A Complete Guide to Road, Gravel, Cross, Hybrid and Touring Bikes

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Which bike should I choose

Are you finding yourself asking, which bike is for me? Confused by all of the bikes on the market for every type of rider? Don’t worry, this article will highlight the differences between the most commonly considered bikes and show you by comparison which bike is recommended for each type of adventure. 

Bikes at a glance might look similar, but they hold important differences that impact riders in a variety of ways. Thanks to modern-technology and innovative design, there is an ever-expanding range of bikes available on the market. When you start searching for a bike that is beyond your standard Road Bike, you will find products such as the Hybrid Bike, Crosscycle or Cyclocross Bike, Gravel Bike and Touring Bike; all purpose built to manage a certain terrain. 

So which bike should you choose and why do these bikes have numerous similarities?

What do I need to know

As a sport, riding requires a set of key features on the bike for performance and agility as well as safety and value for money. Purchasing a bike is also an investment, and buyers who are diversified in their knowledge of which bike is best for them, will get more out of their purchase. So, what type of bike is best suited for you? To start, you can begin by asking yourself the following four questions:

What type of riding are you doing now? 

What type of riding do you intend to do in the future? 

What is your budget? 

What is your cycling ability?

Though even with the answers to these questions, the information can be conflicting, or even more so, unavailable. Let’s take a look at a quick comparison between the different bikes.

What type of riding are you doing now? 

What type of riding do you intend to do in the future? 

What is your budget? 

What is your cycling ability?

Comparison Table

BIKETERRAINPRICE WEIGHTTYRES
ROADPavement
Tarmac
Light Gravel
$500 beginner range

$1200 best value

$5000 advanced
7 - 8 kilos

17 - 17.5 pounds
23 - 36mm
CYCLOCROSSRacing Course
Small Gravel
Dirt
Mud
Sand
$2000 beginner range

$3000 best value racer

$4000 advanced
6.5 - 8.2 kilos

15 - 18 pounds
33 - 35mm
HYBRIDPavement
Tarmac
Small Gravel
Dirt
$300 beginner cruiser hybrid

$700 best value

$2000 advanced
11.3 - 12.7 kilos

25 - 28 pounds
35 - 45mm
GRAVELOff-Road
Gravel
Dirt
Mud
$1200 beginner range

$2800 best value

$4000 advanced
.5 - 11 kilos

17.5 - 24 pounds
28 - 57mm
TOURINGOn Road
Pavement
Tarmac

Off Road
Pavement
Tarmac
Gravel
Dirt
$1300 classic touring bike

$2500 specialised touring bike

$5000 advanced performance touring bike
12 - 15 kilos

26 - 33 pounds
28 - 38mm

What is a Road Bike

road bike

A Road Bike is a very common style of bike that is popular for riding on the pavement and bike paths. This simple description would be ideal for a buyer but now there are a number of different road bikes available so the selection process can be confusing. 

The main features of a road bike, which can also be known as a racing bike due to its lightweight frame are slim tyres, a sleek design with curving drop handlebars and a small seat. A road bike must offer the rider an athletic lower position and have no front or back suspension as they are made for riding on flat surfaces.

Road bikes will typically have multiple gears, up to 24, for riding at high speeds and managing hills. These bikes are not initially designed for off-road terrain and this is where the subclass of road bikes come into play.

In addition to the basic road bike there is the cyclocross bike, the hybrid road bike, the gravel/adventure road bike and the touring road bike. The road bike, whilst not always the most comfortable choice, is the faster way to commute on a paved road and often appeal to the competitive rider.

What is a Cyclocross Bike

cyclocross bike

A cyclocross bike is a more aggressive form of an everyday road bike that is purpose built for small gravels with wider tires than a road bike. Cyclocross racing does not take part on paved roads so these bikes are not meant for road racing even if they are considered a race bike. 

Pure cross bikes are built with a lighter frame as they are made for racing short distances; so every gram counts. In addition, these bikes also include a slacker head angle for stable handling and a higher bottom bracket to avoid contact with the ground, rocks and other obstacles. 

What is cyclocross? ‘Cyclocross races are sub hour events which take place on closed-off road circuits – these can contain grass, tracks, sand and obstacles such as low barriers, steps and steep banks – riders complete laps of the same course.’

Whilst it does appear that the cyclocross bike has things in common with other road or gravel bikes, a rider who rarely does short distance crosscycle racing would not have a large requirement for this type of bike as it is not suited for daily recreational riding.

If you do decide to go for a cyclocross bike, make sure you have the best equipment and check out our selection of mud tires and and our guidie about cycling shoes. We’ll explain you what to use in which condition and help you chose the optimal products.

What is a Hybrid Bike

A Hybrid Bike is often a mix of a road bike and a mountain bike but it is a little more committed to comfort thanks to its geometry. The flat bars on a hybrid bike make the riding position less strenuous and they also make it easier for you to reach the brakes. 

Riders often report feeling more confident when riding a hybrid bike, with wider tyres and easier to use gears. Hybrid’s are also lightweight and offer a variety of features that you can choose from depending on the terrain you plan on riding. Such features include the V-brakes, which are very common, more versatile gearing and even mudguards. You can purchase a hybrid bike with a suspension fork which can be useful in off-road terrain but offer minimal cushioning. 

Overall, a Hybrid Bike purchase is highly specific to the rider and the location where you intend on riding on a daily basis and whilst it has many interesting features it is not necessarily the master of any. So, you can expect a hybrid bike to be versatile but in comparison a road bike will essentially be faster and a gravel bike will handle better off road.

What is a Gravel Bike

gravel bike

A Gravel Bike typically has a wide clearance with endurance geometries which creates a comfortable ride that can be adapted to suit different riding styles. This allows the rider to explore freely off the pavement and out onto the gravel roads. 

Each gravel bike is designed to enhance the rider’s stability and face a constantly changing terrain. A hybrid bike could also handle gravel but is better suited for shorter distances. Whilst it is possible to travel off the tarmac with a mountain bike or cyclocross bike, a gravel bike has a little more robust power and is all round a more comfortable ride. 

A gravel bike can manage anything from farm roads, gravel crushed cobblestones, pavement and dirt and riders often select a gravel bike because of their versatility. You can ride a gravel bike as a commuter bike or use it as a training bike on various terrain throughout the year. 

In order for a bike to be classed as a gravel bike, it must have performance features such as wider tires, lower gear ratios, be weather resistant to mud and rain, and offer a rider sufficient durability. Gravel bikes are light-weight and have increased greatly in popularity in recent years and can be used to take you off the pavement for a fun day of riding off-road.

What is a Touring Bike

touring bike

A Touring Bike is a specialised design that is for anyone who needs a bike for long-distances that is both comfortable and is able to carry a heavy-load. The frame must be able to manage the daily demand and are made for comfort not speed.

A touring bike is made specifically for those who aim to ride for long-periods of time and travel with enough gear to survive their journey which has to be fitted to the frame. This means that touring bikes are not speed or performance focussed but have an emphasis on comfort and stability. They will feature racks and fenders to accommodate equipment and the bike will often be a heavier frame than other road bikes. 

Touring bikes can also come in a variety of sub-categories and includes: Long distance touring bike, Light touring bike. Trekking bike, Dual suspension touring bike, Long-tail cargo touring bike, Recumbent touring bike and the Folding touring bike. 

Knowing which touring bike is best depends on the location, terrain, distance and duration you intend on riding the bike. Some good starting questions are:

  • Do I want to ride fast or slow?
  • Will I carry ultra-light or a heavy load on the trip?
  • Is the trip on or off road?
  • Finally, is it a short or long distance expedition?

If you decide to go for a touring bike, make sure you have a look at our selection of bike-packing shoes to understand what type of shoes is best suited to your type of holidays.

Commonly Asked Questions

Can I race cyclocross on a gravel bike?

It is possible to use a gravel bike though it would need suitable adjustments to be used as an effective bike in cyclocross racing. A cyclocross race track is typically a combination of terrains but often always includes dirt, mud, sand, gravel and these modified bikes are generally customized for this purpose. 

If you plan on taking the sport seriously rather than just recreationally, a purpose built cyclocross is your best choice. Beginner riders can also check if their existing gravel or mountain bike is suitable until their need to progress to a cyclocross is required.

cyclocross vs gravel bike

Are cyclocross bikes good for road riding?

A cyclocross bike is suitable for the majority of road riding. Riders commonly note that the feel of the bike is different in the way it handles so a road bike is still the ideal choice if you aren’t racing in all terrain.

What is the difference between a cyclocross and a gravel road bike?

A gravel bike is not made for the demands of technical riding that cyclocross bikes are made for so they would require a different set up. Both of these bikes can manage leaving the smooth pavement but the gravel bike is better suited for this as it has been designed to clear the gravel with a longer wheelbase and increased stability.

Are gravel bikes good for touring?

It is possible to tour with a gravel bike because they are able to handle a variety of surfaces and can carry gear without much difficulty. Gravel bikes have an increased gear range and wider tyres so this means they are ideal for light touring. Depending on the set-up you have, gravel bikes are typically not encouraged for long touring. 

This does again depend on the surface you plan to ride on. Because a gravel bike is made with gravel or off-road terrain in mind, they differ from touring bikes that are designed with tarmac in mind. Long touring on tarmac would be better handled by a touring bike and not a gravel bike.

Can I ride my hybrid bike off road?

Depending on where you plan to ride your bike, you can take it off-road, but you might need to customise the hybrid you purchase to make sure it can handle the environment. Ideally, a hybrid is designed for a paved road but it can manage rain, mud and some gravel. 

The money you are willing to spend will also make a big difference in this case, more expensive models often come with additional features such as disk brakes instead of rim brakes and this makes riding in wet or muddy conditions safer.

Why should I buy a gravel bike?

A buyer would be inclined to purchase a gravel bike if they prefer to ride out off the pavement and smooth roads and onto the gravel or dirt trails. A gravel bike is a comfortable, sturdy and popular choice for recreational riders as they can go just about anywhere!

Are cyclocross bikes as fast as road bikes?

This depends on the rider and the conditions. However, by comparison the average speed of a cyclocross bike is typically 25 kms per hour though this is considered a rarely reached top speed. The average speed of a road bike is considerably faster by capability at 40 kms per hour.

If you’re after a bike that is fast on road, but tough enough for rough tracks, you need a cyclocross bike. If you want your commute to be fast and the roads in your area are in great condition, a road bike is for you.

Hybrid VS Gravel bicycles

What is the difference between a gravel bike and a hybrid bike?

A hybrid is suitable for street riding, dirt, gravel and is known for easy handling. There are a number of varieties in the hybrid but basically it is between a road and a mountain bike. If your commute is mainly on road but with some trail action; this is what you’re looking for.

A gravel bike is suitable for the same terrain though with a little more flexibility in that it can take you just about anywhere and is known as an adventure bike. They are slightly slower on paved roads because of the wider tyres and suspension, but will inspire confidence on unpaved roads.

Is a gravel bike faster than a hybrid?

Actually, it depends on a few factors. The main points are what tires you have on the hybrid, the comparative weight of the two bikes and your position. Typically, a road bike’s lower, more aerodynamic position will help you cut through the wind for faster speed on the flats and descents. Road bikes are also racing bikes so they are designed with speed in mind on paved roads.

Are gravel bikes as fast as road bikes?

Again, this is put down to small differences and the type of rider. The gravel bike, whilst fast, technically should not be as fast as a road bike. Road bikes are made for higher speeds with a slim aerodynamic frame in comparison to a gravel bike. If you consider yourself a road racer, a gravel bike probably won’t work for you as your primary bike. 

It has a disadvantage in the number of gears it has meaning it will be setting you back when it comes to speed. If you want a faster and lighter bike for the paved roads, a road bike is therefore a popular choice.

Are gravel bikes good on the road?

If speed is not your focus, a gravel bike can work well on the road and it is commonly considered a more comfortable ride. The difference in comfort usually comes from the tires, using them at a lower pressure means you will have better cushioning. 

This does depend on what tires you have fitted on your gravel bike as certain thicker or chunkier tires are suited specifically for gravel and will be considerably heavier and slower if riding consistently on asphalt.

Summarising The Key Differences

A road bike is best suited for paved or smooth asphalt roads, for commuters who ride their bike without a need for all-terrain conditions and for attaining higher speeds. A ride bike is not purpose built to handle rough roads, off-road or long-distance heavy touring.

A cyclocross bike is a special bike that riders can use to race short intense circuits and compete at a sporting level. The sport requires riders to use these bikes in a variety of terrain and are designed with this in mind. It is best suited for someone who intends to race more than a few times in a year and prefers a bike that will handle demand. 

A hybrid bike is best suited for someone who is looking for a combination of features from across a road, touring and mountain bike. Basically it still depends on the type of conditions you want to ride in and the purpose of your ride. Choose a hybrid over a road bike if you prefer wider tires, flat handlebars and the ability to ride in more difficult conditions such as the wet on a paved road. 

A gravel bike is best suited for an adventurous rider who rides mostly on gravel terrain and paved roads and enjoys the flexibility the bike can offer on these terrains. The gravel bike is more comfortable than a typical road bike but if you ride more on pavement it is a heavier and slightly slower ride. So, again it depends on the conditions. 

A touring bike is best suited for exactly that; touring. No matter what kind of expedition you are planning, thanks to popular demand, there is a large choice of touring bikes on the current market. You will need to have a good understanding of your travel plans so you can select the best suited touring bike for the destination and duration of the ride. 

Gravel bike vs Hybrid

A hybrid can ride on small gravel and can manage more versatile terrain then a road bike, however, if you are wanting to ride gravel then of course a purpose built gravel bike is what you are after. The wider tyres and variation in the handlebars make a gravel bike ideal for off-road tracks. 

Hybrids are made for exploring off the pavement but just remember that they are not made to be as durable as a mountain bike or handle tough terrain but are made to be flexible for the average recreational rider. The good thing about the hybrid is you can alter it and upgrade the bike to suit your changing preferences. 

Cyclocross vs Gravel

There are numerous differences between a cross bike and a gravel bike that are important to understand. For example, the gearing on a cross bike for riders needs to be narrower to tackle quick changes on the course. The geometry means the cross bikes need to be easy to handle especially in tight turns or over obstacles. 

The weight of the cyclocross is also lighter as they are made for short distances and not purposely designed for comfort like a gravel bike. The question of purchasing a cyclocross or a gravel bike depends on if you are planning to race cyclocross or simply want to go off-road on adventures. 

Cyclocross vs Road bike

These two bikes are proposed for opposing conditions, a cyclocross for off-road racing and a road bike for riding on smooth surfaces. The decision for which bike comes down to the riders terrain and specific requirements. 

Gravel vs Road bike

The key difference for anyone with a road bike who wants to ride gravel is in the tires. Many riders who are considering going off the tarmac will swap out their road bike tires for heavy duty wider 30mm tires and find that they can keep pace.

However, for anyone looking to ride gravel more often than not, a gravel bike will be more agile and stable on rough surfaces and handle better than your average road bike that is designed for the pavement. If you are a daily commuter on a bike path or asphalt road, then a road bike is the ideal choice. 

Gravel vs Adventure bike

A gravel bike and an adventure bike are actually the same product so they need not be compared to one another. A gravel bike is commonly considered a type of adventure bike as this is what they are made for, so riders have versatility and can get out off the bike path and have fun. A gravel, cyclocross and touring bike can all be considered adventure bikes as they are taken off the tarmac and away from traffic.

Final Thoughts

In summary, each bike is designed for a certain type of cycling, and each rider has a great range of options to choose from when purchasing a bike. As we have discussed in this article, a major consideration when choosing a bike is the terrain and the riding conditions you intend to spend the majority of your time in. 

A road bike is best suited for the smooth pavement, a gravel bike is adaptable for gravel roads and can handle a challenge, and a hybrid bike does a little bit of everything whilst cyclocross and touring bikes are especially designed for their intended purpose. The great news is, no matter where you want to go, there is a bike that can take you there!