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Best budget gravel bikes: Gravel grinding on a budget

Best budget gravel bike
(Image credit: Switchback Sports (South Africa))

Gravel-bike technology is expanding at an exponential rate, with new features and designs regularly being released. Luckily for gravel riders on modest budgets, the technology isn't just focused on the exotic and best gravel bikes – entry-level gravel bikes are seeing a flood of trickle-down technology.

Not long ago, a gravel bike at the £1,000 price mark would feature serious compromises, whether that be in geometry or components. Now bikes are coming equipped with hydraulic brakes, 1x drivetrains and specific gravel tyres. Not only are components of higher quality, but geometry and frame details are now on par with top-shelf bikes, with internal cable-routing, dropper compatibility and tyre-clearance features that open up the possibility for radical gravel riding without having to empty your wallet.

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Not only are budget gravel bikes becoming more capable, but they are proving to be massively versatile. While budget road bikes and cyclo-cross bikes have previously taken care of workhorse duties, the stable ride quality, large tyres and durability are quickly seeing gravel bikes become the preferred bike to take on these duties. For those who are looking for a single, do-everything bike, it's likely that a gravel bike is going to be the one that meets your criteria. 

Keep reading for our pick of the best budget gravel bikes, or, if you're unsure about what you should be looking for, skip to the bottom for a breakdown of what to look for when buying a gravel bike.

Jump to: How to choose a budget gravel bike

Best budget gravel bikes

Best budget gravel bike: Marin Nicasio 2

(Image credit: Marin)

Marin Nicasio 2

Steel all-road adventure bike for those that like to ride long distances

Frame material:: Steel | Wheel Size: 700c | Tyre clearance: 700c x 35 and 650B x 47 | Weight: Unpublished | Sizes available: 50cm-58cm

Endurance bike with all-road capability
Steel adds weight
Minimal 700c tyre clearance limits off road capabilities
External routing is poorly positioned on the downtube and will require more maintenance

Marin has two gravel bikes on their books that qualify for our best budget gravel bike guide, but we've chosen to include the Nicasio 2 for a couple of reasons. The alternative option, Marin's Gestalt X10, is certainly more suited to rough gravel riding, with its short, flickable rear end and large tyre clearance, but its mechanical brakes and short stays make the bike feel unsure on open cannonball sections. The Nicasio's slightly more conservative geometry figures mean it's a bike perfect for those whose gravel rides consist of less gnar and more far. 

The Nicasio 2 trumps the Gestalt by coming specced with hydraulic disc brakes; the Tiagra brakes offer a huge stopping advantage over mechanical alternatives. These are complemented with a matching Tiagra drivetrain, featuring a double chainset, which will likely appeal to the long-distance rider. For those wanting a bit more cushioning than the rather small 35mm tyre clearances, Marin says that the Nicasio will clear a 47mm tyre if using 650b wheels.

Best budget gravel bike: All City Super Professional

(Image credit: All City)

All City Super Professional

Flat-bar bike equally at home tearing up everything from the town to gravel trails

Frame material:: Steel | Wheel Size: 700c | Tyre clearance: 700c x 45mm and 650b x 47mm | Weight: 11.6kg | Sizes available: 43cm-61cm

Adjustable dropouts
Lovely frame details
Super-tough frame
Very heavy

Choosing a riser bar for gravel riding might seem like an odd choice, but if you've ever ridden a gravel bike with a flat bar, you'll know the added feeling of control and leverage that it offers. For riders who prefer longer distances, the reduced choice of hand positions will be a deal-breaker. For riders who are looking to tear about on gravel roads and mellow singletrack, choosing riser bars helps extract every last drop of fun from a flowing set of corners.

The flickable cyclo-cross-inspired geometry is further enhanced with the added control, and encourages a lively riding style. All gravel essentials are accounted for, including decent tyre clearance, stealth dropper-post routing and a 1x drivetrain. All City has specced a SRAM Apex 11-speed drivetrain, but if you're feeling adventurous, the adjustable Master Dropout system allows the Super Professional to be set up as a single-speed.

Best budget gravel bike: Merida Silex 300

(Image credit: Merida)

Merida Silex 300

A gravel bike built with off-road adventures in mind

Frame material:: Aluminium | Wheel Size: 700c | Tyre clearance: 700c x 45 and 650B x 50 | Weight: 10.01kg | Sizes available: XS-XL

Tall stack gives superb off-road control
Fork mounts give more options for luggage and accessory mounting
The upright riding position isn’t suited for tempo road riding
Looks are an acquired taste
Mechanical disc brakes lack power of hydro alternatives

We have the top of the range Silex+ 8000-E currently in for testing, and have been having a lot of fun riding every trail we can find. Although it doesn't feature a carbon frame, the aluminium Silex 300 has all the same features and clearances as its premium iteration. Its geometry shares similarities to Merida's cross-country mountain bike range, which makes it very capable on singletrack and rough trails. The fork mounting points are a nice touch, extending riders' options when attaching dry bags or bottles for adventures.

A SRAM Apex 1x11 drivetrain takes care of the moving, and Tektro handles the stopping. The brakes aren't hydraulic but the Tektro Spyres are one of the better performing options. Merida's Comp SL rims and the Maxxis Rambler tyres are both tubeless ready, so all you need is valves and sealant.

Best budget gravel bike: Specialized Diverge E5 Elite

(Image credit: Specialized)

Specialized Diverge E5 Elite

Racy gravel bike for the go-faster off-road rider

Frame material:: Aluminium | Wheel Size: 700c | Tyre clearance: 700c x 45 and 650B x 53 (2.1in) | Weight: Unpublished | Sizes available: 44cm-61cm

As fast on gravel as it is on the road
Shimano GRX drivetrain
Diverge range lacks a true budget performance gravel bike

We were extremely impressed when Specialized launched the new Diverge, and knew that a budget Diverge had to be featured in this guide. We had planned to keep the guide to a strict £1,500 budget, but have made an exception for the Diverge E5 Elite. Specialized's cheapest Diverge Base E5 retails for £949. However, we felt that, despite being £650 more expensive, the Diverge E5 Elite marked a significant upgrade in performance and quality.

The Diverge Base E5 and E5 Elite share the same great frame and full-carbon fork, but the E5 Elite comes with Shimano's benchmark GRX RX400 2x10 drivetrain and hydraulic brakes rather than the 8-speed Claris and mechanical disc brakes on the base model. Crisper gear changes and a huge increase in braking control and power greatly enhances the off-road riding experience.

Best budget gravel bike: NS RAG+ 2

(Image credit: NS Bikes)

NS Bikes RAG+ 2

Road and gravel, the RAG+ will take it all on

Frame material:: Aluminium | Wheel Size: 700c | Tyre clearance: 700c x 45 and 650B x 55 (2.2in) | Weight: 10.2kg | Sizes available: S-XL

Excellent tyre clearance
Bombproof frame
Short chainstays give a lively ride quality
Heavy wheelset
Tyres are not tubeless ready

It might seem like an odd departure for Polish bike brand NS Bikes to make a gravel bike, best known as it is for its dirt jumpers, and the RAG+ certainly stands out as their only drop-bar bike. Don't write the RAG off, though, as it is a hugely capable bike. RAG stands for 'road and gravel', and it's a bike that can bridge the gap between road riding and the point that you wished you had a suspension fork. 

Solid ride characteristics, spec and tyre clearance that can match almost any other gravel bike make the NS RAG+ an excellent option for riders who don't want the fun to stop when a ride takes an unexpected turn off the beaten track.

Best budget gravel bike: Rondo Ruut AL 2

(Image credit: Rondo)

Rondo Ruut AL 2

Adjustable geometry makes the Ruut a two-in-one bike

Frame material:: Aluminium | Wheel Size: 700c | Tyre clearance: 700c x 40C and 650B x 52 (2.1in) | Weight: 9.82kg | Sizes available: S-XL

Adjustable flip-chip fork
Large 650b clearance
700c clearances only have space for a 40mm tyre

Rondo have looked to make the Ruut as versatile as possible, whether you're commuting, winter training or on bikepacking adventures. This is in part due to Rondo's Vario Geo Concept, which bolsters the Ruut's do-everything capabilities.

The Twin Tip fork allows the geometry to be altered using a flip-chip in the fork dropout, which changes the head angle, seat angle, trail figures and stack height. The steeper angles of the 'hi' position are suited to fast road riding while the 'lo' setting relaxes the handling and stability for endurance and rougher off-road riding.

Beyond the fork, the Ruut can accommodate 2.1in tyres, and has rack and fender mounts, and features internal cable routing to keep cables hidden from dirt and grit. The spec is well-considered, running SRAM's Apex 1 groupset, and it has Juintech F1 cable-actuated hydraulic disc brakes as a compromise between ease of maintenance and power. The bike comes with WTB's Nano 40mm gravel tyre, so it's ready to hit the gravel trails straight from the box.

Best budget gravel bike: Nukeproof Digger Comp

(Image credit: Nukeproof)

Nukeproof Digger 275 Comp

Wild-child gravel bike that will appeal to mountain bikers

Frame material:: Aluminium | Wheel Size: 650b | Tyre clearance: 700c x unpublished and 650B x 47 | Weight: Unpublished | Sizes available: S-XL

Playful ride quality
Solid spec including a GRX drivetrain
Stock wheel and tyre set-up sluggish on the road compared to narrower 700c set-ups

Nukeproof has updated the Digger range for 2020 with new geometry and a staggering spec for the money. The essence of the Digger hasn't been lost, however, with its very wide handlebars and agile 650b Plus wheelset as standard means the Digger is a bike that is all about having fun on any trail that is pointed in front of it. This hooligan attitude isn't at the cost of practicality, though, as the Digger comes with all the fixtures for dreary daily winter riding.

Nukeproof has done a fantastic job of building the Digger Comp up with an impressive array of componentry. The headline here is the Shimano GRX 11-speed drivetrain and brakes that offer a significant improvement in off-road performance over bikes with road groupsets. Nukeproof have equipped the bike with their own brand kit, apart from the rolling stock, which comes from WTB, using WTB Serra wheels and grippy Sendero 650x47 tyres.

Best budget gravel bike: Cannondale Topstone

(Image credit: Cannondale)

Cannondale Topstone Tiagra

Balanced and controlled handling whether blasting fire roads or loaded for adventures

Frame material:: Aluminium | Wheel Size: 700c | Tyre clearance: 700 x 42 | Weight: 10kg | Sizes available: XS-XL

OutFront Steering Geometry sharpens steering characteristics
Dependable Tiagra groupset
Unconfirmed 650b compatibility

Cannondale's Topstone is a versatile on- or off-road option that is based around a SmartForm C2 alloy frame and has a full-carbon fork. Cannondale deploys its OutFront Steering Geometry, using a 55mm fork offset, to keep steering sharp and snappy, as well as reducing toe overlap on smaller models. While not as comfortable as their Kingpin-suspension-equipped carbon frame, the aluminium Topstone does get flattened chainstays to help absorb vibrations.

Cannondale has opted for a 2x10 Tiagra groupset, which is ready to offer many miles of dependable gear changes. Tiagra hydraulic brakes are also a nice touch for a bike that is verging on a price point that is dominated by mechanical stoppers. A Formula hub and WTB rim combo makes up the wheels, and they're paired with tubeless compatible WTB Riddler tyres.

Best budget gravel bike: Canyon Grail AL 6

(Image credit: Canyon )

Canyon Grail AL 6.0

Price, performance and components: pick three

Frame material:: Aluminium | Wheel Size: 700c | Tyre clearance: 700x42 | Weight: 9.5kg | Sizes available: 2XS-2XL

Staggering value for money
Capable and stable mile-muncher
Smallest sizes get 650b wheels for a better fit
Long wheelbase limits playful characteristics
Difficult to try before you buy due to direct-to-consumer retail model

The Grail AL 6.0 is the cheapest of Canyon's gravel bikes, but the bike hardly screams budget. In fact, it's one of the most well-finished bikes on our list, although this shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who is accustomed to Canyon’s range of bikes.

The direct-to-consumer model used by Canyon means that they can spec the Grail AL 6.0 to a level that seems well beyond its means. Shimano GRX 400 brings gravel-specific performance to the drivetrain and brakes. The tough DT Swiss C 1850 Spline db wheels are gravel-specific as well, and shod with Schwalbe's G-One Bite 40mm tyres, which are supplied in a trendy tan wall.

The Grail doesn't stop at the spec sheet, either. With a riding position similar to their endurance road bikes, and a long wheelbase, the Grail offers a comfortable and stable ride characteristic, whether covering miles on- or off-road – so much so, in fact, that our tech writer Josh Croxton choose the slightly more expensive AL 7.0 in our best all-rounder bikes.

Best budget gravel bike: Ribble CGR 725 Sram Apex 1x 650B

(Image credit: Ribble)

Ribble CGR 725 SRAM Apex 1x 650B

Capable modern gravel-grinder dressed in a traditional aesthetic

Frame material:: Steel | Wheel Size: 650b | Tyre clearance: Unpublished | Weight: 10kg | Sizes available: XS-XL

Classic look of steel
Custom options when purchasing
Steel adds weight

There is something about a steel bike that just looks right, and the Ribble CGR 725 is no different. Built from Reynolds 725, and finished in a pleasant dark blue/orange paint scheme with bulbous tan walls, it's certainly a bike that is favourable on the eyes. The combination of steel and large volume tyres also helps the CGR 725 glide over imperfections, whether that be gravel or terribly maintained tarmac.

We have chosen the 650b version for our list, but for £100 less, Ribble do a 700c-wheeled model with Schwalbe G-One tyres for those looking for a little more legs on tarmac sections. The rest of the bike is a functional collection of goods from SRAM, Mavic and WTB, which doesn't have any glaring compromises. If there is anything that you would like to change, Ribble offers a customisation service at purchase that allows specs to be altered to a rider's preference.

What to look for in a gravel bike

1. Frame and geometry

Budget gravel bikes generally come in two options: steel or aluminium. Carbon options may be available, but at lower price points are usually best avoided as manufacturers will need to make compromises to lower costs. Low-modulus carbon frames are likely to actually be heavier and less compliant than equivalent metal frames, and have lower-quality components.

Steel is well established as a forgiving yet durable material, and is generally a little heavier, but the classically twangy frame-quality garners a dedicated following. It's easy to forget that aluminium is still a relatively new material in regards to frame building. Aluminium technology is constantly evolving, and despite being a stiffer material, frame designers are able to now build aluminium frames with increasing levels of compliance and comfort.

Gravel-bike geometry numbers fill the entire spectrum between road bike and mountain bike, so it's important to consider the type of riding that you want to do. Some gravel bikes will share similar geometry to endurance road bikes for comfort over long distances. Slacker head angles and longer wheelbases increase a bike's stability and control over rough terrain.

2. Components 

All the gravel bikes in our guide use either 1x or 2x drivetrains. A 2x drivetrain is the same as those commonly found on road bikes and uses two chainrings at the front to offer a wider spread of gears. A 1x drivetrain uses a single ring with a wide-range mountain-bike-style cassette to simplify the drivetrain and save weight. 

Disc brakes are standard equipment on gravel bikes, and while mechanical disc brakes offer a marked improvement over rim brakes, hydraulic disc brakes are well worth the extra investment as they not only give you more power but also offer improved modulation control.

At lower price points, bikes will often feature a manufacturer's own-branded components, and while this equipment may not offer the finesse of branded components, they do generally offer no-thrills functionality.

3.  Wheels and tyres 

The advantages and disadvantages of 700c vs 650b-sized wheels have been long debated, and will continue to be discussed for a long time. Riders who are looking for on- and off-road versatility will be best served by the lower weight and better obstacle rollover of 700c wheels. Those riding rougher terrain will find that the increased tyre size and volume of 650b wheels offer a significant advantage in grip and comfort. 

Most gravel bikes will be able to accommodate both wheel sizes, giving riders who invest in a spare set of wheels the option of 'two bikes in one': a 700c wheelset set-up with fast-rolling tyres for the road and a 650b wheelset with large, knobbly tyres for more adventurous riding.

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