Gravel Bike VS Touring Bike – What Is The Difference?

Have you ever felt that sudden rush of excitement when you see two beautifully crafted bikes, one designed for soul-satisfying gravel adventures, and the other built for those glorious long-distance touring escapades?

You can just imagine the pure freedom and exhilaration you would experience as you ride through rugged trails or unrestricted open roads. But wait, don’t jump the gun!

It’s essential to understand the subtle yet crucial differences between a gravel bike and a touring bike, as they are not created equal.

In this post, we will delve into the world of these two fantastic two-wheeled machines, comparing their features, purpose, and performance to help you determine the ideal bike for your next journey – be it on grit or tarmac. So, sit tight and cycle with us as we navigate the ins and outs of gravel and touring bikes!

A young man rides a bicycle in the park with his hands up. Sportsman in helmet and suit. Place for text.

1. Different terrains

When it comes to choosing the right bike for tackling different terrains, the primary contenders typically are gravel bikes and touring bikes.

Both types of bikes offer unique features, advantages, and capabilities, making them suitable for specific terrains and riding purposes. This article aims to provide a comparison of gravel bikes and touring bikes, highlighting their suitability to various terrains based on their features and design.

Gravel bikes, as their name suggests, are designed specifically for managing gravel and off-road conditions. With their wider tire width, sturdy frame, and versatile geometry, these bikes can effortlessly handle rough terrains and unstable surfaces. The flared drop bars and ample tire clearance found in gravel bikes contribute to their ability to navigate muddy, rocky, and uneven trails with ease. Thanks to their lightweight construction, these bikes are also popular among riders who prefer fast-paced exploration and outdoor adventures without being restricted by a bulky, heavy bike.

In contrast, touring bikes excel in conquering long distances while carrying heavy loads, making them the ideal choice for extended trips and expeditions. With their durable steel frames, robust wheels, and flexible frame materials, touring bikes offer unparalleled strength and stability on paved roads. Though they can manage less challenging off-road terrains like gravel roads, their primary focus lies in providing comfort and efficiency for long-distance cycling. The relaxed geometry, longer wheelbase, and added cargo capabilities of touring bikes are specifically designed to meet the requirements of cyclists on extended journeys.

In conclusion, the choice between a gravel bike and a touring bike will depend on the type of terrain and purpose of your cycling adventures. While gravel bikes are more suitable for rugged off-road excursions, touring bikes are better equipped for comfortable long-distance riding on paved roads. Ultimately, knowing the differences in their design and features can help you make an informed decision on the best bike for your specific needs.

2. Gear range

When it comes to selecting the perfect bike for your riding needs, understanding the gear range differences between gravel bikes and touring bikes is crucial. Gear range refers to the various gear combinations that a bicycle offers, allowing riders to tackle different terrains and riding situations effectively.

In this discussion, we will delve into the gear range distinctions between these two popular bike types, helping you make an informed decision based on your riding preferences and requirements.

Gravel bikes are designed primarily for off-road adventures, with a focus on speed, agility, and handling rough terrains. Their gear ranges tend to be wider than those on touring bikes, allowing for easier climbing and faster descents.

The typical gravel bike may have a gear range between 19-32 inches in the lower end, while the upper range may go up to 100-120 inches. The availability of such a wide range of gears provides riders with the flexibility to tackle diverse terrains, from steep hills and technical descents to flats and rolling countryside.

On the other hand, touring bikes are engineered for long-distance rides, often with the added weight of cargo. Their gear ranges are typically tailored to provide stability, efficiency, and comfortable pedaling, even when fully loaded.

Touring bikes usually have a gear range between 18-24 inches on the lower end and 70-100 inches on the upper end. This narrower range ensures that riders can maintain a consistent and comfortable pedaling cadence, especially during extended trips.

In conclusion, the gear range is a crucial distinguishing factor between gravel bikes and touring bikes. Gravel bikes offer a wider range of gears for tackling varied terrains, while touring bikes provide a more focused range designed for long-distance comfort and efficiency. Ultimately, the choice between these two bike types depends on your specific riding preferences and the type of journey you wish to embark upon.

3. Physical characteristics

When comparing gravel bikes and touring bikes, it is essential to examine their physical characteristics to understand what sets them apart. These distinctive features ultimately impact their performance, versatility, and suitability for various types of terrain and long-distance rides.

Touring bikes are typically constructed with sturdy materials, such as steel or aluminum, resulting in a heavier but highly durable frame. Their geometry is more relaxed, with longer wheelbases and shallower angles, providing stability and efficiency for extended rides on paved surfaces.

Touring bikes come equipped with wider tires, more robust rims, and a higher number of spokes, ensuring durability and better handling when carrying significant loads. Additionally, these bikes feature mounting points for racks, fenders, and bags for easy gear storage during long journeys.

On the other hand, gravel bikes generally have lighter frames, often made from materials such as carbon fiber or titanium. Their geometry is more aggressive, with shorter wheelbases and steeper angles, making them more agile and suitable for off-road riding on unpaved surfaces.

Gravel bikes feature wider, high-traction tires that can handle various terrains, from dirt and gravel roads to muddy trails. They also come with mounting points for racks and fenders, albeit not as extensive as those found on touring bikes. The spokes and rims on gravel bikes are lighter and more streamlined compared to touring bikes, offering faster performance but with reduced load-carrying capacity.

In summary, while both gravel and touring bikes share some similarities, their physical characteristics make them suitable for different purposes. Touring bikes prioritize comfort, stability, and carrying capacity for long rides, whereas gravel bikes focus on agility and off-road capability.

4. Frame Material

When it comes to choosing between a gravel bike and a touring bike, one crucial aspect to consider is the material used in the construction of the frame. Both types of bikes feature different materials, which play a significant role in their performance, weight, and durability. Thus, understanding the materials used in these bikes can help you make a well-informed decision based on your specific needs and preferences.

In general, touring bikes are predominantly made from steel, which is known for its strength, durability, and excellent shock absorption capabilities. Steel frames can withstand heavy loads and provide a comfortable ride during long journeys. Although heavier than other materials, steel is widely preferred by adventure cyclists who prioritize toughness and reliability over lighter weight.

On the other hand, gravel bikes can be found in various materials, including steel, carbon, aluminum, and even titanium. Each material offers its own set of advantages and unique characteristics that contribute to the overall performance and feel of the bike. Carbon and aluminum frames are lighter than steel, making them well-suited for cyclists who value speed and agility. Titanium offers a combination of lightweight and durability, providing a more balanced and resilient option.

It’s important to note that touring bikes can also be made from materials like aluminum, carbon, and titanium, but these are less common compared to steel frames.

When deciding between a gravel bike and a touring bike, consider the material that best aligns with your preferences, as it will greatly impact your overall riding experience. Ultimately, the choice depends on your intended use, desired level of comfort, and personal preferences.

touring bicycle at dusk with headlight on in late fall or winter scenery in northern Colorado – a gravel trail in Riverbend Ponds Natural Area in Fort Collins

5. Handlebars

When it comes to handlebars, both gravel and touring bikes have distinctive features that set them apart, catering to the specific needs of the riders. In this section, we will delve into the differences between the handlebars of gravel and touring bikes to help you make an informed decision on which bike is the best fit for your cycling requirements.

Gravel bikes are typically furnished with flared drop bars, which offer a wider range of hand positions and better control, especially when navigating uneven terrain. The flared design allows for a more relaxed riding posture, with a 6 to 20°+ flare in the drops, enabling increased stability and comfort on bumpy surfaces. Additionally, some gravel bikes sport flat handlebars for riders who prefer a more upright position with less hand fatigue during long rides.

On the other hand, touring bikes may feature either classic drop bars or flat bars, depending on the rider’s preferred hand positioning and the terrain to be covered. Drop bars on touring bikes are narrower than those on gravel bikes, providing less hand placement variety but better aerodynamics for long-distance riders.

Flat handlebars on touring bikes cater to riders who prioritize riding comfort over aerodynamics or speed, offering a more upright posture that reduces strain on the hands and wrists during extended journeys.

In conclusion, when considering handlebars, it’s essential to factor in the type of terrain and distances you will be traversing on your bike. Gravel bike handlebars are designed to optimize comfort and control on rugged surfaces, while touring bike handlebars focus on providing a balance between comfort and efficiency for long-distance expeditions.

6. Mounts

When it comes to mounting options on gravel bikes and touring bikes, there is a significant difference that could impact your choice of the two types of bikes.

Understanding the mounting provisions on each bike will help you determine which one suits your biking needs and preferences for different terrains and journeys.

Touring bikes are typically designed for long distance travel and adventures. They come with ample provisions for mounting front and rear racks, fenders, and multiple water bottle cages. These additional mounts make it easier for touring cyclists to carry all their gear and essentials, ensuring a comfortable and convenient ride.

Furthermore, many touring bikes come with braze-ons built into the frame to facilitate attaching extra accessories like lights or additional luggage.

On the other hand, gravel bikes’ mounting provisions can be hit or miss. Some models come with plenty of rack and fender mounts, even top tube mounts for integrated bags. However, there are some gravel bikes that offer limited or no mounting provisions at all. Keep in mind it is rare to find gravel bikes for sale with racks already installed. As a result, cyclists planning to use their gravel bike for touring may need to invest in additional mounting equipment or choose a suitable model with ample provisions.

In conclusion, if mounting options are crucial to your cycling adventures, a touring bike will likely meet your requirements. However, if you prefer a lightweight ride for exploring various terrains, a gravel bike could suit your needs, provided you choose a model with the necessary mounting provisions that you require.

7. Tire width

When it comes to off-road cycling, choosing the right bike for your needs is crucial, and one of the key factors to consider is tire width. Both gravel bikes and touring bikes are ideal for adventures, but they differ in various aspects, including tire width. In this article, we’ll explore the tire width differences between gravel and touring bikes to better understand their suitability for specific cyclists and terrains.

Gravel bikes are designed for riding on a variety of road surfaces, including gravel, dirt, and rough roads. As such, they typically come with wider tires, ranging from 38c to 60mm (2.3 inches). This large tire volume provides additional traction, grip, and a smoother ride, making them ideal for handling wet, gravel-filled, or uneven terrains.

On the other hand, touring bikes’ tires usually have a width range between 28c to 45c. These narrower tires are efficient for long-distance rides on paved or mild off-road terrains. The slim profile and higher pressure capability of touring bike tires make them suitable for carrying heavy loads and offering a faster ride on smooth surfaces.

In terms of tire compatibility, both gravel and touring bikes can support 700c and 650b wheel sizes. While gravel bikes often come with tubeless-ready options for enhanced puncture resistance and ride comfort, touring bikes may also offer tubeless tires, especially in newer models.

In conclusion, the choice between gravel or touring bikes largely depends on the cyclist’s preferred terrain and riding style. Those looking to explore diverse off-road conditions with greater traction and handling capabilities should opt for a gravel bike with wider tires. Conversely, touring bikes are better suited for long-distance trips on smoother roads, offering efficient performance with their narrower tires. Always consider tire width when selecting your ideal bike, as it plays a crucial role in shaping your cycling experience. 

8. Weight

When it comes to weight, gravel bikes and touring bikes differ significantly, as they are designed for diverse riding conditions and purposes. In this regard, understanding the weight difference between these two bike categories is crucial in determining which one suits your cycling needs best.

Gravel bikes are generally lighter than touring bikes, making them more appealing to riders who prioritize agility and speed in their cycling adventures. The average weight of a gravel bike ranges from 20 to 25 pounds, depending on the bike’s frame material, components, and build. This lighter weight is a result of using materials such as carbon fiber, titanium, or aluminum, which offer strength while keeping the overall weight down. As a consequence, gravel bikes are ideal for those who want a more nimble and responsive ride on off-road terrains and unpaved surfaces.

On the other hand, touring bikes are designed with long-distance, on-road cycling in mind, which necessitates a sturdier and more robust construction. As such, they are typically heavier than gravel bikes, with an average weight of 25 to 35 pounds. This increased weight is primarily due to the use of more robust frame materials, such as steel, and additional features like racks and fenders, which are designed to support and protect the bike during extended journeys. The higher weight of touring bikes contributes to their stability, making them well-suited for riders who plan to carry a significant amount of gear during their trips.

In conclusion, the weight difference between gravel bikes and touring bikes is an essential factor to consider when choosing the right bike for your cycling needs. Lighter gravel bikes offer increased agility and responsiveness on off-road terrain, while heavier touring bikes provide long-distance stability and durability for on-road adventures. Ultimately, understanding these fundamental differences will help you make a more informed decision in selecting the perfect bike for your cycling requirements.

9. Spoke count

Spoke Count: Strengthen Your Ride with the Right Wheels

One of the significant differences between gravel bikes and touring bikes that often goes unnoticed is the spoke count on the wheelset. The number of spokes on a wheel plays a crucial role in determining the overall strength, durability, and weight of the wheel. More spokes mean a stronger wheel, whereas fewer spokes make the wheel lighter albeit less robust. Let’s dive into the world of gravel bikes and touring bikes to explore how the spoke count varies between these two types and how it impacts your cycling experience.

Touring Bikes: Built for Strength and Stability

Touring bikes are made to carry heavy loads across long distances and often on rough terrain, necessitating a more substantial and stable wheelset. Therefore, touring bikes usually have a higher spoke count, sometimes ranging from 32 to 36 spokes. This added strength not only helps in supporting the extra weight of your gear but also provides durability for long rides on diverse surfaces. You can rely on touring bikes for heavyweight adventures and enduring quality, thanks to the higher spoke count.

Gravel Bikes: Light and Fast for Off-Road Adventures

On the other hand, gravel bikes prioritize lightweight construction and agility to enhance off-road performance. Consequently, they tend to have a lower spoke count, typically between 24 to 32 spokes. The reduced number of spokes makes the wheels lighter, resulting in faster speeds and easier maneuverability. While gravel bikes may not be as robust as touring bikes, their spoke count is still sufficient to withstand off-road and mixed-terrain riding without compromising on speed and agility.

In conclusion, the difference in spoke count between touring bikes and gravel bikes highlights their respective intended uses. Touring bikes focus on strength and durability for long journeys with heavy loads, while gravel bikes prioritize speed and agility for superior off-road performance. When selecting a bike, it is essential to consider the type of adventures you plan to embark on and choose a bike with a spoke count that aligns with your needs.

10. Drivetrain

When comparing gravel bikes and touring bikes, one of the most significant differences lies in their drivetrains. Comprised of all the components that transmit power from the rider’s legs to the bicycle’s wheels, the drivetrain is an integral part of a bike’s overall performance. In this section, we discuss the key differences between the drivetrains commonly found on these two types of bikes, focusing on their impact on performance and riding experience.

Gravel bikes generally feature a more compact and simplified drivetrain compared to touring bikes. They often come equipped with 1x or 2x drivetrain setups, which means they have either a single or double chainring in the front, paired with a wide range cassette in the back. This simplification results in reduced weight and easier maintenance but may somewhat limit the bike’s gear range. The gear selection for gravel bikes is typically well-suited for off-road terrain, providing adequate low-end gears for climbing, while still offering a reasonable top-end gear for higher speeds on flatter terrain.

Touring bikes, on the other hand, usually come with a 3x drivetrain setup, allowing for a wider gear range compared to gravel bikes. This more extensive gear selection is designed to accommodate the heavier loads that touring bikes often carry, making it easier to climb steep grades while also allowing for higher top-end speeds on flatter terrain. In addition, touring bike drivetrains are generally built with sturdier, more robust components to withstand the rigors of long-distance touring.

In summary, gravel bike drivetrains are generally more simplified and lightweight, making them ideal for agile off-road riding experiences, while touring bikes feature wider gear ranges and more robust construction, catered toward supporting heavier loads and providing versatile performance over long distances. Ultimately, a thorough understanding of the key differences between these two types of bikes’ drivetrains is essential when choosing the right bike to meet your specific cycling needs and preferences. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top