Gravel bikes are considered to be the newest revolution and one of the fastest-growing trends in the sport. So, let’s see what are the best gravel bikes on the market.
But what exactly is a gravel bike? And do we actually need it with all the other types of bikes out there?
What Is a Gravel Bike?
Simply speaking, gravel bikes are a blend between road, mountain, and cyclocross bikes. They combine the best features of these three types into one extremely versatile category. They allow you to ride on dirt, mud, asphalt, and gravel (of course). So they basically impose no limits when it comes to terrain.
Gravel bikes are characterized by drop handlebars seen on road bikes, wide tire clearance for tires that can be as wide as those on mountain bikes, low bottom bracket, and a more upright geometry. They have the quick handling of a cyclocross bike and the stability of a touring bike.
Is Gravel Good on the Road?
Gravel bikes are good on the road as well. They are not strictly meant for riding off-road and can be a good alternative to hybrid bikes. They are more oriented towards off-road rides, but they perform well on asphalt as well.
Nothing can beat a road bike on the road, but gravel bikes are not that much slower that speed becomes a deal-breaker. The GCN show actually made a good comparison video of the two, concluding that gravel bikes are just a couple of percent slower in the same conditions. If you’re racing, that’s a big deal; but if you’re a recreational rider, the benefits far outweigh those several seconds/minutes lost.
Best Frame Materials
The majority of gravel bikes are built around aluminum or carbon frames, as you can see from our list of the best gravel bikes below. However, there are some models with steel or even titanium frames as well.
Each material has its pros and cons. Carbon, of course, is the best choice performance-wise, as it is incredibly light and stiff. That makes it the favorite choice for gravel racing bikes. However, it is a lot more expensive than other materials.
On the other hand, aluminum provides the best ratio between money and value. Modern alloys are almost as light as carbon but cost significantly less.
You can usually get a bike with the same components for several hundred dollars less if you choose an aluminum frame.
Therefore, if you are not a performance cyclist and you’re not chasing marginal gains by shedding every gram off your bike, we recommend going for aluminum. It will give you the best bang for your buck.
Number of Gears
Gravel bikes usually come with either 1x or 2x drivetrains. That means they have one or two chainrings in the front and more or fewer gears overall.
The correct drivetrain type and the number of gears depend on your riding preferences. 1x setups are easier to use because of just one derailleur, which also makes them simpler and cheaper to maintain. However, they come with a smaller gear range that’s suitable for moderate rolling hills. Depending on the class, you’ll get a 1×10, 1×11, or a 1×12 setup.
2x drivetrains are a bit heavier, but they give you a lot more gears. They usually have between 16 and 22 gears, so they are an excellent choice for big climbs and big descents.
You win some and lose some with either of the two options, so consider the pros and cons and chose the one that suits you better.
650b vs 700c Wheels
Both 700c and 650b wheels have their own unique advantages. 700c wheels and tires are still more common on gravel bikes, but there’s a decent choice of models with 650b wheels as well.
Many riders prefer 700c wheels because they are lighter, faster, and offer more options for tires. They are the best choice for all-around riding. If you plan to ride both paved and unpaved roads, 700c is the way to go as these wheels generally fit narrower tires. They will feel comfortable and grippy on gravel roads, and fast and dynamic on paved roads.
On the other hand, 650b wheels are a better choice for gravel-dominant rides. They are slightly heavier due to wider tires, so they roll more slowly, but the smaller diameter allows for better handling. If you plan to stick to rough gravel roads, the wide tires on 650b wheels will provide you with more comfort, more grip, especially on loose sections. Keep in mind that they will feel sluggish on paved roads.
Perfect Tire Width
The perfect tire width for your gravel bike depends on many factors. If you plan to predominantly ride on tame gravel roads, go for narrower tires; if you want to tackle rough gravel roads, you need wider rubber.
That said, 30mm to 32mm tires are a good choice for cyclists who plan to ride mostly on paved roads with occasional detours on gravel roads. These tires can be slick or with shallow treads, so they weigh little and roll fast. They’re also a good choice for city commutes.
Riders who plan to spend equal amounts of time on gravel and paved roads should look into 35mm and 38mm tires. They come in slick and knobby variations, so they can be pavement or gravel-dominant. They offer the best balance between weight and performance, offering decent speed and traction on all surfaces.
Lastly, 40mm and wider tires should be considered by riders who intend to stick to gravel roads the majority of their time. These tires are heavier and slower than other options, but they provide the most grip. If you ride on hardpacked gravel, 40mm tires should do the trick. If you prefer loose and rough gravel, you can usually go up to 50mm on 650b wheels.
Best Air Pressure
When it comes to tire pressure, unfortunately, a universal number that works for everyone just doesn’t exist. Inflating your tires too much will result in the loss of comfort. Plus, you’ll be bouncing over every rock and thus losing momentum.
On the contrary, inflating your tires too little will feel as if someone’s pulling you back. Your pedaling will not be efficient and you also risk getting a pinch flat or busting your rim if you bottom out.
The golden number is somewhere in-between these two extremes. It depends on your weight, tire width, terrain, as well as the riding style.
Trial and error is the only way to find the right air pressure for you. Try deflating or inflating your tires by 5 psi and noticing any differences on your next ride until you find a setting that works. As a rule of thumb, front tires should be inflated slightly less because most of your weight is on the rear tire.
So if you’re considering buying a gravel bike and adding some fun and versatility to your rides, below are the best models that you should consider. If we had to put them in any order, this is the one.
— Cheap Options for Beginners (Under $1,000) —
We know that $1,000 is not considered cheap, but you can’t get a gravel bike for much cheaper than that.
Gravel bikes use plenty of technology to provide you with maximum reliability and the development process is thus longer. That comes at a high price.
However, you can still get a feel for gravel riding without taking a loan from the bank. Below are the two best gravel bikes under $1,000 that you can get right now, in our opinion.
Salsa Journeyman Claris 700
Best Gravel for Beginners
In the last position, we have another fantastic cheap bike that you should definitely shortlist if you want to try gravel. It is available in two distinct colors. The first one is bright orange and the second one is a unique copper shade. Both look very nice on this bike, emphasized by the colorful stripes on the fork and the seat tube.
This Salsa Journeyman bike is definitely the proof that cheap bikes can look good and do well when ridden hard.
Journeyman is an all-aluminum bike with a weight of 25 pounds, which is pretty decent considering the price you pay and the fact that this is a gravel destroyer.
Quality Shimano Components
Just like its affordable cousin above, the Salsa Journeyman bike has a 2×8 drivetrain with Shimano Claris derailleurs, an 11-34t cassette and a 46/30 crankset. If you are just starting out with cycling or with gravel riding, this will be more than enough for you when it comes to the number of gears and the quality of the groupset.
The same can be said for Promax mechanical disc brakes. They perform well both in dry and in wet weather and are easy to maintain. If you have any problems and you’re far from home or your local bike shop, you can fix them yourself more easily.
The Journeyman has 700C wheels and tires that are 37mm wide. They roll on WTB STP i19 TCS rims with front and rear Formula hubs.
All in all, this is a very good choice for anyone without a very deep pocket, but with a deep desire to explore gravel roads around their area.
— For Training —
Cannondale CAADX 105 (2020)
Best for Cyclocross & Gravel
Cycling is not a cheap sport, but it does not have to be expensive either. You can enjoy the beauty of gravel riding and see what all the fuss is about at a reasonably low price with the Cannondale CAADX 105.
You can ride Cannondale CAADX 105 anyway you want and anywhere you want. Go on off-road trips and adventures? Check! Commute on all types of roads? Check! Complete gravel events? Check!
Cannondale has built the CAADX 105 on the SmartForm C2 aluminum frame with a full carbon fork with a tapered steerer. Both are jam-packed with mount points, so you can take anything you want with you.
Elegant Design x Rough Character
This Cannondale model not only performs well on tough terrain but also looks good. The black pearl paint job with orange details makes it look elegant and mean at the same time, so you know it means business when you see it.
The set of components that this bike sports also tells you that it is more than capable to do what it is intended to do. It comes with a Shimano 105 2×11 drivetrain with an 11-34T cassette ideal for steep roads. You’ll stop by using 160/160 Shimano 105 hydraulic disc brakes, which are reliable and strong.
The Cannondale CAADX 105 weighs just 22 lbs, which is pretty low considering the price and the fact that this is a sturdy gravel machine.
These are all good reasons why any gravel beginner, enthusiast, or adventurer should not hesitate adding this Cannondale model to their collection.
Orbea Terra Apex 1
Best Value With Carbon Fork
Orbea is well-known for their high-end road bikes that win competitions and turn amateurs into pros (with the right training, of course). However, even they were not immune to the gravel craze, and we’re very happy because of that! Their newest creation is called Orbea Terra Apex 1. This is an exclusive Jenson USA build, so you can only get it at Jenson USA.
To give you an idea, The Orbea Terra is a bike with a hydroformed triple-butted aluminum frame and a carbon fork with a full carbon steerer. It comes with an all-black matte paint job with shiny black decals which looks fantastic. This bike is made to feel comfortable on any terrain, including gravel, dirt, single tracks, and anything else that comes to your mind.
No Negotiations with Gravel
If you come closer and look at the drivetrain, you will notice SRAM Apex 1 parts all around. It offers 11 gears with a 42T crankset and an 11-42T cassette.
The package also includes reliable Shimano MT400 hydraulic disc brakes with brake levers from the same groupset.
Orbea Terra offers exceptional value for money reflected in the components and the carbon fork, and is made to spend its lifetime on dirt and gravel roads.
This Orbea Terra model rolls on DT Swiss G 1800 wheels and Kenda Flintridge Pro 700x40c tires that have a discreet tread that grips well.
If you want a bike that can do anything you ask from it when you get off the beaten path, you should not hesitate to invest in an Orbea Terra!
Giant Revolt Advanced 3
Ready for All Roads
Road riding is still very popular but road cyclists are slowly discovering a completely new universe hidden behind the edge of the paved roads. If you are one of those, we recommend looking into the Giant Revolt Advanced 3.
Giant Revolt Advanced 3 won’t break your bank, but it will break the boundaries you have set for yourself regarding where you can and can’t ride thanks to its clever geometry and capable components.
Revolt Advanced 3 has a lot of technology to offer even though it comes at a very attractive price. It’s one of the cheapest bikes on this list, but definitely not less capable because of that. In addition to that, it’s one of the most beautiful bikes on this list, in our opinion, so there’s another reason to consider it.
Carbon Gravel Beast
Apart from what we have already mentioned above, if you go for this bike, you will also get a decent set of Shimano components. This Giant comes with a 2×10 drivetrain powered by a Shimano Tiagra groupset. The cassette is an 11-34T, which is a decent range that will help you keep your cadence up anywhere.
The brakes are Giant Conduct Hydraulic discs, controled by Shimano Tiagra brake levers and operating on decent-sized rotors.
The Giant Crosscut AT 1 tires come in the 700 x 38 mm dimension and the Giant S-X2 Disc Double Wall wheelset is tubeless-ready. Thus, you can ride without having to worry about punctures which are quite common off the beaten path.
Definitely consider Giant Revolt Advanced 3 if you do not want to spend too much money, but you want to get a taste of that gravel dust everybody is talking about!
— For Racing —
Trek Checkpoint SL 5
Best Value Carbon Gravel Bike
The Trek Checkpoint SL 5 is perhaps one of the most popular gravel bikes out there. What makes it one of the best is the bang for the buck ratio you get when you buy it! This bike costs $2,900, but it delivers a powerful punch when you’re out and about, conquering loose gravel roads.
This time around we’re reviewing the Checkpoint SL 5 Carbon model which has some interesting solutions. These make it ideal for adventures into the wild where ease of maintenance is an important factor.
High-End Carbon Frame and 105 Components
Trek equipped the Checkpoint SL 5 with a full Shimano 105 groupset. This groupset is race ready and is known to provide the best value for money in Shimano’s hierarchy.
Trek Checkpoint SL 5 is built around a lightweight Carbon frame with endurance geometry and a tapered Checkpoint carbon fork which means this bike is ready for tough and long gravel events.
The 2×11 drivetrain definitely has enough gears, so you can ride the entirety of the route—no need to hike on your rides! The same goes for downhill, thanks to the Shimano 105 hydraulic disc brakes. They are a good choice on gravel bikes because they provide both stopping power and precision.
We also love the massive tubeless 700 x 40c Bontrager GR1 Team Issue tires which simply do not make compromises with any obstacles on the gravel roads!
If you do not want to spend thousands of dollars but you want to experience everything gravel riding has to offer, then Trek Checkpoint SL 5 is the bike for you.
Niner RLT 9 3-Star
Best Advanced Gravel Race Bike
The second gravel bike on our list is the Niner RLT 9 3-Star. It’s a bike that is cheaper and more accessible to ordinary riders, but definitely not less fun.
For this price, you will also get an RDO carbon fork with internal cable routing for brakes and the dynamo. In total, the frame and the fork have 26 mount points that you can use to attach racks, bottles, lights, fenders, bags, and whatever else you feel you need on your adventures.
You can ride and abuse Niner RLT 9 whichever direction your imagination takes you and this machine will just beg for more.
SRAM & Shimano Components
You can have these adventures on the most unforgiving terrains, thanks to the tire clearance for 700 x 50c or 650b x 2.0” tires. The stock model comes with 700 x 40c, but you can easily ramp that up!
When it comes to the drivetrain, the Niner RLT 9 3-Star is a bit of a SRAM-Shimano Frankenstein. It has an Ultegra 11-34T cassette, but the rest of the parts are from the SRAM Rival groupset, including the 34/50 crankset. The powerful hydraulic disc brakes also carry the SRAM Rival logo.
The Niner RLT 9 3-Star is the ideal companion of any gravel enthusiast intended for solo rides, group rides, and long gravel events.
Juliana Quincy CC Rival 2020 – Women’s
Best Women’s Gravel Bike
Gravel riding is becoming popular among both male and female riders. There are no rules regarding whom you can come across at a local gravel road. That’s why on number 9 we have one of the best gravel bikes for women called Juliana Quincy CC Rival!
Juliana Quincy is a quality women’s high mid-range bike with a decent set of components ideal for gravel enthusiasts and those who aim to ride more seriously than before.
This bike comes with a geometry that’s more suitable for the women’s body, a women-specific saddle, and a beautiful midnight blue paint job.
But the good things do not end there. It can also perform well, which is what really matters.
The Best Gravel Bike for Women
Juliana Quincy invites any serious rider to hop on its Carbon CC Frame coupled with a lightweight carbon fork with internal cable routing. This setup provides a comfortable and a responsive ride that limits vibrations and acts well in most riding conditions.
This Juliana model comes with a SRAM Rival drivetrain that puts 11 speeds at your disposal with a 10-42T cassette and a 40T crankset. Therefore, you can comfortably ride it on flats, hills, and descents, without worrying that you will end up being short of gears.
We should also mention the SRAM RIval 1 Flat Mount disc brakes with Avid Centerline 160mm rotors.The WTB Asym i23p 700c wheelset come complete with Maxxis Ravager EXO, 700 x 40c tires. They’re not as wide as you can get on some other bikes, but they are wide enough to feel comfortable and confident on your rides.
If you’re looking for a reliable, capable, and good-looking women’s gravel bike, we recommend the Juliana Quincy CC Rival!
— For Enthusiasts —
Niner MCR 9 RDO 5-Star 2X (2020)
Smoothest Gravel Bike
If you think you’re dreaming, I can assure you that you’re not. This is a full-suspension gravel bike. Niner MCR 9 is one of the best-looking gravel bicycles we have ever seen. But this wide-wheel gravel gobbler is not all looks and no brains. It’s far from that.
It costs $7,000, but every cent of that price is well justified. It features a Fox 32 SC Float AX Performance Elite fork with 50 mm of travel and an X-Fusion Microlite RS rear shock with remote lockout. You don’t often see a setup like that on gravel bikes with drop bars.
Apart from the suspension, this Niner bike also has an incredibly lightweight full-carbon frame that has clearance for up to 700x50c or 650b x 2.0″ tires. That’s enough to fly both up and down hills, as well on the rugged flats.
Niner MCR 9 RDO 5-Star 2X is a unique gravel machine that has everything it takes to make your gravel rides smoother, longer, and faster than ever before.
Carbon x Shimano GRX/Ultegra Components
The Niner MCR 9 RDO gravel bike touts Shimano’s gravel-specific GRX800 2×11 drivetrain that puts 22 wide-range gears at your disposal. Moreover, the front derailleur is an Ultegra R8000. Within the package is also a pair of Shimano GRX800 hydraulic disc brakes which will give you the ever-needed confidence when cornering and descending on gravel.
To round everything up, this powerful Niner model rolls on the tried and trusted Stan’s NoTubes Grail CB7 wheelset, clad in Schwalbe G-One Evo SS, 700x40c tires. They grip the loose gravel surface like their life depends on it.
If you want something new and never-before-seen on the gravel roads you frequent, this Niner MCR 9 RDO 5-Star bike is what you need. With it, you get the best features from the road, mountain, and cyclocross world.
Specialized Men’s Diverge Comp 2020
Best with Front Suspension
If you do not want the fun to end when the road comes to an end, the Specialized Men’s Diverge Comp is the type of bike you need. The Diverge will not get intimidated by any time of terrain you send it along because it comes equipped with everything it needs to tackle different obstacles.
First of all, it has the ever-famous Specialized FACT 9r carbon frame with open road geometry. It puts you in an upright position and gives you the ultimate control over the bike. This frame is also equipped with the Future Shock suspension with 20 mm of travel.
If you’re not aware of it, it is a revolutionary system placed inside the head tube. Therefore, it suspends your body and protects it from vibrations and impact, but does not affect the ride and performance. It is the best gravel bike you can get.
Full Ultegra R8000 Groupset
Shifting in conditions this bike is made for is harsh, but the full Ultegra R8000 groupset can definitely handle it. With a 2×11 drivetrain, you won’t have an excuse to avoid any hill you come across. The same goes for downhills thanks to Ultegra R8070 disc brakes. However, this is not the only build, see all other Specialized Diverge variations.
Specialized Men’s Diverge Comp is a seriously capable bicycle designed for the roughest of conditions, fast gravel events, and long explorative rides.
Last but not least, the Specialized Men’s Diverge Comp comes with the Specialized Sawtooth 2Bliss Ready, Transparent Sidewall, 700x38c tires. However, you can go wider and fit either 700x42mm or 650b x 47mm tires. Is there such a thing as wide enough?
All things considered, this is the perfect bike for anyone who wants to ride gravel seriously and strives to enter and win gravel events.
Flagship Gravel Racer
Have you ever thought about what would it take to take that detour and see what’s at the end of that tempting gravel road? Alchemy Ronin is probably the answer!
This bad boy is all-carbon and lets you customize it any way you want to end up with the perfect ride for your needs. The stock option is just breathtaking, though. Carbon base with olive decals and beige tire walls looks amazing on the road.
But if you’re willing to pay a bit more, you can choose custom paint or custom geometry and personalize the Ronin even more.
Top-Notch Components That You Choose
One of the things that make Alchemy Ronin stand out from most other gravel bikes out there is that you can choose your own build kit. The cheapest option is going for an Ultegra drivetrain with mechanical disc brakes, which is already race-ready. With the right legs, you can easily win top gravel events with this setup.
However, if you’re willing to spend more money to get the best possible components, you should go for the Red Etap AXS Gravel groupset or the Dura Ace Di2 Disc Enve combo. Both of these cost $10,499.
Alchemy Ronin is a highly versatile and customizable gravel bike that can suit different types of top-tier riders with a tunnel vision of podium finishes.
Alchemy Ronin has plenty of tire clearance, so you can fit wide tires that can take the power from the high-end drivetrain. You can fit it with either 700c x 45 mm, or 650b x 2.1″.
If you’re looking to get the best of the best and become the best of the best, Alchemy Ronin is the right answer!
— For Bikepacking —
Co-op Cycles ADV 4.2
Top Choice for Bikepacking
Riding gravel does not only refer to riding as fast as you can on a terrain that will punish every single mistake that you make. Riding gravel also means enjoying the outdoors, exploring what nature has to offer, and even taking the shorter route to make your commute faster.
Co-op Cycles ADV 4.2 is the best gravel bike for commuting. It’s one of the most affordable bikes on this list (especially when it’s on sale, which happens often) but still offers plenty of value for the money you spend.
It’s based around a 6061 aluminum frame and an aluminum fork which keep both the price and the weight down.
Massive 27.5″ Tires
Gravel riding is not intended just for adrenaline junkies. Those who seek comfort can enjoy it as well. That’s one of the reasons the ADV 4.2 has 27.5″ tires that are 2.8″ (71 mm) wide! They offer a wide and stable contact surface for maximum confidence on any terrain.
Co-op Cycles ADV 3.2 is an ideal choice for commuters and bikepackers as it has plenty of mounts that can take racks, water bottles, fenders, and other accessories.
Co-op Cycles didn’t skimp on components either when it comes to this bike. The Shimano Deore XT drivetrain offers 20 wide-range gears with bar end shifters that are easy to operate and easy to maintain.
This bike also features powerful and precise hydraulic TRP Hylex disc brakes that will not let you down any time you need to slow down or come to a stop.
How Do Gravel Bikes Perform?
Many people already have a bike (or two, or three!) and are wondering why they would need a gravel bike as well. How do these bikes perform compared to other popular types of bicycles such as cyclocross, MTB, road, and hybrid?
Let compare gravel bikes to these four popular categories and see how they are similar to and different from each other.
Gravel Bikes vs Cyclocross (CX)
To a layman, gravel and cyclocross bikes (CX) look pretty much the same.
However, an experienced rider would spot the differences and definitely feel them whey they start riding.
The biggest difference is related to geometry. Gravel bikes are made for long and exhausting rides that should be comfortable. On the other hand, cyclocross bikes are intended for shorter and faster events, so comfort is not of such a big importance.
A gravel bike usually has a lower bottom bracket, slacker seat tube and head tube angle, a longer wheelbase and longer chainstays.
Gravel bikes also have more gears and wider tire clearance, both of which make them more practical on longer rides. Finally, gravel bikes have plenty of mounts that you can use to attach numerous accessories, which you do not need in a cyclocross event.
Gravel Bike vs Mountain Bike
Both gravel bikes and mountain bikes perform well off-road.
However, that’s where their similarities end. Gravel bikes can also be comfortably ridden on roads. They are slower than road bikes, but not significantly. On the other hand, mountain bikes are very slow and impractical on paved roads.
Moreover, a gravel bike usually has drop bars whereas mountain bikes have flat bars. This makes gravel bikes more suitable for longer rides because of different types of grips.
Mountain bikes usually come with front or both front and rear suspension, which is not the case with gravel bikes. Some recent models have short travel suspension that eliminates some vibrations, but it is not as sophisticated as that seen on mountain bikes.
All in all, gravel bikes are much more versatile than mountain bikes, but mountain bikes can tackle much more extreme terrain.
Gravel Bike vs Road Bike
Gravel and road bikes appear to be very similar.
After all, gravel bikes were partially modeled after road bikes, but with a twist that makes them great on loose and rugged terrain.
Both gravel and road bikes have drop bars, but gravel machines have a more relaxed geometry. The head tube is usually taller and the head tube angle has more slack.
Many road bikes come with rim brakes (though that is changing), but all gravel bikes come with disc brakes (hydraulic or mechanical). This makes them more suitable for riding in wet and extreme conditions.
Other big differences include bigger tires on gravel bikes and more mount points. All of this makes gravel bikes more versatile, whereas road bikes only perform well on perfectly smooth roads.
Gravel Bike vs Hybrid
No, gravel bikes are not the same as hybrid bikes.
Even though hybrid bikes can do well on both paved and unpaved surfaces, they’re not nearly as capable as gravel two-wheelers.
Hybrid bikes usually have flat bars, whereas gravel bikes have drop bards. Moreover, gravel models have much wider tires compared to hybrids. They’re sometimes as wide as those on mountain bikes.
Even though hybrid bikes can go both on and off-road, they usually do well on road. However the contrary is true for gravel bikes. Therefore, the two are definitely not the same.
Why You Should Buy a Gravel Bike?
The short answer is because they are fun!
The long answer has to do with versatility, geometry, price, components, and so much more.
Simply speaking, no other bike gives you what a gravel bike can offer. If you want to ride routes that have both paved and unpaved roads, road bikes and mountain bikes are not a good solution. They only perform well on one type of surface.
A gravel bike lets you spend money on just one bike instead of breaking the bank and buying two or three different types. Of course, that’s only true if you live in such an area that you’re surrounded by roads that require two or three types of bikes.
Gravel bicycles have the speed of a road bike, the capability of a mountain bike, and the comfort of a hybrid/touring bike.
What else can you ask for in your garage?