Both road bike and gravel bike clearances have ballooned in recent years, but the grey area between them remains. We've seen plenty of brands releasing bikes that claim to be neither gravel nor road lately, instead dubbing them 'all-road' bikes. So, what exactly is an all-road bike? Should you get one, and are they really the N+1 killers that they're cracked up to be?
Currently in for review is this Ridley Grifn shown above. It's just one of a flurry of new all-road bikes... aka road plus, aka gravel-lite. It's a whole genre of bikes that seems to be gaining traction and slotting in somewhere between the increasingly grey area between gravel and endurance road bikes.
Has the bike industry just created a whole other subcategory for no reason at all? Although if there are reasons, an understandable one is in order to sell more bikes...
The phrase ‘N+1 killer’ can be an overused term that describes a bike that can 'do it all'. The idea is that if you have one bike for all your riding, then you won’t need to go out and purchase new ones for various different riding disciplines.
Canyon describes all-road bikes as "drop-bar bikes that are fast and capable on any kind of road surface from smooth asphalt all the way to light gravel tracks."
Compared to a road bike, an all-road bike often has wider tyre clearances, more laid-back or stable geometry, wider gearing and an array of storage options. That’s not only a good thing for anyone wanting to venture onto some light gravel, but also many road cyclists navigating poor road surfaces and prioritising comfort over speed.
That does however, all sound rather similar to a gravel bike doesn’t it... those too have wider tyre clearances, more relaxed geometry, storage, sometimes suspension and of course, wider gearing. If you want to check out the differences between a gravel bike and an endurance road bike in more detail then, we’ve got a feature on that too!
Road bikes tend to top out at around 32mm for tyre clearance. The BMC Roadmachine shown above is one of the most spacious, with room for 33mm rubber.
Gravel bikes have been getting ever more spacious. While it varies a lot, the vast majority of recently released gravel bikes will take at least 40mm tyres, and many even greater than that. For example, the Lauf Seigla can take whopping 57mm tyres. Not so long ago, only mountain bikes would take tyres this wide!
All-road bikes aim to fill the gap that's appeared/appearing between road and gravel bikes, with clearance for 32mm up to 40mm tyres depending on the model. The Grifn, for example, can take 38mm tyres in the 2x crankset set-up that we have. It can take 40mm tyres when used with a 1x crankset, and 32mm tyres when paired with full mudguards.
The gearing and geometry on an all-road bike also tends to find a halfway house between road and gravel. You’ll find that many all-road bikes will come with a double chainset just like a road bike, but with smaller gearing. This is because you're more likely to find yourself travelling slower on back lanes and gravel climbs, rather than hooning down an A-road on a road bike.
Our all-road bike has fairly typical gearing for this sector, with 46/30T rings up front on a Shimano GRX groupset. SRAM also makes a double chainset designed specifically for all-road bikes with smaller 43/30T rings, but with a 10T cog at the back to provide very similar ratios to this GRX setup.
Compared to an endurance road bike, that’s pretty small gears. These days you’ll typically find SRAM-equipped road bikes using the brand's X-Range gearing including 48/35T rings, and many Shimano-equipped road bikes use compact chainsets with 50/34T rings.
Gravel bikes, meanwhile, now come with huge ranges, but very often in a 1x setup; for example, mine is fitted with a 40T ring at the front with a 10-44T cassette. That gives me a huge range to play with when riding off-road, but does result in quite large gaps between the gears. This becomes noticeable when trying to hold a steady cadence on the road.
It is worth noting that if you do want to run a double chainset on a gravel bike, then double-check that it can take one. Many of the latest designs such as this Lauf Seigla are now 1x only to squeeze every last bit of tyre clearance out of the frames. From the all-road bikes on the market so far though, it's far more common for them to accept a 2x groupset.
Geometry can all be a bit boring, but annoyingly it is very important to how a bike rides. We’ll therefore try and keep it short and sweet...
Of course, there are a few anomalies but in general - and in order of aggressiveness - you've got race bikes, endurance road bikes, all-road bikes, gravel bikes and then mountain bikes. There are lots of fancy geometry words to describe all the lengths and angles but in general, you’ll find that the road bikes have:
The result of these is that you'll be pushed further forwards relative to the bottom bracket, and in a better position to put power down. If an off-road bike had similar characteristics to this, the downside would be increased risk of going over the bars when clattering into rocks or navigating a technical descent.
Road bikes also have:
These make a bike feel more agile and the steering quicker, but at the expense of high-speed stability. Road bikes are often run with longer stems to try and remove some of this twitchiness.
For me, there’s no better way of getting a rough idea of a bike's geometry than when riding no-handed. Jump on the BMC and for a road bike it’s fairly relaxed; but even so, it takes some concentration to ride no-handed.
The Ridley all-road bike, meanwhile, has the front wheel more out in front of you. This makes the steering feel slower and more controlled, and I can quite happily ride around no-handed on this one.
And then we have the Lauf gravel bike, which is the most stable of the three with the steadiest handling. Despite being designed for racing and quite aggressive compared to other gravel bikes, it's by far the easiest of the three to ride no-handed.
So, we’ve ascertained that all-road bikes really are a happy medium between full-on road and gravel bikes. So why haven’t we heard of them before?
Well, the truth is there have always been bikes like them, just up until now we haven’t given them a fancy name. It’s only recently that gravel bike clearances have ballooned, so a gravel bike from 10 years ago is, for all intents and purposes, an all-road bike nowadays.
There has long been the desire to ride wider tyres on the road, and have a bike that can be used both on the tarmac and on light gravel. Years ago I built up a Specialized Crux cyclocross bike. It could take around 35mm tyres and made an absolutely great bike for smashing down back lanes in winter, poorly surfaced roads and of course, some gravel as well.
As much as brands would love to scream and shout about their new creations right until the next model comes out... all-road bikes aren’t exactly an all-new invention, it’s just the name that’s new to a lot of us. If you'd rather, they can be seen as a subcategory of gravel bikes.
So, if you’ve made it to this point then you might be wondering why don’t you just go full hog and get a gravel bike? Well, the truth is that it’s going to depend a lot on the terrain that you ride.
An all-road bike is indeed very similar to a gravel bike, just with smaller tyre clearances and the gearing and geometry to match. For riders who usually stick to the roads and well-surfaced gravel paths, an all-road bike will hit the absolute mark.
I've had the chance to ride a fair few of the latest all-road bikes, and have been repeatedly impressed with how little they give away in terms of speed on the road when specced with slick tyres. Yes, the latest road bikes are stiffer and more aerodynamic, but the vast majority of us simply aren’t after that. In fact, I'll go as far as to say that on the abundance of lumpy potholed lanes in the UK, you’ll be seriously hard-pressed to find a faster bike than one shod with 35mm slick tyres.
Then, of course, there's the added benefit of being able to take an all-road bike off-road. My commute along a disused railway line, for example, has sections of loose gravel, that whilst passable is less than ideal on a dedicated road bike. I’m waiting for the day when a stone jams itself between the frame and tyre because I’ve maxed out the clearance...
Allroad bikes such as the Grifn or Lapierre Pulsium All-road 5.0 shown above certainly are fast and capable on all kinds of surfaces, from smooth tarmac all the way to dirt roads. The best all-road bikes manage to be fast, reactive yet stable and well-balanced like a road bike with enough comfort, clearance and gearing for long days on rough roads. I’d happily line up on the start line of a Gran Fondo on an all-road bike.
Ridley says that this particular bike is the perfect match for riders who don’t want to have to choose between road and gravel, and that’s something I completely agree with. However, Ridley does then go on to say that the Grifn is carefully designed for riders searching for that one bike that can do it all. Maybe that’s true for some riders out there; but as we’ve previously alluded to, everyone’s riding, and therefore perfect bike, is different.
It’s easy to get hung up on what label a bike brand has given their latest bike, and even easier to decide we don’t like any one particular genre of cycling. The good news is that there’s more choice than ever for whatever type of riding you do.
So, will all-road bikes break the N+1 rule of bike ownership? Maybe for some people, maybe even a lot of people, but certainly not for everyone.
Our full reviews of both the Ridley Grifn and BMC Roadmachine TWO featured in this article will be appearing on road.cc soon!
Is an all-road bike the one you’ve been waiting for? Let us know in the comments section below…
Jamie has been riding bikes since a tender age but really caught the bug for racing and reviewing whilst studying towards a master's in Mechanical engineering at Swansea University. Having graduated, he decided he really quite liked working with bikes and is now a full-time addition to the road.cc team. When not writing about tech news or working on the Youtube channel, you can still find him racing local crits trying to cling on to his cat 2 licence...and missing every break going...