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    Cyclocross vs gravel bike: What's different?

    Robert Ferri
    Robert Ferri
    Jun 4, 2024 7 min
    Cyclocross vs gravel bike: What's different?

    Cyclocross vs Gravel bikes: what's different? In modern times, we have a lot more choice of bikes than a couple of decades ago. You were only choosing between road, touring, mountain, or a few other unique bikes. It was much easier to know what you needed and wanted. 

    Here at buycycle, we get asked many questions about different bike types, but one we get quite often is, “Cyclocross vs gravel bike, what are the differences?" In this article, we will tell you about each of them, how they compare, and what is for you! Welcome to cyclocross bike vs gravel bike!

    Cyclocross vs gravel bikes

    What is a cyclocross bike?

    A cyclocross bike is designed for cyclocross racing

    A cyclocross bike is designed for cyclocross racing, where people race around a course of mud, grass, and challenging terrain. Riders often jump off the bike and have to run and jump obstacles because it’s quicker than riding. 

    Cyclocross is an incredible sport, and many professional athletes, such as Mathieu van der Poel and Marianne Vos, race it in winter. It is a challenge of fitness, technical skill, and logistical planning to approach an obstacle. 

    A cyclocross bike is very much like a road bike, but it is designed for cyclocross racing. It will have a few different features, though, such as larger 33c tires with extra clearance on the forks and frame, better brakes for off-road riding, and, quite often, cables routed differently.

    Cyclocross bikes have aggressive geometry and are designed for racing more than anything. Comfort is not the most important factor. It is getting around the course as quickly as possible. The Trek Boone, Specialized CruX, and Cannondale SuperX are good examples of cyclocross bikes. 

    cyclocross vs gravel
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    What is a gravel bike?

    A gravel bike is designed for riding on gravel or mixed terrain and is often used as an adventure bike

    A gravel bike is designed for riding on gravel or mixed terrain and is often used as an adventure bike. You will see many bikepackers using them, and they now seem to be the bike of choice for many ultra cyclists.

    Gravel bikes are incredible do-it-all bikes. They come in many different types, from ones very similar to a road bike to some that often have a lot of parts similar to a mountain bike. Many companies have different ideas about what a gravel bike should be.

    Again, they are quite similar to a road bikes but have much larger tires, lower gear ratios, and a much better riding position for control and comfort. They also all come with disc brakes to ensure you can stop quickly. 

    Gravel bikes are designed for riding on many different terrains. They are meant to be efficient on the road but still comfortably hit a trail or go on a dusty gravel path. Good examples of gravel bikes are the Giant Revolt, Specialized Diverge, or the Rose Backroad and Rose Backroad FF.

    Read our article "What is a gravel bike?" to find out all about the secrets of gravel biking.

    cyclocross vs gravel bike
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    Cyclocross vs gravel bike: the differences

    Although cyclocross bikes vs gravel bikes appear to have very similar features on the surface, they are very different in the minor details. Understanding them is important so you know exactly what you are getting. Let’s discuss where they differ in what is cyclocross vs gravel bike.

    Feature/Aspect

    Cyclocross Bike

    Gravel Bike

    Primary Purpose

    Cyclocross racing

    Riding on gravel or mixed terrain, adventure biking

    Terrain

    Mud, grass, challenging terrain

    Gravel, mixed terrain, trails, dusty paths

    Riding Style

    Aggressive, racing-focused

    Comfortable, control-focused

    Tire Size

    Larger 33c tires

    Much larger tires

    Tire Clearance

    Extra clearance on forks and frame

    Larger clearance for bigger tires

    Gear Ratios

    Similar to road bikes, optimized for racing

    Lower gear ratios for varied terrain

    Brakes

    Better brakes for off-road riding

    Disc brakes for quick stopping

    Geometry

    Aggressive, racing-oriented

    Comfortable, efficient for long rides

    Use Case

    Racing, speed, technical courses

    Adventure, bikepacking, long-distance, ultra cycling

    Comfort Level

    Lower priority

    Higher priority

    Examples

    Trek Boone, Specialized CruX, Cannondale SuperX

    Giant Revolt, Specialized Diverge, Rose Backroad

    Design Specifics

    Similar to road bikes but with cyclocross-specific features

    Varied designs, from road-like to mountain bike-like elements

    Popularity

    Popular in cyclocross racing community

    Popular among bikepackers and ultra cyclists

    Cabling

    Often routed differently for off-road conditions

    Standard or varied depending on the model

    Cyclo vs gravel: a different geometry

    The geometry is the position the bike puts the rider in. It is very important to either ensure you can perform your best or be as comfortable as possible. An aggressive geometry will make you faster but can reduce comfort, and relaxed geometry will generally reduce speed but give more comfort.

    Cyclocross bikes are very aggressive and purely made for speed and performance. Gravel bikes are made with a relaxed geometry for control and comfort. Typically, cyclocross bike races don’t last long, so comfort isn’t everything, while gravel adventures are much longer and require comfort. 

    Tires: less limit for gravel bikes

    When it comes to a cyclocross bike, the tires it can fit are roughly 32c to 35c. The reason behind this is that many cyclocross races specify a max tire size of 33c. Gravel bikes go anywhere from 32c all the way up to 52c. Bigger tires can offer more grip and comfort, while smaller tires can be faster. Tires are important when it comes to gravel bike vs cyclocross bike and should be well thought through.

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    We have a huge selection of gravel bikes, mountain bikes, and road bikes ready for purchase on our shop.

    Cyclocross vs gravel: variations in frame and fork material

    Cyclocross bikes are made to be as light as possible and will use materials such as lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber. Gravel bikes will also be made with them, but you see more steel options, which detracts from performance but can add to durability. This is a very important factor when it comes to gravel vs cyclocross bike.

    A different cable routing

    Although many modern bikes have internal cable routing, on some models, the cables sit on the outside. With cyclocross bikes, cables often sit on the top of the top tube instead of running under the downtube. Gravel bikes are cabled traditionally, like normal bikes. 

    Brakes

    Gravel bikes generally always come with disc brakes, while cyclocross bikes also come with disc brakes or cantilever brakes. Cantilever brakes are cable-actuated brakes that work by gripping the rim rather than a disc. In modern times, they are old technology, but you see them often in cyclocross. This is a big, when speaking difference cyclocross vs gravel bike.

    What should you buy? Cyclocross vs gravel bike?

    Cyclocross bikes vs gravel bikes
    If you want performance and a bike to race cyclocross on, then a cyclocross bike is the choice. 

    When it comes to picking between a gravel vs cyclocross bike, there’s not a huge amount to consider. If you want performance and a bike to race cyclocross on, then a cyclocross bike is the choice. 

    Can you use a cyclocross bike as a gravel bike?

    You could use a cyclocross bike as a gravel bike, but you will struggle to fit large enough tires for going on very rough terrain as the clearance is reduced. You might also find the riding position a little more aggressive than you might want it. This is a very commonly asked question when speaking about a gravel bike vs cyclocross bike.

    Can you use a gravel bike as a cyclocross bike?

    You could use a gravel bike as a cyclocross bike, but you might not get the performance you need. Gravel bikes are often heavier and have a more relaxed geometry, which might not give you the results you need. 

    What is cyclocross vs gravel bike? Well, if you are looking for a bike for bike touring or bikepacking and going on gravel then a gravel bike is the best option. Although they may look similar, you are going to have a very different experience from riding one another.