Can I Convert My Road Bike to a Gravel Bike?

If you have a road bike, you can convert it into a gravel bike so that it can tackle rough surfaces.

The average road bike can handle some uneven surfaces anyway but, by converting it into a gravel bike, you can make it capable of cycling across harsher outdoor terrain.

It’s also cheaper to convert a road bike into a gravel bike instead of buying a whole new model.

The truth is that, with a few upgrades, any road bike can be turned into a gravel bike that’s up to professional standards.

That said, converted gravel bikes are best used when you have less challenging terrain to tackle, like light gravel.

The ability of the bike depends on how upgraded it is and your skill when disassembling and then reassembling it, so if you’re relatively inexperienced then you don’t want to tempt fate by riding the bike into very rough terrain.

The process of converting a road bike into a gravel-fighting machine demands that you upgrade the wheels and tires, the handlebars, the pedals, and the gearing.

Changes need to be made with all of these to ensure that your road bike can withstand the perils of a graveled path.

Of those upgrades, changing the tires will be the most significant. Road bikes have smaller tires than gravel, which need to contend with slippery land and the possibility of being punctured.

Your bike’s frame will need to accommodate a thicker tire for this important replacement to go ahead, too.

Can I Turn My Mountain Bike Into A Gravel Bike?

If you’re starting with a mountain bike, you’ll find it easier to convert it into a gravel bike.

They’re both geared towards off-road biking, so they have the same qualities that make the conversion process faster, easier, and cheaper.

Mountain bikes have been used as a great foundation for off-roading modifications for as long as they’ve been around.

They already have the right frame that can accommodate larger, thicker tires and that frame has the correct geometry that makes the bicycle stabler when it’s traversing harsh terrain.

The tires should be perfect for gravel riding already, if a little overkill.

If you have an especially long ride ahead of you, you may find the default tires on your mountain bike to be too slow for your liking. 

This is because mountain bikes have aggressive treads for digging into the dirt, which won’t gain much speed when churning through loose gravel.

If you’re going to change the tires, get a smoother tread pattern on preferably 700c wheels, so you have a wider choice range in tires.

How Do I Turn My Bike Into A Gravel Bike?

The exact process of turning your bike into a gravel bike will differ depending on your model and the modifications that you want to make.

That said, there are generalities we can use to answer your question.

The surest way to make sure your gravel bike conversion is a success is to know the bicycle you’re working with and follow relevant guides on how to change that model.

Tires

Generally, the most important modification is in the tires. The kind of tires you want will differ based on the type of gravel you want to ride over.

Gravel is a catch-all term for many different surfaces. Some gravel will have larger stones than others or have more mud that’ll affect how your wheels glide over those stones. 

Dry, relatively clean gravel should be fine with a fatter and slicker tire while woodland trails and dirty gravel should have an aggressive tire so that the bike grips the surface properly.

Many gravel tires come at 40mm; wider ones are available but you may have to change the bike’s frame to accommodate them.

The minimum width you should consider is 32mm. With any thinner tires, you can expect to lose some of the control that you want to retain when tackling rough ground.

If space is limited on your bike, cyclocross tires are typically 32mm while fitting the majority of road bike chassis.

When buying gravel tires, you have a choice between slicker tires and chunkier, mud-defeating tires.

If you ride your bike everywhere or all year round, you may even want to get summer and winter tires to swap out when you need them.

Wheels

The wheels of your bike are likely too fragile to take hard knocks.

Many road bikes nowadays are made of lightweight and expensive carbon fiber wheels that you don’t want to trash when riding out on the trail. In those cases, you need to swap for a more durable wheel. 

Carbon fiber can tackle gravel if it needs to but you’d be better off buying cheap aluminum wheels that can take the punishment, and you won’t care as much if they do get damaged in any way.

Gearing

Road bikes are geared for high-speed riding, something that’s dangerous when tackling gravely terrain.

Gravel bikes have lower gears so that they can handle more weight, handle the impacts from riding, and provide more stability whilst doing so.

Our advice is to fit a larger cassette onto your bike. The manufacturers of your bike model should be able to recommend the maximum cassette size you can stick with when modifying your rear derailleur.

You can also swap chainrings out for smaller ones that increase their climbing ability, perfect for uphill struggles. Many chains are marketed as being better on gravel, look into those.

Handlebar

If you look at gravel bikes, they often have different handlebars. They typically have a flared-drop handlebar that affords the rider more control, which is vital when off-roading.

The angle of the handlebar flare varies, so find which ones you like the most.

Remember that the wider the drop bar, the more control you have over the bicycle.

You may want to get a shorter, higher stem too. This brings the handlebar closer to your body, again increasing your control and making your turning more agile, which is great for woodland paths.

Bar tape and thick padding can make the handlebars more cushioned too if your hands and wrists take a battering when riding.

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