Bikes are now being made for very specific or variable kinds of terrain. The fat bikes are masters of snow and sand, road bikes are, well, perfect for the road. There are also gravel bikes, and they are, as one enthusiast says, “drop-bar machines… with longer wheelbases than a normal road bike, more upright positions, lower bottom brackets for stability, and clearance for wider tires.” Meant to be great on pavement, they are also fantastic on dirt roads and, of course, gravel.
Yet, as it is still an emerging area of the bike world, you won’t find a lot of fixed rules about what makes a gravel bike a gravel bike. As that same enthusiast noted, “Road bikes have always existed on a continuum, from light, fast, aggressive race models to longer, stable touring machines. The gravel movement has a similar scale.” That means you’ll find them designed for better steering or for speed, you’ll find them with different wheel sizes and even frame designs.
So, to keep it all as simple as possible, it is best if you look at a gravel bike as one that is often happy on paved roads as well as in mud or dirt. It is a bike you might be able to easily use if you commute on a regular road, but also add a shortcut across a field or along a private, dirt path to get home. As another cyclist said, the ideal conditions for the gravel bike are “Tracks that are too technical for a road bike, yet too fast for a cyclo-cross bike.”
If you enjoy riding farm roads, pavement, cobblestone streets, layers of crushed gravel or pebbles, and single tracks, the gravel bike is likely the right option for you. They are adaptable and rugged, and yet are fine for everyday commuting, training or just about anything else.
And though that makes them sound like an easy bike to select, there are many factors to consider as you narrow down your options for the ideal gravel bike for your needs. Shortly, we’ll look at nine of the top-rated and most frequently purchased options, but before that, let’s consider some of the factors that set the these bikes apart from the rest of the crowd.
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The build of a gravel bike is similar to a racing bike but is a great deal more relaxed. You’ll see a head tube taller than normal and an angle that allows more relaxed steering. Bottom brackets are often set lower than cyclo-cross models, and they usually have longer wheelbases to give them a lot more stability on roads as well as gravel. They are designed for comfort, and so you also get more stand over height.
The design of disc braking systems for most gravel bikes means that there is no brake caliper on the rims, and this means the bikes can have frames and forks sized for larger tires. These tires, then, afford a more comfortable ride along bumpy or rougher surfaces, while also ensuring better grip with whatever material or surface the bike traverses.
And about those disc brakes…all gravel bikes use them. They use disc and hydraulic discs to offer a lot more braking power. This enables you to handle those unpredictable conditions, but also get optimal braking efficiency whether in the mud or the rain, snow or slicker surfaces.
All the Rest
Control is about more than brakes and tires, though, and you’ll want good drop bars that ensure you have total control during any sort of slide or skid. Yet, be sure that they have adequate positioning to enable you to ride in your preferred posture and read the terrain at all times.
And as to options for cranksets and drivetrains, you’ll find gravel bikes offer the same wide-ranging options. A rule of thumb, however, is to invest in the best you can afford as these will usually pay you back in comfort and performance.
And weight? That’s a very interesting issue with gravel bikes. Many experienced riders say that they don’t give a huge amount of thought to this one factor. Instead, they look more at the performance, robustness, and even the longevity of a bike over the basic weight of the ride. If you are going to race your gravel bike, though, weight may come into the equation.
Lastly, you should note that many manufacturers equip gravel bikes with lots of connectors for everything from mudguards to gear racks, water bottle cages and pannier racks, and this makes them a great choice if you like to do traveling onboard a bike.
So, there are not a lot of hard and fast rules about gravel bikes just yet. They are still a wildly popular and emerging area of bike technology. For now, we give you nine of the most highly rated options from which to choose your new gravel bike or your next one!
The Best Gravel Bike
Whatever your goal for riding a gravel bike might be, these nine options offer you the right balance of features and flexibility, along with super competitive pricing.
This is a gravel bike specifically built for those who want to leave the pavement and enjoy all kinds of terrain. Though touted as a great commuter bike, it features an array of options that make it ideal for the off-road champ.
It uses a Tommaso 6061 SLA aluminum compact road frame and HCT carbon fork. However, the frame is also pack-ready, meaning it has plenty of eyelets for mounting whatever racks you need. Its drivetrain is a full Shimano Tiagra 4700, with fluid shifting and control in even the worst conditions. It features a compact 50/34T Tiagra crankset and 11-32t Tiagra cassette that work together to give you the ideal gearing ratio whether you are climbing or going flat out on a paved roadway.
With sturdy and heavy duty Corsa TC-400 wheels, these are super stable and yet aerodynamic meant to handle gravel and dirt as well as roads and pavement. With your AVID bb5 disc brakes and the sport series handlebars, you have even more control.
Weighing in at 24 pounds, this is a great ride for those who want a gravel bike that can do it all and is available in sizes XS to XL.
This carbon option of the popular Diamonback Haanjo Trail bike uses super lightweight carbon fiber and a frame that has been altered slightly to allow a bit of a wider tire clearance. It can manage mountain-size tires as well as skinnier, 700c wheels and is what many describe as the “Swiss Army knife” of gravel bikes. It handles mellow single track options just as easily as faster group rides on paved roadways.
It is available in three variations, including the Trail (which is the top of the line style). This model features those 700c HED Tomcat wheels and a lighter frame with plenty of tire clearance. With a handmade frame, and a 142x12mm rear through axle, it delivers endurance geometry that ensures the most comfortable ride, and it features a larger front triangle for optimal storage and a taller than average tube head.
It is outfitted with a Shimano Ultegra hydraulic brakes and drivetrain, Diamondback drop bars and HED hoops (which are on the heavier duty side). It offers a Shimano 2×11 drivetrain with 22 gears available for almost any possible terrain and those flat mount brakes feature rear and front rotors to enable fast stops on any surface.
Available in small to XL sizes, it accommodates riders from 5’5” up to 6’6” and weighs only 22 pounds. Though it sits at the higher end of the price scale, it is also one of the most reasonably priced models for its amazing design and diversity of uses. It is the everyman (or woman’s) ride and perfect for those who want something more than a one-trick gravel bike.
Ranked as one of the definitive gravel bikes, this model is also a great road ride, and it is considered among the most versatile options. Available in a wide range of sizes, from XS to XL, and weighing only 22 pounds, it offers geometry ideal for a range of environments. Roads to trails, the Willard 3 lives up to its name thanks to the many excellent specifications.
These include the Alloy gravel frame with its carbon fork and its tapered allow steering tube, its drivetrain that really delivers thanks to its Praxis Works Alba M30 cranks with SRAM Apex 1 rear derailleur, and its cogset that features SRAM PG1130 11-speed, 11-42T options.
The shifters ensure you can handle any demand with SRAM Apex 1 1×11 speed function, and you can remain in constant control thanks to the TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes. Dig into any surface with the HED Tomcat Disc wheels with 28 holes for superior handling and performance. Thru axles at the front and the rear mean you enjoy the most responsive ride possible, and with its wider Clement X’PLOR 700×40c tires, you will find yourself the mast of gravel riding. Designed for travel and long days of exploration, this bike features fender mounts and bonus racks that let you really load up and go.
The Raleigh Series Saddle seat with chromo rail is stylish and comfortable, and with a 27.2” seat post it is easily adjustable to any rider.
Highly rated and beloved by those who choose it for their off road adventures, the Raleigh Willard 3 is a major contender, and though it sits at a higher price point, it is one to consider if you are serious about this type of biking
Another of the Tommaso gravel bikes, this one is a commuter-friendly ride that comes with loads of space for packs ideal for touring or daily commutes. It features a carbon fork to keep weight under control along with the Tommaso 6061 SLA aluminum compact road frame.
The drivetrain is the full Shimano Claris groupset that gives you a whopping 24 reliable speeds you can enter quickly. With a wide gearing ratio, this bike can handle climbing almost any surface, but glides along comfortably on pavement. The heavier duty Corsa TC-30D wheels offer the kind of toughness needed and they are meant for all terrain. The 28 spoke rims are also designed for performance and heavier weights.
You get the reliability of the Shimano Claris derailleurs and the R2000 crankset. With Avid bb5 disc brakes, you remain fully in control, and the ultralight sport series handlebars also deliver great performance at speed or when cruising. At 25 pounds, and using geometry familiar to performance bikes, this is a great all around gravel bike for the experienced or first-time riders and is available in sizes XS to XL.
This gravel bike is built around the idea that pavement is overrated and features an array of features and specifications that make it easy and enjoyable to hop off pavement or even trails and still keep control and comfort. A trail blazer by design, this bike features heftier tires and a lot of clearance, it is generously stocked with eyelets for racks or gear and lives up to the name “adventure” bike quite easily.
It is built around a Pure Cycles Cromo Adventure Frame which is a super strong 4130 chromoly steel offering lightweight performance. It is equipped with Hutchinson Overide 700 x 38c noted for their beefy proportions and ability to grab. Paired nicely with the tires and excellent frame geometry is the 16-Speed Shimano Claris STI drivetrain.
This includes the FSA Tempo Adventure, 48/32t chainrings, along with the FSA square taper sealed cartridge. With 16 or 18 speed options, it offers you amazing gearing and control. This is further enhanced by the bikes front and rear alloy disc brakes by Promax and the tubeless-ready WTB STP i23 32-hole rims with stainless steel spokes and alloy hubs for durability and performance.
Whether commuting on the roads or using this strictly off the beaten paths, the adjustable drop bar and the alternative hand positions guarantee that you have the kind of responsive steering you need for a great riding experience every single time. The Selle Royal Rampage adventure seat is the best for long-distance comfort as well as brief every day jaunts.
With its gravel-ready geometry meant to enable a rider of any skill level to retain control on all surfaces, the Pure Cycles Adventure gravel disc road bike is remarkably flexible. It can swap out its tires with 650b wheels or even larger rock tires and is likely to become a fast favorite of those who think of gravel bikes as more off-road than daily multi-taskers.
A true trailblazer, this Mongoose has been designed specifically for those who are eager to get off the roads. It has been built with adventure geometry in mind. In other words, you are positioned for optimal control whether at speed or simply cruising.
The sleek, alloy framed bike offers up a stronger steel fork, and comes with a shocking amount of integrated baggage capability. There is an integrated frame bag, a pannier ready rack at the front, and a rear rack mount that all encourage you to head into the wilderness amply prepared. Three individual water bottle cages complete the “get out and go” message of this bike’s design.
The Shimano Tourney Derailleurs and the 14 speed micro shift and brake level combo also indicate that this bike has been designed for the explorer as well as the commuter. The drivetrain is a 2×7 style and with the mechanical disc brakes, the setup makes for a lot of smoothness and control. The 700c alloy rims and the hefty 40c tires also ensure optimal off-road (and on road) experiences. Yet the internal cable routing and the fender mounts mean that this is a ride meant to be even less gravel than most bikes.
A stand over height of 33.5” and a weight of 30 pounds set this bike up as a good one for most riders. Described as one of the top touring bikes in the group, it features all of that storage capability along with a lot of performance built into its design. If you are eager to take your gravel biking to a new level, this is an ideal option. If you are just entering the field, consider this a top of the line touring model with plenty of capability on everyday trips or demands, too.
Designed as the all-in-one solution for the gravel road and multi-surface ride, the Diamondback Haanjo Comp Alternative Road Bike is a consistently high ranked option. It has the looks of a cyclocross bike, and yet it features a higher head tube and longer wheelbase to give all kinds of handling, comfort, smoothness and responsiveness. A single look lets you see that it has integrated the frame geometry of an endurance bike but has a far more responsive set of controls.
These factors make it a good commuter or travel bike as well as one to take off the roads and onto the trails. With its 6061-T6 Aluminum frame and carbon, it weighs in at a stunning little 22 pounds. The Kenda 40mm Flintridge tires have loads of grab and traction, ensuring you can manage regular pavement as well as gravel roads and other surfaces with ease.
The control of the bike is also optimized through the introduction of Apex 1 Hydraulic disc brakes that give you stop on a dime function whether riding on totally dry or incredibly slick surfaces. The drivetrain also ensures plenty of control and features the SRAM Apex 1, 1×11 option. It has an 11-42t cassette to offer plenty of gearing, even enabling steep and long climbs, and the ride is always optimized due to the HED handle bars and the wide seat post. Available in sizes Small to XL, it can accommodate riders from 5’ 5” up to 6’ 6”, making it an ideal choice for the family eager to get out on the trails or roads for long, comfortable and easier touring or exploring.
Another entry from the Tommaso Sentiero brand, this one is considered a top of the line multi-terrain ride. It is meant to handle extra weight and have optimal controls and stopping power. With the widest range of gearing options, it lets a rider handle almost any conditions or terrain.
Heavier than the other models mentioned, it weighs in at 26 pounds and is available in sizes XS to XL. It features the 6061 SLA aluminum compact frame along with a heavier duty SST steel fork. It comes rack ready to allow you to set it up for a daily commute or even for lengthier touring experiences.
The drivetrain on the Sentiero is equipped with a 24 speed option that features a 30/39/50T Claris triple crankset, Shimano R2000 Claris 11-28t – 8spd cassette and Shimano derailleurs at the front and rear.
You get TEKTRO LYRA disc brakes for optimal stopping power in all weather or conditions, and the frame geometry and ultralight sport series handlebars also make maneuvering, steering and sight lines the best. The Corsa TC-20D tires are an all-terrain option and 28 spoke rims are ultra-durable for every type of ride.
If you are eager to get yourself into gravel biking, but you also want a bike that can pull multiple duties as commuter and street-comfortable ride, this is probably the very best bet since it uses compact frame geometry, great power through the Shimano groupset, and offers all-terrain capability.
Though we reviewed a Willard 3 a bit earlier, this is not the same series. This is one of Raleigh Bike’s All Road bikes and it has been designed to provide one of the most dependable off road and paved road experiences. It is an ultra-versatile model which the maker says, “allows riders to go where most bikes cannot”. However, it does not mean it is an experts-only ride. It has been designed for even an introductory rider, but it must be noted that this model is packed with a lot of advanced features and options.
To get started, this bike is built on the AL-6061 Alloy Gravel frame and features an Alloy SPF formed and tapered steerer. It offers up thru axle forks and disc post mounts along with a high performance drivetrain. This includes the SRAM 1x drivetrain with 11-42t wide range cassette along with front and rear derailleurs that include the Shimano Sora FD-3000 and the Shimano Sora RD-3000 9 speed.
Optimal control is guaranteed by the Clement X’PLOR MSO, 700x40c, 60TPI tires featuring the in house alloy, double wall (28 hole) rims and the mechanical disc brakes able to deliver stopping power in all conditions or settings. At a superbly manageable 25 pounds, it is good for a rider of any skill and with its Shimano Sora controls and Raleigh 200 series handlebars, it enables a rider to always keep the ride under control. The Raleigh Alloy Micro Adjust and super comfortable Raleigh Series Saddle with Chromo Rail offer a functional ride over position, and you can find this bike in sizes XS to XL.
As an all road ride, this Raleigh Willard 2 is a good choice if you are considering adventure rides or you want to take your daily commuter to another level of use and performance.
You now have all that you need to make a good choice in your first (or upgraded) gravel bike. There are many choices, and it is important that you don’t think only of pricing. As we noted at the beginning of this article, the gravel bike industry is still evolving and there are no true guidelines that builders follow. You need to know what your bike’s most common demands will be. For example, if you are veering more towards longer rides on a diversity of surfaces, there are bikes designed with loads of storage and all road performance. However, our list has also pointed you towards bikes that can be perfect for group rides and higher speed activities.
Remember, too, that you need to consider tire options. This is something many first-time buyers overlook and it is an incredibly important feature. The benefit of a gravel bike is that it is designed to take beefier tires that enable that wider range of performance on multiple terrains. Pay attention to whether or not a frame and its fork and seat post designs enable you to easily and safely swap out your tires for a different style with different function.
You can get a lot of mileage (no pun intended) out of taking the time to determine if you will be making frequent changes between tires with more rubber and bulk or leaving the tires that came with the bike in place.
And lastly, it is important that you maintain your gravel bike’s chain and drivetrain. If you are a DIY person, be sure you choose a model that will allow you to learn all of the ins and outs of the bike, and one that is easy to maintain on your own.
Brad grabbed up his first bike when he was a kid and never looked back. He is an avid BMX rider and mountain biker.