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Best gravel bikes: drop bar off-roaders for racing and exploring

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Best gravel bikes
(Image credit: Open)

The best gravel bikes have come a long way in a short time. We have seen a lot of innovation in the gravel scene and the tech still doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Brands continue to seek ways to make the best gravel bikes faster, comfier and more capable of bigger off-road adventures and, as a result, gravel as a discipline is forever being redefined, with ever-smaller niches being created, tailoring bikes to specific terrains and riding desires. 

It wasn't long ago that gravel bikes were no more than endurance road bikes or cyclo-cross bikes that had a bit of extra tire clearance. The best gravel bikes have now truly opened up a new genre that fills the gap between the best lightweight mountain bikes and road bikes. Companies are leaving no stone unturned and are experimenting with gravel-specific geometry, components and even suspension to try and create the best gravel bike.

With gravel rides matching the long distances that are done on the road, it’s unsurprising that there are serious gains to be had in both comfort and speed by producing a bike that can manage the bumpiness that comes with off-road riding. Suspension appears to be the new hot topic for gravel with many brands releasing bikes that offer unique approaches to taming rough tracks and trails beyond the tarmac.

Keep reading for our pick of some of the best gravel bikes that are currently available or skip to the bottom to find out what to look for in a gravel bike.

The best gravel bikes

Cannondale Topstone Ultegra

(Image credit: Cannondale)

Cannondale Topstone Carbon Ultegra

Innovative approaches to bike design make the Topstone a highly capable bike on rough terrain

Frame: Carbon | Groupset: Shimano Ultegra RX | Sizes: 41cm - 60cm | Weight: 8.4kg | Price: $4,600 / £4,000 / €4,500

Kingpin suspension
Slack head angle
Wide Q-factor
Offset dish rear wheel

Cannondale is a brand that isn’t afraid of innovation, and the Topstone represents this notion. Cannondale’s new Kingpin suspension system provides the Topstone with a claimed 30mm of bump- and vibration-absorbing travel at the saddle. To maximize the effectiveness of flex zones that are engineered into the rear triangle and top tube, Cannondale has used a special LockR thru-axle pivot to connect the seat stays to the seat tube. Each frame size benefits from Proportional Response Construction. By using a specific carbon layup, the frame's flex and stiffness characteristics are tuned for the rider's size.

The Topstone benefits from Cannondale’s Outfront offset theory which has proven successful on Cannondale’s cyclo-cross and mountain bike ranges. By increasing the fork's offset, they can take advantage of the stability characteristics from a slacker head angle without sacrificing steering agility. 

Attention to detail in the Topstone is superb and the frame features three bottle cage mounts, a top tube bag mount, dropper post compatibility, clean internal routing and comes with Cannondale’s integrated speed sensor. Tire clearance gives options for faster 700c x 40mm tires, the bike comes equipped with 37mm, or cushy adventure-friendly 650b x 48mm tires.

BMC URS 01 Three

(Image credit: BMC )

BMC URS 01 Three

An insight into gravel bikes of the future

Frame: Carbon | Groupset: SRAM Rival | Sizes: S - XL | Weight: 9.3kg | Price: $4,000 / £3,800 / €4,000

MTT rear suspension
Progressive geometry adds stability
Attention to detail in frame features
Radical geometry will not appeal to everyone

BMC might be late to the gravel bike scene but its URS, short for UnReStricted, is a thoroughly progressive bike that is at the forefront of gravel technology.

BMC is another brand looking beyond simple frame compliance to offer comfort and has brought Micro Travel Technology (MTT) Suspension to the URS from its cross-country mountain biking race frames. It's not just about comfort as BMC claims that the MTT improves traction, ideal for loose surface conditions or climbs.

BMC has used what it calls Gravel+ geometry, undoubtedly inspired by mountain bike technology, to give the URS a slack 70-degree head angle and long front end creating a bike that offers a composed yet lively ride.  

The URS will fit a 700c x 45mm (650b x 47mm) tire and comes specced with tubeless-ready 40mm WTB Raddler tires. Attention to detail is second to none with BMC’s integrated cockpit system, hub dynamo cable routing, integrated protection from rock strikes and chain slap plus mounts for three bottle cages and a top tube feed bag.

GT Grade Carbon Pro

(Image credit: GT)

GT Grade Carbon Pro

The GT Grade Carbon Pro might be seen as an underdog but its performance should not be underestimated

Frame: Carbon | Groupset: Shimano GRX | Sizes: 48cm - 61cm | Weight: 8.9kg (large) | Price: $3,900 / £3,500 / €3,400

Adjustable offset
Floating stays add comfort
Debatable looks
External hydraulic hoses

GT launched the Grade just as the gravel revolution began and this model shows the company is still exploring ways to innovate. GT has specced the new Grade with a flip-chip fork which shares a similar concept to Rondo’s system. GT’s version is more horizontal and changes the offset from 55mm for quick agile steering to a 70mm ‘low-trail’ mode for steadier controlled steering when loaded with bikepacking luggage.

GT for a long time has touted the strength-giving properties of the triple triangle that has featured prominently on its mountain bikes for decades. Now by detaching the stays from the seat tube, GT can use the same iconic triple-triangle silhouette with what it calls Dual Fibre Dynamics to offer increased levels of flex in the rear of the bike to reduce fatigue on long rough rides.

GT finishes the Grade with some nice touches that will appeal to the adventurously inclined riders such as Anything Cage mounts on the forks, dropper post compatibility, three bottle cage mounts and top tube feed bag bosses.

Specialized Diverge Expert

(Image credit: Specialized )

Specialized Diverge Expert

Specialized’s Future Shock suspension smooths the bumps so you can go faster

Frame: Carbon | Groupset: Shimano Force | Sizes: 48cm - 61cm | Weight: Unpublished | Price: $5,200 / £5,250/ €5,800

Compliant ride quality
Flattering geometry
Reactive steering
Comprehensive range covering all price points

The Diverge Expert sits third-best in Specialized’s adventure line, only bettered by the extravagant S-Works and Pro model. With the Diverge comes the Specialized Future Shock 2.0 system; the ethos behind this system is that smooth is fast. By using an adjustable hydraulic damper mounted in the head tube, the Diverge has 20mm of travel to smooth out trail and road vibrations. This is combined with the newly increased tire clearance (700c x 47mm, 650b x 53mm) to offer even more compliance.

Specialized has finished the bike thoroughly with adventure-ready mounts for three bottle cages, racks and fenders, and it has borrowed the SWAT frame storage that already features on its Stumpjumper range.

Basso Palta

(Image credit: Basso )

Basso Palta

The Basso Palta is an unapologetically aggressive race bike that shines on fast-paced rides no matter what the surface

Frame: Carbon | Groupset: Shimano GRX | Sizes: XS-XL | Weight: Unpublished | Price: $3,500 / £2,800

Lively race geometry
42mm max tire clearance is average by modern standards

While gravel bike trends are seeking bigger tires and extra compliance, there will always be riders on the other end of the spectrum that seek stiff and aggressive gravel bikes for racing gravel events like Unbound Gravel. The Basso Palta is one of the latter bikes.

The Palta’s road inspirations are obvious with its sleek racy lines and aggressive geometry; with this comes its ride qualities. Comfort has been sacrificed for speed and the Palta seeks to cover all terrain types at a fast pace, whether that's open gravel roads, technical tracks or tarmac.

The Palta will take a 42mm tire although there is no 650B compatibility - after all, this bike is about speed, not comfort. The frame is nicely finished with neat internal routing, vibration dampening seatpost and three bottle cage mounts to allow plenty of water or some storage for essentials items. Basso offers the Palta in three colorways as well as an optional 'Palta Endurance Pack' (20mm stem spacer to improve comfort) or 'Palta Mudfest Kit' (front and rear mudguards).

Check out our Basso Palta Review at Cyclingnews

Devinci Hatchet

(Image credit: Devinci )

DeVinci Hatchet GRX

Mountain bike inspired performance that’s ready to take on any gravel ride

Frame: Carbon | Groupset: Shimano GRX | Sizes: 50cm - 60cm | Weight: 8.63kg (Medium) | Price: $3,799 / £3,200 / €4,000

Controlled ride on rough terrain
Large tire clearance 
Dropper post
Messy cable routing

Devinci is a brand best known for its mountain bikes which are designed to shred some of the gnarliest trails on the planet. So it is no surprise that when it set out to design a gravel bike the result is one that is hugely capable on any terrain. 

This is down to its longer, slacker and lower mountain bike-inspired geometry as well as a 50mm offset fork for precise handling characteristics. The rough-stuff potential is further aided by the Hatchet’s ability to fit some very chunky rubber (700c x 45mm or 650b x 53mm). The specs reflect Devinci’s vision of hardcore gravel riding as the Hatchet GRX LTD comes stock with a dropper post and some wide Easton EA90 AX gravel wheels.

The frame details are all well thought out by Devinci. Three bottle cage mounts, as well as a top tube mount, offers loads of storage for long rides. Full internal cable routing is enclosed in foam-lined tubes to reduce rattling, and an access panel by the bottom-bracket shell eases maintenance. If you wish to run 650B wheels then a 10mm spacer is available which sits under the headset to correct the geometry.

Canyon Grail CF SL 8

(Image credit: Canyon)

Canyon Grail CF SL 8

A head-turner with performance to match

Frame: Carbon | Groupset: Shimano GRX | Sizes: 2XS - 2XL | Weight: 8.91kg | Price: $3,200 / £3,150 / €2,900

Compliant front end
Value for money
Love/hate handlebars
Restrictive handlebar setup

Canyon originally released the Grail in 2018 to a divided and confused audience thanks to the radical Hover bar design. There is good reasoning behind the design and Canyon has stuck with the newly termed 'Grail Cockpit' for its latest Grail CF range. 

The reasoning behind the Hover bar is to improve both comfort and control without resorting to an active suspension system. The floating section has a built-in flex area giving extra compliance when on the tops or hoods. When in the drops, the lower bar gives something to hook your thumbs around for extra grip on descents. 

The geometry is not far removed from Canyon’s endurance road range although Canyon has increased the wheelbase by stretching the reach and shortening the stem, for improved stability. The result is a bike that excels at long days in the saddle that are likely to span various surfaces, remaining efficient on the road while floating over the rough stuff when off-road.

Nukeproof Digger

(Image credit: Nukeproof )

NukeProof Digger Factory

A true mountain biker's gravel bike that encourages rowdy riding

Frame: Aluminium | Groupset: Shimano GRX RX812 | Sizes: S-XL | Weight: 9.73kg | Price: $2,600 / $ £2,,500 / €3,200

Super capable
Playful handling
Great value
Robust build makes for a heavier bike

The world of gravel is a far departure from the extremes of enduro and downhill mountain biking where Nukeproof has seen so much success. Nukeproof’s Digger Factory brings a unique approach to the gravel scene that will undoubtedly appeal to mountain bikers that are looking for a bike for winter training miles or a capable adventure bike.

Versatility has been a key consideration for Nukeproof, and the Digger will happily eat up the training miles or churn out the midweek commuter miles before heading out for a weekend's adventures, thanks to the blend of road and mountain bike geometry. The frame is suitably overbuilt for a bike that doesn’t shy away when gravel riding starts to approach mountain bike territory.

The Digger Factory's parts list is packed with mountain biking DNA to create a bike that wants to get rowdy. Unusually the Digger comes specced with 650b wheels and 47mm WTB Sendero tires which, combined with a dropper post, short stem and an ultra-wide 480mm handlebar, give the Digger Factory a confident and controlled ride.

Lauf True Grit

(Image credit: Lauf)

Lauf True Grit Weekend Warrior

The Lauf True Grit excels at covering long distances offroad making it one of the best gravel race bikes available

Frame: Carbon | Groupset: SRAM Rival | Sizes: XS - XL | Weight: 9.0kg (medium) | Price: $2,800 / £2,490 / €2,420

Aggressive rider position
Threaded bottom bracket
Fork highlights vibrations through the frame
Not designed for 650b wheels

In Iceland, they have more gravel roads than they do Tarmac, so it's unsurprising that Icelandic bike company Lauf is one of the industry leaders in the gravel scene. Starting out with its unique carbon leaf-spring suspension fork, the company has gone on to build what it envisions to be the perfect race-ready gravel machine.

The obvious talking point of this bike is the fork which will no doubt attract a lot of attention. The Lauf Grit SL fork uses frictionless carbon leaf springs to offer 30mm of chatter-stifling performance without the weight and maintenance penalties that come with traditional telescopic forks.

Lauf’s progressive Long 4 Speed geometry further enhances off-road performance by combining a long top tube, short headtube, short stem and slack head angle to give a very stable yet aggressive riding position. Despite the frame weighing a respectable 1,070g the True Grit frame meets the ISO standard for mountain bike frames so should be more than tough enough no matter what the terrain.

Rondo Ruut CF1

(Image credit: Rondo)

Rondo Ruut CF1

Why compromise when you can have one bike that is suited to both gravel and endurance road with the flip of a chip

Frame: Carbon | Groupset: SRAM Force 1 | Sizes: S - XL | Weight: 8.14kg | Price: $4,000 / £4,000 / €3,900

True versatility
Huge tire clearance in 650b
Adjustable geometry 
Cable routing could be refined

While many gravel bikes are billed as the convergence of road and off-road, and a platform that offers the ultimate versatility, Rondo takes it one step further by offering two different geometries in one bike with its Vario Geo concept.

This is achieved using a Twintip fork that houses a flip-chip in the dropout that alters the bike's head/seat angle (0.5-degrees), handlebar height (10mm) and fork rake (13mm). The high setting gives the Ruut an agile and aggressive characteristic suited to road riding and everyday gravel, but once flipped into the low position the steering becomes relaxed and steadier for control on rough descents or when loaded with bikepacking bags. This versatility is only enhanced by its ability to fit a chunky 57mm tire when using 650b wheels.

The oddly kinked top tube is more than a design aesthetic and works with the kinked seat stays and scooped out seat tube to make the Ruut CF1 more compliant when pedaling over rough surfaces.

Open WI.DE

(Image credit: Open)

OPEN WI.DE Force/Eagle AXS

With its colossal tire clearance the OPEN WI.DE monster trucks over everything in its path

Frame: Carbon | Groupset: SRAM Force/Eagle AXS | Sizes: XS - XL | Weight: 1,040g (frame only) | Price (frameset): $3,200 / £3,100 / €3,400

Ultimate tire clearance
Balanced handling 
Only available as a frameset 

Truly blurring the lines between gravel and mountain bikes, OPEN describes its WI.DE. as a bike for ‘extreme gravel’. The WI.DE. fits some seriously big tires and will swallow up a 700c x 47mm tire or a whopping 650b x 2.4in if you're wanting to tackle some seriously gnarly terrain. This has been made possible by the double dropped stays and while it is 1x only, there is still clearance for a road crank. With tires so large the OPEN WI.DE. simply monster trucks over rough terrain and offers huge amounts of grip in the corners.

There is more to the WI.DE. than big tires. OPEN has thought carefully about the carbon layup and used a blend of carbon types, utilizing their properties, or as OPEN refers to it TRCinTRS: the right carbon in the right spot. This results in a frame that can keep up with the performance of the aggressive tires yet only weighs 1,040g. Further manipulating of tubes gives the frame stiffness where it’s important and flex where it is needed to smooth out any vibrations that the tires don’t.

Trek Checkpoint SL7

(Image credit: Trek)

Trek Checkpoint SL7

A gravel racer aiming to go shoulder to shoulder on the longest gravel races

Frame: Carbon | Groupset: SRAM Eagle XX1 AXS | Sizes: 49cm - 61cm | Weight: 8.65kg (56cm) | Price: $6,300 / £5,650 / €6,000

IsoSpeed Decoupler
Adjustable chainstay length
Downtube protector
700c only
No front IsoSpeed

Trek has brought the best bits from its fast endurance Domane and race-winning Boone to create the Checkpoint SL, a bike aimed directly at epic gravel races.

It was a no-brainer for Trek to spec the Checkpoint with its IsoSpeed Decoupler after its proven success on the Domane and Boone. By decoupling the seat tube Trek has been able to enhance compliance, which is vital for endurance gravel events.

Trek has interestingly also specced the Checkpoint with adjustable Stranglehold dropouts, which is a horizontal dropout system with 15mm of adjustment. This offers several advantages for a bike that is likely to experience a variety of terrain. Positioned all the way forward will make handling feel sharper or the wheel can be slammed back to increase the wheelbase and stability at speed. A third advantage is that if you suffer a catastrophic mechanical issue with your derailleur the Checkpoint SL can be set up single speed allowing you to keep on riding.

What to look for in a gravel bike?


Taking inspiration from endurance road bikes, gravel has further evolved to suit rougher conditions. Longer wheelbases and slackened head tube angles enhance stability when traveling at speed on harsh terrain, and bottom brackets have gotten lower to improve cornering performance. Some progressive gravel bikes now have geometry figures that could be mistaken for cross-country mountain bikes from five years ago. These bikes excel at rough terrain and singletrack as well as being well suited to multi-day adventure riding.


For most riders, picking the right bike is about finding a balance between being confident and comfortable on a ride without sacrificing too much speed. Previously gravel bikes borrowed componentry from both road and mountain bikes but as the discipline has become more popular, brands have flooded the market with gravel-specific parts. While some naysayers will scoff at the thought of gravel-specific components as a money grab by the cycling industry, a lot of these components do bring tangible performance. Gravel drivetrains incorporate narrow-wide chainrings and clutched derailleurs to keep the chain on, rims inner diameter widths are optimised for gravel tires and the best gravel handlebars combine wider width and flare for more control off-road.

With many bikes now available with the option of running a choice of 700c and 650b wheels, finding a balance between a fast bike and a comfortable bike is far less of a compromise.

Wheel size

The wheel and tire size debate seems to be a common theme in most disciplines of cycling. While some will say that gravel is best-ridden on voluptuous 650b x 50mm+ tires, it can’t be ignored that Unbound Gravel saw a lot of competitors opting for fast-rolling 700c x 35mm. In reality, there is no one wheel size or tire width to suit everything. What you ride should reflect your terrain, riding style and the tire limitations of your bike. Luckily most of the best gravel bikes allow the option to run either 700c or 650b, so it is possible to experiment with different setups to see which works best for you.

Larger 700c wheels will generally roll faster on smoother surfaces as well as improving rollover capability thanks to their greater diameter. Smaller 650b wheels have become popular as they can allow a higher volume tire to be fitted beyond a frame's 700c max-width. Increased tire volume, when running lower pressures, allows the tire to absorb bumps better as well as yielding more cornering grip thanks to the increased tire footprint. This makes them better suited to very rough terrain and bikes laden with bikepacking bags.

That being said, we are seeing many brands developing frames able to accommodate large volume 700c x 45mm+ tires and phasing out the need for 650b to run big tires.


While large volume tires with low pressures can do a fantastic job of smoothing out rough roads, they come with their disadvantages. Lower pressures can increase rolling resistance on smooth surfaces while also risking tire damage on rough terrain. By introducing suspension systems for gravel bikes, the rider gets the benefit of extra comfort without compromising tire pressures or component choices. Gravel suspension can be categorized into two types, active and passive.

Passive systems rely on built-in compliance using slender tube shapes and blends of carbon designed to be flexible. The advantages of a passive system are that it adds very little extra weight and is maintenance-free.

The active suspension takes the form of suspension forks, stems and seatposts or pivoted flex that uses a damper. These systems will all use a damper and pivot points to absorb impacts and vibrations. Active systems usually offer a more isolating experience as they have more travel and can better manage the direction of absorption.

Graham Cottingham

Graham is all about riding bikes off-road. Based in Edinburgh he has some of the best mountain biking and gravel riding in the UK right on his doorstep. With almost 20 years of riding experience, he has dabbled in downhill, enduro and, most recently, gravel racing. Not afraid of a challenge, Graham has embraced bikepacking over the last few years and likes nothing more than strapping some bags to his bike and covering big miles to explore Scotlands wildernesses. When he isn’t shredding the gnar in the Tweed Valley, sleeping in bushes or tinkering with bikes, he is writing tech reviews for Bike Perfect and the muckier side of Cyclingnews 

Rides: Canyon Strive, Surly Karate Monkey, Surly Steamroller, Dolan Seta