Gravel versus cyclocross: what's the distinction? – Weekly biking

When you look at gravel versus cyclocross bikes, at first glance they seem almost the same.

However, if you take a closer look at what they are designed for, you will find some small differences that optimize them for these two very different disciplines.

Whether you're in the market for one of these motorcycles, want to try something different, or just curious, we're here to explain the difference.

Gravel tires versus cyclocross tires and clearance

Both gravel riders and cyclocrossers will love experimenting with treads

Let's start with the core of off-road driving: grip. You'll find that both cyclocross and gravel bikes often have wider, knobbly tires to help tackle mud and dirt, but beyond that there are some subtle differences.

Firstly, according to UCI rules, cyclocross tires are limited to a maximum width of 33 mm. Although this is not enforced at the local league level as the motorcycles are typically designed from the top level down, cyclocross motorcycles are optimized for the clearance for 33mm tires.

You'll find no mud in the fork and in the back triangle between those tires and the frame, but not much room for wider tires.

Kies, on the other hand, is (at least for the time being) blissfully free from UCI rules and interventions. Hence, there are no limits to the tires and gravel drivers and designers have taken full advantage of this.

Some frames with really generous clearance will fit 700c bikes with tires up to 47mm wide. Many gravel converters opt for smaller diameter 650b wheels to fit super wide tires entering the MTB field, with width measurements in inches of up to 2.25 inches.

Gravel versus cyclocross: what's the difference?

Paul Oldham's Three Peaks Cyclocross Bike

Cyclocross is traditionally a winter sport in Europe, although it is very popular year-round in the US and Australia.

Most cyclocross tires have a very aggressive tread and softer rubber compounds for muddy, grassy conditions. Summer-specific tires have a lower profile or often worn winter tires.

Gravel tires need to be harder to handle both rocks and dirt. They must withstand the abrasion of harder surfaces and sometimes carry heavier loads when gravel bikes are loaded with bike packing gear.

Unlike cyclocross, this is usually a year-round discipline. With gravel tires you will find lots of nice, smooth tread patterns for dry and dusty summer driving. Check out our selection of our favorite gravel tires here.

Differences in frame geometry

Gravel vs cyclocross: what's the difference?

Nikki Brammeier at the 2019 Cyclocross World Championships (Photo by Ole Jensen / Getty Images)

To understand the numbers behind the different geometry of gravel and cyclocross bikes, it is helpful to think about their purpose in design.

Cyclocross bikes are perhaps one of the niches of all bike designs. They were built around deteriorating muddy fields and obstacles in rather dire conditions for forty-five minutes to an hour of intense threshing.

Cyclocross racing requires tight, precise handling and efficient power transfer, good mud discharge design, and a preference for lightweight features.

Gravel bikes tend to have a much wider range of uses, from trips lasting for hours to day trips to multi-day bike tours.

For racing, touring, or just riding, there is a greater variety of designs in the gravel bike category, but all of them need to provide stability and control over a much wider mix of terrain.

Trek Boone 5 2019 Cyclocross Bike - Gravel vs Cyclocross Bike: What's the Difference?

The Trek Boone 5 is a good example of a steep head angle of 72 degrees (size 54) and a wide front triangle to shoulder

Cyclocross bikes tend to have a shorter wheelbase, a higher bottom bracket, and a more aggressive riding position when you think of racing.

You'll also make the most of the front triangle, often with a horizontal top tube to make it easier to negotiate over obstacles and other obstacles.

The geometry of the gravel bikes varies widely, though comfort tends to be higher on the priority list in all subgenres, from racing to trail-oriented build.

Longer wheelbases and lowered bottom brackets combined with a loose head tube angle make for a more stable ride over rougher terrain than you would expect from a cyclocross bike. You will also find a more upright riding position on these motorcycles.

Simply put, with a spectrum from racing bikes to MTB, the geometry of cyclocross bikes tends towards the end of the racing bike rather than gravel bikes.

Gravel bike against cyclocross gear

Gravel against cyclocross bikes

The transmission for driving on gravel tends to have a wider gear ratio

Gravel bikes that once again return to their intended use tend to have a larger gear range than cyclocross bikes, although this is not always the case.

For example, imagine a gravel drive. You may have to grind some technical, steep climbs and sail on slippery tarmac. So it is very useful to have a wide range of courses here.

Cyclocross races typically involve less varied terrain. When it comes to really steep stretches, it is often impassable or faster to get off and run.

Instead of using much larger cassettes (and therefore more weight), these racers are more likely to opt for a simpler gearbox. Usually they come with 1X setups – a pretty regular find when riding gravel too.

Mounts or no mounts?

Gravel bike versus cyclocross bike

You will find rack and fender mounts on gravel bikes, but not on cross bikes

Gone are the days when cyclocross bikes didn't even have bottle cages. Although bottles can be in the way during racing, most cyclocross motorcycles now have bottle mounts, either for training or for really hot races.

Although some race-oriented carbon fiber models have left them out, most gravel bikes have not only bottle cage mounts but a variety of other bosses for attaching fenders and luggage racks as well.

In some cases you can even find additional storage space on the fork legs, on the top tube and under the down tube.

Don't let that stop you planning an adventure with your cyclocross bike, however, as you can mount most bike pannier bags to the frame without a luggage rack or other fixings.

Differences in the finishing kit

Gravel vs cyclocross: what's the difference?

Flare bars are popular for gravel riding but do not provide a significant benefit for cyclocross

You may find some subtle differences like flared bars for riding on gravel that you wouldn't find on cyclocross motorcycles.

These offer a wider, more stable position for skiing down uneven or steep terrain – but with a small aerodynamic drawback, that's why they didn't really start in cyclocross.

Of course, here too there is a lack of UCI regulations when it comes to gravel, so you can ride any poles, even excessively flared poles, super wide poles, or even straight poles that wouldn't be allowed in professional cyclocross racing.

Best gravel pedals

Shoes and pedals can make a huge difference in cyclocross racing

An extension of the bike, maybe your pedals and shoes can make a world of difference for cyclocross racing. Look for models that shed mud easily and shoes that tiptoe on for support on really muddy stretches.

Can both bikes be good gravel and cyclocross bikes?

Absolutely! Do you really need two different bikes for Drop Bar Dirt? , although it might come in handy if you really care about one thing or the other.

You can certainly customize your bike to make it suitable for both gravel and cyclocross. However, it depends on what you are already driving.

It might be easier to start with a gravel bike as you can easily fit narrower tires, but you can't get extra clearance for a cyclocross bike if there isn't a bike.

If you want to buy a single bike to do both, there are some bikes on the market that take that into account, like the Ribble CGR (Cross, Gravel, Road).

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