Alternative Road Bikes: The Only Bike You Need?

The Haanjo felt right at home anywhere we went
The Haanjo felt right at home anywhere we went

One of the coolest emerging categories from bike manufacturers these days are alternative road bikes. Descended from road bikes, alternative road bikes have evolved into a category of their own, and continue to be refined to help riders take road bikes to new places we could scarcely imagine a few years ago.
So what makes an alternative road bike?

  • Disc (or sometimes cantilever) brakes for better stopping performance
  • Higher bottom bracket for more ground clearance
  • Clearance for bigger tires
  • More upright riding position and longer wheel base
  • Frames tuned to be more flexible in the right places (like the seatstays) for improved comfort

Cyclocross Bikes

The OG alternative road bike. These bikes are designed for the discipline of cyclocross (read more about it here), but have since become some of the most popular bikes on the market. Why?

Because the ‘cross bike is basically a do everything bike. It might look like a road bike, but they have clearance for wider tires (usually up to a 38mm, versus a normal road bike’s 25mm max), a taller bottom bracket, and powerful cantilever or disc brakes These features allow CX bikes to go places most normal road bikes can’t, from off-road riding, to mountain bike trails, to fireroads. Additionally, ‘cross bikes have a geometry very similar to a racing road bike, so you can simply switch out the knobby tires for a pair of road tires, and you’ll have yourself a very capable road bike.

Examples: Fuji, Van DesselRidley

Key Strength: Versatile race-ready platform

Best For: Cyclocross, road riding, limited trail riding

The Ridley X-Night is a fine example of a cyclocross bike


Gravel Bikes

This is a relatively new category, but a pretty exciting one. Similar to a cyclocross bike, gravel bikes are primarily designed to be ridden on gravel and fire roads. Like cyclocross bikes they usually feature disc brakes, a high bottom bracket and big tire clearance.

What sets a gravel bike apart though is the geometry. While most ‘cross bikes are pretty racey, Gravel Bikes usually have a more relaxed “endurance” type geometry with a taller head tube, sloping top tube, and longer wheel base for improved comfort over long distances. The head tube angle is also a little slacker, and the chainstays longer, to give you more stability on uneven surfaces.

Examples: GT Grade

Key Strength: Outstanding stability and handling on rough roads

Best For: Exploring off the beaten path, gravel racing

The GT Grade is one of the most exciting gravel bikes yet

Adventure Bikes

This isn’t really a category…yet, but it’s one that includes some really exciting new bikes. These bikes aren’t really gravel bikes, nor cyclocross bikes, but they still incorporate a lot of the features we love, and are extremely capable.

Disc brakes, wide tire clearance, fender and rear rack mounts…these bikes aren’t really designed to do any one thing particularly brilliantly… but they are designed to do a lot of things pretty well. They’re at home on the MTB trail, on gravel roads, on the CX course, or even some light touring. They won’t do quite as well as a dedicated platform, but for the rider who dabbles in everything, it’s the perfect solution.

Examples: Diamondback Haanjo, Fuji Tread

Key Strength: Outright versatility

Best For: Someone who wants only one bike to do it all

Adventure awaits you aboard the Diamondback Haanjo
Adventure awaits you aboard the Diamondback Haanjo

10 thoughts on “Alternative Road Bikes: The Only Bike You Need?

    1. — And goes back farther than that. Consider a 1980s Univega Gran Turismo. No wonder the guys in the bike shop keep trying to talk me out of mine. The frame, at least … they want to upgrade everything else.

  1. Umm gravel/cross bikes are the same thing. If you look at the geometries there is little difference and with some brands its the same bike.

    Too bad you left out monstercross…the bike between a 29er and a cyclocross bike. Check out the guys at Monstercrosser they have been covering it for ten years. The ultimate all road bike!

    1. Actually the differences are far more substantial than you’re suggesting. Gravel bikes have slacker head tube angles. 0.5-2.0 degrees or more, higher BB’s, longer chainstays, longer wheelbase, higher stack height, just to mention a few. It adds up to a completely different ride and feel. Gravel typically has a better all-around gearing of 50/34 and 11-32 vs typical cross gearing of 46/36 and 11-28. Cable routing on gravel bike tend to vary, and the overall package is typically more versatile and can morph to adventure bike-packing. And on gravel bikes you wont see v-brakes either. They are most certainly not the same thing, some are close, most are not.

  2. Interesting timing on the article….
    I just picked up a GT Grade last night and can hardly wait to put some miles on it. My intent is to use my race bike for fast rides, my mountain bike for “full” trails, and the Grade for fondo/charity/grinder events.

  3. I’ve had my “bought at Performance” Alloy 105 GT grade for a couple of months and 300+ miles. It’s really a wonderful bike. Compliments my go fast carbon road bike. Satisfies my off road urges to where I’m selling my Santa Cruz tall boy which was too much bike for my needs and interests. Super comfy and a great value. Set up tubeless with 32mm tires.

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