Road, Gravel & Touring Bikes
Though not specifically designed for urban travel, these bikes lend themselves well to longer commutes, giving the rider a more athletic and efficient riding posture. A touring bike may have you sitting slightly more upright than a gravel bike, but neither will be as upright as a hybrid.
The most notable characteristic of the bikes in these categories is the style of handlebars. Drop handlebars (“ram horns”) scare some people away, for two main reasons (a) association with old ten-speed bikes, on which brakes were hard to reach, and shifters were sometimes mounted on the down-tube, closer to the rider’s knees than hands, and (b) the (somewhat justified) perception that you need to lean uncomfortably to reach the bars.
While it is true that the reach to the handlebars on these bikes is a bit longer, how far you reach and how low you lean can be adjusted and made quite comfortable for you, depending on the type of riding you have in mind. Drop bars have the advantage of offering multiple hand positions, which is extremely useful on longer rides.
Modern drop bar bikes often come equipped with integrated brake and shift levers, which are positioned to be conveniently available and intuitively easy to use.
(Note: there’s an emergent category of flat-bar road/adventure bikes, which bridge the space between a practical urban hybrid, and a dedicated adventure rig, and are a great option for riders accustomed to flat bars, who want a little more performance and personality from their bike).
Not your father’s road bike
The skinny-wheeled bikes with narrow tire clearances and nowhere to put a water bottle, let alone a rack or fenders, are a thing of the past. Actually, they’ve been relegated to the realm of road racing, and —for the lifestyle cyclist— they’ve been supplanted by much less precious and more versatile gravel bikes.
Though not as light as performance road bikes, they are built for fast-paced riding and long days in the saddle. They are sturdy enough to carry significant loads and roll over both urban streets and unpaved roads.
They share the 700c wheel size with road bikes, but the width of the tire is more like what you’d find on an urban hybrid. The frames are made with with wider tire clearances which giver you a range of tire options depending on your needs (thinner, lighter summertime tired, and beefier winter or all-terrain tires when you need them). The wheelsets are typically stockier than on road bikes, and can withstand the beating they'll get on potholes and unpaved terrain..
Gravel bike frames include lots of threaded eyelets for easy installation of fenders, front and rear racks, and water bottles. Frames can be aluminum, carbon fiber or steel.
An exploding category that bridges the gap between gravel and mountain bikes is adventure bikes. These take off on gravel idea with even wider tires, and sometimes slightly smaller wheels, making them great bikes to go where no man has gone before.
This may be the most traditional of bike categories, but it’s definitely going strong, and has been updated by influences from gravel and adventure bike design. In general, touring bikes differ from gravel in the following ways:
Stability over agility: touring bikes will generally have a longer wheelbase
Suppleness over weight: traditional touring bikes feature cromoly steel frames, which is less rigid than aluminum, and offers a more comfortable ride over many miles
Comfort over aerodynamics: the rider position is usually quite a bit more upright to accommodate long hours in the saddle, and facilitate viewing the scenery without excessive back or neck strain
For short adventures, such as day trips, centuries or overnights, gravel and touring bikes are virtually interchangeable, and both can be successfully adapted for urban commuting. Touring bikes will definitely shine on long, multi-day self-supported expeditions, and gravel bikes on demanding endurance events.