Gravel biking is all the rage right, and for lots of good reasons. It’s a blast, often more accessible for beginners than mountain bikes, and often doesn’t require a different bike than you’re already riding. If you decide you want to purchase a gravel bike, however, we’ve done our homework to bring you the top ten best gravel bikes.

What is a Gravel Bike, Exactly?

There seem to be as many types of bikes as there are rides--mountain bikes, road bikes, and everything in between. Cyclocross bikes were some of the original off-road, drop-handle bikes that had wider, grippier tires than road bikes and more stable handling so riders could handle stopping and turning on surfaces that weren’t hard, like tarmac.

Gravel bikes are a more recent invention--some bike companies call them adventure bikes or simply still consider them cyclocross bikes. They developed in the United States Midwest and aren’t as intense as mountain biking, but are still off-road.

Gravel bikes have drop handles like cyclocross bikes, but they’re designed to handle a thicker tire--as wide as 45mm, where UCI stipulates cyclocross bikes have much thinner tires, and you’ll likely struggle to get a 45mm tire on a cyclocross frame.

Gravel Racing for the Win

While people have been riding on gravel and dirt trails informally for as long as bikes have been around, gravel races have only popped up in the last ten years or so, with the mother of all gravel races being the Dirty Kanza, held each in Kansas.

Professional biker jumping on air

Image by Pixabay via Pexels.

You don’t need a gravel bike to ride gravel trails--you can use a cyclocross or a mountain bike, but gravel bikes optimize comfort thanks to geometrically designed frames, drop handlebars, and huge tires, which gives them a slight to mountain bikes, which are designed more for ascents and descents rather than constant peddling on slushy surfaces.

If you decide you want a gravel bike (we can’t say we blame you), you’re going to want the best gravel bike, so we’ve rounded up our favorites in the following categories: budget, beginner, intermediate, and racing. Ready? Let’s go!

How We Chose Our Ratings

We give each of the following bikes a star rating--and you’ll notice almost all are five-stars. This is because we’re picking the best bikes based on available data, what the experts say after riding, and what the riders, themselves, say. If there are things you should be worried about, we let you know.

We also give you a heads up about which bikes are best for which kinds of scenarios.

Ultimately, we want you to feel confident with our recommendations, because being happy with your bike purchase will make you a better rider--and that’s just more fun.

Top 10 Best Gravel Bikes

1. Best Racing Bike: The Lauf True Grit

One of the first purposely made gravel bikes for racing, the Lauf True Grit is a beautifully made bike that will catch your eye for a lot of reasons. First, let’s take a look at the front suspension. Lauf turned heads a couple of years back by designing a unique Lauf fork; when it created a gravel bike, it kept the fork. The fork isn’t for everyone, but its unique design creates undeniable sensitivity at low frequencies.

If your biking tends more towards mountain biking type terrain, however, you might find the fork struggles to keep up. However, most racers love it for the gravel tracks its built for. There’s a clutch derailleur that keeps the chain taut and quiet; it’s also a 1x with a wide cassette and only eleven gears, keeping things ultra simple.

Again, if your terrain is graded and very rocky, you might wish you had more gears. But if you’re mostly on straightaways, the simplicity is fantastic. All in all, it’s a beautiful bike from an Icelandic company that knows how to create bikes for races--and if you don’t want to pay the big bucks, there’s a little brother version you can pick up for much less.

2. Most Innovative: The Canyon Grail

The Canyon Grail has been one of the most innovative bikes to come out of the new gravel scene in the last few years. It has a unique carbon fiber double handrail that floats the top rail to take advantage of carbon fiber’s elastic qualities, providing superior compliance.

Canyon’s goal was to provide the control and comfort of a suspension fork without adding weight and extra complication. We think they achieved it though to be fair; not everybody loves the design. However, the D bars are still present and in the same position, even if the top bar is unexpected, and they’re thick, sturdy, and stiff.

Plus, the bike is built for 40mm tires with tons of extra room to lose mud and rocks. We also appreciate this bike’s price point--as far as the best gravel bikes go, it’s considered affordable.

3. Best for Beginners: The Surly Midnight Special

This retro-looking bike is as fun to ride as it is to look at! It comes with a 650b x 60mm or 700c x 42 cm tire clearance which means you can get exactly the size you need. This is an excellent bike if you want something that’s not just great on gravel but pavement, too. Its owners love its dreamy cloud-like riding quality and appreciate that Surly has kept its focus on utility, with lots of mounts for water bottles (three), fenders, and more. Flat-mount disc brakes complete the look.

4. Runner up Best for Beginners: Cannondale Topstone

Cannondale Topstone

Image via Cannondale website

Cannondale puts a fantastic bike together, and their like of gravel bikes goes from practically budget to high-end. Thanks to an alloy aluminum frame, all three models in the Topstone line have generous clearance with well-designed features that keep parts from clogging up with mud.

There are rack and guard mounts everywhere on this bike, which gives you a good clue about how it’s designed--it prioritizes function. Some reviewers even believe it’s poised to become more popular than the Cad X, the UK’s most popular cyclocross bike. The Topstone uses carbon forks and is dropper post compatible, plus it takes up to a 45mm tire.

Thanks to its versatility, comfort, ride stability, and thoughtful design, the Topstone is another of our favorites for beginner riders.

5. Best Custom Bike: Breadwinner G-Road

Breadwinner G-Road

Image via Breadwinner Cycles website

​The Breadwinner G-Road is a custom bike made by two frame builders in Portland, Oregon. If you’ve automatically believed a custom bike to be out of your price range, this one might make you reconsider. It’s a steel frame that manages to be extremely lightweight, and if you’re used to the heavier steel frames from bike makers such as Surly, you’ll be shocked by how responsive, and fun this bike feels.

Plus, thanks to its custom nature, you get tons of options when it comes to mounts, brackets, paint colors, finishing accessories, and more. The fork is steel and segmented, so if your carbon makes you nervous, you’ll appreciate that this fork won’t be going anywhere, ever. The G-Road has a surprising amount of springiness, as well as lots of agile handling through the front end.

The G-Road doesn’t have the most compliant fork ever, but it still offers a lot of give. Like many gravel bikes, this one is extremely versatile. Nobby tires plus removing extra brackets will mean it’s ready to ride the Dirty Kanza, while smaller tires will help you accelerate fast on the road. Either way, this bike is a win for us, and probably for you, too.

6. Best Middle-of-the-Road Ride: Kona Rove

Kona Rove

Image via Kona World website

​Almost planes on ascents, predictable but not boring--avoids the sturdy boringness that some gravel bikes are known for. Still, it’s not squirrely or too fun; it’s plenty sturdy enough for all the touring you’d ever want to do.

Tire clearance might be able to handle something as large as a 2.1”, which is great if you like fat tires. Plus, it’s beautiful! The alloy frame and carbon fork are an eye-catching baby blue that contrasts sweetly with the faux leather handlebar tape. This bike isn’t as quick-handling as, say, the Midnight Special from Surly that we’ve also included on this list, but it’s cheaper and perfect for light gravel or even pure pavement if that’s mostly what you work with.

It’s got mechanical disc brakes plus a few options for mounts (not too many, though). However, there’s almost zero functionality on the front fork.

7. Best for Endurance Rides: The Salsa Cutthroat Force

Kona Rove

Image via Salsa Cycles website

​This carbon fiber bike is another fantastic ride from Salsa. Reviewers point out quickly that the Cutthroat is a mountain bike with drop handles and not a cyclocross with fatter tires as are most gravel bikes. This means it will feel different when you ride it--though that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just won’t necessarily have the quick acceleration of, say, a road bike.

This bike was designed to go the distance--literally. If you’re looking for something comfortable and stable for bikepacking or just putting down some serious miles, you’ll find the Cutthroat is deeply stable and cushiony comfortable. The carbon fiber is great because it keeps the bike ultralight, even when you start packing it out, which you’ll be able to do thanks to tons of carrying capacity inside the main triangle as well as three water mounts and tons of other mounts all over the frame.

The Cutthroat is a fully rigid bike with a clutch derailleur that keeps a high tension, so your chain isn’t slapping around. The extra long wheelbase and long frame do nothing but add to the comfort and stability you’ll feel on gravel or even singletrack.

8. Best Value: The Salsa Journeyman Claris 650 Bike

Kona Rove

Image via Salsa Cycles website

Another aluminum alloy frame, the Salsa Journeyman has a reputation for being an affordable bike (it’s just under $1,000) that performs like it costs twice the price. In an era where gravel bikes are becoming racier, the Journeyman retains its functionality, with tons of mounts so you can attach fenders, racks, and other bikepacking accessories. We also like its dark olive color, which somehow manages to stand out in a sea of carbon greys, matte blacks, and neon colors.

9. Runnerup Best Value: Diamondback Bicycles Haanjo 3 Gravel Adventure Road Bike

Diamondback Bicycles Haanjo 3 Gravel Adventure Road Bike

Image via Diamond Back website

​This aluminum alloy frame from well-known bicycle maker Diamondback gets the job done in style. While it’s about $600 more than the cheapest gravel bike we could find (keep reading), it’s still a good value, coming in significantly less than $1,000.

If you don’t want to buy a cheap cyclocross and beef up the tires but still want a budget buy, this is an excellent option. The Diamondback Haanjo has disc brakes and a lifetime limited warranty, plus an aluminum fork that’s described as “lightweight” and precise when it comes to steering.

10. Best Budget Buy: The Takara Shiro Adventure Bike

The Takara Shiro Adventure Bike

Image via Evoke Cycling website

​For about $250, this bike makes no pretensions: it’s designed to get you riding as quick as possible. Is it rough? Yes. Does it lack some of the speed, agility, and handling of other more expensive bikes? Absolutely. But, will it surprise you with its performance on tarmac and offroad? Yes to that question, too!

The Takara Shiro comes with 700c wheels and has a derailleur that’s mounted to the frame by a hook, so if the derailleur breaks, it’s not taking the frame with it and leaving you out of a bike.

Plus, it’s got disc brakes, which are an absolute necessity when it comes to gravel riding. If your budget is tight and you don’t want to buy used, this is our top recommendation.

The Best Gravel Bikes Buyer’s Guide

Gravel biking is relatively new, so unlike cyclocross or mountain biking, you won’t have quite as many options as you would a more established segment of the sport. That said, you’ll still need to make a lot of decisions about things like tire clearance, utility, and so forth.

Where Will I Be Riding?

First, think about where and how you’ll be riding. Here are a few scenarios:

best gravel bikes

Image by Philipp M via Pexels.

  • Intense terrain, akin to mountain bike terrain, with ascents and descents and rough trail
  • Rough trails, but few ascents and descents
  • Races such as the Dirty Kanza and other local runs
  • Mostly city driving during the week, with the weekend gravel run

Here’s how this choice will impact you: if you’ll be driving a lot on the tarmac, paved surfaces, or
hard packed surfaces, a smaller tire, more like a cyclocross tire, is fine. But if you’ll be handling
serious terrain, you’ll deeply appreciate larger, fatter tires.

Tire Size and Why it Matters

That said, you’ll need to make sure your bike can accommodate larger tires and has high clearance on the pedals--if you’re a taller person, that will mostly happen naturally since your bike will be bigger, but if you’re a smaller person, you’ll need to make sure your smaller-framed bike has that extra clearance.

Plus, bad riding conditions mean you’ll need to make sure that your frame is designed with lots of thought about what to do with the mud and gravel that gets kicked up. Frame Utility

Think, also, about your bike’s utility. Gravel bikes originally were simply updated touring or adventure bikes, so they had all the mounts a person could ever want. More and more now, bikes are tending towards racing use, so you might have to search a little harder to find a bike that combines the lightness and agility of a racing bike with all the mounts you’d want in an
adventure bike.

Is This Fun or Stable--or Both?

Boy riding a bike

Image by D123x via Pexels.

​Finally, think about stability. A shorter wheelbase and shorter chainstay will usually mean a bike that’s jumpy and fast. It’s designed to accelerate quickly, and it will respond fast. A longer chainstay and a longer frame translate to greater stability, which usually means maximum comfort.

There are bikes, however, that manage to be both stable and fun--you will probably spend a little more for these, however.

Final Thoughts

Gravel riding is nothing short of a blast and thanks to smart new adventure bike; you can race with the best of them or be a weekend warrior and a city commuter during the week. With our list in hand of the best gravel bikes for every different scenario, you’re on your way to a great ride or an exciting new hobby. Happy trails!

Featured image by Vadim B via Pexels.

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