Cyclocross vs Gravel Bike: What Are the Differences?

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Both cyclocross and gravel bikes are designed to be used on less-than-even surfaces. As a result, a lot of people wonder if there really is that much difference between cyclocross and gravel bike models. There is. In fact, there are some pretty substantial differences. On this page, we are going to put cyclocross vs gravel bike to help to determine which option is the right one for you.

Cyclocross vs. Gravel Bike

As previously said, both cyclocross and gravel bikes are designed to be used off-road. However, a budget cyclocross bike has been designed specifically to work on a cyclocross circuit i.e. one packed with jumps and hill climbs.

A gravel bike has been designed more for general purpose biking. Right away, this probably tells you which option is going to be the right one for you. If you aren’t doing anything that even remotely resembles cyclocross, then you don’t need a bike for that.

As we compare the differences, you’ll start to get a feel for why each bike excels in a completely different area.

Frame Design

Perhaps the biggest difference between cyclocross and gravel bikes is the way the frame has been designed.

Cyclocross bikes have been designed to be agile. They need to get through tight turns, and there will often be times that the rider has to dismount their bike in order to tackle various obstacles. 

In order to ensure that a cyclocross bike is agile, the wheelbase is narrower. The bottom bracket will be higher, and the chainstay shorter. The bike is going to be a lot shorter too. This forces the rider down into a position that’s fantastic for agility and aerodynamics.

Gravel bikes don’t need any of this. They are longer bikes, and the frame has been designed to ensure that you’re in a much more comfortable riding position when you’re seated upon it.

This results in a bike that’s a lot less agile than a women’s cyclocross bike, but one that’s going to be a lot more stable. Again, this is going to help contribute to a far more relaxed, comfortable ride.

Gearing

Next up in our discussion of cyclocross bike vs gravel bike is the gearing. The gearing on a cyclocross bike has been designed for a very specific purpose. They have small gearing, and there will be fewer jumps between gears.

This is to help ensure that those in a cyclocross bike race will be able to quickly shift between gears and tackle whatever obstacles come their way. This will rarely be much more than a few hill climbs and some jumps. Cyclocross courses are always going to be fairly predictable.

If you’re riding a gravel bike, then you never know what sort of obstacles you’ll be encountering out there on your cycling adventures.

As a result, you need a bike that’s going to be able to cope with a variety of different situations. This means that gravel bikes have more gears, and they tend to cover a far greater range than your average cyclocross bike too.

Wheels

Cyclo bikes have been designed to fit 700cc wheels and not much else. This is because the rules for cyclocross biking are quite strict when it comes to the sort of equipment that you’re able to use. In most cases, the maximum tire width that you’ll be able to fit on a frame is 33mm.

On the other hand, while gravel bikes do tend to be designed for 700cc wheels, there’s often a lot more leeway when it comes to buying other sizes and attaching them to the bike.

For example, many gravel bikes are also able to accept 650b wheels. The frames often allow gravel bikes to have thicker gravel bike tires too. Many gravel bikes can have tires up to 41mm thick.

So, when it comes to cyclocross vs gravel bike in this category, the gravel bike is going to end up with far more versatile wheels. This is important. After all, the gravel bike is going to be encountering a larger variety of situations than the average cyclo bike.

Comfort

The frames on cyclocross bikes are incredibly stiff. This helps to ensure that the bike is more responsive and carries less weight. 

However, it’s not going to be comfortable in the slightest to ride for long periods of time. You’re going to be feeling every shake of the bike.

You’ll feel every jump that you make. Every slip of the wheel. While it’s going to be fine if you’re doing a quick cyclocross race for around an hour, anything longer than that, and is going to make you feel rather sick.

On the other hand, gravel bikes have been designed with comfort in mind. They are better at absorbing shocks.

While the frame probably isn’t going to be anywhere near as expensive as the frame on a cyclocross bike, at least you’ll be able to cycle for hours and hours on end without any issues.

Durability

There’s no competition here. Both cyclocross and gravel bikes are designed to be really put through their paces, albeit in slightly different ways.

Assuming that you buy the bike from a reputable brand, there isn’t really that much difference in terms of durability. Both will require a lot of maintenance due to the sort of situations that they will often face, though.

Weight

Cyclocross bikes are designed to be fast and agile. This means that they are often a lot lighter than gravel bikes. This does mean that they aren’t brilliant at off-roading for hours on end.

This is because lighter cyclocross bikes often ditch a few key features such as places to store your equipment or water bottle.

If you carried a backpack on one of these bikes, then you would often be bouncing from side to side too. It would be tough to keep the bike stable.

Final Words

When working out which one you need when you compare a cyclocross vs gravel bike, the answer should be pretty clear.

If you’re entering cyclocross races, then purchase a cyclocross bike. If you want something that’s far more general-purpose, then a gravel bike is your best option.

James Mattis

James Mattis

James is a passionate bicyclist who has done about every kind of biking there is. He loves the wind in his hair, the sun over his shoulder and maybe even the bugs in his teeth. No, just kidding about that last item. He isn’t crazy about road burns, either, but acknowledges that to have the good there is the occasional tumble. James feels that his bike is the place where he can unwind, leave troubles alongside the road, meet new people, go new places, and live the life of adventure that he loves. He is ready to share the ride with you.

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