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Many people get gravel bikes these days for their good level of speed, combined with the robustness you don’t always get from a road bike.
But how do gravel bikes compare with road bikes in terms of raw speed?
Road bikes are slightly faster than gravel bikes over the majority of surfaces. On flat roads, road bikes will be be around 5% faster than gravel bikes, and they are between 9% and 12% faster on going up hills.
There’s a lot of technical info to unpack!
In general, if you want a quick bike, then both gravel bikes and road bikes are fast! But road bikes will normally have the edge on the majority of even surfaces.
In this post, I’ll take a look at:
- A comparison between the speed of road and gravel bikes
- 4 reasons for the differences between the speed in road and gravel bikes
- How to increase the speed of a gravel bike
- When are gravel bikes faster than road bikes?
Gravel Bike Vs Road Bike Speed Comparison
I found two brilliant youtube videos really useful when researching this article.
The first one was this one from GCN (which I’ll summarize for you in a moment):
This is a really excellent video (I should first say!).
They take a look at the famous Paris-Roubaix race course route. For the uninitiated, the Parix-Roubaix is one of the world’s most famous cycling races.
Starting in 1896, it is also one of the world’s oldest. A single-day race, the route starts in Paris and finishes in Roubaix, which is near the French border.
The route is famous for being a mixture of flat surfaces, and rough cobblestones.
Anyway, to summarize, in the video they find out that if ridden on a road bike the course will take 6 hours 39 minutes.
If ridden on a gravel bike, it will take somewhere in the region of 6 hours and 46 minutes.
Although this shows that the road bike is definitely faster, this is only a difference of 2 percent in the finish time.
It should be said, though, that the course is very suited to a gravel bike, being pretty cobble-heavy and rough in many sections.
If the same distance was ridden on a flat road, the difference in time would likely be somewhere between 6% and 10% in difference.
Another great video I found was this one, also from GCN:
In this video, they find out the speeds of road and gravel bikes over the same flat surfaces.
To summarize, the findings are:
Over the descents on flat ground, both road and gravel bikes are the same speed
On the flat, road bikes were 5% faster
On climbs, road bikes were 9% to 12% faster.
I think it’s fair to say, that over a typical journey over flat ground, a road bike will be somewhere between 6% and 10% faster than a gravel bike.
This will be exacerbated if you cycle a lot up hills.
Let’s say your average speed on a road bike is 16mph on a road, then it will be around 14mph on a gravel bike.
Here’s a table that gives a quick breakdown of the difference in speed between road and gravel bikes on a flat surface:
|Type Of Terrain||Difference In Speed|
|Flat||5% (Road bike is faster)|
|Up hill||9%-12% (Road bike is faster)|
4 Reasons For The Differences Between Gravel Bike And Road Bike Speed
1. Ride Position and Frame Geometry
Summary – gravel bikes encourage a slightly more upright rider position which is more comfortable but less aerodynamic
Which is faster – Road bike
From a few feet away, the frame of the road bike looks nearly identical to the frame of a gravel bike.
They both have drop bars and similar shapes with a clear design focused mainly on speed and aerodynamics. But if you look closely, there are a few features that will stand out.
Road bikes have a shorter wheelbase and toughened head tube angle compared to gravel bikes which help shorten the bike and improve its stability and handling over normal terrain.
Gravel bikes on the other hand have longer wheelbases and shorter reach which helps the rider completely stretch out and become more aerodynamic while still maintaining a strong power output.
However, the big thing to give up here is the handling as road bikes are not as capable and stable over technical terrain as compared to gravel bikes.
With a geometry design that has an overall relaxed look; gravel bikes are designed for comfortable riding positions that are upright rather than pure straight-line speed.
If you are going on a 12-hour gravel race or a multi-day bike packing trip, the last thing you would want to be is to be stretched out and hunched over even if it means better aerodynamics.
While road bikes are usually faster, their riding position often takes getting used to, even for experienced riders.
2. Pressure and Tire Size
Summary -Road bikes have thinner and more pressurized tires which are faster, but you feel every bump
Road bikes and gravel bikes have different tire sizes and different tire pressures.
A road bike is made with very little rolling resistance in mind. This indicates the presence of a 23–25 mm slick tire with 90–100 PSI.
The rider will feel any flaw or bump on the road surface, even though it makes it move quickly on the road.
On the other hand, gravel bikes need more tread to keep a grip on rocky, uneven terrain, and a truck with around 40 PSI and a 30 to 40mm tire accomplishes the job beautifully.
Gravel bikes are more comfortable and effective over a lengthy gravel course because they can absorb part of the trail’s bumps with a relatively low PSI in comparison to a bigger volume tire.
|Type of Bike||Width Of Tire||Tire Pressure|
|Road bike||0.9 in – 1 in||90-100psi|
|Gravel bike||1.2 in – 1.6 in||40psi|
Summary – road bikes are almost always lighter which converts to greater speed
While modern gravel bikes are incredibly lightweight, a road bike of the same price will be almost always lighter.
The larger gravel tires make up for most of the weight difference but the wheels, forks, and frames on gravel bikes are often slightly heavier compared to road bikes as well.
It is important to remember that while some riders highly praise lightweight, in reality, a heavier bike that fits well and is appropriate for the riding conditions will be faster and more fun to run compared to a poorly fitting, lighter bike that is ill-suited to the conditions.
To narrow the gap in on-road speed between gravel and road bikes, it is possible to fit higher-pressure road tires which are narrow onto most gravel bikes.
Some riders with gravel bikes even keep a second set of wheels- complete with tires, brake rotors, and gears, so that they can more quickly swap between gravel and road tires. (more about this a bit later)
4. Speed Is Prioritized In Road Bikes
It should come as no surprise now that on paved roads, a racing road bike is going to be the fastest choice.
With their aero-optimized rider position and decreased rolling resistance of the narrow and smooth tires, the road bike prioritizes speed on smoother surfaces.
Even though a gravel bike will be nearly as fast on most roads, with a more upright riding position and added comfort features, it is a better choice for road riders that are more inclined towards riding than racing.
Gravel bikes are still plenty fast on the pavement but the lower-pressure gravel tread patterns which are also wide, roll slower on flat roads compared to the high-pressure, smooth tires that road bikes roll on.
Gravel bikes also have typically lower gearing than road bikes so some riders may notice a decreased top speed when riding a gravel bike on the road.
How to Increase the Speed of a Gravel Bike?
Many gravel bike riders will sometimes soup up their bike when just riding on the road.
I know a rider who swaps his tires just for this purpose.
How would you do that if you wanted to? Well, for maximum speed from your gravel bike do this…
Step 1 – Tires
Choosing narrow tires is a better choice than wider tires. This is because wide tires create high resistance.
Step 2 – Lower Gears
Though this is something you can’t change if you already have your gravel bike, if you haven’t bought one yet (but converting it for speed is high on your list), then think about a lower number of gears.
It is better to go with low gears or even single-speed gearing.
Having a variety of gears results in instability in the bike’s speed. With single or fixed-gear bikes, the harder you paddle, the faster your bike is bound to run.
Step 3 – Riding Position
Lean forward! The lower you are the more aerodynamic you will be.
Step 4 – Minimize Luggage
A gravel bike is heavier than a road bike, to begin with.
Because of this, carrying extra weight on top of the bike makes the bike go slower. To prevent this from happening, you should travel light if you are in a hurry to go somewhere on your gravel bike.
When Are Gravel Bikes Faster Than Road Bikes?
Of course, there are definitely times when a gravel bike could be faster than a road bike. But when?
Rough Road Speed
Nothing compares to a gravel bike when it comes to confidence in handling rough roads, stability, and speed.
What you give up on a gravel bike in terms of speed on the road is more than made up for when the pavement turns into gravel.
This is where the lower pressure, wider tires of a gravel bike provide more predictable traction that smooth roads do along with rolling fast.
A lot of gravel bikes out there are capable of running on two different wheel sizes: 650b or 700c. This gives riders the option of more narrow tires with running larger diameter overall making the gravel bike
The added air volume present inside gravel tires helps them roll faster and smoother on rough surfaces because they do not get jostled or bounced off-line as easily.
On top of that, the wider range gearing of a gravel bike helps riders more easily power up steep hills on rougher terrains.
Riders often find the taller gearing on road bikes to be a bigger challenge when riding gravel because it does not offer the low-low gears that most riders need to easily climb hills on loose gravel surfaces.
With the ability to ride any surface or road, from gravel, dirt, pavement, and even single-track trails, gravel bikes give you a clear advantage when it comes to versatility – and speed across all terrains.
For riders that prefer drop bars but want bikes that are not going to limit where they go, buying a gravel bike is an excellent choice.
Gravel Bikes Vs Road Bikes – Which Is Right For YOU!
Both gravel and road bikes are quick, and which is actually faster depends on which terrain you are riding them.
While road bikes tend to be faster on paved roads, gravel bikes are more specialized towards uneven terrain making them an excellent fit for both paved and unpaved roads.
This is not really rocket science – but the key to finding the best bike type is to think about the riding you want to do and choose a bike that does not limit your options if you want to be versatile.
There are no losers in this competition! The fact that there are so many bicycles out there in the market which are tailored exactly to the riding you want to do is one of the best things about cycling today.