Adventure Road Bikes, also sometimes referred to as Gravel Bikes, are go-anywhere bikes made to tackle adventures — especially on gravel! Whether your adventure is commuting to work, running to the grocery store, a 3-day camping expedition, or competing in a gravel race, these bikes can do it all.
These bikes look similar to a road bike, but with several changes that make them suitable for riding just about anywhere. In this guide, we’ll talk about what makes adventure road bikes different from your standard road bike.
A traditional road bike is perfect for riding on pavement. These bikes are efficient and fast but are best kept on the road. The adventure road bike grew out of a desire to be able to ride anywhere and everywhere, regardless of the road surface, distance, or what a person might want to carry with them.
Adventure road bikes are built to be stable, reliable, and versatile, so you can tackle anything from a commute to work to weeks of camping along unmapped backroads.
Adventure road bikes look very similar to traditional road bikes, but it’s the details that make them different. They have a similar riding position as an endurance road bike, which is slightly more upright thanks to a taller head tube. This alleviates strain on the back, neck, arms, and hamstrings. Because the rider is also positioned lower in the bike, their center of gravity makes them more stable on any uneven or loose terrain.
In addition to that more upright position, adventure road bikes tend to have the front wheel further out in front of the rider. This results in a longer wheelbase, which helps the bike keep a straight line more easily. This is especially handy on looser terrain or when carrying heavier loads on the bike. The longer wheelbase of an adventure bike also means a smoother ride, forcing vibration to travel longer distances and keeping you steady over the bumps encountered along the way. Along with frame geometry, many bike makers have designed seatposts from materials like carbon fiber that don’t transfer vibration as well and can be engineered with vibration and impact damping qualities.
The result, when you combine a relaxed body position with a smooth yet still efficient frame, is a bike that allows riders of every level to push the limits of endurance and explore new roads and vistas previously beyond their reach.
Adventure road bikes are built with more frame and fork clearance to allow for wider tires with more tread. These wider tires can be run at lower pressures to increase traction, control, and comfort over just about any terrain and in any conditions – pavement, gravel, dirt, rain, mud, or snow. The wheels found on adventure bikes are also built to be able to handle rougher terrain and heavier loads on the bikes. This wider frame clearance often means that fenders can be accommodated as well.
Adventure bikes feature disc brakes, and for good reasons. Most importantly, they offer confident and more controlled stopping in a variety of conditions and while stopping heavier loads. They allow the rider to apply braking power more accurately, which is critical when riding on lower traction surfaces. This means you can use just the right amount of braking before you start to skid. They also stay cleaner and work better than traditional rim brakes since the braking surface is closer to the hub. Rims tend to get dirtier since they travel through dirt, dust, and puddles and road grime gets tossed towards the outside of the wheel. A final advantage is that disc brakes allow for wider tire options. A rim brake must clear the tire to reach the rim, which limits tire options.
To read more about road bikes with disc brakes, click here.
Most cyclists, even casual ones, are familiar with traditional quick release (QR) wheels. With the advent of disc brakes, thru-axles are now found on more and more bikes. Unlike a QR, thru-axles don’t have a slot in the frame or fork for the wheels to go in and out of. Instead, the frame and fork have holes for the axle to pass through to hold the wheel in place.
So why the switch to thru-axles over quick releases? A large part of it has to do with disc brakes. When braking with a disc, the forces applied to the wheel want to pull the wheel downward, so thru-axles prevent that from being a possibility. The other advantage is that with a thru-axle, you’re tying the fork legs together, reducing lateral flex and increasing steering precision.
Adventure Bike gearing is designed to offer riders a good mix of easy climbing gears and gears that allow for speed through drivetrains with 8 to 13 gears in the back and single or double chainring setup in the front. This allows riders to tackle a wide variety of terrains and hills with heavier loads by using either one or two chainrings in the front. A single chainring might seem counterintuitive to a bike that would benefit from a wide range of gears, but many 1x drivetrains offer a super wide selection of gears in the back (from the cassette) that deliver almost the same range as a double (two-chainring) drivetrain can offer with a smaller range cassette. These 1x drivetrains give riders more simplicity and less maintenance (because there’s no front derailleur, no shifter, and no front cable) to worry about on your adventures!
As you move up in levels of components and wheels, you’ll see a common theme – lower weight and higher performance. Regarding shifting, this will mean faster, crisper shifts. At the top end, you’ll even move from mechanical to electronic shifting, even wireless electronic shifting, which offers the pinnacle of performance. For wheels, they’ll get lower in weight while still retaining strength and durability.
No matter how great a bike is, if it doesn’t fit you well, you’ll never get the most out of it, or you. At ERIK’S we offer both bike fitting and sizing services. We use our sizing process with every road bike to ensure you’re on the correct size bike and that it’s adjusted comfortably so you can focus on the ride. Our fit services start where the sizing ends, optimizing the bike for each rider’s needs. You can read more about these valuable services here.
Adventure Road Bikes are perfect for any adventure. They are designed to be stable when carrying a load, whether that’s a week’s worth of groceries or gear for a weekend bike-packing trip. Like a traditional road bike, their efficiency makes trips easier. But unlike a traditional road bike, they are ready for gravel, dirt, or wherever the trails take you. If you’re competitive and enjoy challenging yourself — this includes gravel races too!
View our general Bike Buying Guide to review the other kinds of bikes we sell. Or, go here to see our complete list of Buying Guides. Learn what you need to know when purchasing a bike helmet, bike shoes, a car rack, and more!