Road bike fit vs gravel bike fit

Should your gravel bike fit the same as your road bike? Can you transfer measurements from your road bike to your gravel bike?

By Noa Deutsch 14 min read
Road bike fit vs gravel bike fit

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In the fall of 2019, I was in Portugal for a few weeks with one of my bikes. I chose to take my gravel bike with two sets of wheels (road and gravel) and just do whatever ride I felt like on a given day. I probably did an equal amount of road and gravel, so it was a good call! After Portugal, I flew to Israel to visit my parents. Time was tight to fit in some riding too, but I did managed to sneak in one spectacular gravel ride. When I took my bike out of the bag to build it up, my dad took one look at my wheels/tires (650B with 47’s) and was wondering why I should bother building the bike since my Trek hardtail from the mid 90’s is still in the basement… And that bike has front suspension and the tires are the same size anyways… Point taken, dad. Yes, we are all basically super hyped up on 90’s MTBing. I get it.

Gravel has been on the rise for a little while now, which is pretty awesome. And as time goes on… Gravel bikes seem to vary more and more - On one end of the spectrum, we have bikes for aggressive, fast gravel riding and on the other end of the spectrum, we have bike with dropper posts, front suspension and everything in between! It’s the wild, wild west when it comes to gravel bike geometries at the moment!

I initially started this article by writing about gravel bike geometry basics, but to be honest - It was taking forever to cover everything that I felt needed to be discussed and it was only delaying getting this article out for you, without good enough reason. While basic bike geometry is likely something I will want to get into at a later date, I decided to simply focus directly on the topic at hand - Should your gravel bike fit the same as your road bike?

Before I get into it, I wanted to share this article about gravel bikes and tire radius. I am linking that particular article because it looks at things from a bit of a different perspective, which I like.

Now, lets get right into things.

Should your gravel bike fit the same as your road bike?

I want to point out that the information below is mostly from my experience working with a variety of athletes in my fit studio and from personal experience riding both road and gravel. The way I approach gravel bike fits has changed over the years (I should hope I learned a thing or two from experience…) and I find that there is so much range in how people choose to ride their gravel bikes, more so compared with other disciplines like road riding. This is my approach to things, yours might be different. There is never one size fits all!

Gravel bikes are a hybrid between cross, road and MTB and currently seem to have a bit of an identity crisis (okay, maybe a major one). Gravel, to me at least, is for exploring, adventure, long hard days in the saddle in far away places and (almost) all terrain riding. For some it is for racing and then we also have the bikapacking adventures…

The thing with gravel bikes is that they are not usually single purpose bikes - They are often used for various purposes, from gravel racing, to mixed terrain with a mix of gravel and pavement, to bikepacking… Because this category is so wide, bike choice really matters, but can be very confusing for most riders, even experienced ones. This is where getting a bike fit + consulting session with a professional before you buy can come in really handy.

Generally speaking, in comparison to road bikes, gravel bikes often have a longer, slacker geometry, with a shorter reach and higher stack, but that is not always the case! In some cases, the reach is actually longer, coupled with a shorter stem.

My main line of work is bike fitting, so I think everyone can benefit from getting a bike fit done. That bias out of the way, lets explore further. Is there a difference between a road bike fit a grave bike fit? Can you just transfer the data from your road bike?

The short answer is yes, your fit should likely be different and no, you shouldn’t just transfer the road fit to the gravel bike… If you have read some of my previous posts here and/or spoke to me IRL, you’ll know that usually, the first answer you’ll get from me, is ‘it depends’ and this topic is no different. Keep reading as I break some of the key differences between a road bike fit and a gravel bike fit, all from a practical stand point.

Key Points

  • The position on your gravel bike will often be shorter and higher compared with your road bike
  • Saddle height is often either the same or slightly lower, and/or a bit further forward, depending on other pieces of equipment used like crank length, pedal / shoe choice and cleat position
  • Shoe and pedal systems are usually different than road, and we all know that when those are different, the whole position is affected
  • Handlebars are different in drop and flare (to various degrees)
  • The handling needs are different on road vs gravel, so the position needs to be a bit different to reflect those differences for safe and enjoyable riding
  • It all depends on individual preferences, needs and the bike you ride

There is more information on each of those points below! If you are not a paid subscriber, feel free to continue reading this article with a 7 day free trial. If you want to learn a bit more about why I have a paid subscription option, go to the about page, where I shared my thoughts on this.