10/19/21 Canyon.com

Gravel bike or cyclocross bike: which one should I get?

10/19/21 Canyon.com

Gravel bikes and cyclocross bikes are becoming increasingly popular. But what exactly are the differences?

Gravel bike or cyclocross bike: which one should I get?

At first glance, both gravel bikes and cyclocross bikes are relatively similar. However, a closer look shows their differences. Subtle things like geometry, gearing, wheels and brakes can differ between the two. The world of gravel bikes has a wide range of designs, each for a different style of gravel riding.

The original idea for a cyclocross bike, on the other hand, was purpose designed for a single race discipline: cyclocross. Cyclocross (or ‘cross) races are generally shorter, with tight and technical courses. Additionally, a strict set of rules was put in place by the governing cycling body (the UCI) that dictates what can and can’t be used in a ‘cross race. As a result, a cyclocross bike is designed for the rigors of cyclocross, according to the rules and regulations of the UCI. There are some parallels with gravel bikes, but also clear differences. These mainly relate to tires as well as the ability to retrofit mudguards or luggage racks.

Canyon Grizl

The characteristics of a gravel bike

Gravel bikes slot in best between a traditional road bike and a cross country mountain bike. They generally are more rugged than a cyclocross bike due to added tire clearance, but the endurance-road geometry of gravel bikes make them better suited for long rides or events, like Unbound.

Features of a gravel bike at a glance:
  • Tires: The tires Tires on a gravel bike all have tread, however the width varies from a sporty 30mm to a robust 50mm. Wide tires generally make the bike more comfortable, but can make the handling feel sluggish and increase rolling resistance. Most gravel bikes come with 28” rims (700c), although some of our smaller-sized models can come spec’d with 650b rims. This is done to ensure handling and ride characteristics remain unchanged regardless of size.
  • Geometry: The riding position on a gravel bike is more comfortable than on a road bike. Taller stack heights and more fork rake make the bikes best suited for riders who want all day support while riding rough and bumpy roads. Road bikes can come in endurance geometries, but generally have longer reaches and shorter stack heights for aerodynamics.
  • Equipment: Gravel bikes can usually be fitted with mudguards or luggage racks. This makes them ideal touring bikes in all weather or suited for true off-the-grid bikepacking adventures.
  • Drivetrain: Gravel bikes offer the complete range of gearing options: road bike gearing (2×11-speed with compact crank 50/34, sub-compact gearing 2×11-speed with 46/36 or even smaller,) but also the increasingly popular one-by (1x) drivetrains have become commonplace on gravel bikes.
  • Brakes: Disc brakes are standard on these bikes, as they offer optimal performance even in the rain or with a heavy load.

Canyon Gravel Bikes

Discover our range of gravel bikes like the Grail and Grizl.

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The characteristics of a cyclocross bike

A cyclocross bike is a slightly more off-road version of a road race bike. 'Cross riders feel just as much at home on muddy forest paths as they do on grass or on gravel. A cyclocross bike is sometimes shouldered by the rider during difficult sections, so frames are often very lightweight.

Features of a cyclocross bike at a glance:
  • Tires: Tires with a good tread pattern and width of 32 mm to 35 mm provide optimum grip on the terrain. For cyclocross racing, the tire width is limited to a maximum of 33 mm. Cyclocross bikes are generally equipped with 28-inch rims (700c).
  • Geometry: ‘Cross bikes are made to rip around a course quickly and corner hard. Tighter wheelbases and lower stack are just some of the geometry features. For more ground clearance, the bottom bracket is mounted a little higher, which also raises the bike's overall center of gravity.

    The flattened top tube is also particularly striking. This makes the bike easier to shoulder for carrying. External cables are therefore routed on top of the top tube.
  • Equipment: Low weight and optimal performance are the most important features of a cyclocross bike. Mudguards or mounting options for luggage racks are not usually available.
  • Drivetrain: High gears are out of the question on this type of bike; smaller gear ratios with finely graduated gears are the better choice for changing terrain. With two front chainrings, 46/36, 44/34 and 42/32 are common; on the rear wheel, 11-28 or 11-32 cassettes are usually found. Single cranks have also become popular on cyclocross bikes. They save weight and you're less likely to drop your chain during a crucial part of a race.
  • Brakes: Disc brakes are also the standard on cyclocross bikes.

Canyon Cyclocross Bikes

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At Canyon, you will find bikes in both categories to suit every taste. You can also get the necessary accessories as well as helmets and cycling kit for the perfect biking experience.

Cyclocross versus gravel bike - which is better?

Which bike category suits you better clearly depends on your main area of use and what type of rider you are.

Rider type A - sporty off-road on the Inflite

You see cycling almost exclusively as a sport and love to really push yourself. Bad weather doesn't scare you, and you prefer to ride off the beaten track. You like to forego comfort elements like mudguards in search of speed, and don't mind unclipping to get around an obstacle quicker. You can pedal fast, and the small gear ratio lets you climb every incline. A small backpack is all you need for the occasional ride to work.

Rider type B - be flexible on the road with a gravel bike

Bikes have always been your thing, but you’ve been looking to ride where you never have before. You prefer quiet roads that maximize the adventure, and aren’t afraid to explore new routes. You appreciate the sporty riding position but want to be able to climb on top of the bike the day after. A wide range of gearing ensures that you can cope with any situation.

You also appreciate the flexibility of your bike, which you can easily equip with racks. Mudguards are not a problem for you either; rather, you are thrilled not to have to clean your clothes and the bike after every tour.

You also appreciate the flexibility of your bike, which you can easily equip with racks. Mudguards are not a problem for you either; rather, you are thrilled not to have to clean your clothes and the bike after a little rain

Summary: Gravel bike versus cyclocross bike

Deciding which bike suits you best is not easy. But after this article, you should see things a little more clearly: Think carefully about how you use your bike most often and how important everyday usability and comfort features are to you. Once you have made your decision, you can explore the appropriate category of Canyon. There you will find bikes with high-quality components to suit every taste. You even have the right to return the bike within 30 days if you don't like it.

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