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What is a Gravel Bike? Your Top Questions Answered

Gravel bikes are a type of bicycle designed for off-road cycling on unpaved surfaces, such as dirt roads, fire roads, gravel paths, and single-track trails. While some people choose to covert their road bike to gravel bike, which works for many, other riders prefer getting a frame that is dsigned for nothing but gravel riding or gravel biking. Gravel bikes are designed to tackle roads and terrain that is a bit too rough for a road bike but not so rough or technical that it would require a full suspension mountain bike.  Gravel bikes come in many different flavors but most commonly they feature  drop bar handlebars like you would find on a road bike and wide tires like you would find on a mountain bike. These bikes are versatile and can be both fast on the road and very capable in rough terrain.


Gravel bikes are available in a range of styles and price points to suit different rider needs and budgets. Some are designed for fast and efficient riding on smooth or hard-packed surfaces and are well suited to the demands of a gravel bike race, while others are more focused on comfort and stability over long haul rides like touring and bikepacking. Let’s look at the features of a gravel bike in depth. 

Gravel Bike Geometry

Gravel bike geometry and feature set falls somewhere in between that of a  traditional road bike and mountain bike. Some gravel bikes are quite similar to road bikes but with extra clearance for wider tires - these would fall into the gravel race or the aero gravel bike category. And on the other end of the spectrum there are gravel bikes with frames that are very close to those of hardtail mountain bikes. These bikes often feature drop bars and are sometimes called drop bar mountain bikes. Most gravel bikes are somewhere in the middle with properties that make them similar to a road bike like drop bars and also similar to a mountain bike like sloping top tubes and clearance for wide tires. 

When choosing the right gravel bike for you its important to match the bike to the type of riding you expect to do. If you ride multi-surface or mostly on the road then maybe a more aero or road style bike would be best. But, on the other hand if you are riding mostly off-road and want to be comfortable on single track trails then a more mountain bike style setup would be ideal. And finally, if you want something that can do pretty much everything then something right in between might be your best bet.

Gravel Bike Tires 

Unlike road bike tires, which are primarily designed to be lightweight and fast, gravel bike tires need to be able to provide traction to deal with loose and unstable terrain and also be well suited to flat hard surfaces. To accomplish this, many gravel bike tires feature tread that is similar to a mountain bike tire but not as aggressive or they have very low tread in the center of the tire and more tread at the outer edges.

Gravel bike tires are generally available in a range of widths, starting around 30-35mm and going as large as some mountain bike tires. Wider tires provide more stability and traction, but at lower pressures can be a bit sluggish on hard surfaces. Narrower tires with less tread provide less traction and require higher air pressure but are generally faster on-road and hard packed gravel terrain. It is important to remember that you are not locked into a certain tire tread. Gravel biking encompasses a wide range of road conditions and you should be prepared to change your tires out to accommodate the conditions you expect or the goals you have for the ride. If you want speed over endurance, for example, a narrower tire with less tread depth is going to be better. But if you want to be able to climb, navigate those ruts and ravines, a wider tire with deeper tread that grabs the trail is your best bet. 

It is more and more common these days to set up gravel tires in a tubeless configuration using tire sealant and no inner tube. This allows for greater puncture resistance and recovery when set at low pressure.

Gravel Bike Wheels 

Unlike road bike wheels, which are designed to carefully balance strength and weight, gravel bike wheels are often designed with a focus on standing up to rough terrain

Because gravel bike wheels have to accommodate wider tires, they are also usually wider than your typical road wheel. And because many riders want to run tubeless tires, it is very common for them to be tubeless ready - meaning they are able to work with tubeless tires without any modification needed. If you are in the market for a gravel bike, something to consider equipment wise  is tubeless ready wheels.  

Gravel Bike Gearing Design

Gravel bikes generally have a wider range of gears than a road bike and are often set up more closely to mountain bikes. The main reason for the wide range is to have plenty of gearing to climb steep rough terrain but also be comfortable riding fast on the road. This is often achieved through the use of a wider-range cassette, which has more cogs and a wider range of cog sizes than a typical road bike cassette. The front chainring may also be smaller on a gravel bike, to provide a lower gear ratio for tackling steep climbs on loose surfaces. Gravel bikes are typically set up in a 1x (one-by) or 2x (two-by) configuration which denotes if there are one or two front chainrings. The advantage of a 1x setup is simplified shifting and only a single derailleur whereas the advantage of a 2x setup is being able to maintain a wide gear range but with tighter jumps between gears. 

Gravel Bike Suspension Systems 

Gravel bikes can be equipped with a variety of different gravel bike suspension systems, depending on the model and the intended use. Some gravel bikes are equipped with front suspension forks and some even have built-in rear suspension, which can help to absorb shock and improve comfort on rough terrain. The main disadvantages of a suspension fork or built-in rear suspension are that they can add significant weight, which is not ideal for long distance riding, and they increase the need for maintenance. For this reason, most gravel bikes do not come standard with built-in suspension or they use add-on cockpit based suspension systems which commonly consists of suspension stems and suspension seatposts. These are components which have suspension built-in and have the advantage of being both relatively lightweight and effective for gravel riding. 

What is a Gravel Bike Suspension Stem? 

A gravel bike suspension stem is a type of bike stem that includes some form of shock absorption that reduces the effect of road imperfections, bumps, and rough terrain on a rider's body. This saves energy and reduces fatigue. 

Gravel bike suspension stems are typically made from lightweight yet strong materials such as aluminum, and are designed to be easy to install by simply replacing your existing stem. They are generally somewhat adjustable, allowing the rider to tune the amount of suspension and the ride feel, often via swappable elastomers

Gravel bike suspension stems are generally available in a range of lengths and rise angles to suit different bike sizes and rider positions. Some models may also have additional features, such as integrated computer mounts.

Check Out the Shockstop Gravel Suspension Stem

The patented Redshift ShockStop Suspension Stem is a great option for adding lightweight and effective front suspension to a gravel bike. The movement of the stem is subtle yet it is enough to smooth out rough terrain and eliminate road buzz. Because the stem is pre-loaded and torsionally rigid it feels just like a standard stem and only when you encounter rough terrain do you get any actual compliance. The stiffness can be tuned using swappable elastomers so you can dial in the perfect feel. And, because the motion of the stem is subtle and smooth and the stem is pre-loaded, the bike feels normal when riding out of the saddle so there is no need for a complicated lockout mechanism that adds unnecessary weight. The ShockStop Stem comes in multiple lengths and angles and in a standard and PRO version. 

What is a Gravel Bike Suspension Seatpost 

A gravel bike suspension seatpost is a type of bike seatpost that provides the rider with rear suspension to improve comfort and reduce fatigue on long rides.

Like suspension stems, suspension seatposts are easily added to any bike by simply replacing the existing seatpost. The suspension mechanism is housed completely within the seatpost and typically the suspension feel can be tuned either by compressing an internal spring or swapping out spring elements such as elastomers.

Check Out the Shockstop Suspension Seatpost

Gravel bike suspension seatposts fall into two categories: piston style and parallelogram style. The piston style posts are generally inexpensive but not particularly effective since they don’t absorb shock in the ideal direction. High performance and high quality suspension seatposts are all parallelogram style because they are much more effective at absorbing shocks. 

Suspension Seatpost for Gravel Bike

The patented Redshift ShockStop Suspension Seatpost is a parallelogram style post that has been designed to optimize suspension feel while being compact and matching up well with the aesthetic of modern gravel bikes. The ShockStop seatpost comes in a standard and PRO version. The standard version uses an internal coil spring mechanism that has 35mm of travel and the stiffness and feel can be precisely tuned to match a rider's weight and riding style. The standard ShockStop Seatpost is perfect for rough terrain and long distance riding. The PRO version has a bit less travel at 20mm but is lighter weight and uses swappable elastomers as the suspension element. This allows the motion of the PRO post to be very subtle and highly damped while still providing significant benefit. The ShockStop PRO Seatpost is perfect for gravel racing and long distance road riding.

What are Gravel Bike Handlebars 

Gravel bike handlebars are one of the components on a gravel bike that bridges the gap between a mountain bike and a road bike. Although gravel handlebars are typical drop bars like you might find on a road bike they are often very wide like mountain bike flat bars. It is common for gravel bike handlebars to feature varying degrees of flare - where the drop is not vertical but angled. The wider handlebar combined with the flared drop provides lots of control and stability for riding on rough terrain.

Check Out the Kitchen Sink Gravel Handlebar 

Gravel Bike Handlebars

If you are looking for a gravel handlebar that embodies comfort, control, and versatility the Redshift Kitchen Sink Gravel Bike Handlebar is for you. With widths from 44cm up to 53cm, and featuring 25 degrees of flare, a small amount of backsweep, 20mm of rise, and a compact drop, this gravel handlebar improves stability and control but also provides real comfort. In addition, a perfect companion to the Kitchen Sink Handlebar are the cruise control drop bar grips. These unique drop bar grips that feature a set of grips for the tops and drops add even more comfort and control. The handlebar comes in two styles: loop and non-loop. The Loop version, which features a forward facing loop in front of the stem, provides an alternative hand position, a great place to attach gear, and the perfect spot for storage. One great solution for storage is the Kitchen Sink Gravel Handlebar Bag which was designed specifically to fit in the loop and allow easy (single hand) access to all your essentials. In addition, a companion computer mount can be attached to the top of the bag to mount a Garmin or Wahoo bike computer.

Wrapping Up

Gravel bikes are relatively new in the cycling world but in their short lifetime they have become very popular mainly because they address a real need - a bike that can be fast and fun on both smooth roads and rough off-road terrain. They have allowed bikepackers to traverse terrain they couldn’t on a road bike, inspired their own racing events, and have given the riders a versatile option between road and mountain bikes. Because it can be used in so many different ways and allows riders to use one bike for many different types of riding, the gravel bike is here to stay and we are excited to provide gravel bike components and support gravel riders everywhere.