Adventure road is simply a tag to describe a light drop-bar bike for adventure-minded riders, it is a broad spectrum and covers many different bikes and riding styles but the essentials remain the same; it is about the freedom and spirit of the ride. Adventure road bikes are created with versatility in mind. These bikes are the perfect companions for following your every whim and fancy where ever it takes you.
Fit for gravel and woodland paths, but still fast rolling over tarmac, they remove the restrictions of on and off-road boundaries. Within the Adventure Road category, you are sure to find a bike that suits you.
Different brands have different takes on what adventure road geometry should be, in general they sit much closer to road bikes, but with a more relaxed geometry, a higher stack height for a more heads up riding position and sometimes longer chain stays for stability when carrying a load. The tyres will generally be fatter than road tyres, but with a semi-slick rubber that won’t hold you back on the road, so you’ll be comfortable switching between disciplines with ease.
Because Adventure Road bikes aren’t designed for technical, wooded areas and muddy racing, the bottom bracket stays in a position more akin to that of a road bike, and tyre clearance does not need to be as great. Since it’s unlikely you will need to hop off the bike, and run over obstacles or up banks, disc brakes are common place as low weight is less crucial.
Adventure Road bikes make fantastic steeds for commuting or touring duties – comfortable geometry, shorter reach and robust wheels and tyres mean they can cope with hefty mileage over rough terrain. Therefore, the bikes often have racks for panniers, mudguards and drinks bottles, so you can load them up should you need to.
Adventure Road bikes are super versatile and with one bike you can cover a huge range of riding styles but there are subtle differences and it is a broad spectrum. Before you start browsing think about what you are likely to use the bike for and which features will be most key to your buying choice.
Regardless of which end of the adventure road spectrum a bike hails from it will have these three identifying features; mudguards and rack eyelets, disc brakes and tyre clearance.
Whilst bike packing is becoming increasingly popular (using frame and bar mounted soft bags instead of traditional panniers) a rack is still the most solid and reliable way of carrying large loads. If you want to tour in comfort, i.e. with a tent instead of a bivi bag and have enough kit to be able to rustle up a hot meal, then the load bearing of a rack is a must. Eyelets also allow somewhere to secure full-coverage mud-guards, still the best way to stay warm and dry for regular winter riding and every-day commuting.
Disc brakes now appear on a whole host of road bikes in virtually every part of the market, including race bikes, but on an adventure road bike the presence of disc brakes is an absolute given.
Disc brakes have huge advantages for this type of bike; they have superior stopping power, very useful if you are carrying a load on your bike and they are not affected by rim damage. If you are riding on rough-roads or planning to be away for a year and a day, then you are likely to get a minor buckle or ding in your rim at some point and a disc brake will allow you to continue riding without brake rub.
Adventure Road bikes are designed to allow you to seamlessly switch from tarmac, to bridleway to gravel trail and back again. To do this in comfort with good grip and control you need a fatter tyre, 28mm is the starting point for an adventure road bike tyre width. This larger volume will also aid comfort and bike stability if you are touring with a load on your bike.
To accommodate these fatter tyres, the chain-stays and rear forks are designed with extra clearance for the wider tyres and on some bikes, designed with more off-road use in mind, will allow enough space for crud so your wheels keep turning freely.
Adventure Road captures all bikes designed to cope with both off-road and on-road conditions. It’s a broad category and within in it are another three key styles of bike, whilst the lines between them frequently blur there are some identifying features. These three styles are gravel bikes, touring and audax bikes, and cyclo-cross bikes.
Gravel bikes are born from an American style of riding where there is vast network of gravel road, the perfect place to cycle, away from the fast and heavy traffic found on many American highways. These bikes are designed to move fast on gravel and hardpack, they normally feature rack and mudguard mounts and are perfect for versatile touring. The expectation is that a gravel bike will be ridden predominantly away from Tarmac.
Gravel bikes take a much fatter tyre than a true cyclo-cross or touring bike, the starting width is a relatively narrow 28mm but go up to a beefy 45mm. Gearing on gravel bikes favours the low end, good for grinding up hills when fully laden and tackling rough, sometimes steep, terrain. Lighter versions of the gravel bike range are ideal for the growing trend of gravel races - such as the Dirty Reiver, Mavic Haute Route Rockies and Adventure Cross series.
Touring is a traditional part of cycling culture, from the moment the bike was invented cyclists were heading off on long distance adventures. A true touring bike is expected to be ridden on Tarmac for the majority of the time but those who go cycle touring will always have the tendency to bounce down less than perfect roads or explore intriguing tracks and an adventure road bike gives you the freedom and confidence to do that.
Touring bikes have slightly wider tyres, more relaxed geometry and the ability to carry loads but not the much wider clearances or innate off-road capabilities of a gravel bike.
A true cycle-cross bike is for racing and is not an adventure road bike. It is lightweight for carry sections and has high-speed agile handling to whip around tight technical courses and responsiveness needed to accelerate away from rivals. The geometry whilst more relaxed than a road racing bike does not reach the comfort of a gravel or touring bike.
When racing the UCI set an upper limit of tyre width as 33mm, so a race bike only needs to accommodate this width and not much more, so nowhere close to the clearance of a gravel bike. A high-end cross bike will not feature bottle cages - no one drinks in a cross race or eyelets for mudguard and pannier racks. Some manufacturers do have cross bikes with these features, that they still call cross bikes because that is the platform they evolved from, however the differentiation between gravel bikes and cyclo-cross race bikes is becoming more marked.
Want to know more about cyclo-cross bikes? Try our cyclo-cross bike buying guide.
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