gravel bike, detracts from its road bike chops. It may only be noticeable because I ride both, but compared to the road bikes, the Grail really feels long - standing and hammering/sprinting it can feel like I'm on the front of a tandem (the dynamic, not really that exaggerated). BUT... if I had room for only one bike, it'd be a gravel or cx bike.

A CX bike with two sets of wheels and a compact crank may be a good balance - geometry more similar to a road bike, room for wider tires.
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Old 09-24-18, 08:41 AM
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Depends how you train it.
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Old 09-24-18, 08:43 AM
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I have just shy of 10,000 miles on a Ritchey Swiss Cross Disc, and I put just shy of 20,000 miles on a KHS CX100. If you want to go +20mph all day, look at something else. Otherwise, a gravel/CX bike will serve you perfectly well as a "road bike."

I ride my Swiss Cross on the road probably 70% of the time, and see no compelling reason to change out the 700x35 Hutchinson Overides that are on it every day.

I would lean toward the Felt, unless you have plans of lots of big climbs. The Felt's gearing is more road-friendly.
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Old 09-24-18, 08:53 AM
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I've only just recently conceded to the gravel bike Kool-Aid and picked up a Cannondale CAADX this summer...but in the 3 months I've owned it I've put way more miles on it than either of my ultra-swanky much-more-expensive custom road bikes. And note, this is all while sporting fat knobbie 37c tires. I think when I finally wear these tires out I'm going to put something even more pavement-friendly on this bike (like maybe 32c Panaracer Gravel Kings). I can easily imagine that that bike with those tires will be as "good" a road bike as any non-racing recreational cyclist actually needs.

My wife is going the extra step with her all-roads bike: She ordered a second identical wheelset, one will be permanently shod with 35c knobbies and the other with 28c slicks. I think if I didn't already own dedicated road bikes I'd do the same thing.
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Old 09-24-18, 09:13 AM
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Just do it - if you're not expecting crit bike handling, it'll be just fine and dandy.

My last bike (which I still own and is my foul weather/errand runner) was a gravel bike with two wheelsets, 38mm and 25mm. The versatility was encouraging enough that I bought another bike along the same lines, though the current bike, which can accommodate 35mm tires, is pretty much permanently shod with 30mm tires (G-One Speeds) for solo and fairly spirited group rides and short stretches of gravel.

FWIW, one of the guys that I ride with rides a Jari. He's planning on upgrading but, like me, he appreciates the versatility and doesn't feel that there's significant compromise on the road, even in a group setting. As such, he's shopping similar "quiver-killers" for next year.
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Old 09-24-18, 09:37 AM
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I had a Diverge I used as a road bike, it had 35mm Pasela's. Yes it's fine as a road bike, but çompared to a racing bike it's obviiusly more porky and dosn't have a very snappy feeling. I would just call it a sluggish road bike that rides very smooh. If you plan on running 28-32's I'd get an endurance bike.
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Old 09-24-18, 09:55 AM
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It will work just fine. I have a GT Grade with 36mm Clements on it for gravel and if I want to stick to road I run 28mm. The geometry works well for both and I've done centuries on it as well. Having a second set of wheels is the way to go for sure.
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Old 09-24-18, 10:00 AM
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A gravel bike is a great bike for a ................gravel road. You have stated that you will have 2 sets of wheels, so the main barrier is the gearing on each bike is not suited well for the other use. I would try to find a bike with a triple on it. That might not be easy now. For your application the triple could solve your problems. Maybe look for a touring bike that can take big tires. I'm not endorsing this bike in any way, shape or form. Something like it though, that can take big tires would do the job.

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Old 09-24-18, 10:04 AM
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I have a gravel bike that I mostly ride on the road - 46/36 up front -- and it works great. The only times it might be handicap relative to my race bike is on (1) a very fast and hilly group ride where I am fighting to hang on or (2) in a road race, where I would get dropped for sure on descents with 46 x 11. If the ride isn't almost entirely at 9/10 or 10/10 pace, I bet you'll be very happy with a 'Swiss Army' bike.
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Old 09-24-18, 10:20 AM
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Depending on how and where you ride, a gravel bike can be a BETTER road bike than a lot of road bikes -- even if you always ride on pavement. And there's no need to have two different sets of wheels! The gravel bike will be more comfortable and more versatile. On other than glassy smooth pavement, it may even be faster than most road bikes. (I once set a road KOM on a rolling paved segment on my gravel bike with 38mm Challenge Gravel Grinder tires on it. I and the bike still hold second place on that segment.) If you're not doing very rocky or very sandy roads, there's no need for any tire wider than 38mm. 47mm tires are slower on roads -- including dirt roads -- without providing any benefit.

I always ride my road bike if I'm doing a lot of climbing on smooth roads with a fast group. I ride the road bike if I'm KOM hunting on smooth roads. But on chipseal, the gravel bike is better every time. And if the pavement is sketchy, pot-holed, or unpredictable, the road bike stays home and the gravel bike is better suited and a lot more fun. In between those extremes, the bikes are pretty much interchangeable.
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Old 09-24-18, 10:54 AM
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The Jari is a good choice, if you wait til December they will be offering two carbon fiber models. The gravel bike will not be as fast as a racing road bike, shouldn't expect it to be. Will it go out and give respectable performance, well yes. Plus like others have said, a little rougher pavement or chip n seal won't be a bother.
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Old 09-24-18, 11:02 AM
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I looked very hard at the Jri .. actually ordered it and then cancelled the order---because no matter what anyone here says, I think you would want different wheels and tires for road use.

Don't Need them ... but for a (relatively) heavy bike with lumpy, fat tires .... swapping in lighter rimes and narrower slicks could remove some to the drawbacks that low gears and fat rubber might bring for pure road use.
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Old 09-24-18, 11:04 AM
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Gravel bike is just another marketing term for road bike. Yes they fit wider tires and have disc brakes (but so do most road bikes now) but it's a road bike. And of course the owner of an LBS will tell you the correct number of bikes is n+1

The only thing I'll say about the linked bikes is the gearing is pretty low for riding in a flat area like NYC. Obviously if you are racing you'd want a lighter bike and steeper geometry but for the average road rider I don't think there is much difference between road, gravel or cross bikes. All can be set up for road. If you want one bike to do it all then I'd go with one with better off road ability
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Old 09-24-18, 12:05 PM
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Yes, a gravel bike can be a good road bike.
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