The world of dual-purpose bikes has exploded in recent years, and more and more people have discovered the value of combining road bikes with off-road features.
Gravel and cyclocross bikes are some of the most common options for riders who like to take on variable terrains without going full mountain bike. So how do gravel bikes differ from cyclocross bikes?
The main difference between gravel bikes and cyclocross bikes is their design and purposes. Cyclocross bikes are designed for performance over shorter races and distances, while gravel bikes are much better for all-day adventures. In essence, the two bikes also share similar features in terms of the overall design, but cyclocross offers more performance.
Since these bikes are designed to be very similar, it can often be hard for someone to get to grip the differences.
We must have a closer look at a few of the differences that separate these two versatile bikes. This article aims to explore some of these possible differences and what sets them apart.
If you are interested in finding out the differences between a cyclocross bike and a road bike, I encourage you to read this article: Cyclocross Bike Vs. Road Bike: How do they differ, and which is better for you?
Gravel Bike Vs. Cyclocross Bike
While different features apply to each of these bikes, it is important that we first look at the gravel bike and the cyclocross bike individually.
These bikes have very similar features but are often designed to work for different terrains. You should understand where each would work the best before buying one.
What Is a Gravel Bike?
The main purpose of the gravel road is versatility. For a gravel bike, you can imagine open roads with gravel that will often be hard on road bikes but not as demanding as mountain bike courses. Gravel bikes are designed to ride straighter while offering you less performance when it comes to cornering.
Their functionality is also a bit different than that of the cyclocross bike. The gravel bike is geared towards versatility, so riders can set up a cassette or drivetrain they feel most comfortable using.
Gravel bikes are used for fun adventures, including going for a few days of bike-packing and even exploring different types of terrains.
What Is a Cyclocross Bike?
As the name suggests, cyclocross bikes (also called CX Bike or CXB) are designed for cyclocross racing, which are races held on flat courses that test the skills and patience of racers.
To better understand the cyclocross bike, we need to look at why it is designed. Cyclocross takes many road bike surfaces and combines them with that mountain bike trails. A cyclocross bike would effectively breach the gap between road bikes and mountain bikes, making them a luxury option for most riders.
CX bikes are made for high-intensity riding and are supposed to provide sharp steering and even an aggressive riding position, which are the main requirements of a cyclocross racer. The bike needs to fulfill these essential aspects.
Cyclocross courses tend to be shorter, and riding stints are not as long as many would expect. This means that you could effectively use a cyclocross bike on all terrains.
Unfortunately, you will sacrifice a bit of comfort when we compare them to the more traditional bikes. This comparison also includes your standard gravel bike.
You might also enjoy reading: How To Pick The Best Rear Bike Racks: 5 best options!
6 Main Differences Between Gravel Bikes And Cyclocross Bikes
A few variables come into play when we compare road bikes to cyclocross bikes. To understand how they differ, we should break down some of the important features that make each stand out.
Using some general principles that are often used for the design of bikes, we can see where they differ:
The first thing to consider is the purpose of each bike. This is one of the easier things to understand as you can see cyclocross being more of a competition bike. Not only does this mean the cyclocross bikes are optimized to provide the rider with the best overall performance, but it also gives them more advanced features.
On the other hand, the gravel bike is more of a casual bike that is often used for riding on open and variable terrains. The design will include any specs and components you feel most comfortable using. Since these bikes are slightly more open to changes, the features a different, and you could potentially argue that they are cheaper.
2- Frame And Geometry
The cyclocross bikes might need to endure more obstacles than their gravel counterpart, and this means that you have a higher bottom bracket to ensure overall clearance for the bike over these obstacles.
The shorter chain stays are another minor feature to keep in mind. The main idea is that it would make the bike seem more aggressive.
Since gravel bikes are more casual, the frame could have a longer wheelbase and longer chainstays. This also includes a lower bottom bracket, and the frame is possibly heavier as well.
You don’t need such an aggressive riding style, which means that comfort is more important, and a gravel bike would lend itself to providing a comfortable ride.
The drivetrain on the cyclocross bike is slightly smaller, and you won’t need the different versatility that you would need to have when it comes to road bikes or gravel bikes.
Having a smaller cassette with fewer gears will be sufficient. For a cyclocross bike, the chainset of 46/36 is often fine, especially when this is combined with the 11-36 cassettes.
As mentioned in the first section, the idea of a gravel bike is slightly easier to work with when it comes to the drivetrain.
These bikes have a more versatile set of options for you to choose from, which include a chainring that ranges from 38 to 42 teeth. However, there are various combinations you could look into when buying one.
4- Wheels And Tires
Wheels and tires are some of the most important features of your bike. Most cyclocross bikes have the traditional 700c wheels, which would be similar to the wheels often used on many road bikes.
It could vary; a 650c wheel would often be a great option if you want to keep the weight down. Keep in mind that these need to comply with UCI rules.
There are no real features they have to comply with for gravel bikes, which means that these bikes would be fine when using a 650b wheel.
The great thing about the gravel bike is that the world is your playground. If you want to add a mountain bike wheel to the design, you could probably do this as well.
Many riders often want some of the best accessories on their bikes. The idea of having these accessories means that you would be able to improve your performance.
If we look at the design of the cyclocross bike, there is not much in terms of accessories you would need. The traditional digital bike computer would have you ready for data tracking.
The gravel bike does not need to be reduced in weight. While you will find that using a lighter bike offers you more performance, it is not as important when you are not competing.
Many gravel bikes have water bottle holders and other numerous accessories that would make your cycling journey a bit easier as well.
6- Comfort Level
When it comes to riding a cyclocross bike, comfort will not be the first thing on your mind. You might need to endure some uncomfortable situations when you are riding to ensure you achieve the best possible performance. These bikes are lightweight, and you will notice that many features only apply to improve performance.
The comfort level of the gravel bike is slightly higher, and the bikes are made to allow the rider to do longer stints whilst they are riding. These longer stints would need comfort for the rider, and this can be achieved by lowering the bottom bracket slightly for optimal performance.
The cyclocross bike is much stiffer, but this leads to more overall responsiveness from the bike. Tight corners should be easy to maneuver. However, you would need to have a less stiff bike when it comes to gravel.
What Is The Intended Purpose Of The Gravel Bike Vs. Cyclocross Bike?
The gravel and cyclocross bikes might be very similar to the untrained eye. However, these bikes vary significantly when it comes to features. Both of them could do the job of the other, but cyclocross is a competition, and it is ruled by the law of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). This means some restrictions apply to these bikes.
Gravel bikes have more flexibility, and riders can have more comfort while enjoying the ride. A gravel bike does not have the responsiveness or performance capabilities of the cyclocross bike, but you could still use it for these competitions.
Keep in mind that when you modify the bike for cyclocross races, you are bound to end up with a traditional cyclocross bike.
Essentially, the gravel bike is much cheaper and should allow you to have fun. We would recommend that competitive riders opt for the cyclocross bike to ensure they have the optimal performance to compete for trophies and race wins.
The video below discusses the differences between cyclocross and gravel bikes.
Can You Use a Cyclocross Bike As a Gravel Bike?
A cyclocross bike can be used as a gravel bike. In addition, a cyclocross bike is suitable for road riding because many of its components are road components, including its wheels. Most importantly, riding a cyclocross bike will improve your skills and make you a better rider, mainly when you leave the pavement.
No matter which bike you choose, you will often find that performance is one of the key features you look for. However, the gravel bike is the ultimate “comfort” version of the cyclocross bike. These bikes will enable you to have the optimal level of comfort and ensure performance.
We believe that a gravel bike should be ideal for beginners and casual riders. Let us know in the comment section which one you prefer.