Cyclocross Bikes vs Gravel Bikes

At first glance, cyclocross and gravel bikes look very similar, and it’s understandable why. Both come with wider, knobbly tyres, drop handlebars, disc brakes and are designed to be ridden off-road. However, there are some subtle differences between these two categories, which drastically effect versatility and ride quality. Here are some of the key differences between the two that you should consider before taking a leap of faith into your next two-wheeled off-roader.

Geometry directly affects the handling of the bike, and there is a marked difference between the two types. Cyclocross bikes tend to have a shorter wheelbase, suitable for agile manoeuvrability around tight corners, and a higher bottom bracket for more clearance across challenging lumpy terrain. While these features are perfect for the cyclocross course, these characteristics can result in instability and discomfort at high speed. Gravel bikes, on the other hand, are often built with a longer wheelbase and a lower bottom bracket height, meaning they handle more predictably at high speed, and with excellent stability across loosely packed gravel terrain.

Tyre Clearance While a wider tyre is something that these bikes seem to share, this is a common misconception. UCI regulation prohibits cyclocross racers using a tyre wider than 33mm, meaning most cross bikes usually won't accommodate tyres much bigger than this and still off mud clearance. Gravel bikes, on the other hand, are normally designed for much larger tyres, some offering tyre clearances of over 50mm. The rider can tackle much rougher terrain with higher confidence and in greater comfort.

Gearing A cyclocross course is a relatively short affair. With most events only lasting around an hour and less than 3km of ground to cover until it is repeated, the terrain can be less varied, meaning the gear ratios on cyclocross bikes can be kept far narrower to save weight and reduce the jumps between transmission changes. While this is perfect for 'cross racing, this limited range tends to fall short on extended climbs and steep descents. Gravel rides, on the other hand, tend to take the form of longer distance and can encounter much more variable terrain. It is for this reason that gravel bikes are equipped with a broader gear ratio to attack descents with speed, and steep gravel banks with confidence.

Fittings and Fixtures Due to the preconceived brevity and nature of cyclocross racing, cyclocross framesets usually only offer mounts for one bottle cage (if any), and rarely accommodate fittings and fixtures for racks or mudguards. Gravel riding and racing, on the other hand, can take place across multiple days and weeks, meaning the need for loading up with luggage, food, water and other essentials is vital. Gravel bikes are usually designed with a plethora of fixtures and fittings for such accessories (and more), making them far better suited to carrying heavy loads over longer distances.

We hope these pointers may help you choose the aptest machine when considering the best bike to cope with the rough stuff. Pearson has a selection of gravel and cyclocross bikes in the range. For more information please visit our website or contact us at