Gravel wheels are almost as hard to categorize as the best gravel bikes. Some of them are designed for high-speed racing in a desert dust cloud. Others are designed to be tough enough to cross Tibet with a full bikepacking load. Some are aspirational carbon, some are affordable alloy. Whatever your priorities we’ve been trekking, racing and testing our way through a whole load of wheels to help you find your perfect pair.
The best gravel bike wheels
Zipp has repositioned its all-new 40mm deep Firecrest as a do-it-all wheel and that means it works brilliantly on gravel. The rim layup borrows compliance tricks (and the new logo) from their 3 Moto Zero MTB wheels and the German-engineered ZR1 hubs have uprated sealing based on feedback from filthy UK conditions. The hookless tubeless rim bed is 25mm wide and happy to support tires up to 55mm and pressures down into the 20s. Worries about smashed rims are soothed with a lifetime riding warranty but we battered our test set for months without a single issue. Despite their strength, they come in just over 1,400g for a set of 700c wheels with valves fitted so they accelerate super quick too. The final bit of winning? They’re also far cheaper than the previous Firecrest wheels.
DT Swiss has an exceptional reputation for superb riding wheels with bombproof reliability and it's brought both those strengths together in its affordable GR1600 wheels. Alloy rims mean they’re relatively hefty but a 24mm inner width will happily support the fattest tires that can fit in your frame. The 24 straight-pull spokes front and rear thread into their slick looking Spline hubs. These get the legendary 350 hub internals including the Star Ratchet freehub mechanism which are very slow to engage (up to 20-degree lag) but that means minimum drag when coasting. They never skip a beat once they are hooked up either, even if you only get round to pulling it apart and cleaning it annually.
As much as the relentless reliability is a great bonus it wouldn’t be that useful if the wheels weren’t good to ride, but the GR1600s are an absolute pleasure to roll on however punishing the terrain. They’re never harsh, but they’re never too twangy or soft either, they’re just an excellent sweet spot wheel that seems to shrink it’s actual weight as soon as climbs come along too. The package includes spokes, valves and centerlock / six-bolt adaptors and you can specify different axle ends and freehub options.
If you want something fancier then the GRC 1400 Spline 42 uses a 42mm deep carbon rim and 240-based hub internals to save around 160g but add $1,700 to the price.
While Hunt’s carbon gravel wheels get the spotlight, this UK wheel building firm grew its reputation with excellent value, carbon-challenging alloy wheels and the Gravel Race Disc is a perfect example.
The rim is made from tough, shot-peened 6069-T6 alloy to keep weight low. The disc-specific 25mm deep rounded profile also gets an ‘H lock’ bead seat on the 22mm wide rim bed for extremely secure tire mounting and easy tubeless inflation for tires from 25-45mm. Top-quality Sapim CX-Ray spokes slide into Hunt’s own Sprint race hubs with rapid engagement freehub in whatever style you need. The end caps can be swapped to fit all popular gravel/road bike axle options and the wheels come with spare spokes as well as tubeless valves and centerlock / six-bolt adaptors.
Despite an impressively low sub-1500g weight that transforms bike acceleration the wheels are still usefully accurate and shrug off rough treatment and high mileages without complaint. Hunt will also pre-fit tubeless tires from Schwalbe, Panaracer and Hutchinson to save you the struggle and some cash, too. The only real issue is that getting a tire off the H-Lock rims can be a real fight and Hunt’s popularity means you might have to wait months to get a set. There are plenty of other options though, including the 4 Season Gravel Disc X-Wide which expands the rim bed to 25mm spokes, valves and centerlock / six-bolt adaptors or the latest Limitless Gravel Disc with 42mm aero profile carbon rim for flat-out gravel speed at £1,289.
Enve by name, envy by others is the name of the game with these ultra aspirational gravel wheels. The 330g, carbon-fiber G23 rims are handbuilt in Utah by Enve using a specifically compliant and smooth-riding composite lay-up. The flared profile has a 4.5mm outer edge designed to minimize the chance of pinch flats and add strength to back up their Lifetime Incident Plan for worry-free riding. It also works perfectly with 40mm tires in terms of speed, efficiency and handling but the wheels are still great with 35-45mm rubber.
The rims are mated to Chris King’s incredible Portland, Oregon-made R45 CL hubs, complete with buzzing RingDrive freehub and ultra-smooth surgical-grade steel bearings, though and the hubs also need TLC and potential adjustment as they bed in. These premium components are hand laced together with Sapim CX-Ray spokes for a true best-of package. The resulting ride is as superlatively smooth and gliding as you’d hope from the exotic cast list too, but with the instant engagement and extremely low weight giving game-changing responsiveness, too. At over £3,000 for a pair, most riders will just have to take our word for that rather than experience it themselves.
Bontrager was a very early tubeless advocate and the 37V rims add generous width to create a solid all-round road and gravel wheel at a competitive price for carbon.
The pricing does mean a heavier grade of Trek’s OCLV carbon though so weight is more comparable to lightweight alloy than other fiber competitors. The rims do come with a Carbon Care lifetime warranty for any weight of rider though and DT Swiss Star Ratchet-based hubs make for an extremely mechanically reliable wheel.
The snap-in plastic rim strips make for a tough and tight tubeless seal too, but make sure you line up the valve hole accurately when fitting as the liners can be a pig to slide round. Very slow 18 point pick-up can mean a lag before engagement but once you’re hooked up the minimal freehub drag and solid feel means they hold speed really well. The aerodynamics are totally trouble-free at all speeds, too.
Spank Industries started using its unique Vibrocore damping foam filling in handlebars (yes they do a drop-bar version) and now they’ve added it to its MTB and Gravel rims.
Combined with a very shallow 16.5mm rim depth that gives a natural shock-shrugging ride, these are conspicuously calm and quiet wheels. The Bead Nip rim bed design uses a ribbed profile to give extra grip to tubeless tires so you can go properly low on your pressures without peeling them off or burping them in turns. 28 spokes at either end give them plenty of strength for rougher trails or heavier loadings but the three-cross lacing and triple-butted build also contribute to the forgiving ride. Conventional J-bend spokes are also easy to find replacements for all over the world and the six-bolt rotor pattern is another globe-trotting win.
Despite all this engineered durability and the added damper fill of the Vibrocore they’re still acceptably light for alloy at 1,700g and that’s flattered by the almost instantaneous pick up from the 102 tooth Hex Drive freehub where six pawls mean a maximum 3.5-degree engagement gap. The overall feel is definitely about smoothing out rather than sharpening up your ride.
Italian component godfathers, Campagnolo, has been slow to the wider-wheel and gravel/all-road worlds, but when it launched the Shamal DB this summer it created a real buzz.
The 21mm internal width is still pretty narrow but the new N3W freehub body hinted at its new 13-speed Ekar gravel groupset before it broke cover a couple of months later.
The Shamal’s have a fully sealed rim bed so you don’t need to worry about split tape with a 40mm deep rear profile and shallower 35mm front for trauma-free handling. The asymmetric hubs get user-serviceable cup and cone bearings that roll with Campagnolo’s signature silk smoothness. You can upgrade them to ‘CULT' ceramic sets for ultimate performance too. The distinctive triple set 2-to-1 spoking pattern is brought over from their road wheels and while they’re claimed to work with 23-65mm wide tires, bigger rubber is definitely going to be pinched. Weight is slightly weighty for carbon at just under 1,600g, but pricing is definitely competitive.
You can order the wheels with Shimano, SRAM or the new Campagnolo N3W freehub though and initial reports from our testers on the ride quality and speed of the wheels are absolutely glowing.
Dutch wheel brand FFWD has always been favorites of hard riders with serious power to transfer to the road and its new Drift gravel wheels are marketed on serious strength and accuracy.
The all-new hookless rim has a 24mm internal width for supporting big-volume tires and a 36mm rim depth to keep things lively and flickable. 24 super strong, straight pull DT Swiss AeroComp spokes either end are laced 2:1 style into disc hubs based on DT Swiss 240 EXP hubs. Brass nipples make for easy tension tweaking of the seriously stiff ride character and the EXP driver wastes no time or watts when you get on the gas. At just over 1,500g they’re an acceptable weight for a wheel designed to handle a serious hammering day in day out. Stainless steel bearings are going to be a real help in the evilest conditions, too.
The wheels come with tubeless tape pre-fitted and valves ready and waiting in the padded carry bag.
The carbon version of the alloy Graff gravel wheels drops weight for extra responsiveness without emptying your wallet.
At just 30mm deep the UD carbon-fiber rims are shallow to keep weight low and remove any worries about crosswinds or gusting so they handle sweetly at all speeds. A 22mm wide hookless rim bed keeps them fat tire happy and the tubeless tape and valves are fitted and checked by Miche before dispatching.
Double-butted, J bend aero spokes from Sapim keep things tight and true while making replacement easy in the back of beyond. You will need to be careful not to damage the alloy nipples if you need to adjust them though. The bearings are user-adjustable for extra smoothness and longevity compared to cartridge sets. An alloy freehub body helps keep weight impressively low and you can get them supplied with SRAM, Shimano or Campagnolo format bodies.
Pricing is very good too and we’ve always had great long term results with products from this Italian brand, too.
Fulcrum’s latest alloy gravel wheels widen their bed to a fat-tire-friendly 24mm which matches the height of the machined hoop. The ‘specific nipple housing’ tech it debuted on its E-bike wheels gives optimum alignment of the 2-to-1 ratio spoking pattern. All Fulcrum wheels are hand laced into their straight-pull Monoblock hubs for super reliable build quality and straight running even on rough tracks.
The hubs themselves use traditional cup-and-cone bearings for easy DIY adjustment that prolongs lifespan significantly if you know what you’re doing. The front hub can be switched to take a 15mm axle if you’re running older wheels or a suspension fork. The rims come pre-taped with valves included ready to fit and they’re available in 650B and 700C sizes. Fulcrum even builds a small weight into the rim on the opposite side of the rim for perfect balance and the logo stickers are stealth reflective.
Best gravel bike wheels: what you need to know
Because gravel biking can mean so many different things to different people you can’t assume a ‘gravel wheel’ will be exactly right for your version of the sport. That means you need to judge the various features against your actual needs.
1. Wheel size
For a start, there are two main gravel sizes. 700c is the predominant diameter because it’s the standard road size (it’s also basically identical to 29in on MTBs) and because it rolls the fastest and smoothest. 650B (or 27.5in) is then touted as the ‘rougher, tougher, more fun’ wheel size based on the fact that smaller wheels mean you can fit a bigger tire into the same frame/fork space.
2. Rim width
You’ve then got to think about width. The wider the rim the better it will support wider tires. That means while traditional road rims will have a 16-19mm internal diameter, gravel (or wide road) rims can be up to 25mm wide. Stretching a tire too far can do weird things to the profile though so don’t go 25mm wide if you want to occasionally run 25mm tires on the road.
3. Tire format
Talking of tire fit we’d consider tubeless capability an absolute essential. The last thing you need on a hostile surface is being held hostage by the thought of splitting an inner tube and every gravel tire worth its salt is now designed to run at low pressures with sealant for self-healing powers. How different companies make their rims tubeless varies. The most robust solution is a fully sealed rim bed (Mavic, Zipp and others) or a plastic snap-in strip (Bontrager). The majority of wheels use a tape wrap over the spoke holes to seal the rim though and the toughness of that depends entirely on the strength of tape used. However the rim is sealed, make sure you check whether tubeless valves are included or you’ll need to add them to the cost.
4. Spares and compatibility
While we’re on the subject of extras, spare spokes are a nice touch - particularly for straight pull or otherwise special needs spokes. Some hub sets can be switched between different axle standards too, which is super useful if you’re on an older bike with 15mm and/or QR axles and are planning to upgrade to the standard 12mm format later.
The compatibility confusion doesn’t end there either. There are now three different freehub standards in play on gravel. Standard splined (Shimano and 10-11 speed SRAM), XD Driver (12 speed SRAM), and Campagnolo Ekar (13 speed Ekar). In most cases you can swap between them but obviously, it makes sense to get the right one first.
5. Rim material
As for material, alloy is still by far the most cost-effective material for your gravel hoops. Weights and ride feel are often very competitive with far more expensive carbon and you won’t feel sick in your mouth if you’re smashing through rocky sections. That said more carbon wheels are now coming with lifetime warranties and the best fiber wheels really are wonderful to ride.