No matter how great your bike is, there's always room for upgrades. If you've snagged a bike from our list of the best gravel bikes on the market there's still room to make it uniquely yours. Or you might have a bike that's been around for a while and now it's time to give it a refresh. Don’t discount the powerful motivation that an upgrade brings either. Small changes can be the key to getting excited to get out again. Whatever the motivation, the right upgrades will make your bike more capable and gravel biking experience more enjoyable.
We put together a list of options that cover the most common upgrades. In some cases, the cost is high but so is the reward. In other choices, we've highlighted small changes you can make that won't cost a lot of money and bring outsized rewards. If you are ready to make some changes to your gravel bike keep reading to see our list of the best gravel bike upgrades we can think of.
These are the parts of the bike that you actually touch. It's these selections that help you to feel one with the bike. They are your key to comfort, control, fit, and in many ways, they make up the character of the machine under you. The right choices here might also mean a serious speed upgrade because you can't be fast if you aren't comfortable.
Keep in mind, there's more ambiguity here than in other areas of the bike. Many of these options are not a binary good or bad but rather a best for you and your body. We've highlighted some quality options that should at the very least, get you started on the path.
Brooks is a brand with serious cachet. The leather saddles they make always seem to show up on the coolest bikes owned by the coolest people. Those saddles aren't the most durable though and the Cambium line was a solution for this market hole. Instead of leather, the top uses an unsupported slab of rubber. It's super durable and a favorite for gravel riding. The Cambium C13 is the top-of-the-line model and features a carbon fiber construction to reduce weight and add bling. Make sure you choose the right width because it's unlikely you'll ever need to replace your Cambium.
The Ergon SR Allroad Core line of saddles covers two options. There is a TiNox rail version that costs a bit less and adds an extra 45 grams to the overall weight. There's also the Pro Carbon version if you are looking for the highest performance available. Either way you, the upper construction is the same. It starts with an Orthopedic AirCell foam padding and below that is a layer of Infinergy foam then finally you get the base and rails. The focus of the design is on vibration absorption while keeping a lively feel. The fact that the carbon rails remain round is a nice feature that might make an upgrade easier too as not all seatpost designs can accommodate oval carbon rails.
Bar tape is one of the easiest upgrades you can make to your gravel bike. The cost is low and there's joy in the ritual of re-wrapping a bike. If you've never used gel pads under your tape it's amazing how much more comfortable it makes the whole ride experience. The Spank Flare bar tape is available on its own but it's also available as a package with the gel padding you'd otherwise need to buy separately. Cut the gel pads so they fit in just the way you want them too then wrap up the tape and enjoy a unique surface that feels great even with sweaty hands.
The right bar tape is a tough balance. You want plenty of grip but a rough surface is tough on your hands over long miles. That's especially true for those who prefer to ride without gloves. The Bontrager Perf line of bar tape is smooth but somehow manages to remain tacky as well. It never feels rough against your hands but there's a ton of grip as well as plenty of cushion to help you handle rough road surfaces. When it's time to wrap the bars with it, there's an adhesive back to make life a little easier.
If you want to up your game on the bike there's no better upgrade than a power meter. That might mean riding faster but it could also mean a variety of things related to being ready to take on whatever adventures you have planned. When it comes to deciding how to add power the Garmin Rally system is one of the most flexible options.
Highlighted here is the dual-sided SPD cleat option that's perfect for gravel cycling. If you'd rather start slower, there's a single-sided option available. If you want to use it for road cycling also, it's possible to convert the system to a three-bolt road cleat system.
The Enve has the gravel racer in mind with its Gravel Handlebar but it works just as well for anyone who has some variation of all-road riding in mind. The most distinctive feature is the tight bend radius at the end of the flats. Very little space gets lost to the bend so if you clamp aero bars or lights near the stem there's plenty of room for hands and bags along the tops. That tight bend also makes for a straight run to the controls which creates a supported area for draping your forearms on long straight miles. If you decide to move down to the drops there is tons of room for your hands and arms to stay out of the way as you pedal.
In a world where gravel bars seem to be getting ever wilder in their designs, the Cadex AR bar brings things back to the fundamentals. Instead of deeply angled controls, you get about what you'd expect on a road setup. That doesn't mean there aren't gravel-specific design details though. You'll find a three-degree backsweep for a relaxed position on the controls as well as a three-degree outsweep that points the bar ends away from the center of the bike. Flare, the feature most associated with gravel bars, is a subtle eight degrees and there's an extra-long tail on each side. It's comfortable both on and off the road.
Suspension and drivetrain
If you've got an older bike frame this is an excellent way to transform it into a brand-new bike. Frame technology doesn't move nearly as fast as drivetrain technology. With a bit of work, you can add the capabilities that you missed out on when your bike was new. This is especially true with gravel bikes. Not only is technology changing but also conceptual ideas of what is best suited to the genre.
Part of that change involves suspension. When gravel cycling started to come into the public consciousness suspension wasn't part of the conversation. As the genre grew suspension companies started to make gravel-specific forks available. If you are thinking about adding a lot more capability to an older bike, suspension is one way to do it.(opens in new tab)
Most people would agree that electronic shifting is better. It's faster and easier to shift in the worst conditions. It's also a whole lot easier to shift when it's so cold you can barely feel your fingers. In the past one of the biggest barriers has been price. With the Rival XPLR groupset, SRAM has made an affordable option that means it's harder to argue against moving to electronic. This XPLR specific variation gains a new 10-44 cassette that means you'll have the gearing to stay seated as you climb loose surfaces. If you decide you need even more gearing you can swap the rear to the MTB-specific version for truly monstrous gearing options.
Campagnolo is a company that's always done things a bit differently and Ekar continues the trend. It's a perfect counterpoint to the SRAM solution as it looks to use its thirteen-gear range to keep the jumps smaller rather than massively expand the range.
Then instead of going all-in on electronics, like SRAM, they've stuck to traditional mechanical actuation. The one thing that both brands do seem to agree on is the use of only a single derailleur. If you like the idea of sticking to 1x but think you'll be doing more riding where cadence really matters then Campagnolo is an excellent option.
There's a lot of debate about the emergence of suspension in gravel biking. Once you've experienced it though all that chatter fades away. A good gravel-specific suspension fork is light and stiff but does a great job keeping the tires in contact with the ground even when the surface gets rough. The Rockshox Ultimate XPLR fork has options for 30mm or 40mm of travel with axle to crown height at 425 or 435mm depending on the version. When you find yourself moving from off-road to on-road there is a lockout lever but you can also take advantage of the 17 clicks of rebound adjustment to dial things in perfectly.
If you want to find out more about the RockShox Rudy Ultimate XPLR fork, check out our full review
If you've had an old bottle cage for a while, swapping it out for something new is an easy way to transform your experience. It might surprise you how much such a small change can make but with the right choice, you'll thank yourself each time you reach for a drink.
Not only do you gain ease of use but don't discount the aesthetics of a new bottle cage. Even if what you've got is technically still working it might not be looking its best anymore. Consider changing things up just because. Motivation is a tricky thing to quantify and whatever helps you find it is well worth it.
The Silca Sicuro is the kind of bottle cage you get when you want to make a statement. This version takes everything that makes the standard version great but adds a 1-micron thick black ceramic Cerakote outing coating. It adds corrosion and abrasion resistance that promises to extend the lifetime of the bottle cage but also means that even with dusty and gritty bottles it's less likely to mar the bottles themselves. Finding the right style of cage for a gravel bike is sometimes tricky but the delicate round tubes and black color matches perfectly with all kinds of frames.
Titanium might fit a wide range of bikes but it's not the right answer for everyone. If you want an equally high-end look but want to go for something a bit more high-tech then carbon fiber is your other option. Enve is one of the masters when it comes to the art of carbon fiber construction and its bottle cage meets the standards you'd expect. Despite the delicate look, and low 19-gram weight, the carbon construction is strong enough for gravel riding. The low sides also add some side-load capabilities if you've got a frame bag that makes top-loading an issue.(opens in new tab)
The Blackburn Wayside Side-Entry bottle cage is perfect for any situation where you find yourself short on space to get a bottle in and out. For most people that means when you add a frame bag and suddenly can't get your bottles in and out it's time to grab one of these. It's also an excellent option for the third bottle mount you often find at the bottom of the downtube on gravel frames. There's plenty of space in that situation but the low height makes pulling the bottle from the side easier. Whatever the need, it's got a reversible design that allows you to decide which hand works best for you.
Wheels and Tires
When it's time to upgrade your bike wheels are the first place to spend your money. That advice is universal no matter what kind of bike you have but when it comes to a gravel bike there might be even more opportunity for gain. Rotational weight continues to have an outsized effect on the feel of a bike but with a gravel bike a new wheelset doesn't have to be a direct replacement. Gravel bikes are amazing all-around bikes and frequently the thing that holds you back is tires. Having a second wheelset means it's super easy to swap tires depending on the ride you want to do on any given day.
Following the same thinking, you might be happy with the wheels you've got but that doesn't mean there's no room for an upgrade. Swapping tires will allow your gravel bike to take on new challenges with the same bike. Bigger lugs will see you through bigger challenges or a set of slicks will take you on and off the road as needed.
For a very long time, Mavic wheels have been the go-to first upgrade for any bike. They have options that represent quality at great prices and with the Allroad SL wheelset gravel bikes can now join the party.
The undrilled rim bed means no need to add rim tape or strips to mount tubeless tires and the alloy rims can take a beating. The Allroads spin on Mavic's Instant Drive 360 freewheel system which provides a 9-degree engagement pickup and features centerlock brake mounts. The hubs will also take a standard or Road XD driver, opening up gearing potential.
These gravel wheels from Spank Industries come with the brand's unique Vibrocore damping foam filling. Vibrocore is a pressurized foam core that reduces vibration from being transferred from trail to rider. The idea is to create a rigid, strong, wheel with enhanced comfort and traction while still keeping the weight down.
They feature a 'Bead Nip' rim bed design that uses a ribbed profile to offer extra grip to tubeless tires and plenty of build options. Choose 650b for adventure riding or stick to 700c for faster rolling. SRAM 12-speed XDR freehubs are available as are Shimano 11-speed. If you have something special in mind the rims are even available for custom builds.
American Classic is a brand with 36 years of history but in 2018 the changing landscape saw them closing the doors. This year they are back and they are bringing a variety of on-road and off-road choices all priced well below the expectation.
The Kimberlite slots into the lineup as a road+ option. It's available in high volume both as a 700c or a 650b but the whole center is a fast-rolling slick. As you move to the edge, you'll find progressive transitional zones for maximum lateral traction, and robust side knobs for cornering performance. If you spend your time on luxury gravel roads and mixed-surface rides it's a set it and forget it kind of tire.
The WTB Resolute is an everything tire that's got enough traction to see you through serious technical situations. The tread pattern is more substantial than the popular Horizon and Byway rubber but there's an unbroken center tread. The center design limits rolling resistance on smoother surfaces while the intermediate and shoulder knobs take care of cornering on loose surfaces.
The Resolute is confident on everything from sand over hardpack, gravel, to rooty and rocky singletrack. The tread pattern is also conducive to clearing mud and sand, but the casing comes up a bit wider than marked so be wary if your frame suffers from tire clearance constraints.
Stems and Seatposts
Seatposts, and especially stems, aren't usually the most exciting components on a bike. They are easily forgotten and yet an upgrade here can add both capabilities and also tweak your fit. If you haven't ever upgraded your stem, it might be time to finally get your fit just right. Even if your bike was perfect when you bought it, our bodies do change over time. You might have been riding a lot and gotten more flexible or you might find yourself wanting to relax a bit more. When it comes to gravel bikes there are also lots of opportunities to add capabilities. This is even more true back at the seatpost where you have the option of going to one of the best short-travel dropper posts for serious off-road capabilities.
Specialized made big headlines when it brought suspension into the front of its most recent gravel bikes. It's an intriguing idea but unless you've got one of those bikes it's not something you can add to your setup. Redshift does things a bit differently and it comes close but remains an easy upgrade for any bike. Instead of movement in the steerer tube, Redshift uses elastomers and a hinge to allow the handlebars to move up and down 20mm. It does change the geometry ever so slightly as the bars move but it's not too expensive and provides an impressive amount of movement.
It's kind of amazing how fast the bars on a gravel bike set up for an adventure will feel crowded. Blendr mounts are a way to mount cameras, lights, and bike computers on all kinds of components. In this context, it means you can mount one or two items directly off the center of the stem. Not only does it keep your bike looking cleaner and more integrated but it effectively adds mounting space. For example, if you want to run more than one light you could put one below the computer and still have room for one on the bars.
Part of the AXS EXPLR system from SRAM is the short travel AXS version of RockShox’s latest Reverb. Instead of hydraulic activation, and the requirement of a hose to make that work, you get an electronic actuation with no wires.
It uses the same app and the same battery as the rest of the AXS system and it adds massive capabilities. Gravel bikes quickly overwhelm when descending singletrack because of the perched-up high geometry. You can hang off the back over the tire but for those with a bit less bike handling skills a dropper gets the saddle out of the way. Get down low and you'll feel way more confident and with confidence comes capability.
Find out our full thoughts in our RockShox Reverb AXS XPLR review.