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What Are The Best Gravel Bikes?

Jeff Balton

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.

Best Gravel Bikes

But what exactly is a gravel bike? And do we actually need it with all the other types of bikes out there?

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.

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.

The 12 Best Gravel Bikes

1. Niner RLT 9 3-Star

Niner RLT 9

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. You can ride it an abuse it almost wherever your imagination takes you and this machine will plead you for more.

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.

SRAM & Shimano Components

You can have these adventures on the most unforgiving terrains, thanks to the tire clearance for for 700 x 50c or for 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.

MSRP $2,900 on JensonUSA

2. Diamondback Haanjo 5C EXP Carbon

Diamondback Haanjo 5C

The Diamondback Haanjo 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 $2,000, but it delivers a powerful punch when you’re out and about, conquering loose gravel roads.

This time around we’re reviewing the Haanjo 5C EXP 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 Bar-End Shifters

One of these solutions is the not-so-common MicroShift bar-end shifters that operate the Tiagra front derailleur and the Deore rear derailleur. Diamondback opted for this solution because it makes for easier repairs and a lower chance of a break-down.

The entire bike is built around the famous DB Carbon frame with endurance geometry and the DB Gravel Performance fork.

The 2×10 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 TPR Spyre-C mechanical disc brakes. They are a good choice on gravel bikes because they are easier to repair when you are far away from a mechanic.

We also love the massive tubeless 650b x 47 mm 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 Diamondback Haanjo 5C EXP is the bike for you.

$2,000 on Diamondback.com

 

3. Cannondale CAADX 105 (2020)

Cannondale CAADX 105 Gravel Bike

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 this bike any way 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.

$1,800 on REI

4. Specialized Men’s Diverge Comp 2020

Specialized Men's Diverge Comp 2020

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 an 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.

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.

MSRP $3,374 (was $3,750) on Specialized.com

 

5. Niner MCR 9 RDO 5-Star 2X (2020)

NINER MCR 9 RDO 5-STAR 2X

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.

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.

Available on Jenson USA

 

6. Alchemy Ronin

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 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!

MSRP $6,499 on Alchemy Bicycles

 

7. Co-Op Cycles ADV 3.2

Product image for Army Cot Green

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 3.2 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 650b 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 3.2 has 650b tires that are 50 mm wide! They offer a wide and stable contact surface for maximum confidence on any terrain.

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.

This is an ideal choice for commuters and light tours as it has plenty of mounts that can take racks, water bottles, fenders, and other accessories.

MSRP $1,799 on REI

 

8. Orbea Terra R7000 RX Jenson Exclusive Build

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 R7000 RX. This is an exclusive Jenson 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 a combination of Shimano R8000 and R7000 parts. It offers 22 gears that you can shift through with an R8000 RX rear derailleur, R7000 front derailleur, and R7020 shifters.

The package also includes reliable Shimano R7020 hydraulic disc brakes with brake levers from the same groupset.

This Orbea Terra model rolls on DT Swiss C 1800 wheels and Kenda Flintridge Pro SCT 700x40c tires that have a discreet tread that grips well.

If you want a bike that can do anything you ask it when you get off the beaten path, you should not hesitate to invest in an Orbea Terra!

MSRP $1,800 on JensonUSA

9. Juliana Quincy CC Rival 2020 – Women’s

Juliana - Quincy CC Rival Complete Bike - Women's 2020

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!

This is a quality high mid-range bike with a decent set of components ideal for gravel enthusiasts and those who aim to ride more seriously than before. It comes with a geometry that’s more suitable to 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!

Purchase on evo

10. Giant Revolt Advanced 3

Giant - Revolt Advanced 3 Complete Bike 2020

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. This bike won’t break your bank, but it will break the boundaries you have set for yourself regarding where you can and can’t ride.

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!

Purchase safely on evo

 

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.

11. Pure Cycles Gravel Adventure

Product image for Floyd

Who says gravel biking needs to be expensive?

Here’s some proof that it definitely does not to be. Anyone can afford a road bike and fall in love with riding off-road thanks to the Pure Cycles Gravel Adventure bike. This is not a technologically advanced bike and does not have expensive components. However, it has everything it needs in order to be called a gravel machine and to be able to take the path less traveled.

The frame and the fork are made with cromoly steel, which is a comfortable material that eliminates vibrations. That makes it perfect for this type of job. The Gravel Adventure bike is available in black and green paint jobs, so it will fit well when surrounded by nature.

Cheap, But Well Made

Even though this Pure Cycles bike is one of the cheapest you can get on the market, that does not mean it is a poor quality bike. All of the parts used on this two-wheeler are supplied by renowned brands such as FSA, Shimano, Sunrace, WTB, and so on.

Take for example the Shimano Claris drivetrain, which is not a high-end groupset, but it is a fantastic solution for gravel beginners, adventure-seekers, and commuters. It gives you 16 speeds with an 11-34T cassette, which is more than enough when you’re hitting the road, trust us.

Other than that, we should also mention the mechanical disc brakes and the 38 mm wide Hutchinson Overide tires. They are quite beefy, so you will have plenty of traction and grip when the going gets tough on loose gravel!

So if you’re trying to figure out what the fuss about gravel riding is all about, why not give it a try yourself with the Pure Cycles Gravel Adventure bike!

MSRP $799 on REI

 

12. Salsa Journeyman Claris 650

Product image for Dark Olive

Last but not least, another fantastic cheap bike that you should definitely shortlist if you want to try gravel. This Salsa Journeyman bike is definitely the proof that cheap bikes can look good and do well when ridden hard.

First of all, it is available in two distinct colors. The first one is dark olive and the second one is metallic gray. Both look very nice on this bike, emphasized by the colorful stripes on the fork and the seat tube.

Journeyman is an all-aluminum bike with a weight of 27 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 the increasingly popular 650b tires that are 2.1 inches wide. They roll on WTB STP i23 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.

MSRP $949 on REI


How Do Gravel Bikes Perform?

Gravel bikes vs other bikes

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 Bike vs Cyclocross (CX)

CX bikesTo 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

MountainsBoth 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 bikes vs road bikesGravel 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

Hybrid bikes vs Gravel bikesNo, 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?

Thumb upThe 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?

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