Recent years have seen an explosion in the popularity of gravel bikes thanks to their versatility and capability to handle a wide range of terrain. From paved roads to gravel paths, dirt trails, and even singletrack, these bikes are capable of handling a variety of riding conditions.
But what actually are gravel bikes, and why do they matter so much? Additionally, do you even need one?
My aim in this article is to explain what makes gravel bikes unique, as well as their numerous benefits for riders of all levels. No matter whether you are an expert rider or a casual rider looking for more versatility, gravel bikes are for all.
So, let’s understand this very capable bike in more detail.
An Introduction to the Exciting World of Gravel Bikes
As the name implies, Gravel Bikes are also known as Adventure Road Bike, which is essentially a combination of a classic mountain bike and a road bike.
This new concept originated in the USA, where countless miles of rarely used tracks are used to assist fire trucks in maneuvering through forests. If you have a gravel bike, these tracks are ideal for you – road bikes cannot handle these tracks due to their rough surface. The structure will be shaken to pieces.
Talking mountain bikes, they also cannot appreciate such surfaces fully due to their speed. It’s for this reason that gravel bikes, or road adventure bikes, are the ideal solution.
The best thing about this bike is that it can be used on any terrain. There is only one bike you need for your commute, your road training, and your off-road adventures. And that is a gravel bike.
Essential Elements of Gravel Biking: A Guide to Optimizing Your Ride
Compared to other bikes on the market, the gravel market has a few key differences, which can be well understood by looking at their components. Therefore, I have discussed the main components in detail here:
There are plenty of reasons to run disc brakes on gravel bikes, including better-stopping power, increased reliability, and more frame clearance. Disk brakes have the ability to handle adverse conditions better than rim brakes, as they aren’t affected as much by rain and mud.
Now the next question is whether you should use mechanical or hydraulic disc brakes. The choice usually comes down to budget, with hydraulic disc brakes being preferred for their superior performance, but whether you choose hydraulic disc brakes or mechanical disc brakes, you will still receive all the benefits.
It’s true that gravel bikes look a lot like road bikes or cyclocross race bikes, but they have several differences in their frame geometry that make them easier and more comfortable to ride, especially at long distances.
In fact, when combined with a shallower head angle and a taller headtube, they give the rider a more upright posture. The benefits of riding upright are multiple – it’s less aggressive, so it is less exhausting for the back and shoulders; it improves visibility and creates a much more stable platform to ride.
Compared to previous models, the bottom bracket is lower, and the wheelbase is longer (1036mm vs. 976mm). By having a longer wheelbase and a lower bottom bracket angle, you have better control over the steering and a more stable ride – especially when riding in uneven terrain.
These small changes don’t appear to be a big deal on the surface, but in terms of frame geometry, they make a huge difference to the bike’s handling.
The cyclocross bike does provide some level of versatility, but the fact that they only come with a 1x chainring setup can be a problem for some cyclists. In the majority of fast gravel bikes, there is a second chainring, which gives a greater range of gears and a higher degree of flexibility when riding.
The bike will be able to handle steeper trails and hills on the road better while at the same time ensuring the bike can be pedaled faster on the downhills without spinning out when you want to go fast.
Gravel bikes are usually equipped with drop bars, which are similar to the ones found on road bikes and cyclocross bikes. There are gravel bikes with flat bars, but they cannot be moved into an aerodynamic position on the drops, making them less effective for road riding.
In addition to providing a more natural riding position for hands, drop bars are less fatiguing over longer rides than flat bars.
Much versatile gravel bikes do not have any suspension system at all, although some have front suspension forks or full suspension setups. This is because many rigid frames and forks transfer power more efficiently to the wheels.
In addition, many gravel riders prefer the simplicity and low maintenance of rigid setups. There are, however, some gravel bikes with suspension, which includes front suspension and rear suspension systems, as well as micro-suspension systems.
In the end, whether a gravel bike uses suspension depends on the rider’s preferences and the terrain he or she plans to ride on. Riders may prefer rigid setups due to their simplicity and efficiency, while others may find suspension setups more comfortable and traction-enhancing.
Tires & Wheels
A gravel bike’s tires are the only point of contact between the bike and the ground, so choosing the right tire is crucial. Gravel bikes mostly come with standard 38mm slick tires, but you can also run anything from 32mm up to 48mm tires.
In this range, 32mm makes it fast on roads, while 48mm makes it better on trails, but at the price of sacrificing speed. In the beginning, 38mm is a great starting point if you’re not sure what terrain you’ll be riding on.
It is also possible to invest in a new gravel wheelset that has different-sized tire compatibility if you need to change frequently. This option is a bit more expensive, but if you can afford it, your bike will be much more flexible.
The center tread of gravel tires is fast-rolling, and the shoulder tread is tackier and more grippy, enhancing cornering ability on mixed surfaces. As far as mountain bikes are concerned, they are commonly found with tubeless tires, as they provide a degree of puncture protection while also increasing grip at lower pressures.
Tips to Evaluate Your Needs and Choose the Ideal Gravel Bike for Your Riding Style
There is a lot to consider when shopping for a gravel bike these days. There is a wide spectrum of gravel bikes available, and bike brands are constantly expanding that spectrum.
I’ve seen gravel bikes that are almost like mountain bikes, gravel bikes that have dropper posts, gravel bikes for bike packing, gravel bikes for racing, and even gravel bikes that serve as commuter bikes. There are all sorts of gravel bikes available.
What should a rider look for when choosing a gravel bike? There is no reason for it to be scary. The search for the perfect bike can be part of the fun. You can find the perfect gravel bike for you by following these three simple-to-follow steps.
Identify the Best Terrain for Your Riding Style
There has been a massive divergence in the designs of gravel bikes because they are used so differently by different people. Therefore, it’s important, to be honest with yourself about how and where you plan to use this bike, as well as how comfortable you are off-road.
Do you plan to use pavement and dirt gravel roads equally? Grade 1 and 2 stuff? In that case, you fall on the roadie end of the spectrum. It’s likely you’d prefer something more similar to a road bike.
In case you plan to ride rough 4×4 trails and possibly some singletrack? In that scenario, you might benefit from a bike that borrows its geometry and design from mountain bikes.
Additionally, you should consider your own skill level too. Because on loose surfaces, gravel bikes with long and stable frames will be more confident-inspiring than bikes built for pavement.
Choose Between a 1x and 2x Drivetrain for Your Bike
A 2x drivetrain is probably the best choice if you are going to spend a lot of time on the road or relatively smooth gravel. Because it is possible to maintain a manageable gap between gears by using a double front chainring setup.
The 1x system is popular with mountain bikers since it is simpler and better suited to large, frequent speed changes – such as going down a 100-meter descent and then up a steep, short climb. When these situations arise, shifting the front chainring is doomed to failure.
A 1x drivetrain also appeals to many because of its simplicity. The chances of something going wrong are lower, and there is less to worry about.
A clutched rear derailleur will be standard on all 1x drivetrains. Actually, the chain rotation is prevented by the clutch, which keeps the pulleys from bouncing around. You need this clutch thing more when the terrain is rough.
Determine the Right Size Gravel Tire
As soon as you have chosen 1x or 2x, you need to focus on the tires. Several factors determine how big gravel tires you need, including your riding style, the terrain, and the clearance of your bike frame. The following guidelines will help you select the right gravel tire size:
Width: Typically, gravel tires are 28mm to 50mm wide. Wider tires provide more stability and comfort on rougher terrain. A wider tire can, however, be slower and heavier on smooth roads. In most cases, the best compromise between comfort and speed is a tire width between 35mm and 45mm.
Clearance: If you are choosing a tire size, make sure to check the clearance between the tire and your bike frame. It is important to leave enough clearance between the tire and frame or fork so that rubbing won’t occur. When in doubt, consult with a bike mechanic or check the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Tread: Tire tread patterns can also influence its performance on different terrains. Larger knobs and an aggressive tread pattern are better at traction when dealing with loose gravel or mud but slower when dealing with smooth roads. While smoother tread patterns perform better on smooth roads, however, they may lose grip on loose surfaces.
In the end, the right gravel tire size depends on you and the conditions you ride in. To see which tire size and tread pattern work best for you, try out a few different options.
Experience the Thrill of a Test Ride
It is essential to test-ride an efficient gravel bike before making a purchase. As a result, you will be able to judge the bike’s comfort level, fit, and performance, and make a more informed decision. Furthermore, being able to test a bike before you decide to buy can give you the confidence to make the purchase and ensure that the bike is the right one for your needs and preferences.
What is the Cost of a High-Performance Gravel Bike
A gravel bike that costs between $2,000 and $3,000 offers the best value and performance for the dollar. This price range includes upgrades to the frame, wheels, and other parts that affect ride quality, versatility, handling, and weight.
Among the features are 11-speed drivetrains with closer gear-to-gear jumps; hydraulic disc brakes; tires with folding beads and higher-quality casings; and aluminum or carbon-fiber frames which share design and engineering with the more expensive models in the line.
Increasingly light carbon frames and wheels, electronic shifting, and better suspension are available at higher price points. Despite offering marginally better handling and ride quality, these bikes are very expensive. There are bike brands that cost up to $6,000 or more and aren’t even twice as good as those that cost $3,000 or less.
The Ultimate Decision [Aluminum or Carbon]: One of the most important choices you’ll have to make is whether you want an aluminum or carbon fiber frame. Depending on the equipment, there may be a difference of $400 to $800 between comparable models.
Discover the Differences Between Gravel Bikes and Cyclocross Bikes
While gravel bikes and cyclocross bikes both look similar and are designed to be ridden off-road, their purposes are very different. In essence, what are the differences? Let’s try to understand them through this table.
|Design and Geometry
|With a long wheelbase and a low bottom bracket, gravel bikes are stable and comfortable.
|A cyclocross bike needs to be as snappy as possible. During a race, you have to be able to turn on a dime, power out of dead stops, and possibly bunny hop a barricade as well. This is made possible by a higher bottom bracket and a shorter wheelbase.
|A gravel bike frame follows the same blueprint as a compact road bike. Slanting the top tube and adding a small rear triangle saves weight and adds some compliance to the frame.
|Straight-top tubes are characteristic of cyclocross bikes. These bikes do not have standover height; instead, they have a large open triangle frame for easy shoulder carrying over cyclocross race obstacles.
|With a gravel bike’s wide gear range, you can tackle long, hilly routes without getting off the bike.
|It is better to use a 1x drivetrain with a bigger gear in cyclocross due to the short courses and punchy climbs.
|Gravel bikes have plenty of mounts for bags, fenders, and water bottles, making them perfect for longer rides and bike packing.
|The mounting options on cyclocross bikes aren’t a top priority since these bikes are designed for racing.
|On rough roads and trails, flared drop bars and a dropper seat post increase stability and control.
|There is the option to add a dropper seat post, if needed, for racing since regular drop bars may be wider on the road.
|It is likely that you will run tires with up to 45c clearance, and you will set them up with a tread depth according to the conditions.
|The geometry is optimized around a 33c tire, but with tire clearance up to 45c. Elite racing tires can’t be wider than 33c according to UCI rules, plus extra space around the tire is needed to drain mud.
Unraveling the Differences Between Gravel and Road Bikes
A gravel bike is an all-terrain vehicle designed to carry all your gear and handle any weather conditions and road surfaces while being comfortable at the same time.
Alternatively, road bikes have one thing in common: they are designed to be ridden on paved surfaces, whether they are designed to be comfortable over longer distances, fast on hilly roads, or flat-out high-powered sprints.
Now let’s understand some other important differences between these two bikes.
|It is essential for gravel bikes to have disc brakes to be able to stop powerfully and predictably on any terrain.
|Even though disc brakes are now standard on most road bikes, many road racers still prefer lighter-rim brakes.
|Design and Geometry
|The geometry of a gravel bike is designed for off-road riding, with a lower bottom bracket, a longer wheelbase, and a slacker headtube angle.
|With a shorter wheelbase and a steeper headtube angle, road bikes are designed to be super snappy and efficient.
|For backcountry adventures, gravel bikes come with mounts for extra water bottles, fenders, and racks.
|Most road bikes have only two water bottles to keep weight down, even if they are equipped with racks and fenders.
|A flared drop bar provides more stability and control on gravel bikes.
|An efficient and speedy endurance road bike has regular drop bars.
|The dropper seat post on some gravel bikes allows the rider to move the saddle out of the way during more technical descents.
|Road bikes have a regular seat post because the rider is always in the saddle, even on descents.
|Larger tires can be accommodated with more clearance. Gravel bikes with wide tires, maximum 45c, have more traction on rough roads and trails and are more comfortable.
|The tires on road bikes are typically narrower, not exceeding 35c in width, as they are designed for speed and efficiency on paved roads.
Exploring the Key Contrasts Between Gravel and Mountain Bikes
Fully rigid or fully squish? Compared to gravel bikes, mountain bikes are better suited to riding singletrack trails with gnar. However, it is not the only difference between these two bikes. Let’s have a look at some other major differences too.
|Gravel bikes tend to use disc brakes with a smaller rotor, thus making them lighter.
|During prolonged braking, MTBs have larger rotors to disperse heat.
|Design and Geometry
|Gravel bikes have a taller headtube, a steeper headtube angle, and a lower bottom bracket when it comes to geometry. This bike is designed for minimal tech and is most stable in a seated position.
|The slacker headtube angle gives mountain bikes their stability, enabling them to jump over rocks and roots. You can clear those same trail obstacles with your rear wheel as well with a higher bottom bracket.
|On long stretches of gravel road, where body position rarely changes, flared drop bars on gravel bikes provide options for hand placement.
|Flat handlebars are common on mountain bikes. Whenever you stand up and maneuver the bike underneath you, you don’t need to change your position.
|Gravel bikes do not have suspension forks or shocks. For long rides on gravel and dirt roads, they are extremely efficient due to their rigidity.
|To absorb impacts on the trail, mountain bikes have suspension forks and shocks. You will be more comfortable on gnarly singletrack if your suspension has more travel. MTBs, however, are a little slower rolling and have less pedaling efficiency due to all that suspension.
|For gravel and dirt, tires with a maximum of 45c width and small knobs are recommended.
|For riding on loose dirt, roots, mud, and loose dirt, most mountain bikes have tires with 2.2-2.6 inches of knobs.
Exploring the Crucial Variations Between Gravel and Hybrid Bikes
Despite the similarities between gravel bikes and hybrid bikes, they also have some major differences. The following are some of the main differences between both them:
|Design and Geometry
|A gravel bike’s geometry ensures stability, comfort, and control on rough terrain, making them ideal for off-road adventures and long-distance rides. Their wheelbase is typically longer, their bottom bracket height is lower, and they ride more upright.
|Hybrid bikes are more relaxed than road bikes but less aggressive than gravel bikes. They were designed for both road and off-road riding. An upright riding position, a shorter wheelbase, and a higher bottom bracket height characterize this type of bike.
|Carbon fiber or aluminum is often used in gravel bikes, which provide strength and agility for off-road riding.
|Steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber are common materials for hybrid bikes, but their wider tires and more relaxed geometry typically make them heavier than gravel bikes.
|Generally, gravel bikes have a higher gear range for faster descents and a lower gear range for climbing steep hills. Gravel bikes are designed to handle varied terrain, so they have a broader gear range.
|For both flat and hilly terrain, hybrid bikes usually have fewer gear ranges with a focus on middle gears.
|In most cases, gravel bicycles do not have suspension, so bumps and vibrations are absorbed by wider tires and lower tire pressure.
|Front suspension forks or even full suspension setup is seen on hybrid bikes, which can make riding more comfortable and smooth out rough terrain.
|The tires on gravel bikes are usually wider and have more aggressive tread patterns to increase traction on loose surfaces. Gravel bike tires are usually 35mm to 45mm wide, sometimes even wider.
|A hybrid bike, on the other hand, typically has a narrower tire that is designed for paved surfaces, with a smoother tread. A hybrid bike can have tires ranging from 28mm to 38mm wide.
The Power and Agility of Electric Gravel Bikes
The gravel bike’s extreme popularity is due to its ability to handle a wide range of surfaces, from the tarmac, towpaths, and gravel to trails. For extricating yourself from tricky situations or powering up a hill, the electric gravel bike goes one step further, with an electric drive system mounted in the frame that offers a welcome boost of power.
The electric propulsion system of an e-gravel bike is mounted either within its rear hub or bottom bracket shell. Upon pressing a button, the motor kicks in and boosts every pedal revolution up to a preset speed (this speed is limited by the local government).
For each system, there are several levels of assistance, so you can select the one you need for a particular terrain and reduce it to conserve battery life or when not necessary. As soon as the bike reaches a set speed, the motor automatically disengages, and the rider must propel it like any other gravel bike.
Based on route profile, temperature, rider weight, etc., a powerful battery located in the downtube provides approximately 100km of range on a single charge. Compared to a normal gravel bike, the electric gravel bike allows the rider to go further, faster, and for longer without exhaustion.
The Unbeatable Benefits of Owning a Gravel Bike
There are some amazing benefits to owning a gravel road bike that make it worth buying. Let’s take a look at them one by one.
Mudguards and other accessories can easily be fitted to your gravel bike, allowing you to ride comfortably all year long. You should take special care if you use it as your daily commute. The majority of bikes, however, can be accessorized in this way.
The advantage of gravel bikes is that you can change the tires and fit much larger wheels and tires, improving grip and comfort on bumpy tracks. Basically, you can use it as a fat bike!
2. Two Bikes
If you need to go road racing, you can put skinny tires on your bike in the same way as the first advantage. By using just one bike for all your activities, you’ll save money and reduce storage space requirements.
3. Go Anywhere
Bikes like these are designed to handle smooth terrain better than traditional road bikes. However, they can handle rough terrain just as well as mountain bikes. With a gravel bike, you can go anywhere.
4. Slow It Down
The lack of a dropper post or dual suspension on a steel gravel bike allows you to go at a more relaxed pace and actually enjoy the ride.
Unlike road bikes, gravel bikes are designed simply and have far fewer components that can go wrong. As a result, you can just get on and go, making the most of the time you have available and reducing surprises.
The Drawbacks of Investing in a Gravel Bike
Even though gravel bikes are incredible machines, there are still some things they lack. This section discusses those disadvantages in more detail.
In spite of the fact that gravel bikes are lighter, they are slower. Gravel bike tires are wider than road bike tires, which creates more resistance and causes the bike to slow down. However, the effect is minimal, and you can always fit road wheels…
A gravel bike weighs slightly more than a road bike. And this factor will affect you more when you have to carry your bike (e.g., if you live in an apartment block and have to carry your bike upstairs). The bike weight will be a real barrier in this endeavor.
The price of a gravel bike is higher than the price of a road or mountain bike. It’s important to be aware of the potential cost difference at the beginning, even if you’ll only need one bike in the future.
Top 5 Gravel Bikes of 2023: A Comprehensive Guide to the Best Models Available
You’ve come to the right place if you’re looking for an objective evaluation of the best gravel bike available in 2023. I have ridden every bike mentioned in this article and have shared my honest review in brief.
1. Boardman ADV 9.0
It is the Boardman ADV 9.0 Adventure Bike Carbon model that has been designed not only to excel on the network of bridleways, fire roads, and towpaths but also to be able to achieve substantial speeds on the tarmac.
The combination of Boardman’s high-modulus C10 Carbon with the careful design of the frame has resulted in a frame that is tough enough to handle rough rides, yet weighs only 990g including all of the frame’s hardware.
For long-distance rides on tarmac or to link up off-road sections, long top tubes offer an efficient road position. There are even lots of scopes to customize the ADV 9.0 Bike based on your riding style, with clearance for 42mm and 700c tires, hidden mudguard mounts, multiple bottles, and accessory mounts inside the front triangle and under the down tube.
Things to note about this bike:
- Excellent value
- Great ride quality
- 700×38mm tire clearance
- Low weight is impressive for the price
2. Canyon Grizl CF SL 8 1by
Designed for long-distance rides and off-road adventures, the Canyon Grizl CF SL 8 1by is a high-performance gravel bike. It is constructed of lightweight carbon fiber, has a 1x drivetrain, and comes with wider tires that can handle various terrains.
A versatile option for touring and bike packing, it can also mount racks, fenders, and water bottles. A carbon fiber handlebar, a carbon fiber seat post, and hydraulic disc brakes provide powerful stopping power and precise handling on the Grizl CF SL 8 1by.
In conclusion, the Canyon Grizl CF SL 8 1by is an excellent gravel bike if you want a high-performance machine that can handle a variety of terrains and conditions.
Things to note about this bike:
- Plenty of mounts
- Very good value for the money
- The high versatility of the frame platform
- Acceleration and high speed on hardpack
3. Canyon Grail 6
If you’re looking for a bike that can handle all terrain, Canyon Grail 6.0 might be a great option. In addition to solid specifications, this all-rounder offers versatility and durability. The tires of Grail 6.0 are ideal for tarmac and gravel since they are upgraded versions of their predecessors.
Grail 6.0 is equipped with a 2×10 Shimano GRX gravel drivetrain. Furthermore, this Canyon Grail model is equipped with matching hydraulic disc brakes. Shimano’s GRX groupset sits alongside the road groupsets on the bike.
Despite this, the GRX doesn’t have direct equivalents at every level. Thanks to the clutched rear derailleur on the GRX, you can enjoy more gravel-friendly riding.
Things to note about this bike:
- Good “bang for the buck”
- Not easy to add panniers
- Comes with a 2×10 Shimano groupset
- Great for 50-120 miles on a regular basis
- Comfortable and suitable for both road and gravel use
4. Focus Atlas 6.8
This new Focus Atlas 6.8 comes in sizes X-small to XX-large, and the alloy frame is equipped with accessory mounts to fit any adventure. It is evident that the Atlas is more intended to be an exploration partner than a dirt-road racer based on its build spec, dropper post compatibility, and bag mounts.
In the size medium frames, the geometry measurements were clearly drawn around the drop bars, with a 54.4mm top tube and 382mm reach. Boost frames and carbon fork legs come with 700c (29″) wheels and 45mm tires, though 27.5″ rims can also be mounted.
In the stock configuration, the frame has a 75mm BB drop, a 70.5° head tube angle, and a 73.5° seat tube angle, except for the extra-small, which has a 74° angle. In all sizes, the chain stays on the frames are 425mm, which keeps the overall wheelbase between 1015mm and 1092mm.
Things to note about this bike:
- Feels absolutely indestructible
- Clearances for up to 700 x 47C tires
- A large front triangle can accommodate large frame bags
- Everything you need: mounting points, mudguards, and luggage rack
5. Enigma Escape
A bike that can be taken anywhere adventured, graveled, and toured. All-terrain titanium gravel bike Enigma Escape is refined, adaptable, and remarkably capable. It’s perfect for ripping up your local trails or for escaping to some forestry bridleway for those seeking a little more solitude.
You can use it as a bike packing and touring companion by attaching panniers to it. You can throw anything at the Escape, and it will handle it with ease.
A drop handlebar bike without limits was Enigma’s design brief when developing the Escape. Whether loaded or unloaded, it should be able to sustain sustained off-road use. With stable handling and maximum tire clearance, the ride should inspire confidence.
In addition to being a robust and confident road bike, the Escape is also an excellent mountain bike. A comfortable winter training bike with mudguards and 35-40mm tires, it is ideal for backroad touring. With this model, Enigma is able to take on pretty much any situation.
You can even customize the Escape to ride exactly the terrain you want with a huge range of build options.
Things to note about this bike:
- Brushed with glass-beaded logos
- Flat-mounts disc brake mounting
- 44mm machined for inset headset types
- External with custom cable clips for versatility
- Lower BB and slack head angle for improved stability
- 3 x bottle cage mounts plus mudguard and rack mounts
Gravel Bikes — Final Verdict
There’s no doubt that an ideal gravel bike is extremely versatile, combining elements of road, mountain, and cyclocross bikes to give you an all-encompassing option for the average person.
As a final note, I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. Nevertheless, if you still have any questions regarding gravel cycles. Let me know in the comment section. I’ll be more than happy to answer your queries. Please follow our Facebook Page for more guides like this.
Gravel Bikes — Frequently Asked Questions
Are gravel riding any good on the road?
Well, the bike certainly differs from a road bike due to its upright riding position and fatter tires, but riders can expect better control on the road, as well as more stable handling. All in all, gravel bikes are excellent for riding in all kinds of conditions, perhaps making them the only bike you should own.
Can I use a gravel bike as a winter road bike?
The advantages of gravel bikes for winter riding are that they can handle a variety of terrain, they are lightweight, and they have thicker tires that provide more traction.