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What Is a Gravel Bike & How To Get Started Gravel Biking

By: evo | Updated: March 29, 2023

Gravel Bikes

Gravel biking has become increasingly popular in recent years as more cyclists seek new challenges on two wheels. Gravel bikes, also known as adventure bikes, are designed for exploring unpaved roads and trails, with features that make them well-suited for a variety of terrain and conditions. If you're interested in taking your cycling to the next level and exploring off-road routes as well as tarmac, a gravel bike may be just what you need.

In this guide, we'll provide a comprehensive introduction to gravel bikes, including what they are, what they're designed for, and how they differ from other types of bikes. We'll also discuss the key features to consider when selecting a gravel bike, such as frame geometry, tire size, and gearing.

What Is a Gravel Bike?

At the most basic level, gravel bikes are bikes designed for off-road riding on unpaved or gravel roads. They combine the speed and efficiency of road bikes with mountain bikes' durability and versatility, while remaining distinct from either discipline. Gravel bikes usually feature lightweight frames, wider tires, and a relaxed geometry for stability and control on rough terrain. 

Gravel bikes are ideal for riders who enjoy exploring off-road terrain, whether it's winding gravel roads, rocky trails, or remote wilderness areas. They can also be suitable for commuting and touring, providing a comfortable and efficient ride over long distances and varied terrain. Keep reading, and we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of what makes these bikes so unique.


Gravel bikes have a unique geometry and frame design that sets them apart from other bikes. Compared to road bikes, gravel bikes have a more relaxed geometry for better handling off-road. In addition, their longer wheelbase and slacker head tube angles allow for greater stability and control on uneven terrain and a more comfortable and upright riding position. This reduces strain on the rider's neck and back, making staying comfortable over long distances on rough ground easier.

Gravel bikes typically have a higher bottom bracket than road bikes, which can provide more clearance over obstacles like roots and rocks. This allows riders to maintain speed and momentum on technical terrain without worrying about getting caught up or losing control. 

Frame Material

Gravel bike frames are commonly made from aluminum, carbon fiber, or steel, and each material comes with its advantages and disadvantages.

Aluminum frames are affordable, lightweight, and strong. They’re often found on entry-level gravel bikes because they offer a good balance of performance and value. However, aluminum can be stiff and less forgiving on rough terrain, which can result in a less comfortable ride.

Carbon fiber is even lighter and more rigid than aluminum. Carbon frames are often found on higher-end gravel bikes, as they offer superior stiffness and responsiveness. However, they are more expensive and less durable than other materials, particularly in the event of a crash.

Steel is another popular choice for gravel bike frames, as it offers a comfortable and smooth ride quality. Steel frames are often found on classic and retro-inspired gravel bikes and are known for their durability and resilience. However, steel is heavier than other materials, which can affect overall weight and handling.

Regardless of material choice, gravel bike frames are built to be durable and tough enough to handle rough roads, with thicker tubing and more clearance for wider tires. In addition, many gravel bikes have additional mounting points for racks, water bottles, and other accessories, allowing you to carry everything you need for a long adventure.


One of the most important components of a gravel bike is the tires. Gravel bike tires are specifically designed for off-road riding, and they come in a range of sizes, widths, and tread patterns. Choosing the right tires for your gravel bike can significantly impact your riding experience and performance.

Gravel tires are wider than road bike tires, with sizes ranging from 32 - 50 mm, depending on the bike. Wider tires provide more cushioning on bumpy terrain, and the increased air volume allows riders to run lower tire pressures for improved traction and ride quality.

Gravel bike tires come in a range of tread patterns, from smooth to aggressive. Smooth tires are best suited for hard-packed gravel and smooth surfaces, while more aggressive tread patterns are better for loose or muddy terrain. Some tires come with hybrid tread patterns, providing a balance of grip and speed on a variety of surfaces.

Tubeless tires have become increasingly popular, offering several advantages for gravel riding over rough ground. Tubeless tires provide better puncture resistance than traditional tires, as there is no inner tube to puncture. Instead, tubeless tires are used in conjunction with sealant, which seals punctures automatically while riding. This helps to quickly take care of small punctures that may go unnoticed, preventing air from leaking out of the tire over time and allowing riders to continue riding without having to stop and fix flats. Another advantage of tubeless tires is that they can be run with lower tire pressures for better traction.

It’s important to note that tubeless tires require specific rims and tires designed for tubeless use. Additionally, the installation process can be more complicated than traditional tires, as it involves using sealant to seal the tire to the rim.


Gravel bikes typically have a wider range of gears than road bikes, which makes them more capable of tackling steep climbs and rougher terrain. 

Many gravel bikes come with a 1x drivetrain, which means they have only one chainring in the front and a wide-range cassette in the back. This simplifies shifting, cuts down on unnecessary weight, and reduces the chances of dropped chains. Some gravel bikes come with a 2x drivetrain, which provides a broader range of high and low gears for climbing and descending. This comes at the expense of additional weight and complication in gear choice.

When choosing a gravel bike, it's important to consider the type of terrain you’ll be riding and your personal riding style. For example, a 1x drivetrain may be more suitable for off-road riding, while a 2x drivetrain may be better for long-distance touring or commuting. With its ultra-low gears, a mountain bike cassette can be a lifesaver on gravel setups, allowing a rider to get up those last hills on a long day. Ultimately, the drivetrain and gearing should be chosen to provide the best combination of efficiency, comfort, and performance for your needs.


Gravel riding often involves steep descents and unpredictable terrain, so having reliable and powerful brakes is essential for safety and control. Disc brakes have become the norm on gravel bikes, as they provide superior stopping power and work better in wet conditions. 

Disc brakes come in two types: hydraulic and mechanical. Hydraulic disc brakes are the most common on higher-end gravel bikes, providing powerful and consistent braking with minimal effort. Mechanical disc brakes are a more affordable option but require more effort to achieve the same stopping power. Rim brakes are still available on some models but are increasingly uncommon on newer bikes.


Drop handlebars are the most common type of bar on gravel bikes, providing multiple hand positions for comfort and control. The drops allow the rider to tuck in for better aerodynamics and control on descents, while the hoods provide a more upright riding position for comfort and visibility. 

Gravel bikes typically have wider drop handlebars than road bikes, and many come with flared drops, which provide a wider hand position for greater stability on rough terrain. Some gravel bikes come with flat handlebars, which provide a more upright riding position. These are a good choice for riders prioritizing comfort and control over speed and aerodynamics.


Gravel bikes excel on longer rides and adventures, where it's important to have the right accessories for success. With a bit of planning, your gravel bike can easily pivot from picnic rides in the park to cross-country bikepacking epics. Some popular accessories for gravel bikes include:

Frame bags & panniers
These bags are designed to attach to the frame, handlebars, and seatpost of a bike, allowing riders to carry gear and supplies for overnight or multi-day trips. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes and can be customized to fit the specific needs of the rider.

Gravel riding often takes place on dirt and gravel roads, which can kick up dust and mud. Fenders can help keep the rider and bike cleaner and provide protection from wet and slippery conditions.

Lights are essential for riding in low-light or dark conditions and can help improve visibility and safety on the road. There are a variety of lights available, ranging from simple front and rear lights to more advanced systems that include headlights and taillights.

GPS bike computer
A GPS computer can help riders navigate remote terrain and track their rides, providing information on distance, speed, elevation, and more. Some GPS computers also have built-in maps and can provide turn-by-turn directions, making exploring new routes and terrain easier.

You should always keep a repair kit on hand when hitting the open road. A bike multi tool and small medical kit will do the job for most riders. If you run tubeless tires, add a tubeless repair kit and a spare tube, just in case.

How to Get Started Gravel Biking

If you're interested in trying gravel biking, here are some tips to help you get started:

Find the right bike
The first step to getting started with gravel biking is to find the right bike. As mentioned earlier, a gravel bike is specifically designed for off-road riding and typically features wider tires, a more relaxed geometry, and a range of gears suitable for climbing and descending on rough terrain. Therefore, it's essential to choose a bike that fits you correctly and that you feel comfortable and confident riding.

Practice bike handling skills
Gravel riding requires different skills than road riding, such as handling loose gravel, navigating technical terrain, and riding through rough patches. As a beginner, it's important to take the time to build up your skills gradually. Look for a safe area to practice these skills, such as a local park or empty parking lot. Practice turning, braking, and shifting on loose terrain, and work on your balance and control.

Start small
Don't try to tackle a long or challenging ride right away. Instead, start with shorter, easier routes to build up your fitness and confidence. Look for local rail trails, gravel paths, and forest service roads. As you gain more experience, you can gradually increase the length and difficulty of your rides.

Invest in proper gear
Comfortable and functional gear is essential for gravel riding. Look for padded shorts, breathable jerseys, and sturdy shoes with good grip. A helmet is also essential for safety, and gloves can help improve grip and reduce fatigue. It's also important to carry a hydration pack or water bottles, as well as snacks and a map or GPS device if you're heading somewhere remote.

Plan your routes
Research routes ahead of time to ensure they are suitable for gravel riding. Look for local parks, forest service roads, and rail trails. Consider the distance, terrain, and elevation, and make sure the route is appropriate for your skill level and fitness. You can also consult online forums or local cycling clubs for advice on routes and conditions.

Ride with others
Gravel biking can be more enjoyable and safer when riding with others. Consider joining a local cycling club or finding a riding partner. Riding with others can help you stay motivated, build your skills, and learn more about the sport.

Be prepared
Gravel biking can be unpredictable, and it's important to be prepared for the unexpected. Bring along tools, a spare tube, and a tire pump. It's also a good idea to carry a phone and let someone know where you're riding and when you expect to return. Finally, check the weather forecast before you head out, and dress appropriately for the conditions.

Gravel biking is a great way to explore new terrain, challenge yourself, and stay active. With these tips in mind, you can confidently start your gravel biking journey and enjoy the many benefits of off-road riding. Remember to take it slow, stay safe, and have fun!

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