What is a gravel bike?

In our shop we tend to stock what are known as sometimes as gravel bikes or other times adventure bikes. But what are they exactly? The definition may not be so clear because unlike some bikes – such as downhill, road, enduro or dirt – gravel bikes aren’t intended for one main use. Although gravel racing is starting to become its own sport gravel bikes did not start out life with competitive cycling in mind, unlike the aforementioned bikes which were created for specific sports and races. What this means is that gravel bikes are more versatile than most bikes because they were originally created specifically to be multi-purpose : to be able handle both on-road and off-road and be adaptable enough to suit all sorts of outings.

gravel bike france

We aren’t saying they are the best bike for all occasions. If you want to race on a road or a track get a road bike or a track bike specifically designed for that purpose. If you want to race cycle-cross get a cycle-cross bike. If you want to ride off-road all the time then get a mountain bike but if you want a bike that holds its own on both roads and dirt trails as well as around the inner city then maybe you should be thinking more about a gravel bike. In fact gravel bikes ‘borrow’ certain elements from many different cycling disciplines to explicitly create a bike that is designed to be an all rounder. A bike for people that like to ride gravel tracks and dirt trails but who like to get to these places by cycling, on roads, rather than turning up in their car with the mountain bike in the boot.

What are they for?

Before looking at how exactly a gravel bike is composed it might be worth just talking slightly more about their function because ‘form follows function’. Their versatility makes gravel bikes a great investment for people who use their bike in many different ways. They are apt for all but the very fastest road cycling, and the wide tyres and large range of gears make them suitable for off-road trails and gravel paths. We like to think of them in terms of our immediate environment here in Bordeaux: for commutes to the city they are fast on long road stretches and in the centre of town they can handle Bordeaux’s infamous cobbled streets with ease. Cycling out of Bordeaux into the surrounding forests with their numerous cycle paths of varying quality a gravel bike would always be our top choice. Plus they also come ready equipped to go further afield, so if you ever get tempted to hit the road and go ‘bike-packing’ then the bicycle you are used to and most comfortable with is ready and waiting, all you need to to is attach some pannier racks and let the adventure take you.

What makes a gravel bike…

So now that we’ve seen what a gravel bike can be used for lets take a closer look at how it is designed to meet its purpose or multiple purposes as the case may be.

genesis croix de fer graveil velo

Gravel bike frames

The geometry can vary yet there are certain traits we tend to see across most gravel / adventure bikes.

  • For a start the wheelbase is often slightly elongated in comparison to road bikes providing increased stability on loose surfaces.
  • The top-tube is usually relatively short and combined with a long head-tube this gives a more upright and comfortable riding position which will be appreciated on longer trips and will also allow for improved vision when commuting.
  • They are rigid, for speed and efficiency.
  • Of all the competitive bikes out there gravel bikes most closely resemble those designed for cycle-cross what often sets them apart though is the frame, which is built to last longer and will often feature eyelets to mount touring racks and mudguards.
  • Finally and leading onto the next points is the clearance for wide tyres and disc brake mounts.

Gravel bike tyres

There is no definitive tyre size that determines a gravel bike but in general their tyres are fatter than those of a road bike or touring bike but not as wide as on most mountain bikes. The most common size would probably be 700 x 35c. It is not unusual though for tyres to be fitted at up to 42mm width for additional comfort.

Gravel bike brakes

Disc brakes are pretty much universal on gravel bikes. This is explained by the fact that these bikes are designed to tackle rough and bumpy surfaces and therefore any buckles in the wheels’ rims will not affects the bikes ability to roll on nor its ability to brake. They are also highly dependable in wet conditions, which is great news for both commuters and tourers.

Gravel bike handlebars

Drop handlebars are used because they allow for speed and aerodynamics on shorter faster stretches as well as providing multiple hand positions for increased comfort on longer trips.

Gravel bike gears

A style that has become associated with gravel bikes is the minimalistic 1 x 11 system, meaning only one chain ring and a wide ranging eleven cog cassette. However a 50/34 chain set with an 11-32 cassette is also very common and a very versatile choice. The gearing can vary though and – especially on custom builds – depends on the intended uses, envisaged terrains and personal preferences.

Gravel bikes in Bordeaux

If a gravel bike sounds like something you might want to buy then come and see us in the centre of Bordeaux and we can discuss what you are looking for and find the perfect bicycle for you. Think about the type riding you’ll be doing, if you will need to carry any luggage and if so how much, the surfaces you’ll be likely to encounter, and the gearing you will need. Basically we want to hear about your up and coming adventures!

In the meantime why not stop in and check out some of the bicycles we currently have in store…

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