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Cyclocross is an exciting sport that anyone can get into, but chances are you don’t have a cyclocross bike at home. So can you use a gravel bike for cyclocross?
Though not yet quite as famous as road bicycle racing, cyclocross has become increasingly popular over the years. Its mix of varying terrains and the inclusion of obstacles make cyclocross one of the most diverse and interesting forms of bicycle racing, but you probably don’t want to go out and spend a bunch of money on a new bike just to try it once.
So, can you use a gravel bicycle for cyclocross? Though cyclocross bikes are the superior option, you can easily use a gravel bike for cyclocross if you want to. However, if you will be riding on cyclocross courses a lot, you'll be better off investing in a cyclocross bike.
So if you can use a gravel bike for cyclocross, is there really any point in buying a cyclocross bike as well? Absolutely, it is. By nature, cyclocross bikes need to be optimized to deal with all of the different types of terrain and obstacles that the course throws at them so, though they are quite similar to each other, there are some key differences that differentiate the two.
Though I prefer road and gravel biking to cyclocross, I’ve spent a lot of time repairing and maintaining all different kinds of bikes. Despite the fact that you can use a gravel bike for cyclocross, in my opinion, it is definitely a much better idea to use a cyclocross bike.
Cyclocross Vs. Gravel Bikes: Different By Design
To better understand some of the key differences between gravel and cyclocross bikes it helps to understand a bit more about what exactly these two types of bikes are designed to do. So why are these bikes different in the first place?
Cyclocross is a type of bicycle racing made up of many short laps around a cyclocross course, with the most races lasting between 40 minutes and an hour. The courses include all sorts of different kinds of terrain like pavement, grass, gravel, mud, and sand and there are lots of steep hills and obstacles that force the cyclist to either bunny-hop over or dismount their bike in order to get past. Because of this variety of terrains and the fact that the bike must be carried at certain points in the race, cyclocross bikes are optimized to be light and able to go fast in all sorts of different environments.
Gravel bikes, on the other hand, are designed for all-day riding. There is no necessity that it must be extremely light and fast on every surface. All the gravel bike is designed to do is be able to ride comfortably on mixed terrains, like gravel and pavement. Though small, these differences in design philosophy allow these two types of bikes to be the perfect machines to handle exactly what they're built for.
What Are The Differences Between Cyclocross And Gravel Bikes?
As mentioned above, these two different types of bikes are designed to be the best machines for handling their respective cycling disciplines. These are the biggest ways that cyclocross and gravel bikes are different.
Shape And Weight
The biggest difference between cyclocross and gravel bikes is their shape and weight. Because cyclocross courses include obstacles where you either need to dismount your bike or bunny-hop over, cyclocross bikes are usually a lot lighter and have a much higher bottom bracket than gravel bikes do.
Cyclocross bikes also normally have shorter chainstays and a lower stack height. This is really important for cyclocross racing as this allows the bike to have much more agile handling and the rider to have a much more aggressive riding position. Cyclocross courses include lots of really tight turns that require quick breaking, followed by swift and immediate acceleration. These differences in shape go a long way to improving a cyclist’s ability to handle this.
Gravel bikes, with their longer chainstays, lower bottom bracket, and higher stack height make the bikes much more comfortable and stable in the long term. Gravel bikes are designed to travel at high speeds for extended periods of time and have no need to handle quick and aggressive turns, so they are much better at comfortably handling flat and straight mixed terrain at sustained speeds.
Wheel And Tire Size
Going along with the differences in shape, the wheel and especially the tire size can differ as well. It is standard that all cyclocross bikes have 700c wheels. This size of wheel is actually the norm for most road and gravel bikes, however, you may find some gravel bikes that have 650c wheels. This isn’t a huge difference but it is something to be aware of if you want to participate in any races as you will need a bike with 700c wheels to enter.
The bigger difference is most commonly seen in the tires. In most parts of the world, the upper limit on the tire size for cyclocross is 33mm, so most cyclocross bikes will not be able to accommodate anything bigger than that.
Gravel bikes, on the other hand, tend to be compatible with a lot of different tire sizes, especially in the case of gravel bikes that can accommodate both 700c and 650c wheels. Bottom line, if you want to beef up the tires on your cyclocross bike, you most likely won’t be able to, whereas, gravel bikes can be fitted with a variety of different tires.
Another common difference between cyclocross and gravel bikes is gearing. As mentioned before, cyclocross races are short and incredibly intense. Because of this, there is really no need for the bike to have a wide range of gears.
Gravel bikes, being designed to go much farther over a longer period of time, tend to have a much wider variety of gears to choose from so that you can tackle any incline you come across without being too exhausted at the end.
As you’ve seen, the different demands of cyclocross and gravel biking are the reasons behind more of the differences between these two types of bikes. This has a big effect on how comfortable it is to ride each bike.
Cyclocross bikes are built with a much stiffer chassis to handle the tight turns and maximize the amount of power you can apply to the pedals, while gravel bikes are meant to be comfortable for long rides. Their design allows them to dull the effects of bumps and vibrations allowing you to ride for a much longer amount of time without getting too beat up.
Being that the main differences between these bikes have to do with the length and intensity with which they are supposed to be ridden, storage is something that is drastically affected as well.
Again you now know that cyclocross races are short and that gravel bikes are designed with all-day biking trips in mind. Knowing this, it's not very surprising that cyclocross bikes usually lack all of the storage options that gravel bikes include. While a gravel bike usually has the ability to store water snacks and the occasional flat tire repair kit, cyclocross bikes leave all of this out in the name of decreased weight and increased speed.