When I purchased my first gravel bike, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I wanted to ride some rough roads, but I didn’t realize the awesome adventures my steel bike could take me on. I discovered I loved long-distance riding, and my gravel bike was perfect for the challenge, whether it was day trips, urban hills, or bikepacking adventures.
Some bikes are specifically made for long distance and adventure riding, but what about gravel bikes? Are gravel bikes good for long distances?
Most gravel bikes are good for long-distance riding because they are more relaxed in geometry than road bikes and have plenty of mounts to carry all the stuff you need. They have wide tires with lots of tread, which give you comfort and grip on rough roads, with drop bars, so you have lots of different hand positions. That being said, there is a large variety of gravel bike types, so you’ll want to make sure you get one that is comfortable and has plenty of gears too.
This article will talk about how great gravel bikes are for long distances. Then, we’ll compare gravel bikes to other types of bikes and talk about what makes a gravel bike suitable for touring. After that, we’ll give some of the best gravel bikes for long distances and, lastly, give you a few pointers for how to set up your gravel bike for a long ride. But first, let’s get started and talk about gravel bikes and long distances.
Gravel bikes vs other bikes on long distances
A touring bike is made for long bike trips with lots of luggage. They usually have an extra sturdy frame, often made from steel. They have an extra-wide gear range, too, so you can spin up hills with all your stuff and ride down easily, as well. Touring bikes also have plenty of mounts for fenders and bags. In addition, they have a more upright riding position for comfort on long days and wider tires. However, touring bikes usually spend most of their time on tarmac.
Compared to touring bikes, gravel bikes have wider tires to ride off-road, and they are less equipped to carry gear on long distances. If you want to go on a long bike tour mostly on paved roads, a touring bike is a better choice, but if you ride on challenging terrain and without being overloaded with gear, a gravel bike is more fun to ride.
Typical road bikes are made for more speed. They have a short, stiff frame, drop bars, an aggressive position, and mounts for water bottles, although they usually don’t have extra spaces for touring bags.
Gravel bikes are more suited for long-distance riding with gear since they allow you to carry stuff on the frame, while road bikes are better for covering long distances if you have nothing to carry. Keep in mind that if your route has a lot of climbs and you’re not a very fit rider, a gravel bike may be a better choice since it has a wider range of gears and it offers more gears with low gear ratios.
Trekking bikes are a form of hybrid bike, and they typically are a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike. Trekking bikes are sporty enough for urban commuting yet tough enough for some light off-road adventures, too. They typically have flat bars, an upright position, and some mounts for bags and gears.
Gravel bikes are more speed-oriented than trekking bikes, which is reflected on their geometry, lack of front suspension, as well as their drop bars. The presence of drop bars also means that you have more than just a single hand position as opposed to the handlebar of trekking bikes.
A mountain bike is a heavier bike with loads of suspension and wide tires so you can travel the gnarliest trails you can find. You’ll have one really easy gear for going uphills, but the rest of the bike is really designed to get over obstacles.
Gravel bikes are better suited for long distances than mountain bikes unless you have very difficult off-road segments. Gravel bikes are faster, more comfortable, they offer more hand positions, better ways to carry your gear on the bicycle.
What To Look For In a Gravel Bike For Touring?
Gravel bikes come in an extensive range of types and varieties. However, there are a few things you should look for when you are considering a gravel bike for touring.
Although there’s no cookie-cutter solution that suits everyone the same, the following characteristics make a gravel bike comfortable for touring:
Long wheel base and chain stay results in a more stable and balanced ride even if you carry some gear with you. It
Long trail. Bikes a long wheel base tend to have longer trail, which means that steering is not so twitchy and more predictable. It may not be as suitable for technical riding, but it make riding on long distances quite pleasant.
Stack to reach ratio of around 1.5 or above ensures that your riding position is not too aggressive and forward leaning, but more upright, which results in less strain on your back and arms.
Make sure the bike is your size. This can’t be stressed enough. A bike that’s too big or small for you, even if it has a comfortable geometry, is going to be a nightmare to ride. You can consult the manufacturer’s chart or go to a bike shop and test out the bike for yourself, but don’t buy a bike that’s not made for your height.
You’ll also want to consider frame material for long rides.
Aluminum is light and snappy, but it might give you a harsh and jarring ride.
Carbon will absorb the bumps better and is tough enough for a gravel adventure.
But for the smoothest ride, steel is an excellent choice for gravel and touring.
Gearing is another consideration on long rides. First, you’ll want to consider the terrain you’ll be riding. Is it very hilly? Is it very flat? Will you need easy gears for rough roads?
You’ll probably need a 2x setup with at least a 1:1 ratio, meaning you’ll have a gear that is easy enough so that every turn of the pedals is a full turn of the wheel. You need this for two reasons: to cross hilly terrain and to be able to get all of your equipment on your bike up and over the hills.
If you have a 1x setup, make sure that you still get a granny gear that has a 1:1 ratio or smaller to tackle hills.
Brakes are another consideration for touring with a gravel bike.
Hydraulic disc brakes are the best because they give you the most stopping power even in wet, dirty conditions. Their downside is that adjusting and bleeding them requires special tools that most people don’t carry in the bike’s repair kit.
However, mechanical brakes require a lot more hand strength, and you could really tire out your hands on long, steep descents with a lot of gear. There is a merit to having mechanical disc brakes because they are quite easy to service if anything goes wrong.
The terrain you cover will be the determining factor for tires. The rougher the terrain, the wider the tires you’ll need. However, if you are carrying a lot of heavy gear or riding for long periods, you may also want wide, grippy tires for comfort and safety.
In this article I explain in detail what is the ideal tire width for gravel bikes, considering several riding scenarios and tire widths.
Most gravel bikes are standard with drop bars, which give you the most hand positions for riding long distances.
Flat bars have a wider grip, which means that you have better control on the bike in technical terrain but only one hand position.
There are some special handlebars, such as the Surly Moloko Bar (available from Jenson USA) that give you a wide grip as well as several hand positions. In this other article I show you several other drop bar alternatives that you may want to consider if you’re not sure whether to install drop bars on your bike.
You need to choose a bike with enough mounts to carry all of the stuff you need, including sleeping bags, tents, cookware, and clothing.
Thankfully, most gravel bikes are equipped with several eyelets to mount racks and bottle cages on, but some have more than others. So if you’re planning on carrying a lot of things, this is an important aspect to consider.
Gravel Bikes That Make Good Touring Bikes
Breezer Radar Expert
This bike is a great entry-level adventure-ready gravel bike under 1500 dollars. It’s made of chromoly steel, which ensures a comfortable ride, but it also means that it’s a bit on the heavier side of the spectrum. It has ample tire clearance for tires over 2″ that make it very capable for riding off road.
The Obed Boundary is a lightweight, carbon fiber bike that can handle up to 300 pounds of weight (including the rider and gear). In addition, it can fit up to 700x45c tires or 650x53c tires for your most epic adventures. It also has loads of mounts so you can attach fenders, water bottles, and bags.
Jamis Renegade S2
Jamis makes a great entry-level gravel bike with quality components, so you get a lot of bike for your dollar. The S2 has a steel frame with a carbon fork, giving you comfort for long days in the saddle. It comes standard with hydraulic disc brakes and a 1x drivetrain. Although this is only a 1x, you do get better than a 1:1 gear ratio with a 40t crank and an 11-42t cassette.
The Canyon Grizl is truly a go-anywhere adventure bike suitable for long trips. The carbon seatpost absorbs road chatter giving you much more comfort on the bike. It has loads of mounts to haul all your stuff and comes with your choice of 1x or 2x drivetrain. You can fit fenders or tires up to 50mm wide for the ultimate in comfort and grip.
How to Set Up Your Gravel Bike for Touring
To use your gravel bike for touring, you’ll want to make sure to optimize your setup for the event you have planned.
Choose the right tires for the terrain. (The rougher the terrain, the wider the tires, but don’t exceed the limit of the frame).
Make sure you have your tires at the ideal tire pressure.
Check the weight limit on your bike to make sure you aren’t carrying more gear than the bike can handle.
Don’t forget to test your set-up before you head out on your first adventure! Make sure everything runs smoothly so you have a safe and enjoyable trip.