Skip to main content

Best gravel bikes: Fun and fast adventure bikes for your next off-road ride

Included in this guide:

Jenny Tough Canyon Grizl
(Image credit: Canyon)

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 gravel tyres, and that double-track full of big rocks that sneak up on you is a breeze on 700c 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. 

It's worth mentioning that following last year's huge cycling boom during lockdown, stock levels are very low at the moment. Finding the perfect gravel bike in your size may take some time and patience, but retailers and manufacturers are working hard together to restock.

While the bikes in this guide represent some of the best gravel bikes right now there are plenty of options for those looking for a great off-road experience at a modest outlay. Check out our best budget gravel bikes guide for our pick of the best gravel bikes without a big price tag, and if you're looking for an extra boost, we've got a list of the best electric gravel bikes for your perusal as well.

Jump to: How to choose a gravel bike

Best gravel bikes

Cervelo Aspero-5 Red eTap AXS 1 Ltd

(Image credit: Cervelo )

Cervelo Aspero-5 Red eTap AXS 1 Ltd

A light, integrated and aerodynamic racer

Sizes available: 48, 51, 54, 56, 58, 61cm | Tyre clearance: 700 x 44, 650b x 51 | 650b: Yes

A sleeker, faster update on the previous model
Great looks
Stiff frame for fast acceleration
Super lightweight
Uncomfortable over rough ground for extended periods
No mounts for mudguards

As recent as April 2021, Cervelo unveiled the Aspero-5, a lightweight, aerodynamic gravel bike with a focus on winning gravel races. The bike, which is stunning to look at, features some well thought-out and innovative design touches, including its integrated cockpit that still offers ease of access for maintenance, the recessed top tube mounting point for additional storage, and the protective integrated shield on the underside of the down tube to prevent cosmetic damage from debris.

The Aspero-5 comes specced with a power meter, regardless of which model you go for. SRAM models like this Aspero-5 Red eTap AXS 1 Ltd come with an integrated Quarq power meter as part of the groupset.

The carbon frame is kitted out with gravel-specific flared carbon drop bars (ranging in width from 380-440mm), and specced with in-house wheel brand Reserve's 32mm tubeless ready rims laced to DT Swiss hubs, and wrapped in 38mm Panaracer Gravel King SK folding tyres.

Ribble CGR Ti

(Image credit: Ribble)

Ribble CGR Ti

A contemporary twist to the classic aspirational material

Sizes available: XS-XL | Tyre clearance: 700 x 40, 650b x 47 | 650b: Yes

Beautiful glide ride
Responsive 'relaxed road' handling
Sweet detailing
Corrosion and scratch-proof finish
Rack and guard mounts
Grippy 650b tyres
Narrow bar

A titanium frame makes this gravel adventure bike feel like absolute luxury, with a gliding ride feel that makes it well suited for road and off-road alike. The Ribble CGR Ti is a great bike for exploring dirt options without becoming a barge pilot on back roads. 

Ribble offers several build options for the CGR Ti, ranging from its 700 x 40mm Schwalbe G-One tyre ‘SUV’ versions in Shimano 105, Ultegra and Ultegra Di2, to its ‘hero’ SRAM Red eTap AXS spec, plus this chunky 650b x 47mm rubber gravel option with Shimano’s GRX RX810 mechanical group.

While cheaper titanium frames make use of the same materials, Ribble's consists of expensive triple-butted, multi-shaped pipework that provides the kind of sprung resilience that is the whole point of titanium in the first place. What results is a strong, compliant frame that glides over the rough stuff.

Ribble CGR Ti gravel bike review


(Image credit: Boardman)

Boardman ADV 9.0

Great value for money gravel bike that delivers on weight and ride feel

Sizes available: S-XL | Tyre clearance: 700 x 42 | 650b: No

Superb value for money
Delivers a decent ride feel
Handles well
Reasonably light for this price bracket
No 650b option

Boardman's carbon ADV 9.0 gravel bike offers excellent value for money and delivers a fun and responsive ride in return. While many of the options on this list will exceed £2,000 at least, the Boardman comes in at £1,800 retail and comes equipped with a 2x11 Shimano GRX groupset with a wide range of gears for on- and off-road riding. GRX hydraulic disc brakes provide the stopping power, while the 6-degree flare handlebar offers better control while descending in the drops.

The bike is finished off with a lot of Boardman's own proprietary kit, including the ADV wheelset that comes pre-taped and supplied with valves, ready for an easy tubeless setup, and 700 x 38mm Panaracer Gravel King SK tyres.

Canyon Grizl CF SL 8 1by

(Image credit: Canyon)

Canyon Grizl CF SL 8 1BY

An incredibly versatile do-it-all gravel bike that looks great to boot

Sizes available: 2XS-2XL | Tyre clearance: 700 x 45, 650b x 50 | 650b: Yes

Extremely versatile do-it-all gravel bike
Geometry is well considered
Looks fantastic
Canyon-specific mudguard mounts

Canyon’s new Grizl is the direct-to-consumer brand's idea of a do-everything-go-anywhere gravel bike that's designed to take on everything from epic gravel rides to laden exploration, covering a broad spectrum of terrain.

If you're already familiar with the Canyon Grail, you may wonder why the brand has recently added another gravel bike to its line-up, and the answer is to create something that's more of a rugged explorer than a lightweight race machine. If you're after the latter, the Grail could be more up your street, whereas the Grizl comes with a longer wheelbase that provides a more stable and comfortable ride feel over long periods of time.

There are plenty of mounts on the frame for accessories, including anything cage mounts of the fork that can carry up to 3kg on each side, however be warned that the mudguard mounts are only compatible with Canyon's mudguards.

Canyon Grizl CF SL 8 1BY - First look gallery

Best gravel bikes

(Image credit: Focus)

Focus Atlas 6.8

Focus's first foray into gravel proved to be standout smooth ride

Sizes available: XS-XL | Tyre clearance: 700 x 45 | 650b: Compatible

Multiple load fixtures
Big tyre clearance
Suspension fork and dropper post compatible
Relatively heavy
More of a cruiser than a radical

Released in January of '21, Focus was rather late to the gravel party when it launched its Atlas gravel bike, but being late can be fashionable, right?

We were one of the first to test the Focus Atlas 6.8 gravel bike prior to its release, and we found it to be tough, versatile and adaptable. These are all great qualities if you want to load up and escape the everyday for a while. The Atlas is definitely on the smooth-ride easy-cruiser end of the gravel spectrum, which means it's not as light as some of its competitors, but it's robust enough to load up on luggage and take out for a long and exploratory ramble.

The alloy frame has a large, rectangular downtube with triple-mounts for adjustable bottle cage positioning, while the seat tube features a plugged entry point for a dropper post, should you wish to install one.

The Atlas 6.8 comes equipped with 700c wheels, but is also 650b compatible, and has clearance for up to 45mm tyres. One of the nice additional features is the top tube bag that comes with every bike as standard, mountable to the top tube. 

As the range's second-highest model, the 6.8 is kitted out with a mixture of Shimano GRX 600 and 800 drivetrain components, as well as Novatec tubeless-ready wheels and WTB Riddler tyres.

Best gravel bikes

(Image credit: Polygon)

Polygon Bend R5

A bang-for-your-buck gravel bike that will eat up rough terrain

Sizes available: S-L | Tyre clearance: 650b x 41 | 650b: Yes

Great value for money
Limited sizing options

If you're planning some rambunctious off-road adventures that will involve tackling rough terrain, the Polygon Bend R5 is a good value-for-money choice. The ALX alloy frame is mated with a carbon fork, and the angular tubes are hydroformed to produce a blend of stiffness and compliance that work well together.

The Polygon Bend R5 comes stock with 650b wheels and 41mm WTB Venture tyres, though there's definitely more space if you want to size up slightly. We reckon that with 80mm between the fork legs, you could easily squeeze in something over 2-inches and still have room for mud.

The Bend R5 is a versatile steed that could serve as a commuter during the week and a gravel adventure mule at the weekend. It comes with two build options: 2x or 1x Shimano GRX drivetrain, with the latter also including a Tranz-X dropper post. All the finishing kit is supplied by Entity, Polygon's in-house components brand.

Best gravel bikes

(Image credit: Merida)

Merida Silex+ 8000-E

Hugely capable gravel bike that shines on the roughest stuff

Sizes available: XS-XL | Tyre clearance: 650b x 50 | 650b: Yes

Confidence-inspiring handling
Mountings and stable character make it a great bikepacker
Slick Shimano GRX Di2 shifting
Easy to find the limits of off-road drop bar riding
Rims and tyres difficult to set up tubeless

With the Silex+ 8000-E, Merida has taken its proven model bearing the same name and swapped out the 700c wheels for 650b, which affords chunkier tyre options and makes it even more suitable for rough riding.

The Silex+ is definitely the type of gravel bike that tries to disassociate itself from any tarmac relatives, with its 45mm Kenda Flintridge Pro tyres, tall stack and slack geometry, it's definitely an off-road ready machine. It's hugely capable as well, with a relaxed fit and handling that leaves you feeling composed and in control at all times.

It really comes into its own when you descend off-road, thanks to its high stack, long reach and short step. It has plenty of space for you to shift position, while the compliant frame helps to absorb some of the chatter while you roll over rough sections at speed.

Best gravel bikes

(Image credit: Factor)

Factor LS

A razor-sharp racer that can double up as a road bike

Sizes available: 49, 52, 54, 56, 58cm | Tyre clearance: 700 x 43 | 650b: No

Super-lightweight performance
Agile handling
Ability to accommodate rubber of up to 43mm
GRX Di2 performs flawlessly in any setting
Can double up as a road bike
Ride quality can come across quite harsh on choppy singletrack and dirt roads

The Factor LS boasts an incredibly lightweight frame, weighing just 950g, and is billed as an all-out race machine. We'd certainly agree with that statement, too. When we tested it out we found it to be truly impressive. It's without a doubt, a no-holds-barred gravel racer that feels rich and offers all the speed and feedback you'd need when racing between the tape.

It's available both as a frameset or a complete build, and the latter comes kitted out with a SRAM Force eTap AXS Disc groupset, alongside the brand's fabled Black Inc Thirty wheels and finishing kit.

Of course, speed and race-pedigree come at a price to some extent, and the LS does deliver a slightly jarring ride. With its direct-ride feel and communicative underpinnings, it's sure to find favour with riders looking to outpace their rivals at their chosen gravel event.

The Cannondale Topstone is the best gravel bike

(Image credit: Cannondale)

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

Kingpin suspension
Sizes up large

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 the GRX Shimano gravel groupset becomes the choice option - not that that's an issue, as the parts are cross-compatible. 

Best Gravel Bikes: Factor Vista

(Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

Factor Vista

The best fast gravel bike for those who don't need to get too rowdy

Sizes available: 49cm-58cm | Tyre clearance: 700x35c | 650b: No

Borrows lots of features from Factor's road bikes
Surefooted despite steep angles
Could do with more tyre clearance

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. 

Factor Vista review

Best gravel bike: Pinarello Grevil Force 1

(Image credit: Pinarello)

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

Aero tubing
Big tyre clearance
Sizes up large

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 asymmetric frame shape takes cues from Pinarello's Tour de France-winning Dogma F12 road bike, adding stiffness to account for the extra forces applied on the drive side.

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'.

Best gravel bike: Wilier Jena gravel bike

(Image credit: Wilier)

Wilier Jena

The lightweight gravel bike that will serve racers and bikepackers alike

Sizes available: XS - XL | Tyre clearance: 700x44mm, 650bx1.95in | 650b: Yes

Lightweight frame
Stable handling
Frame mounts
Wheelset can be a let down depending on the spec

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. 

(Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

Specialized S-Works Diverge

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

Stealthy, refined aesthetics
Compliant ride quality
Flattering geometry
Reactive steering
Comprehensive range covering all price points
Dropper post is overkill and adds unnecessary weight

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. 

Specialized S-Works Diverge review

(Image credit: Trek)

Trek Checkpoint SL6

IsoSpeed-equipped gravel racer pitched to be an adventure companion

Sizes available: 49-61cm | Tyre clearance: 700x45mm | 650b: No

Dropped driveside chainstay
Stranglehold dropout
No 650b

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.

3T Exploro is one of the best gravel bikes we've tested

(Image credit: Josh Croxton)

3T Exploro Force

The best aero gravel bike with a choice of wheel size

Sizes available: S-XL | Tyre clearance: 700x40c, 650bx2.1in | 650b: Yes

Bombproof without being heavy
Racy geometry
Forgiving handling
Compact front triangle limits frame bag storage for longer rides

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."

Best gravel bikes: Scott Addict Gravel 20 2021

(Image credit: Scott)

Scott Addict Gravel 20

Thoroughbred race bike with knobby tyres

Sizes available: XS-L | Tyre clearance: 700x38c | 650b: No

Internal cabling
Super efficient ride
1x and 2x
Harsh ride
Torx bolts
Limited tyre clearance

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.

(Image credit: Giant)

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

Ready for tubless out of the box
D-Fuse front and rear
Spec for the price
More aggressive tyres out of the box wouldn't hurt

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 Shimano's GRX Di2 groupset. Out of the box, it comes in a 2x configuration, but with the clutched GRX rear derailleur, going 1x is as simple as ditching the front mech and switching to a 1x narrow-wide chainring. 

(Image credit: Basso)

Basso Palta

Fast and nimble gravel racer

Sizes available: XS-XL | Tyre clearance: 700x42mm | 650b: No

Paint job
Speed and agility
Limited frame protection
Aggressive position might not work for some

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. 

Basso Palta review

Best Gravel Bikes: Canyon Grail

(Image credit: Canyon)

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

'Grail Cockpit' handlebar has noticeable compliance
Value for money
Rack and mudguard mounts
Aesthetic likely to polarise

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.

Canyon Grail CF SLX 8.0 review

How to choose the best gravel bike

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 and 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 gravel races? 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, 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 manoeuvrability, 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 overall wheel 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.

3. Extras

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.

Back to the top