The best gravel bikes are vastly more capable than their pavement-dwelling siblings and are allowing riders to get away from traffic and explore their local environment in a totally new way. The fire road that was too rough for your 25C road bike tyres is no big deal on the best gravel tyres, and that double-track full of big rocks that sneak up on you is a breeze on 29er gravel wheels.
Gravel riding has been given a multitude of synonyms, such as adventure, all-road, groad, gnarmac and our personal favourite, gravé. Whichever you choose, they all epitomise the new discipline of taking a rugged-ready road bike off the beaten path in the sense of adventure.
Here we'll attempt to demystify this segment of off-road road bikes which is growing intensely, and help you to figure out which one is best for you. Scroll down for our pick of the best gravel bikes, or if you're unsure what you're looking for, we've also put a handy guide below.
Jump to: How to choose a gravel bike
Best gravel bikes
Cannondale Topstone Ultegra RX
The best gravel bike for roadies looking for rugged versatility
Sizes available: XS-XL | Tyre clearance: 700 x 40mm, 650b x 48mm | 650b: Yes
The Topstone was by far the best gravel bike at GBDuro in 2019, although that might have had something to do with its rider, Lachlan Morton, who pedalled it to emphatic success. Out of the box, the Topstone Carbon has 700c gravel bike wheels, 37C WTB tyres, with internal cable routing, and mounts for mudguards as well as all the bikepacking bags you're ever likely to need.
In our experience, the frame sizes up quite big, with a medium coming with a 579mm stack and 385mm reach - which is actually about the same as the Wilier Jena.
If you feel like getting a bit rowdier, you can swap the 700c Hollowgram carbon wheels out for 650b hoops, and then wrap them in up-to-47C gravel tyres, although you cannot do this at purchase, so you'll have to factor this into the cost.
On the whole, the spec of the Topstone Ultegra RX is great, although we expect Ultegra RX availability to fade as GRX becomes the Shimano gravel groupset of choice - not that that's an issue, as the parts are cross-compatible.
The best fast gravel bike for those who don't need to get too rowdy
Sizes available: 49cm-58cm | Tyre clearance: 700x35c | 650b: No
Factor's Vista is an 'all-road' bike that we struggle to classify. The geometry falls more on the side of an endurance road bike, but there is room for 35mm tyres in the frame. It features the brands OTIS AR external fork also found on its One aero bike and Slick TT bike. The seat stays are aggressively dropped, and Factor says they have been tuned to absorb trail buzz.
While on paper it might appear to be almost a franken-bike of sorts, what it does offer is an agile ride, translating plenty of feedback as to what's going on underneath the tyres.
With steep angles and a short (for a gravel bike) wheelbase, the low bottom bracket keeps things from getting overly nervous, but the Vista makes for an exciting and energetic ride. That said, it is most definitely tipped more towards straight-line speed instead of twisty tight singletrack.
Pinarello Grevil Force 1
The best aero gravel bike with 650b wheels out of the box
Sizes available: 44cm-59cm | Tyre clearance: 700 x 42mm, 650b x 2.1" | 650b: Yes
While the aesthetics are widely accepted as polarising, Pinarello's kinks and curves are irresistible to many cyclists, and the Grevil (and Grevil+) gravel bikes are not immune to the Italian brand's trademark form factor.
One of a few that come out-the-box fitted with 650b wheels, the Grevil is certainly ready to hit the trails. It comes fitted with 650b x 42mm tyres, but the dropped drive-side chainstay allows room for chunky 2.1-inch mountain bike tyres on 650b rims, or 42mm on 700c.
The aero tubing is, like the 3T Exploro, designed to speed up proceedings, although Pinarello doesn't claim and specific savings, instead just stating 'even a small aerodynamic gain multiplied by several hundred kilometres can be a great overall gain'.
The lightweight gravel bike that will serve racers and bikepackers alike
Sizes available: XS - XL | Tyre clearance: 700x44mm, 650bx1.95in | 650b: Yes
Wilier claims a painted size medium Jena frame tips the scales at 995g, which is pretty feathery for a bike designed to withstand the rigours that come with leaving paved roads.
It's an even more impressive figure when you take into account the plethora of mounts scattered throughout, with rack and fender mounts front-and-rear, and of course, two-position bottle bosses inside the frame. The Italian outfit has even added some aero details incorporating its Kamm Tail design into the fork blades and down tube to help the bike slice through the wind.
In between the stays, Wilier claims there is room for 700x44mm or 650bx1.95in tyres — although we would speculate you can go bigger. The rear stays are slightly dropped, and oval-shaped to promote vertical compliance, the Jena also features a removable front derailleur mount so you can further tailor your gearing. The Jena is available in five sizes and features a 71.5-degree head angle, 73.7-degree seat angle and stack and reach figures of 582mm and 382mm in a size medium.
A lightweight surgical trail tool designed for carving up trails, gravel roads or mountain passes - at speed
Sizes available: 52-61cm | Tyre clearance: 700x47mm or 650bx2.1in | 650b: Yes
We've always been fervent admirers of the Specialized Diverge and its ever-evolving skillset. Having sampled all three versions since its inception in 2014, the newest edition has taken an already winning formula and tempered it into yet another stellar offering - it's the best gravel bike Specialized has made to date.
The new model's geometry is more progressive than before featuring a slacker headtube angle, a longer reach and a shorter stem. The fork has also received some adjustments and now boasts a longer offset while the trail number ensures greater steering response and front-end agility. The bottom bracket drop has been raised by 5mm for all frame sizes while the chainstays have marginally grown to 425mm.
The range-topping S-Works Diverge comes dressed in a combination of SRAM's road and mountain bike electronic components. Often referred to as a mullet build, it combines eTap AXS road levers with an Eagle AXS rear derailleur and 10-50T cassette - an arrangement which fully complements the Diverge's multi-faceted skillset and left-field demeanour. Other noteworthy components include an X-Fusion Manic dropper post which offers just 50mm of travel, Roval Terra CLX gravel wheels, an Easton EC70 AX Carbon bar with 16-degree flare, a Specialized S-Works Future Stem with integrated Bar Fly computer mount and an S-Works Power saddle.
The Specialized Diverge is the quintessential adventure bike. It can dismiss anything from fast-paced road rides and long-haul gravel adventures to CX-style lap racing with consummate ease. Furthermore, the Diverge range - as a whole - caters for every kind of rider and budget imaginable, making it one of the most accessible bikes of its kind on the market.
Trek Checkpoint SL6
IsoSpeed-equipped gravel racer pitched to be an adventure companion
Sizes available: 49-61cm | Tyre clearance: 700x45mm | 650b: No
Trek is also on the pointy end of the pack when it comes to comfort technology, and it shouldn't come as a surprise to find the brand's IsoSpeed decoupler integrated into the seat cluster — though we are surprised not to have it at the front too.
The frame sees Trek's high-end OCLV carbon fibre and the back features the brand's Stranglehold sliding dropout; allowing the Checkpoint to be run as a single speed and the wheelbase to be adjusted by 15mm for slight changes in wheelbase and handling characteristics.
The Checkpoint also features mounts galore and bash guards on the down tube and chainstays. The drive-side chainstay has also been dropped to allow for additional tyre clearance as well as room for a wider variety of front chainrings.
The best aero gravel bike with a choice of wheel size
Sizes available: S-XL | Tyre clearance: 700x40c, 650bx2.1in | 650b: Yes
When 3T launched the Exploro, the bike industry didn't really get it — I mean an aero gravel bike? Come on aerodynamics are only usefully at 40kph if we are to believe the figures the bike industry regularly feeds us, right?
3T respectfully disagrees, citing testing it conducted in the wind tunnel at 20mph/32kph showing the Exploro saves 7-watts over a bike with round tubes and 24 watts at 30mph/48kph against the same bike.
With a dropped drive-side chainstay, the Exploro has room for 700x40c tyre or a 650bx2.1in tyre, and the 71.1-degree head angle, 546mm stack and 378mm reach in a size medium, puts the Exploro on the racier end of the spectrum. In our experience, it's a flickable, confidence-inspiring ride no matter the terrain.
From our 3T Exploro review: "The 3T Exploro is an aero optimised gravel bike that is entirely capable on-road, yet it comes alive on flowing singletrack and off-road climbs. If we were designing a do-it-all gravel bike, there's little we'd do differently than 3T has done with the Exploro. That four-hour Sunday ride is becoming rarer and rarer, instead, we're opting for a half-the-time, double-the-fun approach on the local trails."
Scott Addict Gravel 20
Thoroughbred race bike with knobby tyres
Sizes available: XS-L | Tyre clearance: 700x38c | 650b: No
The Scott's Addict Gravel is, as the name suggests, a gravel friendly adaptation of the road-going Addict, and takes many cues from its tarmac-friendly cousin - including Scott's sometimes frustrating use of Torx head bolts throughout.
The frame is made from the brand's HMF carbon, and the bike is equipped with Shimano's GRX 2x gravel-specific drivetrain components while the rest of the finishing kit, including the flared bars, is provided by Scott's sister brand Syncros.
The Contessa Addict Gravel is pitched as a purebred racer, and it only takes a few pedal strokes for the bike to drive this point home — both in the way it surges forward, but also with the amount of vibration that makes it through the frame.
Giant Revolt Advanced Pro
Fearless ride on gnarly poorly graded roads, and no slouch on the tarmac either
Sizes available: XS-XL | Tyre clearance: 700x45mm | 650b: Yes
The Revolt Advanced Pro is Giant's carbon frame gravel racer. Ahead of its launch in 2019, Ryan Steers rode an incognito Revolt onto the podium at Grinduro and the Gravel Worlds. It's a bit taller than the TCX and has a slightly longer reach too, but Giant specs shorter stems, and with a slacker, 70.5-degree head angle and lower bottom bracket, you get calmer handling and a more stable ride than its 'cross-cousin.
Giant has also liberally employed its D-Fuse tech to make the bike compliant at both ends, with the handlebars, seatpost and seat tube using the flex-in-one-plane-but-not-the-other tech. The Revolt also sees dramatically dropped and flat-topped chainstays. There is room in the frame from 45C tyres, and Giant says you're fine to run 650b, but doesn't specify a tyre clearance — if we had to take an educated guess, we think you could fit a 2in tyre.
The Advanced Pro Spec is shod with Giant's own finishing kit as well as SRAM's Force eTap AXS groupset. Out of the box, it comes in a 2x configuration, but with the Orbit damper in the rear derailleurs, going 1x is as simple as ditching the front mech.
Fast and nimble gravel racer
Sizes available: XS-XL | Tyre clearance: 700x42mm | 650b: No
Basso's Palta is all about speed. With a racy (for a gravel bike) geometry with a 71-degree head angle, 73.5-degree seat angle, 384mm reach and 559mm stack in a size large; the bike is snappy when the power is down, and the steering is fast, but maybe a little too fast when things get woolly.
This is not the bike for someone looking for the slow-paced adventure experience; the Palta is for the rider who wants to race their riding mates up the climbs and achieve Mach-10 on the descents. Even with the slightly dropped seat stays, Basso's gravel machine lets you know what the road surface is doing below you, but isn't a bruiser that leaves you battered and sore at the end of your ride.
There is room for a 700x42mm tyre between the stays, and Basso doesn't advertise 650b compatibility, so this isn't necessarily the bike you'd slap a dropper post into and head for rowdy terrain. The frame has mounts for three bottles but is lacking provisions for a bolt-on bento box, and Basso offers the Palta in an Endurance Pack with a 20mm headset spacer to prop up your position, or the Mud Fest kit which includes front and rear fenders.
Canyon Grail CF SL 7.0
Crazy looking but as versatile as they come
Sizes available: 2XS-2XL | Tyre clearance: 700x40mm | 650b: XS/S sizes only
Canyon's Grail is a bit of an odd bird. The frame itself is clean with all the lines making for a relatively futuristic look until you get to the cockpit, where you are met with a tiered drop bar.
Now called the Grail Cockpit, we think the name it was launched under is a more apt description — the Hover bar. The idea behind this double layer handlebar is two-fold; the top layer provides a degree of suspension and shock absorption using flex built into the floating section, while the crossbar that connects to the drops gives you something to hook your thumbs around for improved grip and control — similar to what you get with Road Togs — not to mention increased stiffness.
Canyon says there is only room for a 40mm tyre, and geometry is pretty close to the brand's Endurace, it's better suited to big days on fire roads than spicy singletrack.
Lauf True Grit Weekend Warrior
Leaf-sprung front end and unique geometry combine for a bike capable of big time gravel rides
Sizes available: XS-XL | Tyre clearance: 700x45mm | 650b: No
The latest crop of gravel bikes are incorporating all kinds of solutions for smoothing out the road surface, but Lauf was out way ahead of the pack with its leaf spring suspension forks. Designed to tackle Iceland's infamous F-roads, the True Grit Weekend Warrior features the brand's Grit SL fork which offers 30mm of travel without the excess weight and ongoing servicing something like Fox's AX suspension fork brings along.
The True Grit features 70.5-degree head angle, 72.5-degree seat angle, a short headtube and a long 57.1cm top tube, 133mm head tube, with a stack of 561mm and 394mm reach in the size medium. With the extra length in the frame, the True Grit is paired with short stems (80mm, Size M) to keep the bike stable at speed, especially over rough terrain.
There is room for 45C tyres, mounts for three bottles, a top tube bag, and the front derailleur mount comes with a bottle opener attached — there is no cable routing for a front mech so it's not like you could run anything other than an eTap or AXS derailleur anyway.
How to choose
No, it's not the same as a CX bike
Delve into the comments of any story about gravel bikes, and without a doubt, there will be at least one person who proclaims that gravel bikes and cyclo-cross bikes are the same thing. Borrowing from other segments of cycling, that's a bit like saying an enduro bike is the same as a trail bike, or an endurance roadie is the same as a race bike. Are they similar? Yes. Can you use them both in similar situations? Also yes, Are they the same? No.
Beyond having more room for tyres and often separate wheel sizes, gravel bikes have a lower bottom bracket, a longer wheelbase and slacker angles. The reason for this comes down to the places they are ridden. 'Cross bikes are designed to be ridden on courses with extremely tight corners for 90-minutes max, while gravel bikes are designed for longer, straighter rides. Gravel bikes will usually see more designed features based around improving comfort, again because one is targeted at races under an hour, and you could be on the other for an entire day.
We've taken a deep dive into the differences between gravel and 'cross bikes, and even quizzed some of the minds who helped to design some of the bikes on this list: Explore the difference between gravel grinders and CX crushers.
If you'd rather look at the racier cousin of the gravel bike, and you believe that 'cross is indeed 'boss', check out our roundup of the best cyclo-cross bikes.
What to look for in a gravel bike
1. Where are you riding?
When you're looking at a new bike in any segment, evaluating whether you should err on the more aggressive and racy end of the spectrum or the slacker more playful side you need to take into account the type of riding you will be doing — and be honest.
Are you planning to target the pointy end of Dirty Kanza, Gravel Worlds and Dirty Reiver? Will your gravel bike also be the steed you slap a set of road wheels into and pull turns on a group ride? In this case, something on the all-out race end will probably suit you the best.
Conversely, are you planning to slip on a flannel shirt (with ripped off sleeves of course), whack a dropper post in the seat tube and chase your buddies around some local singletrack and forestry roads? Something a bit slacker will probably leave you with a bigger smile on your face.
2. Wheel size
700c vs 650b is one of the most hotly debated topics in the gravel world. 700c is the standard size of the wheel you'll find on a road bike, while 650b or 27.5in is an old touring standard that has seen wide adoption in mountain bikes for their weight and maneuverability, among other things, when compared to 29ers.
On a gravel bike, a 700c wheel option takes a skinnier tyre, meaning less rotational mass and rolling resistance and slightly better obstacle rollover. 650b, on the other hand, allows for fatter tyres with roughly the same diameter depending on the tyre size, allowing for lower tyre pressure, improved traction and compliance. While a 650b rim is lighter than a 700c, the fatter tyre more than makes up the weight difference.
While quite a few bikes can take both wheel sizes, which is right for you will come down to you where you're riding. If your gravel rides consist of well-graded dirt roads and long tarmac sectors, stick to 700c. If we are talking old mining roads with rotor deep ruts, loose climbs and plenty of bushwhacking the smaller diameter rim with fatter tyres is a better choice.
Extras are things like additional compliance technology, whether it be tubes tuned to promote additional flex or actual suspension; each of these has trade-offs, usually in the form of weight. Whether or not they are right for you will ultimately depend on your local gravel routes.
The other extras are things like mounts. At the very least there should be space for two full-size bottles. Even better if there are eyelets on the fork for bags or bottle cages and we like to see provisions for bolt-on bento-style boxes on the top tube too. Also look for things like internal routing for dropper posts, removable front derailleur mounts and the like.
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