Gravel bikes allow for exploration and the caliber of adventurous riding that can be an excellent contrast in mindfulness, to your regular road training or singletrack mountain bike riding.
As the demand for gravel bikes increase, swelling the market, more models have become available and price points have dropped.
If you want to explore a bit further than your road bike will allow or wish for something more efficient than the mountain bike, on mellow off-road routes, a bargain gravel bike is what you need.
We have a list of some of the best cheap gravel bikes you can buy for gravel and adventure riding.
Cheap gravel bikes
Cannondale markets some of the most progressive gravel bikes around, with the Lefty fork-equipped Topstone range. Its entry-level Topstone does not have any active suspension features, but you do get a tidy looking aluminum frame, with a lightweight carbon fork.
With an abundance of bottle cage mounts around the main triangle, and touring rack mounts on the seat stays, there is no doubting the Topstone Sora’s ability for adventure. Rolling it along are RD 2.0 rims, spinning on Formula RX hubs. True to its gravel riding purpose, Cannondale’s product planners have equipped the Topstone Sora with WTB Riddler Comp tires, sizes 700x37c.
With a SunRace 11-34T cassette at the rear and FSA Temp Adventure crankset, with 46/30 chainrings, you’ll never be short of either climbing or high-speed cruising gears on the Sora.
All but the size XS frames feature a 71-degree head angle, which combines with the 55mm offset carbon front fork, to deliver calm and predictable handling responses, on any riding surface.
For those adventure all-terrain riders who believe that one should keep it real, with steel, there is the Marin Four Corners.
With a chromoly tube set, it is slightly heavier than a comparable aluminum frame, but there is no denying the elegant aesthetic, or ride quality, of a steel frame. Off-road routes have a great deal of trail buzz, and this steel adventure bike is sure to dampen much of that, leaving you less fatigued at the end of a long gravel ride.
Beyond the ride quality and durability benefits of steel, Marin has also equipped its Four Corners with a more traditional drivetrain configuration. Whereas most rivals have a double upfront, this gravel bike uses a 3x9 drivetrain, delivering an abundance of gearing options, for conquering any route.
The steel fork is mounted at 43mm offset for the two smaller sizes, whilst the larger Four Corner frames have a 49mm offset, all of which facilitate agile steering responses. Like many frames built in the classic steel style, the Four Corners does not make use of the latest thru-axle configurations, either at the front or rear of the bike. This could deliver a ride with more lateral flex than many would anticipate.
WTB’s 42mm wide Resolute tires provide plenty of air-volume for improved ride quality and traction, on loose terrain.
The most affordable Specialized Diverge might hot have the Future Shock steering damper, but it is a thoroughly convincing gravel bike.
Like the Merida Silex 200, this Specialized Diverge has been designed to allow for massive tire clearance. The specification classifies that a 700c tire up to 47mm wide can roll in the Diverge E5 frame. If you prefer the 650b wheel size, the E5 will run a 2.1in tire without issue.
Like most of the aluminum value gravel bikes on our list, the Diverge E5 has a carbon-fiber front fork and extensive mounting points. It also fits a Shimano 68mm threaded bottom bracket, which has proven to be the least bothersome configuration, for any bike that is due to roll many miles in either dusty or muddy conditions.
Specialized markets no less than seven derivatives of its Diverge E5 and the geometry is wonderfully adapted to specific sizes. Stem lengths vary from 60- to 100mm, across the size range.
The uppermost 54-, 56-, 58- and 61cm frame sizes all feature rather steep geometry, with a 71.25-degree head angle, balanced by a 73.5-degree seat angle, which prioritizes the Diverge E5 for long days of gravel climbing.
State is best known for its urban fixed and single-speed bikes, but the brand’s considered design awareness also reaches off-road.
With the 4130 All-Road, it is all in the name. The frameset uses 4130 chromoly tubing, which offers a great strength-to-comfort ratio, ideal for those long breakaway weekends on gravel roads. What makes this State gravel bike so appealing, is that combines steel tube compliance with modern thru-axle stiffness.
Rider power is converted to forward momentum with a 1x11 drivetrain, enabling that straighter chain line or better component life. The 4130 All-Road offers two wheel options, both rolling Vittoria tires.
Riders who prefer the traditional 700c wheel size will be on Terreno Zero 38c tires. If you are gravel riding slightly rougher terrain, State also offers a 650b wheelset option, with Barzo mountain bike tires, with a casing size of 2.1in.
There is absolutely no shortage of mounting points on this State gravel bike, with the fork alone containing eight.
If you are committed to the purity of steel frame gravel riding, but like modern design touches like thru-axles and a 1x drivetrain, the 4130 All-Road is a terrific deal.
Sonder’s design objective with its Camino is all about facilitating all-day off-road riding comfort. As such, the carbon-fiber fork’s offset is 50mm, which gives the Camino more relaxed steering responses and makes it less nervous to pilot, down a rutted gravel descent. Most other gravel bikes opt for a shorter 44mm fork offset, which quickens the steering.
For riders of the appropriate skill level, one of the benefits to be had with a carbon-fiber fork is its low mass allowing for effortless bunnyhopping. If you aren’t quite skilled enough to be clearing large roots and fallen branches with a swift cyclo-cross-inspired bunnyhop, you will still benefit from the added comfort of that carbon-fiber fork.
Sonder’s industrial designers have shaped the Camino’s aluminum rear triangle and carbon fork with ample tire clearance and that means you can fit some massive tires by gravel bike standards. Although the factory build uses WTB’s Resolute gravel tires in a 700x42c sizing, there is room for 50mm of clearance. Gravel riders who frequently encounter relatively technical forest trails and fire roads can alternatively opt for a 650b wheel with an increased volume of 2.1in tire.
The external cable routing might irk those who prefer an uncluttered bike in appearance, but there is no arguing against the ease of maintenance with the more traditional cable management.
Merida’s Silex 200 is made to roll big tires. As one of the world’s most popular cycling brands, Merida’s product planners know what riders really want. And in the gravel biking realm, that is ample tire clearance.
The Silex 200 frame can home either 700x38c or 650bx45c tires, whilst retaining adequate mud and trail debris clearance in either configuration.
Bigger tires make a significant difference to ride comfort on off-road routes and with a Silex 200, you’ll be able to embrace the newer-generation of gravel bike tires, which are growing larger in size. Merida’s factory fitment is a Maxxis Rambler 700x38c, with an EXO casing, proving ample puncture protection when venturing off-road.
Like many other bargain gravel bikes, Merida’s Silex 200 combines a carbon-fiber fork with an aluminum frame. The utility factor with Merica’s Silex 200 is high, in its ability to run two different wheel sizes and count a tally of no less than five cage mounts.
Boardman’s CXR 8.9 features a rather bright tennis ball yellow frameset, with an uncluttered 1x11 drivetrain.
Targeted at cyclocross riders who have the fitness to easily push a large single front chainring, the SRAM Apex 1x11 drivetrain engages an 11-42T ratio cassette. In muddy conditions, or when descending rutted gravel roads at speed, the single ring drivetrain’s quietness and resistance to chain suck is an inarguable benefit.
As part of the SRAM Apex groupset, there are also hydraulically actuated disc brakes. These are far more powerful, with better descending endurance and lever feel, than any cable operated system.
Traction is provided by Clement Crusade PDX tires, sized 700x33c. A proven cyclocross tire, these PDXs should make the Boardman CXR 8.9 particularly suited to riding most confidently, in muddier conditions.
The CXR 8.9’s 7005-grade aluminum frame, has pleasantly smooth welding joints and seat stay mounting points for a rack. Although the frame angles might be very race biased, for those riders with adequate fitness, this is a bargain off-road adventure bike.
- When does a gravel bike become a mountain bike?
- Gravel bike vs mountain bike: understanding the differences
How to pick the best cheap gravel bikes
1. Bolt-thru is the way to go
Axle size and configuration make a significant difference to the lateral stiffness of a gravel bike. When you are rolling along on gravel roads and encounter ruts or broken-up surfaces at speed, you want those wheels to track as accurately as possible.
A bike using the latest thru-axle standards will offer superior tacking stability over the unpredictable surfaces that are very much a part of gravel and adventure bike riding. When you need to remove a wheel, thru-axles are also greatly less fiddle some to work with than quick-release skewers.
Most aluminum gravel bike frames, with carbon-fiber forks, use thru-axles, although steel frames and forks often revert to the traditional quick-release configuration.
2. Threaded is best for off-road bikes
Mountain bike design has learned that frame manufacturing tolerances and the margin for incorrect fitment, often makes the press-fit bottom bracket a less than ideal solution for off-road cycling.
As dust and other terrain contaminants get into an incorrectly fitted press-fit bottom bracket, the potential for developing that dreaded creaking noise increases.
With a threaded bottom bracket, fitment is a far simpler process and the potential for a creak to develop over time is minimal.
3. Not all disc brakes are equal
All the gravel bikes on our list have disc brakes, but most use cable-operated actuation. Although a cable-linked disc brake will still be more powerful than a rim brake, the best braking system is one that benefits from hydraulics.
If you can, opt for a gravel bike with hydraulic brakes. They might be a bit more burdensome in terms of maintenance, require a bleed once a season, but the fade-free deceleration and reduced finger fatigue will be hugely beneficial on those long fire road descents
4. Inside or outside?
Internal cable routing creates a pleasing appearance for gravel bikes, but some amateur mechanics dislike the lack of accessibility.
Some internal cable routing systems can be annoying, allowing your shift or brake cables to rattle inside the frame, which can become maddening on a long gravel ride. That said, a slick internally routed frame does look more premium.
If you are planning to do some bikepacking, an internally guided cable arrangement is a lot more accommodating of frame bags than conventional external routing.