All Road Bikes Vs. Cyclocross Bikes - One Person’s Opinion
As we prepare to enter Gravel Race season this Spring, now is as good a time as any to write an opinion piece on the various merits of All-Road bikes vs. Cyclocross bikes. Namely what should you buy if you participate in both categories (gravel and cross) and can only spring for one multi-surface capable bike.
The answer my friends is pretty dang easy, you just have to ask yourself one question: Do I care about cyclocross racing?
If the answer to that question is “Yes.” Buy a dang, cross bike.
In general, my belief is that a Cross bike makes a significantly better gravel bike than an All-Road does a cross bike. The single biggest factor here is bottom bracket height. Clipping your pedals on off-camber hills stinks while in competition. Even a few millimeters makes all the difference. The second biggest factor is chainstay length, typically a Cross bike will be 5mm, or so, shorter in the stays than an All-Road. Both of these factors directly affect maneuverability and cornering.
If single track and rocky riding are also among your favorite activities, I’d say go with the cross bike, again owing to the higher BB height. Cross bikes just have a substantially more “off-road” come from. Not that you can't do it on an All-Road, you certainly can, but you'll clip your pedals more often in the rocky stuff and they aren't as nimble when the going gets tight and techy.
As far as gravel racing on a cyclocross bike, not only can it be done, but that’s what we all used before there was such a thing as a “gravel” specific bike. It totally works, trust me.
Which isn’t to say that everyone should just buy a cross bike, for long distance rides the merits of a bike specifically designed for endurance pursuits are many. In this case we’ll talk about the Cosmic Stallion since it’s the example that I am most familiar with.
On a side note, a funny thing we’ve heard is that, for instance, people in California don’t buy “Gravel” bikes because they don’t have gravel roads. So if you’re in California, let’s make sure to not call it a Gravel bike, but an “All-Road” bike. Feels better? Yes? Cool, we’re on the same page. I can assure all of you out there that the Cosmic Stallion is Fire Road, “B” Road, Dirt Road, Paved Road, and Gravel Road compatible. That’s our promise of excellence to you.
The key word here though is “Road.” Specifically multi-surface endurance road. At this type of thing it kicks the crap out of a Cross bike any day. It is more stable in a straight line, more stable at high speeds, more stable descending ( all due to those longer stays, and lower bottom bracket height), the frame is designed to be more compliant and comfortable, you have more options for attaching things to the bike (rack mounts), and you’ve got three bottle mounts, and at least in the Cosmic, a wider range of gearing (two chainrings).
Obviously these characteristics also make an “All-Road” bike a much better “Road” bike, than a Cross rig does.
So basically, if cross racing is at all in your plans I’d say get a cross bike.
If you plan to ride trails often, the cross bike again may be the choice.
If the surfaces you like to ride most often have the word “road” in the name, get an All-Road bike.
For Gravel Racing, yep definitely get an All-Road model.