Can I Use A Gravel Bike For Cyclocross?

Posted by Alder Martz on 16th Oct 2019

Can I Use A Gravel Bike For Cyclocross?

In short, yes. Absolutely.

And a cyclocross bike can easily tackle gravel events. It’s like using an aero TT bike with a straight block cassette to climb the Alps. Or an ultralight frame with a 12x34 cassette in a flat time trial. While the different set ups might not be optimized for the ride, there is nothing stopping you from enjoying it. Ok, that might be a slightly dramatized example, but similar to time trial bikes in a TT, a gravel-specific bike is going to tremendously improve your #groadexperience.

Some folks like to argue that gravel bikes are just glorified cross bikes. And while that might have been true a few years ago, gravel bikes have evolved enough, in a variety of ways, to warrant their own category.

#1 Tire Clearance

Professional cyclocross races limit tire size to a maximum of 33mm. Add a couple more millimeters for mud clearance and cyclocross frames tend to have enough tire clearance for a 35mm tire, a 38 if you’re lucky. Most of the time, that’s enough to survive a wide range of gravel conditions. Kanza has been raced on 38s. I have used 38s on local mountain bike trails. Gravel specific bikes normally allow room for 700x45. Popular tire widths range from 38 to 42mm since this seems to strike a happy medium between rolling resistance, traction, and confidence. The difference between a 38 and a 42, however, is the difference between gingerly picking your way over a rough section or smashing through it.

For the groadies that want even more volume, many gravel bikes can fit 650b wheels which mimics mountain bikes and diverts even further from traditional cyclocross.

#2 Differences in Geometry

Cyclocross frames are designed for racing and for no longer than an hour at a time. They are typically long and low, with shorter wheelbases and steeper head tube angles for nimble handling and quick turning in tight spaces. Geometry for gravel bikes couldn’t be more different. The longer wheelbases, slacker head tubes, and lower bottom brackets mimc mountain bikes and result in greater stability. Additionally, gravel bikes tend to have a shorter reach and higher stack where comfort over longer distances takes precedence.

#3 Accessory Mounts

Gravel bikes, especially those designed for long distances and bike packing, have got a lot of mounts. Especially when compared to cyclocross bikes that rarely sport a single bidon cage. Many gravel frames have upwards of 3 bottle cage mounts, another for a top tube bag, and eyelets for attaching panniers and bags. Fortunately, most frame and bar bags will fit both styles in case your frame isn’t equipped with these features.

#4 Wider Gears

While both disciplines have adopted 1x as a standard, cyclocross bikes rarely use the wide ranging AXS Eagle and Shimano XT cassettes that are prevalent in gravel. Sure, this is an easily fixable difference, unlike geometry and tire clearance. But it is something to keep in mind when using your cyclocross bike to climb an hour long, steep, gravel fire road with a 42x28. You might even find yourself dismounting, shouldering the bike, and running!

There’s something to be said for having the right tools for the right job. But at the end of the day, it’s more important that you don’t let your bike’s lack of features stop you from enjoying the simple act of going for a ride. N+1 will always exist but as modern bikes continue to evolve, they can do more and go more places. And that’s why we ride.