Zwift released its first gravel bikes in their December 2019 game update. The Cervelo Aspero, Canyon Grail, Canyon Inflite (actually a cross bike), and Zwift Gravel were built in game similar to how they’re built outdoors: to perform well on dirt while also zipping along nicely on pavement. Later, the Lauf True Grit was added to the list.
But how do they actually perform in game? How do they compare to Zwift’s new mountain bikes, as well as the established crop of road rigs?
We ran extensive tests to find out. Here are some of the results.
Flat Pavement Performance
Here’s how each of the new gravel bikes performed over two laps of our Tempus Fugit test segment (300 watts steady, 75kg rider):
- Cervelo Aspero: 53:47
- Canyon Grail: 53:49
- Canyon Inflite: 53:53
- Lauf True Grit: 53:53
- Zwift Gravel: 53:54
The Aspero wins this contest, with the Grail close on its heels.
The fastest road bikes complete the test route in 50:25, while the slowest road bikes (Zwift Steel with 32mm carbon wheels) complete it in 51:40. Clearly the new gravel rigs perform quite poorly on pavement.
The fastest mountain bikes complete the test route in 55:35, meaning the gravel rigs are turning in times right in between the fast road bikes and the slower MTB.
I found the gravel rigs to be quite challenging on pavement. I had to hold ~30 more watts than those around me just to hang with the group on the flats, turning a “2.0-2.5 w/kg spin” into something a bit more tougher.
Here’s how the new gravel bikes performed up the big Alpe du Zwift climb:
- Canyon Grail: 51:25
- Cervelo Aspero: 51:39
- Canyon Inflite: 51:55
- Zwift Gravel: 51:56
- Lauf True Grit: 51:58
The Grail wins the climbing contest quite handily, with the Aspero 14 seconds behind.
The fastest road bikes climb the Alpe in 48:39, while the slower (Zwift Steel with 32mm carbon wheels) complete it in 49:57. We already know the gravel bikes are slower on flat pavement, so this is not surprising.
The fastest mountain bikes climb the Alpe in 54:29. The mountain bikes are quite heavy, so this isn’t surprising, either. Like our flat tests, the gravel bikes sit squarely in between the road bikes and mountain bikes in terms of time up the Alpe.
Here’s how the gravel bikes perform on one lap of the Jungle Circuit:
- Canyon Grail: 14:11
- Cervelo Aspero: 14:12
- Canyon Inflite: 14:14
- Zwift Gravel: 14:14
- Lauf True Grit: 14:15
The Grail and Aspero essentially tie in this contest, since 1 second can simply be a Strava rounding/GPS error. But the Inflite and Gravel are very close behind.
The faster road bikes complete a jungle lap in around 15 minutes flat. Extrapolate that difference out over 4 laps and we’ve got a difference of 3 minutes between the road bikes and gravel bikes. Finally, the gravel bikes get to show off a bit!
My gravel rig destroyed the road bikes on the jungle circuit. While the road bikes labored at 2.5-3 w/kg up the jungle climbs, I chugged along at 2-2.5, holding ~40 watts less but still dropping the pack of road riders.
The Cervelo Aspero and Canyon Grail are clearly the top two bikes from the four gravel rigs. The Aspero is the more aero of the two, while the Grail is lighter. Choose accordingly.
The MTB Wild Card
This is where it gets a little weird, though: the fastest mountain bike completes a Jungle lap in 13:52. You read that right! All of the mountain bike rigs are significantly faster in the Jungle than the gravel rigs.
The gap widens as wattage goes lower, but even at unrealistically high wattages (450 watts for a full lap) the mountain bike beats the gravel by 12 seconds.
If this seems odd to you, you’re not alone. Between the Jungle dirt rolling so fast for so many months and its smooth appearance in game, many Zwifters feel it should perform like a smooth dirt road–meaning a gravel bike would be faster. Especially since gravel bikes should be much lighter than the full-suspension MTB rigs in Zwift.
MTB should have their place, of course. Make that road rougher, and the MTB should beat the gravel bike. Perhaps in the future, Zwift will have multiple classes of dirt?
For now, the mountain bikes remain king of the Jungle. Of course, you have to get there first–and keeping up with road bikes on pavement is hard work for a MTB rider (see our Crr numbers for more on that).
Have you tried out the new gravel rigs in Zwift? What did you think? Share below!