I recently got back into cycling, and wanting a bit of change, I bought a second-hand gravel bike for cheap. It was a Tommaso Siena and my first ever gravel bike. I had grown up riding hybrid bikes.
My experience with the gravel bike has been different, and I’m enjoying cycling more, especially on rugged & rough terrains.
Of course, I’ve had to put up with some compromises, but I can’t really complain, considering I have relocated to a new patchy environment.
Now, I’m assuming you’re probably here because you’re in a dilemma, torn between a gravel bike and a hybrid bike.
The differences between a gravel bike and a hybrid bike are subtle. As its name suggests, a hybrid bike is a blend of a road bike and mountain bike with straight handlebars and is commonly used to commute.
On the other hand, a gravel bike resembles a mountain bike but can also double up as an on-road bike. It’s also coupled with gravel riding comfort and stability.
If you’re still undecided, don’t worry because I’ve had the chance to try both a gravel bike and a hybrid bike.
And in this guide, I’m gonna detail all the differences between these bikes and, hopefully, demonstrate which is right for you.
Gravel Bike Vs. Hybrid: Which is Better?
Regardless of the bike design you choose, understand that both gravel and hybrid bikes are adventure bikes. They’re quite versatile and will find uses in rough terrains.
Plus, their design and purpose overlap in many ways. In my opinion, these adventure bikes are similar in that they’re both chimera of on and off-road cycling. But where one design is like the head of a lion on an eagle’s body, and the other is the head of an eagle in a lion’s body.
Both gravel and hybrid bikes are the most popular alternatives for dedicated on and off-road bicycles. Simply put, these adventure bikes combine the best of both worlds, providing greater cycling flexibility and versatility.
For example, a hybrid bike has a distinct flat handlebar but without the gnarly tires for city streets. On the other hand, a gravel bike drops the flat handlebars in place for the drop handlebars but without tires to handle the rough, unpaved roads.
So, in theory, it would be easy to swap the flat handlebars on a hybrid with a drop bar to transform it into a gravel bike. Or rather, gravel bikes are hybrid bikes with a drop bar.
But in reality, it’s more than a simple handlebar swap. Both gravel and hybrid bikes have a huge geometry design difference, including the wheelbase size, front suspension forks, frame length, and tire width.
Price is also a huge differentiator between these two. Control gravel bikes are a bit expensive and start at about $900, while hybrid bikes are cheaper, starting at $500.
Of course, there’re no hard and fast rules with these adventure bikes. For example, there’re hybrid bikes with a gravel/road group set on them.
And with that out of the way, let’s go over each bike design and see what makes it unique.
What’s a Gravel Bike?
A gravel bike is simply a road bike. It has 90% of road bike capabilities with speed and bike style but has extra features to handle mountain bike riding conditions.
It has a similar ride experience to a road bike unless you need absolute speed for racing.
Gravel bikes also have slightly larger tires, which is helpful when handling dirt roads. If anything, they’re also dubbed as the “all-road” bikes and tailored to the bike enthusiast who needs a bike that can handle a variety of terrain from dirt, gravel to pavement.
The bikes are hugely popular for bike touring in locations where roads aren’t all paved.
Gravel bikes are similarly lighter and versatile, coming with a range of features to create an all-encompassing cycling option.
Features of a Gravel Bike
A gravel bike’s geometry focuses on comfort and endurance.
Most gravel bike frames also have a longer wheelbase to help with stability, especially on varying terrains.
These bikes also have wide gravel bike tires to bolster the overall comfort.
Typical gravel bikes have aluminum or titanium frames. A gravel bike frame can endure the harshness of the changing terrains and long-distance riding.
As we mentioned earlier, gravel bikes have larger tires, some up to 26″ for improved comfort and stability.
The wider tires also come treaded to help with the grip.
What’s a Hybrid Bike?
A hybrid adventure bike is simply a mix of different bike designs. It blends the characteristics of different bike designs from more specialized touring bikes, mountain bikes, and road bikes.
But in most cases, a hybrid bike refers to a blend of road and mountain bikes.
Some of the notable characteristics of this blend include an MTB’s flat handlebar for cornering and braking and wide road bike tires for a comfortable ride.
Generally, hybrid bikes are geared towards commuters and are often used on paved roads.
Hybrid bikes are usually marketed to cyclists looking for an inexpensive mode of transport, ideally to and from work, while avoiding public transport.
A hybrid bike will work well on pavement, and most of them even include basic rear racks for carrying personal items. Some even include a fender to keep your clothes clean.
Features of a Hybrid Bike
A signature feature of hybrid bikes is the gearing system, mostly the derailleur gears.
While the derailleur gear is flimsy and known for breaking apart easily, most are fully enclosed for longevity.
Controls on a hybrid bike are positioned on the flat handlebars for easier access.
As with gravel bikes, hybrid bikes are mostly made out of lightweight aluminum.
Their frames are lightweight but super strong.
There’re also carbon fiber options, lighter and stronger than aluminum but more expensive.
A hybrid adventure bike borrows its brake designs from a mountain bike.
Typical braking systems on mountain bikes are the V-brakes or disc brakes.
While both are great options, the disc brakes win over the v-brakes, especially in wet conditions.
Hybrid bikes have similar wheel sizes to road bike tires, typically between 35-45mm.
They’re skinnier than those on a gravel bike. The slimmer tires are not ideal on patchy gravel roads but fast on a paved road.
6 Critical Differences Between a Gravel and Hybrid Bike
Road bikes and hybrid bikes have different bike geometry, all about the body positioning on a bike.
A hybrid bike sports a nice relaxed geometry, perfect for leisure riding. To be specific, the hybrid’s geometry will keep you in an upright cycling position.
So, if your idea of cycling is an upright riding position, choose a hybrid.
I love using a hybrid for my casual street strolls because the upright position gives me a better view of the road, other users, and pedestrians in front of me.
Along with the better visibility, a hybrid bike’s geometry is also pretty comfortable, so a great pick if you’re just from a desk job and lack the flexibility of a road bike.
The design also makes it easier to support cargo panniers and racks, which appeals to many commuters.
On the other hand, the gravel bike has an aggressive geometry. It’s ideal for those who imagine their bodies closer to the horizontal while cycling.
Using a gravel bike may take some time to get used to, and personally, I struggled with back pain when I first got it. But with time and months of stretching my calves, quads, and hamstring, I don’t think I would ever go back to hybrid bikes.
A gravel bike’s geometry is also a bit longer, helpful for high-speed descents.
Hybrid bikes sport flat handlebars (straight handlebars).
The straight handlebars allow for an upright and comfortable riding position with the hybrid geometry.
The straight handlebar is also convenient because the controls are easier to reach.
The downside with the straight handlebars is they’re less aerodynamic. Remember, they keep your body in an upright position, so your body will likely obstruct the wind flow and limit your pace.
On the other hand, gravel bikes have drop handlebars.
Depending on who you ask, drop bars might be a life savior or challenge to use.
Most cyclists are intimidated by a drop handlebar because few people grew up with them.
The drop bars will certainly put you in a more aggressive stance than the flat bars, but it may take time to adapt to this new posture.
If your back is inflexible due to a medical reason, I wouldn’t recommend these drop bars.
The drop bars, however, exist because of the long rides. I’m a big fan of flats, but anything longer than 15 miles, and I find myself preferring a drop handlebar.
The drops allow me to change hand positions to prevent hand fatigue.
The upright flat-bar position actually exerts more pressure on my lower back than riding horizontally.
Of course, it takes time and adjustments (or lack thereof) to get used to riding with the drop bars, but the benefit is the plenty of hand positions and ease of stretching out.
Stability and Traction
A gravel bike is essentially a road bike but with off-road capabilities.
It has wider tires than the typical road bike, so it’s more comfortable and greater stability.
If you compare the two, you’ll realize a gravel bike has better dampening of the road vibrations. It’s also quick, though not as fast as the road bikes.
The advantage of running larger tires is they also have a more gnarly tread for grip. The knobby tires can also effortlessly handle the bumps and, on some occasions, the single-track conditions, while offering comfort.
Gravel bikes with typical mountain bikes will easily maneuver through the challenging cycling conditions.
On the other hand, hybrid bikes don’t have the most resilient tires for off-road or mountain biking. However, they’re stable for their size and handle the city streets better.
Even better, a straight handlebar and comfy riding position mean the bike is more responsive to the traffic and changing conditions of the city commute.
A couple of elements affect the riding comfort, but the wheelbase also influences it.
A hybrid has a slightly longer wheelbase, 4-5 cm longer than that on a gravel bike. It allows for a comfier ride, better tracking, and more suspension to the overall frame.
It’s contrary to a gravel bike’s shorter wheelbase, which assists in getting around corners quicker, a more controlled climb on short steep hills, and better overall response at the bottom bracket.
The shorter dimensions on the trail, wheelbase, and chainstay make the gravel bike more responsive.
Gravel bikes have a specialty in competitive riding, so you might guess they’re lighter. But surprisingly, a hybrid bike is even lighter.
It all boils down to the choice of material and usage.
While gravel bikes should be light enough for competitive uses, they also need to be strong enough to withstand the abuses and harshness of racing.
Typical gravels sport a steel frame, which adds weight, but remains sturdy enough to support the rough terrain.
Of course, gravels are also available in many other materials, but aluminum is rare.
On the other hand, hybrid bikes are built for the casual user, so manufacturers try to keep them lightweight and affordable. It means an aluminum construction.
Aluminum is lightweight, affordable, and resilient enough for street riding and casual use.
Gears and Speed
Hybrid and gravel bikes have different gears, which give different speeds.
Hybrid bikes have different gears systems running from single gears up to 12. The greater the gears, the more versatile a hybrid will handle a wide range of conditions.
A single gear hybrid is still a viable option, especially if you plan to ride on relatively flat terrain.
On the other hand, gravel bikes have at least eight gears, which are necessary for the demanding conditions the bike takes.
The gears may go as high as 12, but the lower gear ratios are helpful when powering up ascents, hills, and handling the loose terrains.
Gravel gears are also available in single and double chain variants. I’d recommend the single variant of the two because it is unlikely to drop during the demanding challenges.
A gravel bike has an advantage over a hybrid because of its aerodynamic rider posture and aggressive geometry when it comes to speed.
You’ll find it’s easier to rack up speed on a gravel bike, even on rugged surfaces, especially if you’re cycling in the big gears and on a relatively flat surface.
We had hinted about the price earlier.
Gravel bikes are more expensive than hybrid bikes.
Of course, as with any bike class, the prices of both gravel bikes and hybrids may vary wildly. There’re premium options, and budget picks.
However, gravel bikes tend to cost higher because they’re more specialized for the rough terrain. Demanding conditions demand high-quality components and build, which are expensive.
In contrast, hybrid bikes count as a simple and cheaper bike option.
Why you Need Gravel Bikes
To allow you to make a more informed decision, here’s a sum-up of the reasons to invest in a gravel bike.
Gravel bikes are quite versatile and may double as tour bikes, road bikes, gravel bikes, and mountain bikes.
They’re great options for beginners looking for leisure bikes.
Gravel bikes come with various gear options, which allow cyclists to switch depending on the terrain.
Most adventures are long rides, and the gravel bikes come in handy at keeping you comfortable.
In addition, the gravels have a couple of convenient extras to make your rides pleasant such as mounts for storing your personal effects and nice mud clearance.
Gravel bike wheels provide a range of wheelbase and suspension technology options, so it’s easy to customize your ride depending on your needs.
Why you Need Hybrid Bikes
The greatest benefit of the hybrid is that it can double as a means of daily transport.
It makes moving around much easier, especially on paved paths.
Control and visibility
Hybrid bikes provide an upright cycling posture, so it’s easy to see the oncoming traffic and pedestrians.
Simply put, it’s easier for you to ride a hybrid in the bustling city without the worry of getting knocked down or knocking on others.
A hybrid is an everyday-use bike, so comfort is a big priority.
Most hybrid bikes feature a comfortable saddle and a flat bar for an upright posture.
Finally, a hybrid has room for mounts for storing your items.
Gravel Bike Vs. Hybrid; Which is Better?
This brings us to the end of our gravel bike vs. hybrid bike guide.
And this brings the question, which of these adventure bikes is better?
While these adventure bikes cater to adventure-oriented cyclists, they don’t possess the same attributes.
They differ in purpose and design.
The ideal choice would depend on where you want to take your cycling.
For example, a hybrid will excel on paved roads, while the gravel bike will give you occasional control on the patchy environment and gravel paths.