QUESTION: What is the advantage of a gravel bike? I don’t get it. Don’t most people live in town? Seems overly specialized to me. – Jarad F
ANSWER: The way you are phrasing your question makes me think that maybe you’re convinced that a gravel bike is ONLY good for riding on gravel roads. But that’s not really the case.
In fact, a gravel bike is very similar to a road bike. The biggest difference is that you can fit much wider tires onto the bike. Road bikes, on the other hand, are often limited to tires not much wider than 28mm before they start rubbing against the frame of the bike.
A gravel bike is a great choice if you spend time on non-paved bicycle paths when you ride too, because it gives you better grip. If you’ve ever ridden a gravel bike path with a road bike with narrow tires pumped up above 100 psi, it can feel a little bit squirrelly and scary.
As long as you’re not racing or riding in very competitive groups, a gravel bike will typically do everything that a road bike will do, but a little bit more comfortably because of the cushion of the wider, bigger volume tires. Wider tires can also give you better road grip, although it depends on the tire because some gravel specific tires can be a little too knobby to roll very well on smooth pavement.
But there’s even a solution to that problem. You can swap out your tires (or put on a spare set of wheels) with a set that has skinny road tires, and then it’s almost like having two bikes in one.
It’s not a perfect solution though. Gravel bikes tend to have a frame geometry that aims for stability so that you can remain in control on gravelly roads. So they don’t dive through corners as easily as a traditional road bike. Also, they are sometimes geared lower, which means that if you put on your road tires and you’re riding with a fast group at high speeds, you might run out of gears and not have a high enough gear to keep up without spinning out. Finally, they are also often a little bit heavier because they are built to be sturdier bikes. Although again, some of that is related to the heavier duty wheels and bigger volume, knobby tires.
If you’re looking for a bike that rides pretty well on regular roads and also has the ability to easily tackle gravel roads and bike paths, then that’s where you’d find an advantage with a gravel bike compared to a pure road bike.