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Best gravel bike frames: build your own drop-bar off-road rig

A gravel rider climbing up a gravel road in the alps
(Image credit: Jeremie Reuiller (Ill Prod) / BMC)

If you're looking for the best gravel bike frames, that probably means that you have a good idea of your ideal ride and are planning to build up the best gravel bike to suit your own needs. Alternatively, maybe you've crashed out and wrecked your old frame or just fancy an upgrade.

Whether for happy or sad reasons, you'll want a frameset that fits your style of gravel riding, of which there are lots, all the way from pro gravel racing through to heavy-duty bikepacking and multiday adventures.

To help you choose the best gravel bike frame, we've used our broad experience of gravel biking in all its guises to suggest a range of framesets at different prices and for different needs.

Not sure what you want? Then head to the bottom of the page for our buyer's guide to the best gravel bike frames and what to look for.

Best gravel bike frames

Specialized Diverge S-Works

(Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

Specialized S-Works Diverge frameset

Best for high spec gravel versatility

Specifications

Frame material: Fact 11r Carbon fiber
Frame weight: Sub-1,000g (claimed)
Tire clearance: 47mm 700c, 2.1in 650b
Sizes: 49cm - 61cm

Reasons to buy

+
Future Shock headset
+
Good tire clearance
+
Versatile gravel racer or fast bikepacker

Reasons to avoid

-
Premium price

The Specialized Diverge is designed to cover a wide range of use cases, from fast racing all the way to bikepacking. It's got all the mounting points you'd expect for load-lugging, but the S-Works frameset is also made of Spesh's top-spec carbon fiber if you plan to make up a performance gravel rig. The combination of the lightweight construction and agile handling results in a bike that we've found to be very responsive to rider input during testing, whether that be changing direction or putting the power down. With this in mind, as well as the premium pricing, we reckon it's best for faster rides.

There's a ton of clearance in the Diverge frame, so you can set it up with either 650b or 700c wheels and fit wider tires, or go for skinnier numbers with lots of clearance for when things get dirty. The Diverge frameset also comes with a Future Shock 2.0 headset damper and Roval carbon seatpost, adding to its compliance. Future Shock 2.0 is Specialized's newest gravel suspension design, which uses a hydraulic damper to isolate the handlebar from trail vibrations which made a big difference to control and comfort when we were riding over ruts and rougher terrain.

Mason Bokeh Ti frameset

(Image credit: Mason)

Mason Bokeh Ti frameset

Best for niche custom design

Specifications

Frame material: Custom titanium Reynolds, Dedacciai tubing
Frame weight: 1,750g (claimed)
Tire clearance: 45mm 700c, 50mm 650b
Sizes: 50cm - 62cm

Reasons to buy

+
Beautiful made to order frame
+
Versatile gravel geometry
+
Niche kudos

Reasons to avoid

-
Long waiting list

If you're after a frameset with a rare cache, the Mason Bokeh Ti has to be up there. The titanium version of the Bokeh is hand-welded in small batches in Tuscany, with unique features like 3D printed titanium dropouts and custom tube profiles. As every frame is made to order you can decide on features of your frame spec when you order, so it's exactly tailored to your needs. 

If you have a spec in mind or have sourced your own components, Mason Cycles will build the bike up for you. The downside to all this small batch production is that there's a long waiting list for a Bokeh Ti frameset. If you can't wait, or you're looking for something more affordable, you can speed things up by going for the standard aluminum Bokeh.

Canyon Grizl CF SL 8 gravel bike

(Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Canyon Grizl CF frameset

Best for bikepacking adventures

Specifications

Frame material: Canyon CF carbon fiber
Frame weight: 2,460g (complete frameset, claimed)
Tire clearance: 50mm 700c
Sizes: 2XS - 2XL

Reasons to buy

+
Really big clearance
+
Loads of mounting points
+
Extremely stable

Reasons to avoid

-
More gnarly than fast

The Canyon Grizl is the German direct-sales brand's gnarlier gravel bike and sits alongside the Grail which is more designed for 50/50 on- and off-road fast riding. That's not to say the Grizl isn't a quick bike, the carbon frame keeps it reasonably light and it features the same geometry as the Grail just with some beefier features. The Grizl frameset comes with fork leg mounts so you can load it up with your best bikepacking bags and you can fit 700c tires up to 50mm for added grip or comfort.

If you are a gravel rider looking for a gravel bike that can get rowdy without sacrificing the sharp handling. The low bottom bracket combined with the long reach and short stem really put you in control whether you're carving through high-speed gravel twisties or making the most of the grip from the massive tires on MTB-esque trails. We've also found that the Grizl's geometry also translates well when loaded up for a multi-day adventure, on-road or off, offering a stable and well-balanced ride.

The frameset comes complete with Canyon's own gravel-specific alloy bars and its VCLS split shaft carbon seatpost which improved comfort when riding seated over rough terrain during testing.

Read our full review on the Canyon Grizl for more details.

Trek Checkpoint SL frameset

(Image credit: Trek)

Trek Checkpoint SL frameset

Best for tuneable geometry

Specifications

Frame material: 500 Series OCLV carbon fiber
Frame weight: Not specified
Tire clearance: 45mm 700c
Sizes: 49cm - 61cm

Reasons to buy

+
Variable geometry
+
IsoSpeed decoupler for a smoother ride
+
Internal storage in the downtube
+
Bikepacking framebag mounts

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks chainstay protection
-
Long reach suits faster riding
-
Noticeably rough front end compared to compliant rear

While Trek has specced the Checkpoint with loads of great features there is one that is rarely seen on other gravel frames, especially those made from carbon. The Checkpoint frame comes with Trek's horizontal sliding dropout, which lets you move the rear wheel in or out from the frame. This gives the option to tighten up the rear end for snappier handling or increase the effective length of the chainstays for a more relaxed, stable ride. It also means you can set the Checkpoint up as a single speed if you want to, or are forced to in the case of a mechanical mid-ride.

It also comes with IsoSpeed, a damper located between the seatstay and seat tube, to help smooth out the trails for a comfortable ride however long you want to go. Other gravel-specific features include armor on the down tube to protect it from bashes, under the downtube mounting for a third waterbottle and fixtures inside the frame triangle to bolt on a frame bag. There's a storage area within the downtube as well to stash your mid-ride necessities.

Trek has reworked the geometry for the 2022 Checkpoint and it's all the better for it. Lengthening the wheelbase has increased stability and the stiff front end means it works well across gravel and road duties, although the IsoSpeed damped rear end tends to magnify the stiffness of the front over rougher trails. 

cervelo aspero frameset

(Image credit: Cervelo)

Cervelo Aspero 5 frameset

Best for fast gravel

Specifications

Frame material: Cervelo carbon fiber
Frame weight: Not specified
Tire clearance: 42mm 700c, 49mm 650b
Sizes: 48cm - 61cm

Reasons to buy

+
Fast, stiff frameset
+
Flip chip fork for consistent handling with different wheel sizes

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the clearance for wider tires
-
Electronic groupsets only

Cervelo says that it's designed the Aspero for speed, with a stiff frame that will transmit your energy to the ground when you want to put the power down off-road. The frame features all the hall-markings of a bike designed to go fast. Aero inspired tubing and a claimed sub-one kilo frame weight are all focused on fast-paced riding. The frame will only handle 42mm 700c or 49mm 650b tires, so although you're not going to be able to fit your super-chunky best bikepacking tires, there's still enough clearance for racier best gravel bike tire set-up.

The Aspero fork comes with a flip-chip, so if you swap from 700c to 650b wheels and tires, this adjusts the forks trail number and keeps the bike's handling consistent with both wheel sizes.

SRAM Rival AXS

A Santa Cruz Stigmata provided out testing platform (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Santa Cruz Stigmata frameset

Best if you plan to dabble in cyclo-cross

Specifications

Frame material: Santa Cruz CC carbon fiber
Frame weight: Not specified
Tire clearance: 45mm 700c, 2.1in 650b
Sizes: 52cm - 60cm

Reasons to buy

+
Handling inherited from Santa Cruz's MTB range
+
More clearance than the older model

Reasons to avoid

-
Not as many small size options as most gravel bikes
-
Not designed to fit a rack

The Santa Cruz Stigmata frameset doubles duty as a cyclo-cross bike as well as being designed to handle all species of gravel riding. The latest generation has grown up, with greater tire clearance, more mounting points and new geometry to avoid toe overlap on smaller frames, but it's still true to its cyclo-cross roots, giving you sharp handling for whatever the course throws at you.

Like many of Santa Cruz’s bikes, the Stigmata isn’t extreme in terms of weight, geometry, ride smoothness, or power kick. It’s just an extremely well-balanced all-rounder that we've found is happy chasing mountain bikes around blue or even red grade trail centers with a dropper in, bikepacking for days, or playing peloton games with road bikes if you stick the right tires on. The frame shares a lot of constructional cues and tube dimensions with Santa Cruz’s mountain bikes supports a 'no questions asked’ lifetime warranty and creates a seriously tough yet responsive all-rounder that we hammered for well over a year in various setups.

The Stigmata starts at a 52cm frame size, so if you want a smaller size than this, look below...

Juliana Quincy frameset

(Image credit: Juliana)

Juliana Quincy frameset

Best for a women's specific gravel bike build

Specifications

Frame material: Juliana CC carbon fiber
Frame weight: Not specified
Tire clearance: 45mm 700c, 2.1in 650b
Sizes: 49cm - 54cm

Reasons to buy

+
Same features as the Santa Cruz Stigmata

Reasons to avoid

-
Not designed to fit a rack
-
Limited sizing

Named after the town of Quincy which is located on Mt Shasta, a location known for its broad range of gravel riding and bikepacking. The Quincy is the equivalent frame to the Stigmata from Santa Cruz's women's-specific sister brand Juliana and shares many of the same features. built from the same high-quality CC grade carbon, it has the same wide tire clearance but the geometry is designed for riders from 5ft 0in to 5ft 9in. You get three size options: 49cm, 52cm, and 54cm.

There's the versatility for single ring or two ring groupsets and internal routing for cables, hoses, and a dropper. Juliana says that you can fit fenders, but not a rack so you're limited to bikepacking bags if you want to haul a load.

Buyer's guide to the best gravel bike frames

The best gravel bike frame for you will depend on what you're planning to do on it. With gravel encompassing a variety of different ride styles, no one frame will fit all.

Here's what you need to think about if you're looking for the best gravel bike frame.

Are there different kinds of gravel bike?

Gravel bikes have diversified rapidly over the last few years, from starting out as road bikes with a bit more room for wider tires to a wide range of designs. This covers everything from gravel racing bikes to full-on bikepacking rigs and everything in-between.

What components should you use with your frame?

Some component choices will limit which gravel bike frames will work for you from a technical point of view.

Are you going one-by or do you prefer a double-chainring set-up? Some frames may not have the clearance around the chainstays for a double crankset if they've been specifically designed for one-by. 

What tire clearance do you want? Most of the best gravel bike frames will take 45mm-plus tires but some will give you a lot more clearance than this. That's particularly important if you plan to go 650b, where the tire will be even wider at the sidewalls.

Fortunately, some things have more or less standardized in gravel bike design. 12x142mm rear and 12x100mm front axles are the norm (although Boost spacing is now making an appearance too), so you can be pretty sure that your best gravel bike wheels will fit. Likewise, almost all gravel bike frames and forks will have flat mount disc brake caliper interfaces and internal cable routing that can handle mechanical or electronic groupsets.

What still hasn't settled down (and probably never will) is bottom bracket standards. Many, but not all, bottom brackets can be run with adapters to fit cranksets of different standards, but you'll have a neater solution if you can avoid adapters.

Gravel bike bottom brackets usually follow road bike bottom bracket standards, meaning that MTB crank that you've got sitting in a drawer probably won't fit your new gravel bike frame.

So before you buy a frame, make sure that you know what you plan to kit it out with and that it will all fit.

Should I run a dropper post?

Many gravel bike riders are now running dropper posts on their gravel bikes. That means another cable to run from the bars and through the frame. Most gravel bikes will be designed with enough ports and the space to route a dropper cable through the frame, so this may be a non-issue, but it's worth checking that you'll have a spare port if a dropper might be on your shopping list.

And if you've got a specific dropper in mind, make sure that it's available in a size compatible with your intended gravel bike frame purchase.

Paul Norman
Paul Norman

After a spell riding XC mountain bikes Paul discovered gravel, or in fact riding a cyclocross bike across the South Downs and through the Chiltern Hills as gravel bikes didn’t exist at the time. He’s since mixed gravel and road riding, reviewing bikes and gear for Cycling Weekly for five years and also more recently writing for Cyclingnews, Bike Radar, T3 and of course Bike Perfect.

With contributions from