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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.

While some of the bikes on this list are priced on the higher-end, there are still options for riders looking for cheap gravel bikes. There is also a load of gravel-specific products on the market now, like the best gravel shoes or best gravel bike pedals, which we have written guides on as well. 

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

Canyon Grizl CF SL 8 gravel bike

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

An adventure ready head-turner with performance to match

Frame: Canyon SL composite
Groupset: Shimano GRX
Sizes: 2XS - 2XL
Weight: 9.41kg
Price: $3,199.00 / £ 2,949.00 + box and shipping
Reasons to buy
+Excellent all-round balance+Impressively rapid and power happy+Rough smoothing ride+Stable without being dull+Super durable spec+Great direct delivery bike value
Reasons to avoid
-Potentially troublesome ThreadFit PF86 BB-Comes in a box, not from a shop

Canyon originally released its Grail in 2018 with a radical and divisive handlebar design. That frame is still the brand's gravel race bike, but the recently released Grizl offers more aggro and adventure-friendly geometry. It can also be raced on the highest level as demonstrated by riders like Peter Stetina. 

The Grizl was designed to delve deeper into the woods than more race-specific gravel bikes. That design philosophy begins with clearance for 50mm tires. Head angles vary from 70 to 72.75 degrees depending on size, but seat angles are fixed at 73.5 degrees. Smaller frame sizes roll on 650B wheels while the larger frame sizes use 700c. 

This build uses Shimano GRX 11-speed gearing along with GRX brakes. Canyon's Ergobar AL is paired with a Canyon seatpost along with a DT Swiss wheelset and Schwalbe tires. 

To find out more about our time testing the Canyon Grizl, read the full review. 

Cannondale SuperSix Evo

(Image credit: Cannondale)

Cannondale SuperSix EVO SE

Cannondale's dedicated gravel racer

Frame: Carbon
Groupset: SRAM Rival eTap AXS 2x12
Sizes: 46-58cm
Weight: Unlisted
Price: $5,000 / £4,600
Reasons to buy
+Race focused +Also acceptable for cyclocross+SRAM shifting+Fair price
Reasons to avoid
-There are racier race bikes out there

Cannondale now has a new top-end gravel race bike and it also doubles as a cyclocross bike. The SuperSix EVO doesn't feature the brand's trademark Lefty fork in favor of a more traditional rigid setup. 

The gravel bike is offered in two different models, the SE and the CX. The SE is for the gravel traditionalists who prefer 2x shifting. The CX uses the same frame but has component selections, like a 1x drivetrain with lower gearing, for those that are home between the tape of a cyclocross course. 

The SE offers a carbon fork and frame with solid components for a fair mid-range price. Riders get a SRAM Rival eTap AXS 2x12 drivetrain along with SRAM Rival brakes, Vittoria tires, and a DT Swiss wheelset. 

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
Reasons to buy
+Compliant ride quality+Flattering geometry+Reactive steering+Comprehensive range covering all price points
Reasons to avoid

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.

Specialized has also recently released its revamped Crux, which the brand is now touting as a mix between a gravel bike and a cyclocross bike. Some gravel racers may prefer the rigid feel of it, as it doesn't use the future shock as the Diverge does. 

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
Reasons to buy
+MTT rear suspension+Progressive geometry adds stability+Attention to detail in frame features
Reasons to avoid
-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.

Trek Checkpoint SLR 7

(Image credit: Trek)

Trek Checkpoint SLR 7

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

Frame: Carbon
Groupset: Shimano GRX Di2
Sizes: 49cm - 61cm
Weight: 8.65kg (56cm)
Price: $8,349.99 / £7,750
Reasons to buy
+IsoSpeed Decoupler+Adjustable chainstay length+Downtube storage compartment+More frame mounts
Reasons to avoid
-700c only-Expensive for the spec, but there are other more budget-minded builds too 

A few years ago, Trek brought the best bits from its fast endurance Domane and race-winning Boone to create the Checkpoint, a bike aimed directly at epic gravel races. This year, one of the more anticipated bike launches was the release of an updated Trek Checkpoint. 

New for the latest iteration of the Checkpoint is the brand's IsoSpeed decoupler in both the front and rear of the frame. This essentially acts as a small amount of suspension for vibration dampening during long days out. The geometry has also gotten more progressive in case you are a rider that likes taking your gravel bike on a lot of singletrack. Additionally, there are more mounting points for bikepacking adventures. 

This model features Shimano GRX Di2 shifting and Shimano brakes. The rest of the build is rounded out by Bontrager components including wheels and tires. There are a range of options for every budget, including an aluminum frame option that doesn't have all of the latest tech but offers a lot of bike for a decent price. 

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: $4,400/ £3,300
Reasons to buy
+Adjustable offset+Floating stays add comfort+Dropper post
Reasons to avoid
-Debatable looks-External hydraulic hoses-Price has increased

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.

Basso Palta GRX

(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
Reasons to buy
+Terrifying levels of speed.+Precise and agile handling.+User-friendly frame details.+Excellent levels of compliance.
Reasons to avoid
-45mm 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 updated Palta keeps much of its race-informed geometry but now will take a 45mm 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 essential items. Basso offers the Palta in three colorways as well as multiple build kits including Shimano GRX, SRAM Rival XPLR, Campagnolo Ekar or as a frameset only.

Devinci Hatchet

(Image credit: Devinci )

DeVinci Hatchet Hatchet Carbon Apex1 11S

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

Frame: Carbon
Groupset: Sram Apex 1x11
Sizes: 50cm - 60cm
Weight: 9.08kg (Medium)
Price: $3,179 / £TBC
Reasons to buy
+Controlled ride on rough terrain+Large tire clearance +Dropper post
Reasons to avoid
-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). In terms of spec, this budget model doesn't come with a dropper post, but if yo have additional dollars to spend then we'd definitely recommend adding one. 

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.

Nukeproof Digger

(Image credit: Nukeproof )

NukeProof Digger Factory

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

Frame: Aluminum
Groupset: Shimano GRX RX812
Sizes: S-XL
Weight: 9.73kg
Price: $2,600 / $ £2,500
Reasons to buy
+Super capable+Playful handling+Great value
Reasons to avoid
-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 off-road making it one of the best gravel race bikes available

Frame: Carbon
Groupset: SRAM Rival
Sizes: XS - XL
Weight: 9.0kg (medium)
Price: From $2,800 / £2,490
Reasons to buy
+Aggressive rider position+Threaded bottom bracket +Lots of different paint jobs, but some are more expensive 
Reasons to avoid
-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: $4,699 / £TBC
Reasons to buy
+True versatility+Huge tire clearance in 650b+Adjustable geometry 
Reasons to avoid
-Cable routing could be refined-Price has gone up

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.

What to look for in a gravel bike

What's the best geometry?

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.

What should I know about component selection?

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 optimized 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.

700c or 650b?

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 yield 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.

What about compliance?

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, 24 Bicycles Le Toy 3, Surly Steamroller