Learn How Zwift’s Gravel Bikes Perform

Learn How Zwift’s Gravel Bikes Perform

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):

  1. Cervelo Aspero: 53:47
  2. Canyon Grail: 53:49
  3. Canyon Inflite: 53:53
  4. Lauf True Grit: 53:53
  5. 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.

Hands-On Experience

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.

Climb Performance

Here’s how the new gravel bikes performed up the big Alpe du Zwift climb:

  1. Canyon Grail: 51:25
  2. Cervelo Aspero: 51:39
  3. Canyon Inflite: 51:55
  4. Zwift Gravel: 51:56
  5. 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.

Jungle Performance

Here’s how the gravel bikes perform on one lap of the Jungle Circuit:

  1. Canyon Grail: 14:11
  2. Cervelo Aspero: 14:12
  3. Canyon Inflite: 14:14
  4. Zwift Gravel: 14:14
  5. 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!

Hands-On Experience

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.

Gravel Conclusions

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

The new Scott Spark RC

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).

Your Thoughts

Have you tried out the new gravel rigs in Zwift? What did you think? Share below!

About The Author

Eric Schlange

Eric runs Zwift Insider in his spare time when he isn't on the bike or managing various business interests. He lives in Northern California with his beautiful wife, two kids and dog. Follow on Strava

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Shawn McAfee
Shawn McAfee (@smcafee)
1 year ago

Always great work. Appreciate your research!

Mick Such
Mick Such
1 year ago
Reply to  Shawn McAfee

Great stuff again Eric.

Went round the Jungle the other day n used my Cervelo S5 to get to it, then changed to the Zwift Mountain bike n zoomed around the course much quicker than all the other bikes.
Caught a bloke for 1 min 20 secs on just the climb from the bottom up to the bridge at virtually the same wkg.
Left a large group ride of tt bikes literally in the dirt. 😋

Mike
Mike (@michaeltrowe)
1 year ago

Eric, so which MTB is the fastest in the jungle?

tinikkel
1 year ago

Thanks for testing this! Are the gravel bike times on pavement roughly accurate in the real world? If so, what is it about gravel bikes that causes that much slowdown over even the slowest road bike?

Aoi Niigaki
Aoi Niigaki
1 year ago

Slower than road bikes on tarmac, slower than the MTBs on gravel. Perhaps on a 50/50 course (half tarmac half gravel) they might make sense but then switching bikes (going from road to MTB) half way through might be faster still.

FL_Roadie
FL_Roadie
1 year ago

Road riding, virtually speaking, makes a lot of sense for training. The trainer a person is using is smooth, the road is smooth and so forth; it fits nicely. Gravel and mountain bikes are taking the idea too far. What’s the point? One can’t feel the bumps, jarring handlebars, the sliding of the tires in loose sections and so forth. The gravel “fad” in RL doesn’t translate into a virtual world well at all. Don’t even get me started on steering. Dumbest idea ever. Then, the rocket scientists at Zwift take sections we’ve all ridden for over a year, know… Read more »

tempocyclist.com
1 year ago

@FL_Roadie – Wow that’s quite the rant! While I do agree on the constant “gamification” of things being a bit much for my tastes, I think that the majority market that Zwift are targeting probably do appreciate this more. Zwift, at the end of the day, is a game, rather than a 100% serious training tool. Virtual bunchies, races, chasing other riders up virtual climbs, etc. It’s all good fun. The changing weather and seeing different bikes / kit keeps the visuals interesting. I won’t be spending my Drops to add gravel or mountain bikes to my virtual fleet, but I’m… Read more »

Mike wepplo
Mike wepplo
1 year ago

You echo my feelings precisely

Ernie
Ernie
1 year ago

Virtual gravel is silly, I have to agree. Waste of effort on the part of the designers and devs, and has had the effect of reducing good available routes. Making this change so late in the development of the platform was a poor decision, and more expansion effort on gravel will be of limited value. Too bad. IRL gravel riding, sure, I can see the appeal. The only effects in Zwift are to add resistance, break PRs, unnecessarily (and not interestingly) complicate bike choice, and reduce the number of good ridable roads. Virtual weather doesn’t slow us down, so I’m… Read more »

Ernie
Ernie
1 year ago

Don’t mind the visuals and equipment, but adding to the effort on mainline routes (ocean blvd, etc) means it’s not just a pleasant addition.

Consider moving these sections to a distinct world, or to non-through roads so that they’re available to those with an interest but not negatively impacting everyone.

Gamification is fine, but someone needs to keep an eye on quality game design.

FL_Roadie
FL_Roadie
1 year ago

@tempo, Mike and Ernie, After I typed out my borderline rant, I was further thinking about the weather issue. I could imagine seeing a building thunderstorm on the horizon with flashes of lightning across the sky and perhaps hear the thunder etc. Now that would be neat to see; yet another form of eye candy to watch while one is suffering lol. I’m opposed to getting rained on, a personal bias, because I live in Florida. Yeah, we get a lot down here, but I have lived in a desert and once it didn’t rain for 9 months. When it… Read more »

David
David
1 year ago

I see the gravel bikes as a way of fine-tuning my group ride effort – If I want something slightly harder than the advertised pace, take a gravel bike. Going somewhere flat – take a gravel bike.
The extra resistance blows groups apart. That’s what has to be addressed (ability for riders to turn it off perhaps) or we’ll stop using places like the jungle which would be a shame as that’s my favourite route.

As others have said – training platform first, game second.

Greg Juviler
Greg Juviler
1 year ago

You have to come to a complete stop to switch bikes or wheels… So you will lose whatever gain you get by switching… and if you lose the group you were with… well.. your toast

Weasel
Weasel
1 year ago

I bought an Aspero and promptly got smoked by a mountain biker in the jungle. Grrr. I should’ve been satisfied with the Zwift Mtn bike for now. Also – will any gravel specific wheel sets become available?

Michael Paul Young
Michael Paul Young
1 year ago

Yeah, I can’t think of a single person who likes the fact that the jungle route basically sucks now. I used to love this route for solo riding and training, nice variation of easy rollers and good visuals. Now it’s basically useless, I won’t ride there and avoid any races on it. Which is a shame, because races on that route is a great workout. Agree they can have the gravel and mtb stuff, but make it separate courses from the road stuff, and get rid of this nonsense where the dirt and gravel parts are now slow. I think… Read more »

Robert C
Robert C
1 year ago

I fail to see how being slowed down (compared to a virtual reference on top of that) would have any impact on solo riding or training. As for races, everyone is facing the same conditions.

M4rk0
M4rk0
1 year ago

I’m curious if they have data on how many users choose the jungle route. I would imagine the numbers have plummetted with the physics change. I stopped riding it after my first ride through with the new physics. It’s a shame as it was one of my favorite routes.

Simon J. Rhodes
Simon J. Rhodes
1 year ago

Does it make a difference if you have road bike wheels on a gravel bike? I did round 1 of the Cervélo Gravel Rush Series today. The bike was automatically chosen as a Cervélo Aspero but it was wearing the Zipp wheels that my normal road bike wears.

Ryan
Ryan
1 year ago

Thanks for a great article. I do love my gravel bike in real life. On Zwift, just it seems that a gravel bike is never the “best” option for any course or race. This is probably because Zwift can’t quite replicate the punishment and misery of taking my road bike down a sandy dirt road.

James Metcalfe
James Metcalfe
1 year ago
Reply to  Ryan

pretty sure there is plenty of misery in taking a road bike on jungle circuit.

Neil
Neil
8 months ago

Really useful thank you. Still struggling to see the point in gravel at all in ZWIFT at the moment. There is hardly any of it so racing on it is repetitive/boring with just the Jungle loop as an option. With key routes coming off the jungle route it is quite frankly a PITA. Either expand it and keep it away from key routes or get rid of it 🙂 Anyway that’s me vented for another week. Keep up the good work.

Dan Connelly
Dan Connelly
8 months ago

I put a feature request to liberate the dirt roads in France. The gravel bikes desperately need a playground on which they excel.

Warren
Warren
5 months ago

I think Zwift needs to improve its steering. As it stands, its almost impossible to weave my way around all the roadies floundering on the dirt.

David Webber
David Webber
4 months ago

So confusing. I did the new Mayan figure 8. I picked the SWorks Roubiax bike and tubeless wheels. I smoked it wicked fast. But each gradient feels 2%+ harder, but you don’t get credit for climbed altitude. I’ve ridden the old jungle on Scott MTB but Roubiax feels quicker. Maybe time to revisit all the numbers. Clearly it’s frame plus tires for best formula. It’s a great route for change up, stunning graphics but not easy and most people not regulars there.

Karl-Eric Devaux
Karl-Eric Devaux
3 months ago

What wheelset would you recommend for gravel rides – keeping same bike

Thommy
Thommy
3 months ago

Does anyone know which bike, MTB or gravel bike, is the fastest on serpentine 8? Cause there’s also a lot of solid ground I think.
Thanks a lot!

ChrisG
ChrisG
2 months ago
Reply to  Thommy

According to Eric’s comment on this article https://zwiftinsider.com/route/serpentine-8/, “There’s still too much dirt for the gravel or road bikes to win here. MTB still wins, hands-down!”

Stephen Carpenter
Stephen Carpenter
3 months ago

love the gravel and the fun of changing bikes for different terrain

Charlie
Charlie
3 months ago

I have a grail, which I love and which I use on my smart trainer for Zwift. Having a virtual one to match it will make me smile every time I log on to workout. There’s more to life than going slightly faster than a stranger in a virtual world.

Fred
Fred
3 months ago

OK here’s a question (well two), does a gravel bike draft faster than a MTB? So will it be faster in race conditions? And is it faster on the new Serpentine 8 route with more non-gravel sections?

ChrisG
ChrisG
3 months ago
Reply to  Fred

According to Eric’s comment on this article https://zwiftinsider.com/route/serpentine-8/, “There’s still too much dirt for the gravel or road bikes to win here. MTB still wins, hands-down!”

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