Gravelbiking is hot, and now that it's getting colder and many countries are a second lockdown the interest is only growing. There is hardly any gravel bike left in most stores. Is it possible to ride gravel on a regular road bike? After all, the biggest difference is only the tires. We'll talk you through....
Gravel versus gravel
Many unpaved paths are easy to do with a road bike. Especially 'hardpack gravel' is perfect for a road bike and you are even faster than with a gravel bike. It becomes more difficult if you are looking for more adventurous paths. Forest paths, paths, sandy duo tracks, paths with roots or even MTB trails. It gets even more difficult when it's soaking wet. Then you're going to run into the limit with your road tires.
Yes, but nobs won't help on narrow tires. That's why there are no profiled 25 or 28 mm tires. What you want is much wider tires, with profile. Do they fit on racing bikes? That depends on the bike and the rim used.
Some older road bikes with rim brakes usually fit up to 25mm tires. On more modern road bikes usually can accommodate 28 mm. There are two bottlenecks: the brakes and the frame. With both, there's a high risk of rubbing. In addition, an important factor is the internal width of the rim. The wider the rim, the wider a tire measures up. For road bikes with rim brakes there is therefore little gain in terms of tires.
If you have a bicycle with disc brakes, things are different. Again, the newer the bike, the wider tires it usually fits. Frames that now roll off the belt usually accept 35 mm or more without any problems. If you have a slightly older frame, you could also consider a 32 mm cyclocross tire. Another option is to switch to 27,5" (aka 650B) wheels in order to create more clearance. Measure and try is the way to go.
Of course there are even more differences between a gravel racer and a road bike. Notches for mudguards are usually on a road bike, but there are enough mudguards that can be attached in a different way. This also applies to luggage racks. The geometry of a racer is usually a bit more aggressive, but that is mainly a matter of getting used to.
However, with wider tires on unpaved terrain, a switch to tubeless is a must, because the risk of punctures and snake bites. The easiest way is to buy an extra set of rims that have a nice internal width and are tubeless-ready, which makes installation easy. Moreover, you can then easily switch to your road tires.