QUESTION: I’m thinking about buying a new bike, and I was considering buying a gravel bike instead of a road bike, so I have the option of wider tires. Can you use a gravel bike as your road bike?
ANSWER: You can definitely use a gravel bike as a road bike. However, there are a few small limitations you might run into if you do this. Depending on how you like to ride, it could be important, or not important at all.
If you are a road bike racer, then a gravel bike probably won’t work as your primary bike. Many gravel bikes these days have a 1x (single chainring) set up in the front. You’ll still get plenty of gears for most road riding, but you won’t have quite enough high gears for when the speeds gets very fast, like 26 mph to 30 mph or faster. You’ll probably spin out, because you can’t pedal fast enough. This would be a big disadvantage in a race, and would hold you back.
But if you’re mostly riding by yourself, or with friends who keep a more reasonable pace, then a gravel bike works just fine. In many ways it’s a lot more comfortable than a traditional road bike, because you can use wider tires at lower pressure to give yourself some nice cushioning. You’ll also get better stopping and turning power from more rubber on the road.
But aren’t those wide tires slow and heavy? It depends. There are several tire brands like Rene Herse that manufacture wide tires that roll very, very fast on the road. You’ll barely notice the difference in speed, but you’ll definitely notice the difference in comfort and control. Some gravel tires are indeed better suited on gravel only, and are pretty heavy and loud and relatively slow when you ride them on asphalt.
You also have the option to have multiple sets of wheels with your gravel bike. You might keep one set of wheels with 25mm or 28mm tires for when you want a road bike type of experience, and a set of wheels with 35mm or wider tires for when you want to ride on gravel or paths.
Many of the new gravel bikes even give you the option of two different wheel sizes. You can use a smaller 650b sized wheel that allows you to use a very wide tire, or you can use a traditional 700c wheel that lets you ride all the common road bike tires and gravel tires, but not quite as wide.
A gravel bike is often a little bit heavier than a road bike, because it’s built to be sturdier. So you might feel the difference riding with friends on the uphills, but it shouldn’t be a huge deal.
There’s an entire category of bike called the all road bike, which overlaps with “gravel bike” and “road bike” at the same time.
What about the geometry? Generally, gravel bikes tend to have a pretty stable geometry that lets you plow through gravel and stay upright easily. That means that they don’t corner quite as responsively as a pure road bike. Unless you like to dive into corners like a criterium racer, it generally isn’t that noticeable.