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Cheap gravel bikes: The best gravel bikes under $1,500

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Cheap gravel bikes
(Image credit: State Bicycles)

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 best gravel bikes increases, 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. There is a lot to consider when choosing a gravel bike so skip to the bottom if you want to know how to pick the best cheap gravel bikes.

Cheap gravel bikes

Fuji Jari 2.3

(Image credit: Fuji)

Fuji Jari 2.3

A decent entry-level gravel bike that will leave you with a pocket full of change

Specifications
Price: $1,299.99
Drivetrain: Shimano 2x9 (Sora / Alivio)
Frame: Alloy
Tire clearance: 700 x 42mm
Reasons to buy
+Lots of mounting options for fenders, rack, and bottle cages+Excellent price+Decent tire clearance
Reasons to avoid
-Budget components may need upgrading

At just over $1,000 the Fuji Jari 2.3 gravel bike will give you access to the open dirt roads while also coming back with a hefty amount of change in your pocket. For an entry-level bike it has plenty of offer, including a good amount of tire clearance - it comes stock with 37mm WTB Riddlers, but can take up to 42mm rubber - as well as plenty of mounting options for all the accessories you might want to add.

A mixture of Shimano Alivio and Sora drivetrain components leaves you with 2x9 gearing, and while these aren't high up in Shimano's groupset hierarchy, you still know you're getting solid and reliable Japanese shifting performance.

Add to this the Tektro Mira mechanical disc brakes with 160mm rotors, you're getting a decent amount of gravel bike for a small investment when you compare it to the rest of the market.

Marin Nicasio

(Image credit: Marin)

Marin Nicasio 700c

The cheap-and-cheerful option

Specifications
Price: $989
Drivetrain: Shimano Claris 2x8
Frame: Steel
Tire clearance: 700 x 40mm
Reasons to buy
+Versatile and affordable+Steel frame may be heavy but it's comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-Stock tires are very narrow-Cheap components that will need upgrading eventually

If your main concern is spending as little as possible while still riding a half-decent gravel bike, then look no further than the entry-level Nicasio model from Marin. Named after the county, Marin bikes come with a rich mountain biking and off-roading heritage, and the Nicasio is the brand's flagship gravel model.

At the very bottom of its Nicasio range is the sub-$1,000 model that comes with a 2x8-speed Shimano Claris drivetrain, Promax mechanical disc brakes, and an all-steel frame and fork which, while it may weigh more than aluminum and carbon, will be comfortable on rough ground. Steel is generally a more compliant material and makes a great option for gravel frames.

Of course, with a price tag this low, you do get what you pay for and need to be prepared to upgrade some of the components when they wear out. It's also worth noting that while the stock Vee Apache Chief tires are a minuscule 30mm wide, the Nicasio frame can accommodate rubber up to 40mm though.

GT Grade Elite

(Image credit: GT)

GT Grade Elite

A tubeless-ready alloy gravel bike with a carbon fork

Specifications
Price: $1,200
Drivetrain: Shimano Claris 2x8
Frame: Aluminum
Tire clearance: 700 x 42mm
Reasons to buy
+Carbon fork +Decent tire clearance+Tubeless-ready rims
Reasons to avoid
-No fork mounts

At this price point, it's hard to fault the GT Grade Elite gravel bike. With its stylish aluminum frame, carbon fork, tubeless-ready WTB rims built around 12mm thru-axle hubs and shod with WTB Riddler tires - it's a versatile and affordable bike that's raring to go. 

Similarly to other bikes in this list, the Grade Elite comes equipped with a 2x8-speed Shimano Claris groupset, offering reliability, alongside the Tektro mechanical disc brakes for stopping power.

The aluminum frame and carbon fork combo keeps the weight off somewhat and results in a nimble-feeling gravel bike that can handle a decent amount of rough stuff. If you want a bit more cushion, swap out the 37mm Riddlers for up to 42mm of rubber.

Marin Four Corners

(Image credit: Marin)

Marin Four Corners

A dirt tourer with classic looks

Specifications
Price: $1,279
Drivetrain: Shimano Sora 3x9
Frame: Steel
Tire clearance: 650b x 47
Reasons to buy
+Abundance of mouting points of for advenure touring+All the gears you'll ever need+Steel compliant ride quality 
Reasons to avoid
-Steel frame is heavier than alloy rivals-No thru-axles at either end 

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 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 up front, 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.

Cannondale Topstone Sora

(Image credit: Cannondale)

Cannondale Topstone Sora

Slick, high-quality alloy gravel bike

Specifications
Price: $1,250
Drivetrain: Shimano Sora 2x9
Frame: Aluminum
Tire clearance: 700 x 42
Reasons to buy
+Stealth dropper post ready+Lots of mounting points +Internal cable routing 
Reasons to avoid
-Gravel riders in muddy geographies will prefer a 1x drivetrain 

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 700x37mm.

With a SunRace 11-34T cassette at the rear and FSA Temp Adventure crankset, with 46/30T 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.

Specialized Diverge Base E5

(Image credit: Specialized )

Specialized Diverge Base E5

A genuine, bargain gravel bike

Specifications
Price: $1,300
Drivetrain: Shimano 2x8
Frame: Aluminum
Tire clearance: 700 x 47 / 650b x 2.1in
Reasons to buy
+Massive range of sizes, for all riders+Components carefully graded according to frame size +Threaded bottom bracket boost durability +Huge tire clearance
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks that last percentage of gearing, compared to a 2x9 system

The most affordable Specialized Diverge might hot have the Future Shock steering damper, but it is a thoroughly convincing gravel bike.

The 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.

Sonder Camino AI Apex 1 Hydraulic

(Image credit: Sonder)

Sonder Camino AI Apex 1 Hydraulic

A near-perfect gravel bike pilgrim

Specifications
Price: $1,449
Drivetrain: SRAM Apex 1x11
Frame: Aluminum
Tire clearance: 700 x 50
Reasons to buy
+The subtle colorway will appeal to most+Durable SRAM gravel drivetrain +Huge tire clearance
Reasons to avoid
-Apex cassette limits gear range-Slower handling dulls experience when riding on the road

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 bunny hopping. If you aren’t quite skilled enough to be clearing large roots and fallen branches with a swift cyclo-cross-inspired bunny hop, you will still benefit from the added comfort of that carbon-fiber fork.

Sonder’s 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 700x42mm 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 tires.

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.

Co-op Cycles ADV 2.1 Bike

(Image credit: Co-op Cycles )

Co-op Cycles ADV 2.1 Bike

REI's own-brand adventure bike

Specifications
Price: $1,299
Drivetrain: Shimano Claris 2x8
Frame: Aluminum
Tire clearance: 700 x 35mm
Reasons to buy
+Carbon fork for reduced overall weight+Flared handlebars for off-road stability
Reasons to avoid
-No fork mounts

REI Co-op, aside from being a nationwide retailer that's managed to hold onto its co-operative roots, has its own bike brand in the form of Co-op Cycles. The ADV 2.1 is its entry-level adventure bike offering, designed for those new to off-road riding who are ready to take the leap onto gravel.

The aluminum frame is matched with a carbon fork, which helps to reduce the overall weight and add a feeling of luxury to the front end. The only downside is that the carbon fork doesn't have any mounts, but that's not the end of the world seeing as there are plenty of eyelets for a rear rack, fenders and two bottle cages.

The Shimano Claris groupset offers reliable shifting, while the Promax mechanical disc brakes provide the stopping power needed when you leave the tarmac behind. 

How to pick the best cheap gravel bikes

What is a good price for a gravel bike?

Luckily for those shopping for cheap gravel bikes, you don't need to spend a fortune on a bike for off-road adventures. Like any type of bike, spending more will return a noticeable increment in performance. However, with the best cheap gravel bikes coming with disc brakes, bolt thru-axles and decent tire clearance the difference between the budget and mid-range gravel bikes has been greatly reduced. 

Ultimately though cheap gravel bikes are still going to require some compromise to meet particular budgets. When choosing which is the best cheap gravel bike for you, we recommend prioritizing frame, drivetrain and brake quality as these parts are the most expensive to replace and should have the biggest effect on a bike's ride quality.

What is bolt-thru and why should I choose it?

Bolt-thru refers to the axle size and configuration - the part of the bike that attaches the wheels to the frame. Many older bikes use skinny skewers, sometimes with quick-release, whereas more and more bikes nowadays have the thicker and more robust thru-axles.

They're important because they 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.

Does the bottom bracket type matter?

If mountain bike design has learned anything over the years, frame manufacturing tolerances and the margin for incorrect fitment often make 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.

Are some disc brakes better than others?

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 harder to find at this price point, and more burdensome in terms of maintenance (since they 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.

Internal vs external cable routing

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.

Lance Branquinho
Lance Branquinho is a Namibian-born media professional who graduated to mountain biking after injuries curtailed his fascination with trail running. He has a weakness for British steel hardtails, especially those which only run a single gear. Rides: Morewood Kwela Cotic Simple 26 Pyga 160mm aluminium prototype