Gravel VS. Cyclocross - What Are The Differences?

Gravel VS. Cyclocross - What Are The Differences?

Gravel VS. Cyclocross - What Are The Differences?

If you are now thinking:"Spaghetti or macaroni? – It's all noodles anyway.” Wrong. Gravel and cyclocross go "somehow in a similar direction" - but they are still not identical. If you're thinking, "Gravel... what? What is he talking about?” Don't worry, we'll go to the beginning and ask ourselves...


Racing bikes for recreational athletes and professionals have been available in a wide variety of versions for decades. The so-called road bikes were designed to be light and aerodynamic in order to enable maximum performance and speed on the smoothest possible asphalt with narrow racing bike tires and proper air pressure.

Many years later (in the mid-1970s in the USA and a little later also in Europe), cycling was increasingly going off-road: the mountain bike was invented. With wide tyres, a lug profile and a spring-loaded fork, "cycling off the beaten track" quickly developed into its own sport with numerous disciplines such as enduro, four-cross and downhill. MTB manufacturers were increasingly inspired by inventions from the motocross sector and developed full-suspension downhill bikes, suspension forks with double bridges and lightweight disc brakes for cyclists.

The gravel bike , on the other hand, is a development from recent years that optimizes racing bikes specifically for use on unpaved roads. A racing bike doesn't turn into a downhill bike, but gravel paths and unpaved bike paths can be ridden with it. Nevertheless, handlebars, frames and other parts are more based on the well-known racing bike design and not on mountain bikes. However, wider tires and disc brakes are standard gravel bike equipment.

Gravel bikes are perfect for sporty rides in mixed terrain with gravel, earth, gravel and asphalt. They combine the large wheels and good power transmission of racing bikes with comfortable running behavior and high braking performance. In contrast to sporty racing bikes, the seating position is a bit more upright to better relieve the hands on long tours. Gravel bikes are just as suitable for sporty training as they are for long tours, multi-day bike tours and demanding bikepacking .


Just like spaghetti and macaroni, gravel bikes and cyclocross basically belong in the same "pasta pot". Strictly speaking, however, cyclocross is a sporting discipline that can also be referred to as cross-country racing, cyclocross or cyclocross. The races are usually held on a circuit with different surfaces. This includes dirt roads and forest paths that lead over various climbs, descents and also carrying passages.

This also results in the main difference between gravel and cyclocross: the cyclocross bike is specially designed and constructed for use in such races . It is used to drive as fast as possible on the race track and to achieve maximum performance on the track. The gravel bike , on the other hand, is designed for long tours and bike trips in mixed terrain . It combines performance, driving comfort and robustness.


Cyclocross is all about starting off quickly, braking quickly, avoiding obstacles or jumping over them - that's why the frame of the cyclocross bike is particularly agile. A high bottom bracket ensures good ground clearance. A low stack and shorter chainstays ensure an aggressive riding position when racing.

In contrast, the gravel bike with a longer wheelbase and longer chainstays is trimmed more for smooth running and stability . Constantly changing the riding position in racing mode is not necessary with a gravel bike. That's why the frame geometry, with its higher stack, aims more at riding comfort and a more upright seating position.


While cyclists only need a well-tuned bike for a cyclocross race that lasts around 30 to 90 minutes, gravel bikers usually need additional equipment on tour . This includes, for example, things such as food, liquids, repair kits, smartphones or other important accessories.

There is usually not an unnecessary gram too many on a cyclocross bike . Gravel bikes, on the other hand, usually have the appropriate mounting options for mudguards, luggage racks and a large selection of bags for bike tours and bikepacking.

Differences in the drivetrain

Even if cyclocross races, in contrast to classic road bike races, are considered to be particularly adventurous, the racing requirements result in certain specifications for the most efficient possible coordination of the gearshift . A combination of a 46/43 chainring and an 11-36 cassette is very popular, as it ensures almost smooth and precise shifting in the race and can withstand the high intensity of the load well.

Gravel bikes , on the other hand, offer a much larger range of combinations, so that tours with long climbs can be easily mastered. In addition to a chainring with 38 to 42 teeth, chainring combinations with 50/34 and 48/32 can also be installed on the gravel bike. These are often supplemented with an 11 – 34 cassette.


The topic of tire selection dominates cyclocross sport. Greater importance is often attached to the width, tread and air pressure of the tires than to the gears or wheels.
As with most road bikes, 700c is the wheel size for almost all cyclocross bikes . According to the regulations, the wheels must not be wider than 33 mm during the race . Therefore, the frames of the cyclocross bikes are optimized for the 700c with 33 mm tires.

Also in the gravel area, the wheel size is mostly 700c . Some manufacturers also use the slightly smaller 650b wheels. Normally tires on gravel bikes can be wider than on cyclocross. With a tire width of up to 42 mm and the appropriate profile and tire pressure , the tires ensure improved traction on rocks and muddy terrain.


Cyclocross bikes are racing machines. That's why the frames are kept relatively stiff so that not a hundredth of a second is wasted unnecessarily in racing. When manufacturers say that the bike gives direct feedback, that means in plain language: every stone and every bump is passed on to the spine and wrists almost unfiltered.

What is necessary for racing no longer has much to do with driving comfort. With gravel bikes , on the other hand, riding comfort is very high on the designers’ list right from the start. The special frame geometries ensure that shocks and vibrations are better dampened when riding. In combination with the more upright posture, the gravel bikes can be ridden comfortably all day long.

Differences in brakes.

Disc brakes are no longer a topic of discussion on cyclocrossers. The disc has now become widely accepted. The disc diameter is mostly 160 millimeters - rear and front.

The braking performance with disc brakes is indisputably better in the wet, the braking distance is shorter, the susceptibility to dirt is lower. Unfortunately, however, the distances between the pads and the discs on many Sram models are so small that water or whirled-up grains of sand are enough to cause audible grinding noises. It was also noticeable on some discs that the pads reset poorly. Often, the calipers had to be readjusted manually after mud use. Both Sram and Shimano still leave potential here. Grinding disc brakes are annoying. Improvements should be made here.


Of course, a cyclocross bike isn't just great for riding on the race track. The cyclocross bike is also perfect for daily training in the forest and on gravel. However, if you prefer to go on extended tours or cycle tours lasting several days, you will certainly benefit from the riding comfort and the more individual adjustment of the gravel bike.

If you would like to take part in a cyclocross race with your gravel bike, that is certainly possible (with the appropriate tires). Most likely you won't win the race against highly specialized cyclocross racers with it, but who knows... if your calves are strong enough...

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