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Gravel vs. Touring

Old 03-09-19, 08:52 AM
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SpectrumTi
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Gravel vs. Touring

With the lines blurring between different types of bikes, what are the salient differences between a gravel/all-road bike and a touring bike assuming they are both fitted with racks and fenders?
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Old 03-09-19, 08:56 AM
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Gearing

what are your thoughts?
do you own or ride either? If so, which ones?
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Old 03-09-19, 09:24 AM
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Blurred is true, and to be honest it's always been blurred by riders. People have always toured on road & mountain bikes. As long as the bicycle carry you and your-stuff, on a particular surface, you can tour on it.

A gravel bike is optimized for gravel riding and probably faster at riding on gravel vs. touring bike.

A touring bike is optimized for fully-loaded touring and probably stronger-tougher vs gravel bike.

Your intended focus should head you in the right direction. If touring where are you headed and how much is the bike carrying(rider+stuff)?

Last edited by BigAura; 03-09-19 at 09:32 AM.
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Old 03-09-19, 09:30 AM
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I have a classic road bike. It’s almost 20 years old, chainstays only allow a 23mm tire. 53x39 crankset. 11-25 10 speed cassette. I love the bike. Custom geometry fits perfectly and Titanium lasts forever. However, time does march on and I can foresee doing more traveling. I would never replace my existing bike for another road bike, but can foresee adding something more travel friendly. Trying to figure out if a full on touring bike is really necessary or if a gravel bike would be sufficient. Don’t fully understand the distinctions.
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Old 03-09-19, 09:39 AM
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Originally Posted by SpectrumTi View Post
I have a classic road bike. Itís almost 20 years old, chainstays only allow a 23mm tire. 53x39 crankset. 11-25 10 speed cassette. I love the bike. Custom geometry fits perfectly and Titanium lasts forever. However, time does march on and I can foresee doing more traveling. I would never replace my existing bike for another road bike, but can foresee adding something more travel friendly. Trying to figure out if a full on touring bike is really necessary or if a gravel bike would be sufficient. Donít fully understand the distinctions.
I'd never recommend heading out touring on your old road bike. But you could with very light rigging using saddle bags and staying on the road.

Where are you planning on going? How much you want to carry?
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Old 03-09-19, 09:49 AM
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Touring means different things to different people which is why your question doesn't have a quick answer.

As BA says, you could add a bag or two to your road bike and set off on what is commonly called a credit card or cc tour; staying in lodgings and eating in cafes etc... one way to see if you like traveling by bike.

From there it's a case of looking at what road/surface you see yourself wanting to traverse and narrowing the focus for the bike.

Another consideration is how rustic you want to live in terms of how much stuff you want to take touring. Some people go fully loaded while others go ultra light and everything inbetween. That has some bearing on the type of bike selected.

Main difference between gravel and road as commonly described: Room for larger tires and lower gearing. 700x23 would only really suit the hardest packed well groomed gravel/dirt roads.

Many people convert older 27" road bikes to gravel because a 700c conversion allows wider tires. Modern 700c gravel bikes just come with wider clearances.

Last edited by Happy Feet; 03-09-19 at 09:56 AM.
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Old 03-09-19, 09:58 AM
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Originally Posted by BigAura View Post
I'd never recommend heading out touring on your old road bike. But you could with very light rigging using saddle bags and staying on the road.

Where are you planning on going? How much you want to carry?
Too early to say. Iím about 5 years away. Iíve done some supported travel in France and Alaska. Mostly paved roads, but not all paving is created equal. Wider tires than my road bike would be a must. The ability to carry at least a rear rack and fenders is also a requirement, but it seems both touring and gravel can do both of those things no problem.
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Old 03-09-19, 10:30 AM
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Originally Posted by SpectrumTi View Post
With the lines blurring between different types of bikes, what are the salient differences between a gravel/all-road bike and a touring bike assuming they are both fitted with racks and fenders?
As currently configured and sold, ďgravelĒ bikes are built more like race bikes than touring bikes. That makes mounting traditional touring bags much more difficult. You are more likely to clip rear bags with heels and the handling is seriously affected by the shorter wheel base.

Yes, you can go with bikepacking gear but bikepacking bags are very limited in terms of carrying capacity. Iíve seen some really overloaded bikepacking rigs that would be better served by using a traditional 4 (or 5) bag configuration.
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Old 03-09-19, 10:30 AM
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To generalize, a traditional touring bike has a stiffer frame and longer chainstays than a gravel/all-road bike.

Edit: and as others have mentioned, touring bikes typically have a wider range of gears.

Last edited by tyrion; 03-09-19 at 12:19 PM.
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Old 03-09-19, 10:49 AM
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You may also want to look at what is called an endurance road bike. More relaxed geometry and often with eyelets for fenders that can hold light racks. Clearance for at least 700x28.

A benefit if you really like road bike riding and want to extend distance but a negative in the sense that you then have two bikes that are fairly similar.
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Old 03-09-19, 10:54 AM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post


As currently configured and sold, ďgravelĒ bikes are built more like race bikes than touring bikes. That makes mounting traditional touring bags much more difficult. You are more likely to clip rear bags with heels and the handling is seriously affected by the shorter wheel base.

Yes, you can go with bikepacking gear but bikepacking bags are very limited in terms of carrying capacity. Iíve seen some really overloaded bikepacking rigs that would be better served by using a traditional 4 (or 5) bag configuration.
Depends on what brands and lines you shop, it means different things..."gravel bike" really has no monolithic traits to really universally refer to any aspect. Some are basically road bikes, some are CX bikes, some are almost-touring rigs. others are 29er/650B MTB rigs with drop bars--some mix and match traits.
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Old 03-09-19, 11:02 AM
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On a popular bike touring route, a vast variety of bikes are seen being used to go down the road with your kit..

Now, with bikepacking bags you can go without needing pannier racks , a bike trailer, is another way to camp - tour
on a light bike not made, and sold, as a touring bike ..

Don't stay home, until you have a perfect Bike. ... Touring is an activity not a noun..
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Old 03-09-19, 11:52 AM
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Originally Posted by SpectrumTi View Post


Too early to say. Iím about 5 years away. Iíve done some supported travel in France and Alaska. Mostly paved roads, but not all paving is created equal. Wider tires than my road bike would be a must. The ability to carry at least a rear rack and fenders is also a requirement, but it seems both touring and gravel can do both of those things no problem.
to go back to what I first said-----Gearing.
It all depends on how much stuff you'll carry, most "gravel" bikes have room for wider tires, but the gearing is going to be too high for carry 15, 20, 30lbs of stuff, and as mentioned, these bikes are designed all "racey", ie riders who arent carry much weight, are young and strong, and throw in the attitude by the designers that lower gearing is "for wimps" etc.....but in real life, for the majority of people, lower gearing means an easier riding day, less sore knees, etc, while having an insignificant change in how fast you ride.

also as said, frame design of a lot of gravel bikes are more "racey", so panniers can have heel strike etc.

given that you havent toured on your own before, you will only find out how much stuff you need tocarry when you start trying touring out. Given that you have a really nice road bike, perhaps starting with a touring bike and then see if you want an "inbetween" bike if you find you are ok with travelling with little stuff.
All that said, even a touring bike can be fun riding with less stuff on it, ie 25lbs instead of 40, or 15 instead of 30....but you wont know until you try it to see what kind of touring you want to do (camping or not) and how minimalist you can live with.

and that can change over time too, so you can adjust as you go,if you end up doing more than one bike tour.

as stated, no clear answer to your question--but no end to us guys coming on here and yakking about it in detail ;-)
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Old 03-09-19, 03:50 PM
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Thank you for the help. Gave me some things to think about.
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Old 03-09-19, 03:51 PM
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Originally Posted by SpectrumTi View Post


Too early to say. Iím about 5 years away. Iíve done some supported travel in France and Alaska. Mostly paved roads, but not all paving is created equal. Wider tires than my road bike would be a must. The ability to carry at least a rear rack and fenders is also a requirement, but it seems both touring and gravel can do both of those things no problem.
Personally I wouldn't buy a touring bike for an unknown tour in 5 years. I only use my touring bike for touring. It's way heavier and not as nimble as my regular ride, so it sits and waits for a tour (ok, maybe a grocery run here & there). If it was the only bike I had, I'd use it. All bikes are about tradeoffs, optimize for one thing and you lose another. I'd only buy a bike that I'm going to use today, or in the very short future.
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Old 03-09-19, 05:16 PM
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Originally Posted by BigAura View Post
Personally I wouldn't buy a touring bike for an unknown tour in 5 years. I only use my touring bike for touring. It's way heavier and not as nimble as my regular ride, so it sits and waits for a tour (ok, maybe a grocery run here & there). If it was the only bike I had, I'd use it. All bikes are about tradeoffs, optimize for one thing and you lose another. I'd only buy a bike that I'm going to use today, or in the very short future.
Spec--these comments are very valid. As you know, one of the great pleasures of riding bikes is the fun factor, the tactile stuff of how they accelerate, turn, go fast, go over rough trails, carry a whole bunch of crap well.....you name it, all kinds of diff fun.

An example, I have a bike I got 9 years ago, to replace my old touring bike. This 2010 bike was made supposedly for cyclocross, can take wide tires , but still is lightish enough that I can ride with roadies and keep up. Its kind of an inbetween tourer and road bike ish....well in any case its a lot more fun to ride fast than my old touring bike, and a lot more fun to ride fast than my heavy duty tourer.
I reasoned, rightly so, that even if it wasnt a full on tourer, I probably do a tour per summer, so the rest of the time I wanted a bike that was fun to ride, and it is. Still fun to ride all these years on, and sure, not as light nor fast as a road bike, but it can handle panniers no problem, and has a triple and lower gearing than a roadie so I can go up hills easily and even with two panniers on, the gearing is not bad (I actually have a tighter cassette on it usually, and put a wider one on for a tour)---and all these years later, its still fun to use as my "fast bike".

so perhaps a light tourer or gravel type bike is more in line for you, as with proper research, you can see which ones have room for racks and panniers, and hopefully some lower gearing (although dont bet on that).

have fun visiting bike shops, and dont buy the first recommended one by joe-salesguy.
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Old 03-09-19, 05:46 PM
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Touring bikes might be designed almost exclusively for pavement or for riding on gravel, or both. There is a wide variation in touring bikes. But it is designed to carry weight on it with racks front and rear. Almost always designed with fender mounts and mounts for a third water bottle cage below the downtube. Bottom bracket is usually relatively low since you are unlikely to do any tight cornering with a load on the bike. Longer chainstays so you can pedak without your heel hitting the panniers. Should hold a straight line reasonably well so you can look at the scenery without accidentally veering off the road.

Gravel, might be like a cyclocross bike with slightly wider tires but some would be designed to carry light loads too. But designed to carry heavy loads is unlikely. Fender mounts might or might not be on it, as most gravel riders do not use fenders. The ones I have seen did not have a third water bottle cage below the downtube. Bottom bracket is probably a bit higher than on a touring bike.

Agree with the others, if you want to do a tour in five years, now is too early to go shopping. Maybe buy it a year before your first tour so you can spend some time setting it up with racks and see how it rides while you are trying to decide which saddle you want to buy.
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Old 03-09-19, 09:15 PM
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One big difference I don't think has been mentioned? Most "gravel" seem to come with lower spoke count (28 and down) wheels, while touring is rarely that low.

Beyond that, my gravel bike is geared from 20GI to 118GI stock. Might not be the absolute low end some prefer, but more than adequate for almost all touring, so as others have surmised: it all depends on the bike
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Old 03-09-19, 09:29 PM
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You could use your old road bike for touring, you might hate the small tyres after enough gravel bouncing you round. That's personally why I'm finishing a 650B conversion on my own road bike.
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Old 03-10-19, 01:47 AM
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Originally Posted by SpectrumTi View Post
...about 5 years away..... Mostly paved roads... Wider tires than my road bike ...ability to carry at least a rear rack and fenders....

plenty of time....find a suitable classic mtb or hybrid frame on ebay for $20 and build yourself.
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Old 03-10-19, 03:51 AM
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When I restarted touring after a long hiatus, my intent was in the outback, and towing a trailer and in particular a fair bit of weight. I could not afford the touring bike I was interested in, but also most of the outback riding was and is travelling on dirt/gravel roads. So I decided on a steel/cromo gravel bike, which was similar in looks and equipment to the touring bike I liked. MY bike has done nearly 17000km, and I am quite satisfied with my choice. Next bike maybe a fat bike, or a touring bike that can take 2.5 inch tyres but my 35mm still are doing the job OK. A decent dedicated touring bike is normally pretty expensive over here, maybe over where you are as well, so choose the bike that suits your needs and predominetly the roads and conditions it will be used on.

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Old 03-10-19, 07:40 AM
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I just acquired a gravel bike to replace my old touring/commuting bike. I would not recommend it for classic touring. I think it fits a niche market.

In the 20+ years I rode the touring bike, I lightened my load, stopped using front packs, and stopped using the small chain ring. The gravel bike's gearing is perfect for me right now, but it wouldn't have been twenty years ago. My "new" bike has rear rack dropouts, a real bonus. And most important, disk brakes!
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Old 03-10-19, 09:05 AM
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Originally Posted by andrewclaus View Post
I just acquired a gravel bike to replace my old touring/commuting bike. I would not recommend it for classic touring. I think it fits a niche market.

In the 20+ years I rode the touring bike, I lightened my load, stopped using front packs, and stopped using the small chain ring. The gravel bike's gearing is perfect for me right now, but it wouldn't have been twenty years ago. My "new" bike has rear rack dropouts, a real bonus. And most important, disk brakes!
andrew and spectrum, lets talk about "gear inches" for putting a black and while number on a given low gear.
if Andrews old touring bike has 700x32 wheels and tires, and 50/40/30 and a 9 speed 11-32 (pretty common for that era) his low gear in the small ring was 25.5g.i. , in the mid ring its 34g.i.

Even back in 1990 or so I realized that 25 g.i. just wasnt low enough for loaded touring. Changed stuff to get to about 21 g.i and also took less stuff from then on, but still really appreciated the 21 those times you hit a super steep bit, you're tired, hungry etc
Now I readily admit that I was, and still am, a skinny bloke who does not have "Massy Ferguson" legs, ie I'm not a high torque masher, but over the decades, still riding a fair amount and touring, I'm probably stronger than when I began, but even with having a light load, I could not imagine using a 34 g.i. as a low gear, I'd bork my knees.
Maybe where its always flat, but as an example, I commute all the time, always one , sometimes two rear panniers. I figure I regularly carry the weight of an ultralight setup, but yet that, I still use my small ring on my various bikes on hills, and I consider myself to represent the average rider ability wise.

I bring this up, because Spectrum has never ridden carrying stuff. You will see how more bike+load weight completely changes what you considered adequate gearing before.
I bring this up also, to give spectrum a more moderate idea of what gearing is needed carrying stuff, and that how too low cadence and forcing ones knees just aint good for your knees or your leg muscles.

there is no downside to having lower gearing, you avoid a lugging too low cadence, your knees will thank you, and you will be faster overal by being easier on your body rather than struggling up hills at low cadences.

by taking care of your knees, you'l be able to enjoy this great activity as you get older.

The vast majority of "gravel bikes" are sold with gearing that is too high--well, adding X weight will most likely have the gearing too high.

look up "html gear calculator" ,
Bicycle Gear Calculator

change the setting in "display" to "gear inches" then put in all the specifics to a given bike, and you will see above each gear the "gear inch" value of each gear.

listen, like andrew, maybe you are fine with a given low gear, but having a gearing calculator like this gives you a real number to what a given bike has as a low gear, and then you compare that to real life with a given load and on a given type of hilly terrain, to see what really works for you.
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Old 03-10-19, 10:58 AM
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Difference? The name? Tire size? I go with gearing needed, tire size and intended surfaces. For me that usually means a rigid 29er with 3" tires.
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Old 03-10-19, 11:03 AM
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Note to the OP, if you do not know what gear inches are, it is a measure of your gearing. If your crankset was attached directly to the axle of the bike, for example a penny farthing, if you had say for example 30 gear inches on that bike, it would correlate to a 30 inch diameter wheel. One turn of the crank woudl be one turn of a 30 inch diameter wheel.

Originally Posted by djb View Post
..., lets talk about "gear inches" for putting a black and while number on a given low gear.
...
by taking care of your knees, you'l be able to enjoy this great activity as you get older.

The vast majority of "gravel bikes" are sold with gearing that is too high--well, adding X weight will most likely have the gearing too high.
.....
Yup.

In this case I was going to go down the 14 percent grade, but I met a couple cyclists on the way down that were going up a 14 percent grade hill. Not the most enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.



I started to write something on gearing when I wrote up a brief post above, but I am seeing a lot of variation on new bikes these days so I decided to say nothing as I was not sure if there is a "normal". More and more people are going with 10 or more speeds on the cassettes and double cranks instead of triples. Some of the cassettes are getting enormous. And I think the industry still has not settled on a new name for the doubles that have a small ring of 30T or less, but they are starting to appear on bikes too.

A friend of mine is in the process of buying a carbon gravel bike, tips the scales at less than 20 pounds. And the cassette on it is bigger than on my derailleur touring bikes, but with the compact double (50/34) that he is getting, that pushes his low gear up to about 27 gear inches.

My derailleur touring bikes have a granny chainring of 24T and a big sprocket of 32T, gear inches are 19.3 to 20.7 gear inches depending on size of wheel. The bike in the photo above, at the time I took the photo it was geared with a low gear of 16.2 gear inches.

My road bike has a low gear of 30.6 gear inches and my rando bike has a low gear of 25.6 gear inches. Neither bike would be used to carry much load, so they can be geared higher than a touring bike.

But I have seen enough variation in gearing on newer touring bikes and newer gravel bikes, I just don't know if there is a typical norm any more.
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