Cyclocross Vs Gravel Bike – Which is Best for off-Road Experiences?

As more people seek adventures off the beaten path to explore new routes, the drop-bar bikes have undergone a transformation. Gravel bikes are the new entrants and in appearance, they are almost identical to the cyclocross bike.

Over the years, cyclocross bikes have been the preferred choice for adventures on varied roads ranging from tarmac, mud, barriers and steps, sandpits and steep slopes. However, recently there has been a new and popular concept of cycling on gravel.

I jumped on the bandwagon too myself a few months back in November when my friend invited me out for a weekend ride in his neck of the woods. I had my cyclocross bike with me but my friend had upgraded to a gravel bike for this experience.

By looking at it, I couldn’t tell how much more different it is from my bike but that all changed when I got to test drive it out in the coarse gravel. So, I put this little summary together to help you understand their differences.

What is the Difference between the Cyclocross and the Gravel Bike?

Bike Type
Gravel Bike
Speed and Agility
Comfort and Endurance
Mudguard, Racks, Bottle Holder

Cyclocross Vs Gravel Bike – How do they compare?


This is what gives the bike its handleability and flexibility. It refers to the angles and lengths of its tubes. Changes made to the bike’s frame geometry can give it a significantly different riding experience.

Cyclocross bikes are made for short duration uses over a less than 2-hour cyclocross races. In their making, speed and agility are prioritized because they need a high maneuverability around sharp turns and over obstacles. They may not be the most comfortable bikes either.

Gravel bikes are made for long distance cycling and they prioritize on comfort and durability while constantly being ridden on gravel. These bikes feature lower bottom bracket, a slacker seat and head tube and longer chain stays.

For quick turns, the cyclocross bike is fitted with 73 degrees of a head tube while the gravel bikes have one of 69 degrees which increases its sturdiness and stability.

Different geometry results in different performance of the bikes and it depends on the bike’s purpose or use. While gravel bikes consider comfort, cyclocross bikes prioritize on agility.


A cyclocross bike user will at some point in their challenge, need to carry the bike and run up a steep slope which is impossible to cycle on. For this reason, they are made of light aluminum and carbon fiber frames.

Gravel bikes, on the other hand require to be more-heavy in weight in order to keep it firm enough to carry some extra load. These bikes are great for some long-distance cycling.

Cyclocross Bikes have to be lighter than gravel bikes because you may need to carry them over some mushy regions.


The general rule on cyclocross bikes is that their tires can not be any bigger than 33mm wide. However, they always have available room to fit wider tires. Since the innovation of gravel bikes and due to their similarities with the cyclocross bikes, this rule has been updated.

Gravel bikes presently feature tires 37mm, 46mm and even 60mm wide which continues to set them apart from the racing bikes. These bikes have smaller wheels and coupled with the wide tires, they create a bigger surface of contact that is essential in maneuvering corners and steep climbs.

Tubeless-ready wheels have become popular for both cyclocross and gravel bikes. This is because they are not prone to pinch punctures that come about when the tire bottoms out on the rim. This gives them the ability to ride at low pressures which guarantees a stronger ground grip and a comfortable ride.


These bikes don’t require the high gears that road bikes are known for because the low gears are what’s perfect for climbing the race’s manageable slopes. This means that the cyclocross bike features that combine a chain set of 46/36with an 11/28 cassette.

While every cyclocross race varies for the next, most are only 2.5 to 3.5 km and this reflects to the little change in elevation which is why riders need a narrower gear range.

Gravel bikes have a larger gearing range commonly featuring a 50/34 chain set together with an 11/32 cassette. This is not the only range available to gravel bikes but it’s the most popular one and I highly recommend it.

Facing diverse terrain that includes ascending and descending steep and sloppy areas, the wider gear range comes in handy. This wide range allows for them to spin up the big climbs without spinning out while descending or while riding on fast and flat plains.


In 2010 cyclocross racers were allowed to start using disk brakes which revolutionized the cycling industry. Previously, cantilever brakes were the only used brakes because they were specifically created for road bikes. However, the good quality brakes disappeared and the disk brakes took over.

Disk brakes have advantage over others because they have strong and unfailing resistance especially in the wet regions or on very rough surfaces. Unlike the other brake types, these ones are unaffected by rim damage meaning they still work exceptionally well regardless of any conditions.

These brakes made possible the creation of gravel bikes which are prone to rim damage while riding over hard and coarse gravel.


Because cyclocross bikes are made specifically for races, they lack mudguards or racks. Water bottle handles will be missing on these bikes because races take a short time and are often done in cold weather.

The gravel bikeshave both these features to keep you dry and enable you to carry some luggage. They also have capacity to hold two water bottles. Open and simple frames on the gravel bike allow the user to comfortably fit and attach their frame bags or pannier regardless of their shape or size.

Cyclocross Bike – Features that stand out

  • Tire width of 33mm
  • Geometry specific for race position with its short head tube, steeper head, long top tube and seat tube angles. This lowers and lengthens the riders’ position across the length of the bike and over the front.
  • A horizontal top tube comes in handy when the rider needs to run up a steep slope. You can place the bike on your shoulder to get through an impossible terrain on foot.
  • The tall bottom bracket offers better heel clearance and keeps the bike’s crank from encountering barriers.

Gravel Bike – Features that stand out


  • Geometry built for endurance with the taller head tube, slacker, short top tube and seat tube angles which support a comfortable and upright riding position. This type of frame was designed to lessen the exhaustion and any pains you may experience when riding long distance.
  • They come in a variety of wheel sizes for better capability on the off-road.
  • Tires can range anywhere from 37mm to 60mm. The wider the tire, the better your experience on the bike will be.
  • Availability of accessories such as the mudguard and pannier rack mounting nodes for luggage carrying.

Verdict: So, which between Cyclocross and Gravel bikes make for the best off-road experience?

Though, in appearance, both bikes look the same, their performance and some features are unique to either bike and make a huge difference.

The best off-road partner is without a doubt, the Gravel bike. Unless you have plans to compete regularly in cyclocross races, it is more viable for you to get a gravel bike because it compares to the mountain bike.

Its ability to carry luggage, the variety of terrain you can cover on it plus its accessories like the mudguard are perfect for everyday use as well as long drives out of town.