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Hybrid bikes and gravel bikes fall into the broader category of adventure bikes, and they are becoming popular alternatives to dedicated road bikes and dedicated off-road bikes. Adventure bikes combine the best of both worlds and give you more flexibility. Hybrid and gravel bikes are two of the most common types of adventure bikes.
If you’re considering an adventure bike and don’t know whether to make it a hybrid bike or a gravel bike, you should know what these styles have in common as well as key differences that set them apart from each other.
Let’s go over what these two bikes share, and what makes them unique.
What is a hybrid bike?
You can consider a hybrid bike a jack-of-all-trades.
This bike isn’t merely a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike. A hybrid bike is a blend of a variety of different types of bike style. Hybrid bikes like the Vilano Diverse 3.0 pictured above offer something for everyone, whether you’re into leisure riding, trail riding, or a daily commute on road terrain.
Designers of hybrid bikes often focus on adding features from other bicycle styles into a road bike frame. Comfort is at the forefront of design, which means hybrids often feature a fork with shocks.
What is a gravel bike?
A gravel bike like the Tommaso Siena above is very much like a road bike with features that allow it to handle mountain biking conditions.
These two types of bikes aren’t radically different in design, but they depart in how they are meant to be used.
Gravel bikes feature drop handlebars, disc brakes, and a mountain bike tire tread that allow them to have greater maneuverability and power across rough terrain. These additional features are also an asset for riders looking to optimize their performance.
Gravel bikes are also a popular choice for long-distance riders who are looking to tackle rides that change up from city streets to unpaved paths. Slap a relatively smooth tire on a gravel bike and you’ve got a pretty good touring bike.
5 key differences between hybrid bikes and gravel bikes
Geometry is an important factor to consider when looking for a new bike. Hybrid bikes and gravel bikes have different geometries.
Hybrid bikes are designed with relaxed geometry that puts riders in upright positions for a more casual and comfortable ride. This design also makes it better for supporting cargo, which appeals to commuters.
A gravel bike has its heritage in competitive cycling, and it retains a lot of that aggressive geometry. It’s designed for more aggressive riding while still being able to handle some cargo if required for long-distance riding.
The bikes below are both Diamondbabck bikes, but notice the difference in geometry between the Insight STI-1 hybrid on the left and the Haanjo 5C on the right, and how your riding position would differ on each.
Bike handlebars come in many styles and each of them changes your riding style.
Hybrid bikes have straight handlebars, sometimes called flat handlebars. These allow for an upright riding position that is comfortable and casual. Although this position is more comfortable, it’s less aerodynamic than your position when you ride with drop bars.
Gravel bikes have a drop handlebar that curls forward and down toward the ground. These allow you to drop into a more aerodynamic position and ride faster—at the expense of some agility.
Since gravel bikes are designed for more competitive riding, you might guess that they are lighter. However, hybrid bikes are usually the lighter of the two.
Hybrid bikes cater to the casual riding commuter. Manufacturers try to keep them light and affordable, yet strong. That usually means an aluminum frame.
Gravel bike frames are often made of steel, which weighs a little bit more but is sturdy enough to support competitive riding on difficult terrain. You will find gravel bikes in all frame materials, but aluminum is probably the most rare.
If you’re touring long distance on a gravel bike or doing your grocery shopping on a hybrid, the addition of luggage racks and cargo is likely to negate any weight difference, depending on your load.
The hybrid bike and the gravel bike have different gearing, which gives them different speeds.
Hybrid bikes might have a single gear, or they might have more than 12. The more gears a hybrid bike has, the more flexible it’s going to be for a wide range of riding conditions. A hybrid bike with fewer gears can be ideal if you plan to ride mostly on flat, paved surfaces.
If you buy a single-speed bike, it’s possible to add gears to it in the future.
Gravel bikes always have at least eight gears. All these gears are necessary for the kind of riding a gravel bike can tackle. Those lower gears help for powering up hills as well as handling loose terrain such as gravel or dirt.
Gravel bikes also allow for a more aggressive riding posture, which typically allows you to go faster on even rugged surfaces if you’re in the big gears and you aren’t riding uphill.
A gravel bike and a hybrid bike with similar gearing will likely have similar speeds regardless of what other features they have.
5. Stability and traction
The whole point of the gravel bike is to allow what is essentially a road bike to handle off-road conditions. This means that gravel bikes need greater stability for tackling uneven surfaces. They’re designed for this, and gravel bike wheels come with wider tires that use a more gnarly tread than most hybrid tires. All this makes them better at maneuvering through challenging cycling conditions.
Hybrid bikes are more stable and handle better on city streets. The straight handlebars and the comfortable riding position allow you to respond more easily to traffic and changing road conditions during a big-city commute.
In contrast, the forward riding position and speed of the gravel bike could make it a bit more difficult to handle on a crowded city street.
Which type of bike is right for you?
Both bikes are a great choice if you want a bike that’s a bit more versatile than a dedicated mountain bike or a dedicated road bike.
Gravel bikes are ideal for people who are into more competitive riding situations. If you’re looking to go on long-distance rides that will take you on and off the road, the gravel bike is what you want.
Hybrid bikes are ideal for commuters. If your bike is getting you to and from work or school, and you want to be able to pick up some groceries on the way home, the hybrid bike is the best choice you can make.
Hybrid bike vs. gravel bike in summary
Gravel bikes have a competitive design that is built to give road riders the ability to tackle off-roading, while hybrid bikes offer a blend of features designed to give the most comfortable experience to commuters.
The gravel bike is going to be a huge advantage if you’re looking to leave the road behind while still retaining that road bike edge. It might not be the best choice if you’re strictly doing daily city commuting.
A hybrid bike is going to be your commuting all-star. There is a wide range of hybrid bikes out there—some of which are pretty good at going off-road—so you’ll be able to find a bike that suits your riding style. The hybrid bike won’t help you win any cycling races, though.
Ultimately, there’s a hybrid bike or a gravel bike out there that’s going to help you upgrade your biking game. If you go for a hybrid bike, check out our guide on how to improve your hybrid bike down the line.
To wrap up, we’ll suggest one of each at the low and high end of the price spectrum: