The drop-bar bikes of today come in an array of different options, endurance bikes, all-road bikes, and gravel bikes. But which should you choose and why? In this guide, we explore the key differences between endurance bikes vs all-road bikes vs gravel bikes and how to select the best one for you.
Endurance bikes look like any ordinary road racing bike, albeit with one key difference – geometry. A slightly taller front end results in a riding position that is more upright and relaxed. This translates into more ride comfort for those longer days in the saddle. It is this all-day performance and comfort that gives the type of bike its ‘endurance’ title.
Designed for smooth tarmac, endurance bikes are lightweight and stiff, with the onus being on efficiency. With this in mind, the built-in stiffness ensures that more of the power generated through the pedals is laid down to the road with little wasted effort. The tube shapes also mimic those of a race bike and are aero-optimised to limit the effects of drag.
Click here to view the endurance bikes that are available to ride this spring.
Visually there is little to tell an endurance and all-road bike apart. Whilst the differences may not be instantly noticeable, they are there, and have a noticeable effect on the bike’s versatility. In point of fact, the riding position offered by the all-road bike is generally a little more upright, even than that of the endurance bike. The resultant stability that is offered really comes into its own on rough backroads, hardpack dirt, and light gravel.
Another similarity that the all-road machine shares with its endurance sibling, is its lightweight and stiff construction. They are stiff where it counts most, notably in the bottom bracket and head tube areas. Thereby improving the frame’s ability to lay down the power more efficiently and providing light and responsive steering control. The latter is most beneficial when it comes to navigating tight and technical off-road trails.
Comfort comes via the extra shock absorption offered by tyres which can be as wide as 47mm. This effect can be magnified by taking advantage of tubeless tyre systems which maximise traction, rolling resistance and grip whilst vastly reducing the risk of punctures.
Click here to view the all-road bikes that are available to ride this spring
Where the pavement transitions into the roads less travelled is where the gravel bike really comes into its own. To maximise its off-road credentials, it takes the best features of the all-road bike and expands upon them yet further. Sporting the most relaxed riding position of any drop-bar bike, the long and low geometry comes straight from that of a mountain bike.
The advantages to this are twofold; firstly it’s more comfortable during longer rides. Nobody wants to feel themselves suffering a little towards the end of an epic and thoroughly enjoyable ride. Secondly, the gravel-optimised geometry provides better weight distribution, placing rider weight over the back wheel which is more advantageous on tight and twisty terrain.
Click here to view the Gravel bikes that allow you to explore the most remote locations on two wheels this spring.
Features at a glance
|Long & low geometry||✘||✘||✔|
|Tyre Clearance||25-32mm (disc)||28-47mm||28-47mm|
Until the latter stages of the 20th century it was always the belief that tyres with a narrow profile rolled faster than wider options. So it would be fairly typical for every road bike to be fitted with tyres that were anything between 19 and 23mm wide. However, as technology and science has evolved it has now been proven conclusively that this thinking was, in fact, errant. Due to the way that wider tyres conform to the road they actually enlarge the contact patch, which in turn leads to reduced rolling resistance.
Additionally, a wider tyre also ‘squats lower on the wheel rim which has the added benefit of improving aerodynamic efficiency. Ribble’s range of endurance road bikes that are equipped with disc brakes offers clearance for tyres up to 32mm in width. Compare this with the 45/47mm offered by an all-road or gravel bike and you can see that this extra tyre clearance is crucial to enhancing both comfort and performance when riding off the beaten track.
The key difference between road wheels and off-road wheels is essentially how wide and deep the wheel rims are. For instance, it’s more advantageous to have a deep section wheel of 40-60mm on the road where aerodynamics play a crucial part in maximising performance. However, this becomes less of a factor at the speeds that you typically encounter off-road. You, therefore, tend to find wheels in the 25-40mm depth range equipped on this type of bike.
The extra inner rim width of ‘gravel/all-road’ wheels enables large volume tyres to be fitted which stand straighter in the rim bed to enhance tyre feel when cornering. It also allows these tyres to be run at lower pressures which improve traction, grip, and comfort on rough terrain. Then there’s the additional compatibility with tubeless tyre systems and the ability to switch out 700c wheels for off-road optimised 650b versions to suit a particular terrain.
The only mounts that you will find on endurance road bikes are the ones that allow you to fit a bottle cage to the down tube and seat tube. To enhance their versatility all-road bikes may also include an extra bottle cage mount situated underneath the downtube plus what looks like one just behind the handlebar stem. However, it’s actually intended for a bolt-on bag that provides easy access to your favourite snacks.
Gravel bikes and to a lesser extent all-road bikes are also intended to provide a luggage carrying capability. To this end, they feature pannier rack mounts at the rear and in the case of Ribble’s range of gravel bikes, the forks are also drilled out to accept ‘carryall’ mounts. Providing the extra luggage capacity required to circumnavigate the globe if that’s your kind of thing.
While it is still possible to find endurance bikes with rim brakes, the cycling industry has seen a gradual shift to disc brakes. This type of brake offers more powerful braking and greater modulation which allows for later braking into corners and improved all-weather braking confidence.
Since time immemorial, ‘chain slap’ has been an issue in cycling and as gear ratios have continued to expand chains have gotten increasingly longer. What is chan slap we hear you ask? Have you ever hit a pothole or ridden on bumpy terrain and heard your chain contact the frame? This is chain slap and is the sole reason for the existence of chainstay protectors.
To combat this, the current generation of ‘gravel’ groupsets all feature a rear derailleur that has a built-in clutch. The clutch is designed to limit the amount of chain slap that can occur and saves your frame from the potential damage from a bouncing chain. It also has the added benefit of limiting the chances of the chain bouncing off completely on particularly rough terrain.
Endurance bikes will almost always come with a 2x drivetrain (2 chainrings at the front). The chainrings are supplied in standard configurations, typically 50-34, 52-35 and the traditional race ratio of 53-39. The lower the numbers, the easier they are to pedal on the climbs.
The advantage of the 2x system is that it offers a wider spread of gears with smaller gaps between each gear step is smaller. So changing gear is smoother with less impact on the pedalling rhythm (cadence).
All-road bikes make use of both 1x and 2x gear systems, though the former is simpler and better at shedding mud when you ride off-piste. The slight disadvantage to the 1x system is that the steps between individual gears is larger. Changing gear can result in a little disruption to the pedalling cadence. This is less of a problem off-road but some may find it to be less efficient on road rides.
Gravel bikes are also often specc’d with 1x and 2x systems, though the 1x system is far more likely to be the groupset of choice due to these bikes being more focused on non-tarmac rides.
So which do you choose?
Though they are not really designed for this purpose, the tyre clearance offered by modern road bikes has seen them used on smoother gravel roads. Similarly, an all-road bike fitted with road slick tyres is more than fast enough for the road. With the lines being so blurred, choosing a bike can be a tricky proposition.
If you only ever intend to ride on tarmac then you should limit your search to endurance road bikes. However, should exploring off the beaten path be more your sort of thing then the extra tyre clearance and lower gearing ratios offered by all-road and gravel bikes will definitely be more beneficial.
Breaking this down further, it will probably be best to put some serious thought into what sort of terrain you will realistically expect to tackle on the bike. For instance, if it’s a 50/50 mix of road and off-road then an all-road bike will probably work best for you. Conversely, if it’s mainly off-road routes and you want the option of being able to carry a copious amount of luggage then a gravel bike may be the one for you.
All-road bikes may be the most versatile bikes on the block but what exactly are they? Find out here.
Le Col Wahoo discusses the ever-changing landscape of women’s racing and the efforts to #breakthebias. Read all about it here.