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.
Next Article: A Roundup of Top 1x Gravel Bikes for 2020
Sheri Rosenbaum says
I have a 2020 Trek Domane that I have set up as a gravel bike, but I can swap out tires or wheels and have a really nice road bike. It’s a really comfortable endurance bike that has so many uses.
Which model of 2020 TREK DOMANE ?
I have several awesome traditional road racing bikes but just bought a used gravel bike to use for my “rain bike” since it can run much wider tires. I went on a short test ride and it feels great.
The 1 X shifting isn’t a problem, so far at least. If I’m going faster than the gearing its likely downhill and I’m in the brakes anyway!
Don’t let marketing classifications stop you from getting something that makes sense.
JUST RIDE – a book by Grant Petersen exposes a lot of the fallacies of road bike design and questions how we ever got to frames that will only accept 23mm tires. A great read by the way.
I read your comment and downloaded Petersen’s book right away. Into it only a few pages and love it. Thanks.
David Kamp says
Tom Ritchey says any bike is a gravel bike. So…any bike is a road bike.
larry english says
of course – who are these people who ONLY RACE!?
PJ Rawlins says
I recently got a Trek Checkpoint with a 1x setup and two sets of wheels. The gravel set has 40mm tires with tread and the road set has 28mm slick tires. Swapping the wheels out is simple with the disc brakes and through axles, but you may need to dial in the alignment of the brakes and rear derailleur when swapping out tires. Prior to the Trek, I had a Roubaix and a cyclo-cross bike and the gravel bike has replaced them both. I really like the gearing/drivetrain on the gravel bike – it allows me to go places that I could not go on the cross bike and allows me to climb the super steep hills I could not climb on my road bike. It’s the perfect all rounder for me and the rolling resistance on my road tires is better than what I had on my Roubaix. The one drawback is that with the 1x setup for road riding, I run our of gears too early when going downhill. But that is a very minor thing, overall I am extremely happy with the Trek for riding both road and gravel/trail here in San Diego.
Rene Herse Link is stale (he moved the blog to the company website about 6 months ago). Try:
Some of the gravel bikes are simply cyclocross frames rebadged. CX bikes have a little higher bottom bracket, thus a little less road feel/stability, or so I’m told by those who know a lot about frames. My Norco Search feels just fine with big tires.
Hi, Just recently got a revolt 1 2020 gravel that comes with 700 x 38 … would i be able to buy 28c tires and still be compatible with the Rim the bike comes with?
Yes. I have a 2019 Revolt Adv 2, probably the same rims. Bought a set of 700c x 28 tires about 7 mo. ago, They work great on the road. No problems to report.
A road riding buddy of mine just got a Viathon gravel bike and loves it. Not only were the specs great, but the weight AND price were very low.
In fact I wish I had not bought my used gravel bike as these come with fender mounts which I need here in Portland, OR! My used bike has no mounts for fenders so I had to get another kind which are not ideal.
David Kamp says
SKS Speedrocker fenders ideal for gravel &road
I bought a cX team Boardman ten years ago and threw the tires away and put 25 gatorskins on it it has a front set up of 50/34.can hold its own with other road bikes and is well geared for steep climbs.
How thin of tires can you put on a gravel bike for road use only ??
For example I got a
2020 Cervelo Aspero GRX 600
And want to convert into a road bike
I’m assuming just change the tires to a smaller mm
But how small can I go ?
Road Bike Rider says
It’s not the bike as much as the wheels that make the decision for you.
It’s generally safe to go down to 28mm tires with most wide gravel wheels, and often ok to use 25mm tires. I run 28mm tires on my road bike anyway, because they are still plenty fast and also provide more rubber on the road for braking and more air volume for comfort.
You can look up your specific wheels and look at the tech specs and see if they have a minimum recommended tire. If they don’t, you can also often contact the wheel manufacturer and they can confirm exactly.
My wife’s Seven ti road bike doesn’t get ridden anymore. She prefers her lynskey gravel bike with the 38c gravelking tires. Heavier, slower, more comfortable, safer, and more fun. I got rid of my Merlin ti and got a Lynskey gravel frame too. The only downside is the head tube angles are so slack, with 700c wheels you’ll have quite a bit of wheel flop on some gravel bikes.
Guess it depends on whether you ride for speed or fun. My two kids also have Lynskey gravel bikes that are used on the road 95% of the time. One with flat bars.