Gravel and hybrid bikes are cut from the same cloth, but some key differences make each unique.
Hybrid bikes can handle light off-roading but share more characteristics with road bikes than mountain bikes – making them an excellent choice for commuting.
Gravel bikes are the new kids on the block. They may look like road bikes but feature adaptations such as relaxed geometry, specialist groupsets, and wider tires. This allows you to maintain speed on tracks and trails where a road bike would slip and slide all over the place.
If they can both handle routes off the beaten track, what’s the difference? Can a hybrid bike do everything a hybrid bike can?
There are some key differences that can help make up your mind when deciding which is best for you in the battle of gravel bike vs hybrid bike.
To help get you up to speed, we’ll be covering the following:
- What is a Gravel Bike?
- What is a Hybrid Bike?
- Gravel Bike vs Hybrid Bike: What Are The Differences?
- Gravel vs Hybrid Bike, Which Should You Buy?
Let’s jump into the hybrid bike vs gravel bike lowdown!
What is a Gravel Bike?
The gravel bikes’ rising popularity has further blurred the lines of what seasoned cyclists took for an age-old divergence of disciplines. You no longer need a separate bike for road and off-road cycling.
The gravel bike is here to stay.
You would be forgiven for mistaking a gravel bike for a road bike when you first see one. They share many of the same characteristics, including relatively thin frame tubing, similar frame shapes, and, most significantly, dropped handlebars.
However, some subtle differences make the gravel bike a beast off-road while still being able to keep up on a smoother surface.
As with all bike types, there are differences between gravel bike models that will lend themselves to be more suited to off-road or on-the-tarmac riding.
The ‘”flared” drop handlebars (meaning the drops are wider than the brake hoods) on gravel bikes allow for more stable and effective riding positions on uneven surfaces.
Gravel bikes also feature much wider tires than road bikes, which provide extra traction off-road and allow the running of lower tire pressures for a more comfortable ride. A typical road bike tire width is between 23-28 mm, whereas gravel bikes might use anywhere from 32-45 mm.
So while the gravel bike is less capable off-road than a mountain bike, you can have some serious fun off the beaten track with a gravel bike. You will not have to worry about slipping and sliding, as may happen if you attempt to take your road bike for a mid-morning shortcut on a gravel track.
A gravel bike may not be quite as aerodynamic as a road bike or as capable as a full-suspension mountain bike, but they’re very versatile and for routes that combine asphalt with trails, they’ll keep you flying along.
What is a Hybrid Bike?
As the name suggests, a hybrid bike tries to be the jack of all trades. Hybrid bikes were put on this earth to help cyclists that wanted only one bike that could be fun, relatively speedy, and adventurous.
The hybrid bike is a blend of road bike speed with the more relaxed geometry and flat handlebars you usually find on a mountain bike.
The result is a group of bikes that are very versatile, useable for many cycling styles but master of none. This is a good thing, especially if you want an efficient bicycle on the tarmac without it being dangerous if you need to take a slight detour off the beaten track.
Gravel Bike vs Hybrid Bike: What Are The Differences?
Gravel Bike vs Hybrid Bike: What’s the difference in style?
Although both these bikes have been created to be versatile machines allowing you to tackle different terrains, there are plenty of differences in style, which may help you to decide your winner in the hybrid bike vs gravel bike debate.
At first glance, the dropped handlebars of a gravel bike will stand out as a significant difference from a hybrid’s more traditional flat handlebar.
The flared dropped handlebars on the gravel bike allow more control and aerodynamic riding position on and off the road.
Some hybrids have dropped handlebars to further blur the line with road bikes, but the drops are straight, unlike the iconic flared drops you find on gravel bikes.
The slight flare on gravel bike handlebars means the drops are at a slight angle, making your riding position wider. This opens up your chest (easier breathing) and allows for more stability, which is particularly important when cycling on uneven surfaces.
Next up, although you will likely find both the hybrid and gravel bike have 700c or 650b wheels, there will be a difference in the tire’s width. Often a hybrid bike will have thinner tires that are 35mm or less.
A gravel bike will have beefier tires with deeper tread, with a width of 30mm – 50mm, which gives that extra traction you need on looser sections of the track. The width of the tires has more of an effect than just style.
- Check out this article for a more in-depth look at how tire width affects your ride!
You can adjust the geometry of all bikes slightly by changing the seat height or changing various components on the handlebars. Generally speaking, each type of bike has a specific geometry that has benefits for several reasons.
A hybrid bike will come with a more relaxed geometry, which means you will be sat more upright. This is more comfortable on shorter rides, as it puts less strain on your lower back. However, the compromise is that it is less aerodynamic.
Gravel bikes typically have a longer wheelbase and a more aerodynamic riding position, balancing speed and comfort. A longer wheelbase gives you more control on loose surfaces as it distributes your weight over a greater space, giving you more stability and confidence on trails.
Last but not least, the gravel and hybrid bike groupsets will often differ, and this is not just because the gear levers are different.
You will find more offroad-orientated groupsets on gravel bikes, such as the Shimano GRX groupsets. These will have optimized gearing ratios and often have mechanisms inbuilt to mitigate chain slap and skipping gears while on bumpy terrain.
On hybrids, you get the same groupsets that you find on road bikes. Rarely will you find top-end groupsets on a hybrid, though. Generally, reliability and value are prioritised over electronic precision shifting or shaving off a few grams for a hybrid bike.
Gravel Bike vs Hybrid Bike: What’s the difference in functionality?
Now we know more about gravel and hybrid bikes, are you any closer to figuring out which bike is right for you?
You will have noticed a theme between both bikes. They have both been created by blending more than one cycling discipline.
The functionality of the hybrid vs gravel bike is closer than when comparing most bike types.
Undoubtedly, gravel bikes come out on top if you want to take some off-road routes at speed. They may not give you the versatility of tackling serious mountain tracks or downhill routes a mountain bike does, but only some routes will be out of bounds.
When it comes to hybrid bikes, they lean more towards the asphalt than loose surfaces off the beaten track. You can ride a hybrid on many offroad trails, but gravel bikes will have the advantage when the route takes you on the route less traveled.
The differences between the hybrid bike vs gravel bike come down to more than just style.
Overall, gravel bikes are more likely to have an emphasis on performance, whereas hybrid bikes favour value, comfort, and reliability.
Gravel vs Hybrid Bike: Which Should You Choose?
So, whether you are looking to use your local trails, need a bicycle to commute to work, or just looking to upgrade on your current ride, which should you invest in between gravel vs hybrid bikes?
If you are a roadie looking to up your cycling game and get out on some trails, then a gravel bike will feel most at home. The gravel bike’s geometry, setup, and feel are similar to the road bike. However, it allows your adventure to continue long after the asphalt has run out.
A hybrid bike is perfect if you need a versatile and agile bicycle to get around on weekends or for your commute. The hybrid is also a great introduction to the world of cycling for beginners.
If you are on a tight budget, you can typically pick up an entry-level hybrid bike for much less money than a gravel bike.
Ultimately there is no one size fits all answer. It all boils down to where you will be riding your bike and what priorities you have regarding functionality.
One thing is certain: whether you choose a gravel or hybrid bike, you are guaranteed plenty of fun with these versatile machines!