Gravel and all-road are terms used for this rapidly growing segment of the road bike market. These bikes have generous tyre clearance and geometry that is more stable and forgiving than traditional road bikes.
Gravel bikes were born out of the American Midwest, where racing on gravel roads took hold a decade ago and has steadily gained popularity. In the early days, riders tackled these endurance events on cyclocross bikes with the largest tyres that would fit between the stays. Today, there are numerous purpose-built machines that gravel-curious riders can choose from.
Key elements of a gravel bike
Four key features can usually be used to distinguish a gravel bike from a traditional road bike.
High volume tyres are par for the course on gravel rigs Thomas McDaniel / Immediate Media
First and foremost, gravel bikes have wider tyres. Since these bicycles are designed to traverse miles of unpaved roads, their tyres are substantially larger. Likewise, mud clearance is also a concern in these conditions.
Tyre widths range anywhere from 30mm to 48mm. In addition to 700c wheels, it is also common to see smaller diameter 650b wheels used with higher volume tyres.
Most gravel tyres feature a fast-rolling centre tread with knurling or side knobs to improve cornering ability on mixed surfaces. Tubeless tyres are also commonly found on gravel bikes, because the latex sealant provides a degree of insurance against punctures.
In addition to wider tyres, gravel bikes have geometry that favours stability and comfort.
Given the terrain gravel bikes are expected to cover, frame geometry often rests somewhere between road and cross-country mountain bikes Felix Tranker
The wheelbase of a gravel bike is longer than most road bikes thanks to longer chainstays and slacker head-tube angles.
Head tubes are generally taller as well, placing the rider in a more relaxed, upright position. Bottom brackets are often lower, which gives the rider the sensation of riding in, rather than on the bicycle.
The end result of these geometry differences is a more comfortable, confidence-inspiring and forgiving ride than one would find in a typical road bike.
Wide range 1x drivetrains are common for gravel grinding Josh Patterson / Immediate Media
Gearing is another area where these bikes diverge from the pack. Given the terrain, many gravel bikes feature compact or smaller gearing and wide-range cassettes.
Cranksets with 50/34 or 48/32t are common. Likewise, many gravel bikes come with 1x gearing with wide-range cassettes.
A growing number of gravel bikes feature suspension systems, such as this Lauf Grit suspension fork Arnold Bjornsson
In addition to wide tyres, relaxed geometry and low gearing, many gravel bikes have active or passive suspension systems built into them.
Much like bikes in the endurance road category, these features could take the form of slender chainstays, a bowed top tube, or a skinny seatpost, all of which are designed to flex in order to absorb road chatter.
Some gravel bikes take things one step further by using short-travel suspension forks such as the Lefty Oliver or aesthetically odd but very effective Lauf Grit fork.
How much do I have to spend on a gravel bike?
Well, that depends on what you define as a gravel bike. A used cyclocross bike, for example, could work perfectly well as a gravel bike and cost you a fraction of the cost of even the most basic ‘true’ gravel machine.
If you’re looking at a purpose-built gravel / all-road bike, expect to pay around £800 / $1,200 for an alloy frame with entry-level components.
A mid-range build from a major brand will likely cost in excess of £2,000 / $2,800 but should feature a carbon frame and hydraulic disc brakes. As is normally the case in the cycling world, it’s possible to spend a small (or not so small) fortune on a custom-built bike should you wish.
The best gravel and adventure bikes in 2019
Giant Revolt Advanced 0
Giant’s Revolt Advanced 0 for 2019
GBP £2,999 / $3,465 / AU$4,299
- Tyre clearance: 700 x 45mm
You can see much of Giant’s TCR, Defy and TCX models when it comes to the Revolt, but this is very much a chassis dedicated for gravel duties. Happy with either 700x45mm rolling stock (or up to 2in tyres with smaller 650b wheels in place) the Revolt proved superbly cossetting across every surface we tested on. Its spec is also exceptionally well chosen and represents great value for money.
With a 32×34 gear ratio at the bottom end and the highest sitting at 48×11, the Revolt can go really take you anywhere a bike like this could be ridden. The stock spec wants for nothing, and the main way of tweaking performance will be tyre choice.
The versatility of this bike is really something too, it’s easily adaptable for commuting, road training, gravel racing or adventuring with luggage attached.
Canyon Grail Al 7.0
The Canyon Grail AL 7.0 is very well equipped for the money David Caudery / Immediate Media
Winner of the best all-around bike in our 2019 Bike of the Year awards the alloy version of the Grail ditches the ‘hover bar‘ for a standard set, and is combined with an 80mm stem for a lively ride. The alloy frame also loses the bump in the top tube, features heavily hydroformed tubing and oversized 1 1/4in steering and a full carbon fork.
With a 2×50/34t crankset mated with an 11-34t cassette, the Grail gives you a 1:1 climbing gear, and hydraulic disc brakes for when things get a bit too rowdy. The Schwalbe G-Ones performed well, but durability is likely to come into play.
We were most surprised by the Grail AL’s performance, especially considering the price.
Genesis Datum 20
Genesis’s Datum 20 has excellent ride quality and versatility Immediate Media
While the Datum isn’t a featherweight at 9.29kg, the bike more than made up for the mediocre performance on the scale with its ride quality. Our tester loved the spring up to speed when you put a bit of pressure on the pedals and the dynamic ride feel.
It’s slightly longer and lower than most gravel bikes, but the stretch front end, flared bars and 72-degree head angle make for a safe and stable feel so you can confidently push when things get greasy or gravelly. At the back, a 27.3mm seatpost and leaf-spring stays work together to eat road vibrations.
In a throwback to the origins of the gravel and all-road bike, the Datum 20 is not without its quirks with a 15mm front thru-bolt in the fork and a quick release skewer at the back.
Lauf True Grit
The True Grit is Lauf’s first bike Tom Marvin / Immediate Media
The True Grit is pegged as a gravel racer, designed to chug through miles of tarmac-free road at warp speed.
With a low front end, the position is aggressive and there are no rack or fender mounts to speak of, but there are four bottle bosses. The rear end is designed around 142mm hub spacing, and the bottom bracket is threaded.
Most notably, the bike comes with the Grit fork allowing for 30mm of taut front travel, which takes the corner off square edges, while the frame and 40mm tyres take care of the vibrations. Despite its aggressive riding position, the handling is calm and the 7.8kg weight means there’s not too much heft to lug uphill or manhandle through techy obstacles.
Marin Gestalt X11
Marin’s mountain-bike heritage shines through the Gestalt Robert Smith / Immediate Media
Marin has a long history in mountain biking, and have adapted some of the lessons learned with the current crop of ever longer and slacker trail weapons into the Gestalt X11 gravel bike.
With a slack front end and a steep seat angle, the bike puts you in an aggressive peddling position, yet maintains predictable surprise free handling on and off the road. The combination of an angled top tube and hydraulic dropper post allows Gestalt to get into some pretty unruly terrain.
Remembering that this is still a drop bar road bike, it’s got a full carbon fork, alloy frame, a range rack mounts and will take up to a 42mm x 700c or 47mm x 650b wheel and tyre. The only real complaint we can muster is about the saddle.
Merida Silex 700
Merida’s Silex 700 can take 700x42mm or 650bx50mm tyres David Caudery/Immediate Media
Initially, the Merida Silex left our testers a bit flummoxed with its oddly high riding positing, however the bike’s nimble character and willingness to accelerate over obstacles prevailed.
Weighing in at 9.59kg, there is a bit of extra weight to drag up the climbs, but the 2x 50/34t chainrings and 11-34t rear cluster allow for a 1:1 granny gear combo to help you spin your way up.
With the ability to take 700x42mm or 650bx50mm tyres, our test bike came with 35mm semi-slick rubber which performed considerably better than expected, even at reasonably high pressure. Better still were the Shimano hydraulic disc brakes offering oodles of power and modulation.
Trek Checkpoint SL6
What’s immediately apparent is how smooth the Checkpoint SL6 feels Robert Smith
Sitting at the top of Trek’s range of gravel bikes, the Checkpoint SL6 carries the brand’s IsoSpeed Decoupler on the seat tube to make rough and tumble gravel roads feel almost velvety smooth, with the fork being no slouch in this department either.
At the back, the Checkpoint also gets a dropped driveside chainstay to leave extra room for tyres and mud and is said to accept up to 40mm rubber. The Checkpoint SL 6 comes with a 50/34t crankset and 11-34t cassette, giving a 1:1 climbing gear for when the gravel gets really steep.
We found the Checkpoint leaned towards faster rolling terrain and wasn’t as confident in techy mud and rocks. Even still, the bike finds a good balance between high-speed gravel cruising and low-speed rock crawling.
Cannondale Topstone Apex
The Apex 1 model looks to offer workhorse sensibilities and good value David Caudery / Immediate Media
While Cannondale led the race to gravel with the Slate, for some, the Lefty fork on a drop bar bike is a tad too radical. And the brand’s latest entry to the gravel market should satisfy those who are looking for something a bit more traditional and are on a budget.
The Alloy frame is well presented with clean finishing and plenty of bottle, rack and fender mounts throughout. The geometry offers a tall, relaxed position, though with a 50mm dropper you can get your butt all the way back to the tyre on steep descents. Unfortunately, when things go back up, the Topstone isn’t exactly a mountain goat thanks a bit of junk in the trunk, tipping our scales at 10.26kg.
The bike handles pretty similarly to the SuperX CX bike, but with a longer wheelbase and lower BB, it’s a confident descender.
Kinesis Tripster AT
Kinesis’ new Tripster AT in Arran Blue with the SRAM Rival 1x groupset Kinesis Bikes / Upgrade Bikes
Using design ideas from the late Mike Hall, the Tripster AT began its life as the ATR titanium all-rounder and has now evolved into a more budget-friendly aluminium version. With thru-axles front and rear the bike will take 650b x 52mm or 700 x 45mm rubber, and has room for three bottles with room for a frame bag.
With an on-trend gravel geometry and tipping our scales at 9.6kg it’s not the lightest bike, but on paper it’s a very competitive gravel bike.
In practice, the handling is rock solid but the frame has a firm ride quality, even with the 40mm Schwalbe G-One tyres at relatively low pressure. The drivetrain is geared towards adventuring with a 40t chainring at the front at an 11-42t at the back, and the simplicity of the 1x drivetrain did not go unnoticed. However, the tight bend in the flared drop bars is a bit tight for riders with big mitts.
The Lauf Anywhere is a versatile gravel bike with a conventional fork Matthew Allen / Immediate Media
When you think of Lauf, the first thing that comes to mind is its crazy looking leaf spring fork, which allows for 30mm of front travel. However, the brand’s Anywhere gravel grinder doesn’t get one, instead it comes with what the Lauf calls a JAF or ‘Just a Fork.’
The frame features its Long-4-Speed geometry which entails a short head-tube, lengthy top-tube and short chainstays paired with a short stem and a slack (for a road bike) head angle. The idea is that it’s stable at speed but lets you get tucked up in an aero position when the need arises.
Lauf has also opted for a threaded bottom bracket shell, full-length internal cable guides and mounts galore, but the bike has no provisions for mudguards/fenders.
As the name implies, the Anywhere rides well on both tarmac and F-Roads as they’re known in Iceland (gravel roads) as well as smooth singletrack, but is somewhat limited by the 40mm slick tyres that come stock.
Norco Search XR
The Norco Search XR is an incredibly versatile gravel machine Russell Eich / Immediate Media
A few companies have gravel race bikes that aren’t too dissimilar from road bikes — stiff and fast. And some of the smaller core gravel brands have gone off the deep-end with bikepacking weirdness. But if somewhere in between sounds right to you, let us introduce the Goldilocks of gravel, the Norco Search XR.
The Search can handle the big tyres if you want that, and mounts can be added at discreet points if you want to add fenders or load on racks. And yes, you can load up bottle cages on the fork as well as the frame if you’re into that too.
The Norco is an excellent all-around gravel bike that is a joy to ride, damping the rough chatter a bit without feeling like a plodding mule.
Norco sells this in steel and carbon versions, with not only size-specific frame design but size-specific wheel choices, so shorter riders can get the same geometry as larger riders without toe overlap.
Specialized’s Diverge Comp Robert Smith / Immediate Media
Specialized introduced the FutureShock on its Roubaix endurance road bike, and while some of the BikeRadar crew loved it, others found it a little weird for a road bike. But a little suspension for the gravel? Now we’re talking.
The Future Shock is still undamped, but it has a stiffer spring on the Diverge, which boasts a low bottom bracket and slack front-end for stability in the rough stuff, and tyre clearance for 42mm 700c tyres or 47mm in 650b.
Specialized Sequoia Elite
Specialized’s Sequoia Elite puts ride quality and practicality ahead of ultimate performance David Caudery/Immediate Media
When you think of a gravel bike from Specialized, the first thing that comes to mind is the Future Shock-equipped Diverge. While it may not grab headlines the way its suspended cousin does, Specialized’s Sequoia is no slouch on a dirt road.
With a Chromoly frame and burly carbon fork, the Sequoia is more at home as a touring bike than a gravel racer. It’s a bike that wants to keep rolling, especially loaded down with luggage, but with an 11.85kg mass it’s not exactly nimble when negotiating potholes and ruts.
With the frame eating up quite a bit of the budget, the build kit is eclectic with a mix of Shimano 105 and non-series parts, FSA 2x cranks and Sunrace cassette, but they all play nice with one another.
Many gravel races are long and relatively flat, so aerodynamics can play a significant role Matthew Allen / Immediate Media
The 3T Exploro is an aero gravel race bike. Sure, you can find plenty of stiffer, lighter endurance road bikes that might be faster on light-duty gravel, but the 3T Exploro is a legit gravel bike, with clearance for 40mm tyres in 700c or up to 2.1in in 650b.
3T claims the Exploro with 40mm knobbies and two water bottles is faster — aerodynamically — than a round-tube road bike with 28mm tyres and no bottles when tested at 20mph.
So if it’s speed you’re after on the gravel, this could be the rig for you.
Cannondale Slate was one of the first gravel bikes equipped with a suspension fork Courtesy
Credit where credit is due: Cannondale got out ahead of the gravel trend compared to the other big companies. Sure, small brands such as Salsa have been at it for years, but Cannondale’s 650b front suspension drop-bar bike pushed the gravel envelope early.
With clearance for up to 42mm tyres and 30mm of suspension on the Lefty Oliver, the Slate gives you options.
GT Grade Carbon Pro
The range topping Pro at £3,500 / $3,900 / €3,799 gets lighter WTB wheels and Shimano Ultegra Di2 GT
GT’s Grade was one of the first adventure / all-road / gravel bikes, and at the time it was well ahead of the curve in terms of versatility, but after four years, it had become a bit of a dinosaur. Newly revamped, the Grade has matured into a fully fledged gravel grinder. The bike still has the signature ‘triple triangle’ at the back; however, now the seat tube is entirely free-floating, and the seat stays have lost some girth allowing for heaps of compliance.
GT has also added a rear thru axle and employed a flip chip in the fork to allow the for the trail figure to be adjusted by 15mm for changeable handling characteristics. Tyre clearance has also been upped to 700c x 42 mm, and the brand has added mounts galore with the carbon versions capable of carrying five bottles and the alloy version eight.
The position on the bike has been lowered and lengthened a touch, and the handling is confident even when the road or trail gets treacherous—the bike has become more cable overall than its predecessor. Even better, as the flagship model in the range comes with a sensible Ultegra Di2 2x build drivetrain and WTB wheels and tyres.
The Cutthroat is designed for multi-day gravel races such as the grueling Tour Divide Salsa
Speaking of small companies that have been banging the gravel drum for years, Salsa has a whole range of gravel bikes. While the Warbird is the American company’s gravel racer, the Cutthroat is its burly bikepacking sibling.
There is no mistaking this guy for an endurance road bike. Consider: 445m chainstays, four-bottle capacity on a small frame and five bottles on M–XL frames, rack ready, top tube bag mount ready, one or two chainring ready.
With its slack geometry and enormous clearance for up to 2.4in tyres plus, the Cutthroat is essentially a rigid 29er with dropbars. If your idea of a great ride finishes on a completely different day than when it starts, check out the Cutthroat.
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