Gravel bikes, Adventure bikes, multi-purpose bikes, off pavement road bikes, touring bikes, cyclocross bikes, drop handlebar commuter, CX bikes and grinder bikes are all different terms for similar bicycles. The features common to all the above terms are a road, or drop handlebar and clearance for relatively wide tires. I especially appreciate the versatility of these bikes. They can accommodate a variety of tire sizes; many can be equipped with racks and fenders. They can be a fast pavement bike, or be ridden off pavement.
Gravel racing has been around for about ten years, so it is a relatively new form of bicycle racing. There are few, if any standards for these events. If you are racing one of these events, check with the race promoter. There may be equipment restrictions or recommendations. The best tire can vary quite a bit for different conditions.
For the rest of us non racers, these machines open up new places and ways to ride. Like many things, it really is a refinement not a totally new phenomenon. People have been riding bikes on any type of terrain since its invention. While the concept is the same, what has improved is the refinement of the equipment.
Today’s bikes are faster, more comfortable and safer. Changes to the brakes, wheels, shifting and ergonomics all
make a huge difference to the rider’s experience. Current bikes have better stopping power and much nicer shifting than touring bikes from the days of yore.
We are stocking a variety of these very versatile bikes including Felt’s VR series. There are a few bikes left over from last year in these categories which are on sale. If drop handlebars are not your thing, we stock the Giant Toughroad, which is a flat bar bike with these characteristics.
There are a few things you should consider in addition to quality and price. Is the bike compatible with racks and fenders? How wide of tires will it accommodate? You will want more rubber off pavement than for pavement touring. The particulars of frame geometry will matter to some, for example a very long wheel base is ideal for carrying a heavy load, such as touring. A lower bottom bracket height is better for cyclocross.
If you want a bike to do it all, or a bike for fast recreational riding, you should take a look at these categories, but do not get stuck on one category as the lines get blurred.