HomeBuying GuideBikesCX​ ​Or​ ​Gravel​ ​Bike:​ ​Which​ ​Is​ ​Best ​For ​You?

CX​ ​Or​ ​Gravel​ ​Bike:​ ​Which​ ​Is​ ​Best ​For ​You?

Cyclocross​ ​and​ ​gravel​ ​bikes​ ​are​ ​similar,​ ​yet​ ​different.​ ​Both​ ​are​ ​versatile,​ ​tough,​ ​and​ ​fun​ ​with​ ​drop  handlebars​ ​that​ ​look​ ​at​ ​first​ ​glance​ ​like​ ​a​ ​road​ ​bike​ ​with​ ​knobbly​ ​tyres.​ ​Both​ ​can​ ​be​ ​used​ ​for​ ​many​ ​kinds​ ​of  riding,​ ​but​ ​each​ ​is​ ​borne​ ​from​ ​its​ ​own​ ​discipline​ ​so​ ​have​ ​different​ ​strengths​ ​and​ ​characteristics.​ ​Here’s​ ​the Hargroves​ ​Cycles​ ​guide​ ​to​ ​choosing​ ​which​ ​is​ ​best​ ​for​ ​you… 

Cyclocross​ ​(CX)​ ​is​ ​a​ ​fast-paced​ ​off-road​ ​racing​ ​on​ ​dirt,​ ​grit​,​ ​mud​ ​​and​ ​grass​ ​(and​ ​tarmac!)​ ​with​ ​obstacles  including​ ​sandpits,​ ​low​ ​barriers​ ​and​ ​steep​ ​muddy​ ​ramps.​ ​CX​ ​bikes​ ​are​ ​designed​ ​for​ ​speedy,​ ​stable  handling​ ​on​ ​these​ ​tricky,​ ​multiple​ ​surfaces.​ ​Gravel​ ​originates​ ​from​ ​a​ ​world​ ​of​ ​adventures​ ​and​ ​exploration  over​ ​America’s​ ​unfinished​ ​roads,​ ​with​ ​gravel​ ​being​ ​the​ ​defining,​ ​but​ ​not​ ​only,​ ​surface.​ ​Gravel​ ​bikes​ ​are  tough,​ ​sturdy​ ​machines​ ​with​ ​day-long​ ​comfortable​ ​geometry​ ​and​ ​luggage​ ​capability.   

The​ ​first​ ​feature​ ​to​ ​consider​ ​is​ ​the​ ​frame.​ ​CX​ ​racing​ ​bikes​ ​have​ ​lightweight​ ​frames,​ ​usually​ ​with​ ​internal  cable​ ​routing​ ​and​ ​a​ ​gently​ ​curved​ ​or​ ​flat​ ​toptube​ ​so​ ​that​ ​you​ ​can​ ​comfortably​ ​‘shoulder’​ ​it​ ​(carrying​ ​it​ ​on  your​ ​shoulder​ ​over​ ​obstacles)​ ​without​ ​interfering​ ​with​ ​any​ ​exposed​ ​control​ ​cables​ ​and​ ​their​ ​lugs.​ ​The  geometry​ ​of​ ​the​ ​frame​ ​differs.​ ​While​ ​CX​ ​bikes​ ​will​ ​have​ ​lower​ ​top​ ​tubes​ ​for​ ​a​ ​racier​ ​position​ ​and​ ​a​ ​steeper  headtube​ ​angle​ ​for​ ​more​ ​agile​ ​handling,​ ​gravel​ ​bikes​ ​usually​ ​have​ ​a​ ​taller,​ ​more​ ​relaxed​ ​geometry​ ​for  greater​ ​comfort.​ ​’Cross​ ​bikes’​ ​chainstays​ ​are​ ​usually​ ​short,​ ​keeping​ ​the​ ​rear​ ​wheel​ ​under​ ​your​ ​centre​ ​of  gravity​ ​for​ ​added​ ​traction​ ​on​ ​steep​ ​inclines.​ ​Gravel​ ​bikes​ ​often​ ​have​ ​longer​ ​chainstays,​ ​helping​ ​both​ ​with  stability​ ​in​ ​the​ ​rough​ ​and​ ​with​ ​heel​ ​clearance​ ​when​ ​using​ ​panniers.

Few​ ​CX​ ​frames​ ​have​ ​eyelets​ ​to​ ​mount​ ​mudguards​ ​or​ ​panniers​ ​–​ ​not​ ​needed​ ​on​ ​race​ ​bikes​ ​–​ ​but​ ​on​ ​gravel  bikes​ ​they’re​ ​essential:​ ​“fenders”​ ​and​ ​luggage-handling​ ​capacity​ ​are​ ​key​ ​to​ ​their​ ​versatility.​ ​For​ ​this​ ​reason,  you’re​ ​more​ ​likely​ ​to​ ​see​ ​gravel​ ​bikes​ ​constructed​ ​from​ ​steel,​ ​occasionally​ ​titanium​ ​or​ ​more​ ​often  aluminium,​ ​while​ ​in​ ​’cross​ ​your​ ​choice​ ​is​ ​increasingly​ ​between​ ​aluminium​ ​and​ ​carbon. 

Both​ ​gravel​ ​and​ ​CX​ ​bikes​ ​need​ ​wider​ ​tyres​ ​with​ ​a​ ​deeper​ ​tread​ ​than​ ​their​ ​road​ ​bike​ ​cousins​ ​for​ ​off-road  traction.​ ​Expect​ ​33mm​ ​for​ ​CX​ ​racers,​ ​while​ ​gravel​ ​goes​ ​up​ ​to​ ​around​ ​45mm.​ ​Tubeless​ ​setups​ ​are​ ​now  popular​ ​within​ ​both​ ​disciplines,​ ​running​ ​much​ ​lower​ ​–​ ​and​ ​therefore​ ​grippier​ ​–​ ​pressures​ ​without​ ​the danger​ ​of​ ​pinch​ ​punctures,​ ​so​ ​look​ ​out​ ​for​ ​a​ ​bike​ ​with​ ​a​ ​tubeless​ ​compatible​ ​wheelset. 

Gearing​ ​choices​ ​also​ ​differ​ ​slightly.​ ​CX​ ​bikes​ ​might​ ​run​ ​a​ ​‘compact’​ ​46/36-tooth​ ​chainring​ ​with​ ​an  11-28-tooth​ ​cassette​ ​for​ ​powering​ ​round​ ​a​ ​CX​ ​circuit.​ ​Low-weight​ ​simple,​ ​single-chainring​ ​(1x)​ ​options​ ​are  also​ ​becoming​ ​available.​ ​Gravel​ ​bikes​ ​vary​ ​in​ ​their​ ​ratios,​ ​being​ ​designed​ ​to​ ​thrive​ ​on​ ​the​ ​tarmac​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as  the​ ​trails,​ ​and​ ​may​ ​feature​ ​a​ ​50-34​ ​‘standard’​ ​chainset​ ​for​ ​the​ ​extra​ ​top-speed​ ​range.​ ​See​ ​our​ ​‘Drivetrains  and​ ​Groupsets”​ ​feature​ ​for​ ​more​ ​info.​ ​

Disc​ ​brakes​ ​are​ ​now​ ​standard​ ​across​ ​gravel​ ​and​ ​CX.​ ​They’re​ ​more​ ​effective​ ​than​ ​rim-brakes,​ ​especially​ ​in  the​ ​wet,​ ​and​ ​provide​ ​the​ ​all-important​ ​clearance​ ​needed​ ​for​ ​those​ ​wider​ ​tyres.​ ​Hydraulic​ ​systems​ ​are​ ​the  most​ ​effective,​ ​but​ ​there​ ​are​ ​many​ ​mechanical​ ​setups​ ​available​ ​that​ ​provide​ ​great​ ​performance​ ​at​ ​more  affordable​ ​prices.

Cannondale’s​ ​CAADX​ ​Tiagra​ ​2018​,​ ​£999,​ ​is​ ​a​ ​​fantastic​ ​first​ ​CX​ ​bike​.​ ​Its​ ​CAAD​ ​(Cannondale  Advanced​ ​Aluminium​ ​Design)​ ​frame​ ​has​ ​CX​ ​racer​ ​geometry,​ ​with​ ​steep​ ​headtube​ ​angles​ ​for​ ​pinpoint  cornering​ ​and​ ​short​ ​chainstays​ ​for​ ​climbing.​ ​The​ ​Shimano​ ​Tiagra​ ​groupset’s​ ​slick-shifting​ ​11-32​ ​cassette,  paired​ ​with​ ​46/36-tooth​ ​chainrings,​ ​provide​ ​a​ ​perfect​ ​selection​ ​of​ ​gears​ ​for​ ​the​ ​circuit.  

The​ ​package​ ​is​ ​rounded​ ​out​ ​with​ ​reliable​ ​Promax​ ​disc​ ​brakes​ ​and​ ​a​ ​durable​ ​CX​ ​3.0​ ​wheelset,​ ​clad​ ​with  Schwalbe’s​ ​popular​ ​35mm​ ​Rapid​ ​Robs.​ ​Also​ ​included​ ​are​ ​some​ ​subtle​ ​mounts​ ​so​ ​you​ ​can​ ​easily​ ​turn​ ​your  weekend​ ​racer​ ​into​ ​a​ ​weekday​ ​commuter.  

The​ ​Specialized​ ​Diverge​ ​Comp​ ​E5, ​£1,500,​ ​is​ ​a​ ​great​ ​gravel​ ​starter.​ ​The​ ​aluminium​ ​frame  features​ ​Specialized’s​ ​Open​ ​Road​ ​geometry​ ​–​ ​designed​ ​for​ ​comfort​ ​over​ ​all​ ​kinds​ ​of​ ​terrain​ ​–​ ​and​ ​the  Future​ ​Shock​ ​Suspension​ ​unit,​ ​which​ ​accommodates​ ​up​ ​to​ ​20mm​ ​of​ ​travel​ ​within​ ​the​ ​headset,​ ​soaking​ ​up  both​ ​trail​ ​bumps​ ​and​ ​road​ ​buzz.​ ​Up​ ​front​ ​is​ ​a​ ​carbon​ ​fork,​ ​your​ ​friend​ ​on​ ​grit​ ​and​ ​tarmac​ ​sections​ ​alike.

Shimano’s​ ​excellent​ ​105​ ​groupset​ ​combines​ ​48/32-tooth​ ​chainrings​ ​with​ ​an​ ​11-32​ ​cassette​ ​to​ ​have​ ​you  eating​ ​up​ ​even​ ​the​ ​toughest​ ​of​ ​gradients​ ​with​ ​ease,​ ​while​ ​the​ ​Tektro​ ​Spyre​ ​disc​ ​brakes​ ​provide​ ​reliable  stopping​ ​power​ ​on​ ​the​ ​descents. 

While​ ​the​ ​Diverge​ ​Comp​ ​E5​ ​is​ ​supplied​ ​with​ ​30mm​ ​tyres,​ ​it​ ​will​ ​comfortably​ ​fit​ ​up​ ​38mm​ ​to​ ​hit​ ​some​ ​really  rugged​ ​terrain.​ ​With​ ​eyelets​ ​for​ ​racks,​ ​fenders,​ ​and​ ​three​ ​water​ ​bottle​ ​mounts,​ ​it’s​ ​also​ ​equipped​ ​​as​​ ​a  lightweight​ ​tourer​ ​​or​ ​for​​ ​bike-packing​ ​adventures. 

A​ ​bike​ ​to​ ​bridge​ ​gravel​ ​and​ ​CX​ ​is​ the ​Ridley’s​ ​X-Bow​ ​105​ ​Mix​ ​Disc​ ​. ​​The​ ​alloy​ ​frame  and​ ​‘Zornyc’​ ​carbon-bladed​ ​fork​ ​with​ ​alloy​ ​steerer​ ​are​ ​light​ ​yet​ ​robust​ ​and​ ​stay​ ​stiff​ ​even​ ​when​ ​under​ ​a​ ​lot  of​ ​stress.​ ​They​ ​also​ ​feature​ ​those​ ​all​ ​important​ ​mounts​ ​so​ ​that​ ​you​ ​can​ ​transform​ ​it​ ​from​ ​a​ ​weekend​ ​CX  racer​ ​into​ ​a​ ​lightweight​ ​tourer​ ​or​ ​commuter.

This​ ​X-Bow​ ​boasts​ ​Shimano​ ​105​ ​componentry,​ ​helping​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​the​ ​weight​ ​down​ ​to​ ​10.3kg​ ​(for​ ​a​ ​Medium),  and​ ​the​ ​22-speed​ ​combination​ ​of​ ​a​ ​46/36​ ​chainring​ ​with​ ​11-28​ ​cassette​ ​will​ ​help​ ​you​ ​make​ ​light​ ​work​ ​of​ ​the  muddy​ ​ramps​ ​of​ ​a​ ​CX​ ​circuit.​ ​The​ ​TRP​ ​Spyre​ ​mechanical​ ​discs​ ​brakes​ ​ar​e​ ​a​ ​re​ally​ ​good​ ​addition​ ​at​ ​this  price,​ ​providing​ ​reliable​ ​braking​ ​in​ ​any​ ​conditions.​ ​4ZA​ ​cockpit​ ​and​ ​saddle,​ ​and​ ​robust​ ​Fulcrum​ ​Racing  Sport​ ​DB​ ​wheels​ ​shod​ ​in​ ​33mm-wide​ ​tyres​ ​are​ ​neat​ ​kit​ ​for​ ​this​ ​money,​ ​and​ ​help​ ​to​ ​round​ ​out​ ​a​ ​highly  versatile,​ ​dependable​ ​machine.

Think​ ​about​ ​what​ ​style​ ​of​ ​riding​ ​you’re​ ​going​ ​to​ ​be​ ​doing:​ ​gravel​ ​exploration​ ​and​ ​CX​ ​racing​ ​are​ ​different  disciplines,​ ​but​ ​the​ ​multi-purpose​ ​freedom​ ​their​ ​bikes​ ​afford​ ​you​ ​are​ ​difficult​ ​to​ ​dismiss!​ ​If​ ​you’re​ ​looking​ ​to  take​ ​your​ ​riding​ ​off​ ​the​ ​tarmac,​ ​and​ ​out​ ​of​ ​your​ ​comfort​ ​zone,​ ​at​ ​Hargroves​ ​we​ ​have​ ​a​ ​huge​ ​selection​ ​of  gravel​ ​and​ ​CX​ ​bikes​ ​to​ ​choose​ ​from. 

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