Сyclocross vs Gravel Bike: How to Choose?

This article will help you to choose the right bike for an activity you have in mind.
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Last updatedLast updated: July 02, 2022
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Cycling has evolved over the years from a simple pastime to a part of our daily lifestyle. Whether you are a cycling enthusiast or the occasional rider, you need a bike suited to the terrain of your road. This is the only way you can get a comfortable and thrilling experience. Gravel exploring has never been easier than it is with a Gravel bike.

Gravel bikes are designed to give you a great riding experience on terrains you would typically avoid because of the obstacles on your path. Now, you can ride conveniently on quiet trails without dealing with heavy traffic or distracted passersby on regular sidewalks.

The appeal of gravel bikes for most people is that they are specifically designed for steep and rough terrains. You may, however, be more familiar with Cyclocross bikes. These bikes have been around before gravel bikes. So, they were formerly used by cyclists on terrains which are now dominated by Gravel bikes.

Now, one may wonder, is there really a need for Gravel bikes? Aren’t they just rebranded Cyclocross bikes? This article is an interesting comparison between these two bikes, including other relevant information for cyclists and enthusiasts.

Cyclocross (CX) Bikes

Сyclocross vs Gravel Bike: How to Choose?

Cyclocross riding is a cross between mountain and road biking.

This style was initially used by cyclists to train and improve their cycling skills off-season. So, what you would experience or see is mountain biking on regular road bikes.

Over time, Cyclocross became more competitive and popular. Specific reports Trusted Source Cyclocross combines road and mountain-bike racing, and it adds a unique social aspect - The Washington Post www.washingtonpost.com show that the statistics of new participants in the Mid-Atlantic region increased from 2345 to 4882 between the year 2008 and the year 2014.

Indeed, Cyclocross is an adventurous biking experience with fewer rigors than an average mountain ride. The terrain is usually a mixture of even ground, muddy patches, and other adventurous varieties. Given the nature of this riding, the bikes are designed with no attachments for light riding.

Usually, CA bikes have carbon fiber frames or aluminum frames. They seldom come with fenders or mounts for personal belongings. This design is suited to the idea that Cyclocross riding is for training.

While you may find older bikes with cantilever brakes or Mini-V brakes, the technology for newer bikes is disc brake. Since you are not likely to encounter big mountains on CX riding, the gears are designed with tight spacing that helps for quick navigation. CX bike gears usually have double or single chainrings.

Gravel Bikes

Сyclocross vs Gravel Bike: How to Choose?

You will often find that gravel bikes are designed to emulate the diversity of features in mountain bikes, road bikes, and CX bikes.

Gravel bikes are ideal for leisure riding or road trips. They are also quite affordable as you can get great gravel bikes under 500 dollars. The frames on gravel bikes are often made of steel or titanium. However, you may readily find aluminum or carbon fiber frames. In addition, the guidelines for this type of riding are less defined, unlike CX riding. So, there is quite a range of designs of gravel bikes to choose from.

Some gravel bikes have dual suspension that makes them almost identical to mountain bikes. In contrast, others share the easy racing associated with road bikes. An example of a versatile gravel bike is the Kent 700c Nazz Men’s Gravel Road Bike. It is designed with an alloy frame,14-speed shifters, and a large front rack, making it suitable for adventure rides or casual road trips.

Among other features, tire clearance is a striking difference between Gravel and CX bikes. This is because CX bikes give little room to accommodate a larger tire clearance.

Differences Between Cyclocross and Gravel Bikes

Geometry

Cyclocross and gravel bikes have very different geometries. In fact, this is where the significant difference lies. CX courses usually have different sections with mixed terrains that may require you to dismount or jump over obstacles. It’s a very stylish kind of riding. The bikes are, therefore, designed with a relatively high bottom bracket. The chainstays are shorter than those of gravel bikes as this helps you maintain firm composure while riding.

Manufacturers often put much consideration into the way CX races usually take place. For example, while riding, you may have to take a hard brake and accelerate almost immediately. This often happens in quick succession during the short laps.

Gravel rides require less repetitive action. You may also have no reason to dismount during your riding since it goes on for a much longer stretch. Instead, gravel bikes have lower bottom brackets, long chainstays, and a longer wheelbase for versatile riding. This will ensure that you have a comfortable ride regardless of the distance you cover.

Storage

When considering the differences between both bikes, you must also take note of the idea behind their designs. Now, gravel or road rides are adventure-oriented, and so are the bikes. Usually, it takes several hours of exploration. In fact, you can go through some of the best cycling routes Trusted Source If you like a challenge, take on this 243-kilometer windy road along Australia’s south-eastern coast. If a day is all you’ve got, take the 60-kilometer route from Torquay to Bells Beach. edition.cnn.com in the world on cycling trips using these versatile endurance bikes. So, such cycles are designed with mounts for comfortable and adequate storage of personal items like water bottles, snacks, nutrition packs, or repair kits.

On the other hand, cyclocross races are short, and they require you to expend a lot of energy. The design of the bike is usually very lightweight. You probably would not have time for a snack break. So, most CX bikes do not have mounts for extra storage. You may find a couple that allows you to store a bottle of water but not much else.

Wheel and Tires

The regular wheel size for Cyclocross bikes is 700c. This sizing is general for most road bikes that are available on the market. Since CX races fall under more guidelines and regulations than Gravel riding, most bikes’ specifications are pretty uniform.

The Union Cycliste Internationale (which you may know as UCI) is the body that coordinates and regulates international sports. The regulation for Cyclocross bikes is that the tires must not be wider than 33mm. Now some bike companies create wheels of 650c to accommodate smaller bike riders. Regardless of this, the uniform tire size is 33mm. So, if you want to participate in sports events that involve UCI, your bike must meet up to this standard.

Luckily, most manufacturers have adapted their designs to fit this rule. So, the wheels of your bike are most likely designed to match 33mm tires. On the other hand, gravel riding is not strictly regulated by UCI. Therefore, there are a variety of designs and sizes, and you can choose a comfortable wheel and tire size.

Generally, gravel bike wheels are either 700c or 650c with tires up to 42mm. Clearly, the clearance for gravel bike tires is more generous than CX bikes. So, you can pair up a preferred wheel and tire size to give as much traction as you would need during your leisure rides.

Gearing

Сyclocross vs Gravel Bike: How to Choose?

Gravel races are usually longer, with more variety in the terrain. So, the gearing requirements for both bikes are different.

Again, it is essential to take note of the difference between the distance of a typical CX and gravel race. CX races are often short, although they require high-intensity moves.  Gravel bikes have more gear range, especially the lower gear range. This is because the terrain is quite unpredictable. You can encounter rocks, sand, mud, or steep dives that require various gear shifts. Most gravel bikes are fitted with a 1x set-up, usually with a single chainring of 36 x 42 in the front and an 11 – 42 cassette in the back. This range is to help you surmount any uphill climb without expending too much energy. So apart from being effective for long rides, the design of gears will help you conserve your energy for the rest of the long ride.

In CX races, you would typically keep gear shifting to a minimum to keep your momentum steady. So, you don’t need a lot of gear range. The specifications of these bikes are usually 46 x 36 for the front and 11 – 36 for the rear.

Stiffness and Comfort

Gravel bikes offer more comfort and flexibility than Cyclocross bikes. This is mainly because CX races require high bursts and intermittent shifts between hard brake and acceleration. In addition, most CX courses have corners that need a rider to remain in firm control of his bike while maneuvering and maintaining good speed. After all, it is a race, and no roadie wants to come up last.

Now, the stiffness of CX bikes is an advantage, especially if you prefer to have feedback from the road. On the other hand, if you do not like exceptional stiffness, Gravel bikes’ unique tube shapes and carbon layups may be more ideal for you. Another consideration for comfort is the length of your race. CX riders are often shorter, so the discomfort could be worth the thrill of maximum pedaling power and momentum.

Overall, gravel bikes are more comfort-oriented in design than Cyclocross bikes. This is understandable given the nature of CX races. However, you may opt for the cushion effect that gravel bikes provide when vibrations and obstacles attempt to disrupt a smooth ride.

Final Thoughts

After learning the differences between cyclocross and gravel bikes, most people wonder if you can use one cycle for both purposes. Or if they need to buy both a cyclocross bike and a gravel bike?

If you are looking to begin professional cyclocross racing, then a proper bike will be ideal. Otherwise, there is no need to purchase two different types of bikes. Since most gravel bikes are designed for all-terrain riding, you can start off with a good gravel bike. If you then feel the need for an upgrade, you can then purchase a CX. In addition, some CX bikes make for good leisure riding.

When choosing a bike, it’s best to go for the most versatile option. Bikes like the Mongoose Men’s Elroy Adventure Bike (which has a 700c wheel, large front rack, and internal routing cables for extra mounts) are a great choice. You can quickly adapt it to fit your riding style and taste.

References

1.
Cyclocross combines road and mountain-bike racing, and it adds a unique social aspect - The Washington Post
2.
If you like a challenge, take on this 243-kilometer windy road along Australia’s south-eastern coast. If a day is all you’ve got, take the 60-kilometer route from Torquay to Bells Beach.
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