Here we delve into all-road bike vs gravel bike: what all-terrain really means, what the advent of all-road bikes means for gravel road bikes, and how it differs from what came before.
What is an all-road bike?
For some, the all-road bike is an extension of the endurance road bike category: the comfortable wide tire design allows the bike to go from tarmac to hard surfaces and light gravel paths, or more specifically, all “road” types.
For others, the all-road bike is a subcategory of gravel, tending towards a lighter, faster, smoother ride, rather than more technically demanding or steeper technical terrain.
Functionally, it may overlap with a gravel road bike.
Overall, the all-road bike is a drop bar bike that is fast on any type of surface, from smooth asphalt all the way to light gravel.
They are more capable and comfortable on rough surfaces than your normal road race bikes. This is due to their wider tires and a more relaxed upright riding position.
Currently, only a relatively small number of bike stores will sell all-road bikes, but that’s changing.
What is a gravel bike?
Gravel road bike are specific types of bikes, and it’s not a mountain bike, although the models are similar.
It has a range of tires typically between 35 and 40 mm, allowing access to forest trails or dirt roads.
All-road bike vs gravel bike: what's the difference?
All-road bike vs gravel bike: tires and clearance
All-road bike vs gravel bike: They both have toothed outer tires for riding on rougher roads and trails, and good tires tend to be wider and match frame clearance.
All-road bike tires typically range in size from 28mm to 38mm, while gravel tires tend to be between 35mm and 40mm, with wider sizes up to 57mm.
The Teravail tire brand offers two “all-road” compounds: the nearly smooth Rampart and the smooth centre and shoulder Teravail Washburn, which the brand claims “can fit everything from paved roads to gravel roads.”
In terms of width, all-road bike tires are more likely to be in the 28mm to 38mm range.
All-terrain road tires, represented by the WTB Byway semi-gloss exterior tires, are designed to have similar characteristics.
Since you are more likely to find a wider range of terrain types through gravel or “adventure” riding, such as wet and muddy roads, slick routes.
The selection of tires available for gravel riding is therefore significantly more diverse than for all-road bikes.
Whether you ‘re riding a gravel road bike or an all-road bike, vacuum tires can improve comfort and grip during the ride through lower tire pressure, while also helping to better avoid the inconvenience of riding with a flat tire.
All-road bike vs gravel bike: wheel size
All-road bike vs gravel bike: All-road 700c wheels are more common than 650b wheelsets.
Most all-road bikes have a 700c wheel size to accommodate larger tires, so reducing the wheel size to 650b is not as popular as it is with gravel road bikes.
However, it’s easy to find 650b wheel diameters in smaller frame sizes, as this is more helpful in maintaining proper frame geometry.
All-road bike vs gravel bike: geometry angles
All-road bike vs gravel bike: The frame geometry of all-road bikes tends to fall somewhere between road bikes and gravel bikes.
While you would expect the frame geometry of an all-road bike to be more comfortable than most road bikes, in reality, the frame geometry of an all-road bike is usually not very similar to most gravel bikes.
The Salsa warroad frame, for example, has a head tube angle of 71 degrees on a 56cm frame, compared to 70.75 degrees on a gravel frame warbird.
There is an even greater difference in wheelbase, with Warroad reducing the wheelbase by 18mm.
Since most gravel bikes are designed with both paved surfaces and off-road in mind, the differences between geometric angles here are actually not as pronounced as you might expect.
All-road bike vs gravel bike: transmission gear ratios and brakes
All-road bikes are, unsurprisingly, the 2x system you’re more likely to see.
While manufacturers will design both 1x vs. 2 drive-trains for gravel riding.
Most all-road bikes use a 2x drive-train to provide the widest choice of gear ratios and are more like a road bike setup in terms of transmission compared to gravel bikes.
All-road bikes are less likely to be ridden in muddy conditions than gravel rides, and you’re less likely to have trouble clogging the front derailleur chain-stays.
The 1x drive-train is cleaner, but there can be more jumps between gears.
That said, as 1x drive-trains become more common and offer extra gear toward the 12-speed shift, some bikes, like BMC Roadmachine X, stick with 1x gear shifting systems.
Disc brakes, favored for their reliable performance in all conditions and good brake modulation, are an almost unanimous choice in this category.
All-road bike vs gravel bike: lifting seat-posts and expansion features
All-road bike vs gravel bike: More gravel bikes are fitted with a lift seat tube, but you’re unlikely to see it on all-road bikes.
Since all-road riding tends to lean towards the faster side of gravel riding, you can ride on trails, but at the same time you won’t find a lift seat tube here.
For all-road bikes with bike bag mounts, you may find more mounts than usual on road bikes, such as on the outside of the fork, under the down tube or on the top tube, which allows you to carry more extra gear for long or multi-day rides.
All-road bike vs gravel bike: which one?
Where do you want to ride? All-road bike vs gravel bike: if you want to choose between an all-road bike and a gravel road bike, take a moment to consider which ride you need more.
If you’d rather try riding dirt or gravel roads for a short time, then an all-road bike might just be the ticket.
Or consider an endurance road bike with a 30mm+ width outer tire and vacuum tires.
From sidewalks to dirt roads, all-road bikes can be a real enabler of a more adventurous riding style, but gravel road bikes are better suited for your off-beaten-path adventures.
However, if you’re after something more practical, with more durable tires, 40mm widths and up, and plan to head to more technical and off-road tracks, then a gravel road bike may be a better idea.
Keep in mind that you can radically change the feel of your bike by switching tires: a narrower and smoother ride will be completely different from a wider and chunkier outer tire, and gravel will be able to fit both.