Can I Race Cross on my Gravel Bike?

Reading Time: 4 minutes


By Sam Pickman

I love riding my gravel bike – it is fast, light, rugged, and extremely versatile.  The joke about gravel is that people have been riding it for ages. Hell, lots of us have done plenty of miles on 23mm tires on backwoods dirt roads “back in the day”, long before gravel was a thing.  The desire to explore and escape is not new. There is no doubt that a gravel-specific bike improves the experience dramatically but the line between bikes has gotten so thin that some bikes can be used for a variety of disciplines.  One of the main questions we get about our ABLE is “can I use it to race cross?”. The answer is without a doubt yes, and if you have a cross bike, you can use it for gravel and gravel events. But there are differences, and clear reasons why the bikes have been separated into two separate camps.  Below is a brief explanation on the differences between the two:

Tire Size
Cyclocross races are sanctioned events and therefore have fairly specific rules about equipment.  The rules around tire size are pretty specific in cross – if you want to race your tires cannot be larger than 33mm. Most cross bikes have space for a bit more but are designed around this tire size and almost none can handle the 40mm+ tire that are so popular for gravel.  That means BB height and steering geometry are optimized around that tire. Changing tires will affect the performance of the bike a surprising amount. You will for sure be able to adapt to the changes but it will never be optimum if you run tires different than intended. 

Accessory mounts
One of the main attractions to the gravel movement is doing longer rides that may span multiple days, so packing gear is essential.  Typical gravel events are quite long and it is not uncommon for riders to be on their bikes north of 6 hours. These events are not always supported, so chances are you’ll need to carry lots of water and snacks.  Pretty much every gravel bike has the ability to carry at least three water bottles and most have some sort of bag mounts. Cross bikes are raced for an hour, even at the highest levels, so additional storage is not a requirement. 

Gearing
Because cross races are held on tight courses with generally nothing more than short punchy climbs, large gear ranges are not required.  It is common in cross to run a 1X up front in anything from a 42 to a 48 tooth ring with a 11-32 in the back. In contrast, gravel bikes are built out with very wide gear ranges to handle longer steeper dirt roads with low gears greater than a 1:1 ratio.  On most of our ABLE’s we run a 42T front ring with a 10-50 12 speed rear cassette offering a really wide range to accommodate the huge range of terrain these bikes are ridden on.    

The important take-away is while each bike (gravel and cx) is slightly more appropriate for its specific use, either is perfectly capable of crossing disciplines.  The most important thing is take whatever you have and go ride it.