Cyclocross vs Gravel bikes is a popular topic of late due to the similarities between the two types of bike. So, what are the differences between the two and how does this affect how they perform? To help highlight the difference between the bikes we compare the features of bikes from the new Ribble 2019 range, the Ribble CX and CGR.
First let’s start off with a brief history about the origins of both types of bike. Cyclocross bikes have been around for a very long time. Indeed, the first recognised cross event took place in 1902! Today cross is one of the fastest growing disciplines in cycling.
Gravel bikes on the other hand have only been around for a handful of years. The first truly acknowledged gravel bike was only introduced as recently as 2014.
Firstly what is a Cyclocross bike and what sets it apart from a gravel bike? The traditional cross bike is a drop bar road bike designed to be raced around short off road circuits. Such a circuit will have natural or man made obstacles that force the rider to dismount and carry the bike over the obstruction. The features of a true cross bike are;
- A horizontal top tube – This enables the bike to be carried on the shoulder when the conditions and/or terrain dictate that the only option is to dismount the bike to clear the obstacle.
- Tall bottom bracket – The bottom bracket shell sits higher than a traditional road bike to offer more clearance and prevent the crank from contacting obstacles.
- Tyre clearance – Clearance for a UCI approved maximum tyre width of 33mm.
- A race position geometry-The frame has a relatively short head tube , a long top tube as well as steeper head and seat tube angles. This results in the rider being lower and more stretched out over the front end.
- Steering – The angles of the frame affect the steering which on a CX bike are designed to offer fast turns.
A Gravel bike is a highly versatile road bike that is also equally as capable when it comes to riding on fire roads, towpaths and forest trails. The more relaxed geometry provides a stable and easy handling ride. To draw a comparison with the CX, the Ribble CGR range have the following features;
- Endurance geometry – A taller head tube and shorter top tube combined with slacker head and seat tube angles results in the rider sitting in a more comfortable, upright riding position. This helps to reduce fatigue, aches and pains, especially over longer distance rides. Hence the term ‘endurance’ geometry.
- Handling – Shallower frame angles result in a steadier handling bike.
- Multiple wheel sizes – The ability to fit 700c road bike wheels AND 650b MTB wheels which offers more off-road capability .
- Tyre clearance – The multi wheel compatibility opens up a vast range of tyre options, 650b MTB tyres in widths up to 47mm and up to 45mm width in tarmac tyres .
- Mudguard and pannier rack mounts – The multi surface capability of the CGR features additional versatility. Thanks to the addition of mudguard and pannier rack mounting points.
- Electronic groupsets – Compatibility with Shimano Di2 and Sram eTap systems.
So, what are the key differences?
- Geometry – The cyclocross bike has a more aggressive race position which results in the rider being more stretched out. The gravel bike on the other hand features a more relaxed upright position for all-day comfort.
- Top tube – On the CX the top tube is almost horizontal to make it easier to carry the bike when necessary. The gravel bike has a more sloped top tube.
- Tyre clearance – The CX bike is restricted by UCI regulations to a maximum clearance of 33mm. The gravel bike will take tyres up to 47mm.
- Bottom bracket height – The bottom bracket on the CX is 10mm higher. This doesn’t sound much but does change the feel of the ride.
- Cable routing – The gravel bike has the appropriate cable entry and exit points which Electronic groupsets require.
- Gearing – Most gravel bikes as standard will be fitted with gearing that offers good all-round performance. CX bikes will have smaller chainrings better suited to the extreme conditions that cross riders can experience. A typical example of a road chainset would be 34/50T and a typical cross ratio of 36/46T.
There’s no question that when you wish to leave the road behind and head off the beaten track both types of bike are very attractive propositions. Though on paper the 2 bikes look to be very similar and both have exceptional off-road capability, there are subtle differences that affect how they ride and the jobs they can perform.
The CX is designed to be a specific mud shedding, easy to carry machine with gears to suit the often quagmire like conditions that you can expect to encounter in a European / UK cross event. If you favour the lower front end position of a race bike then a CX is a great option.
The CGR gravel bikes on the other hand offer more versatility, with added functionality such as pannier rack compatibility and being able to fit tyres to suit any given terrain. This allows you to tailor the wheel / tyre options to suit your chosen route. For instance it is common for owners of gravel bikes to have 2 sets of wheels.
This normally entails a set of 650b MTB wheels with wide fitting MTB tyres and a set of 700c wheels with narrower tarmac specific tyres. This added versatility means that the CGR gravel bike makes for an excellent all weather, all terrain commuter or off road trail bike. The beauty of it is you get to decide what you want it to be!