Just like a trip down the cereal aisle at Safeway, searching for the right gravel bike can be overwhelmingly complex. It’s a true paradox of choice — so many options to choose from that you’re liable to give up not long after you start. As a gear tester, I get more notifications about new gravel bikes than skis or puffy jackets, even in the dead of winter. Poke around the interwebs and you’ll see what I mean.

The category runs the gamut from rugged rigs — essentially mountain bikes with drop bars — to modified road bikes with slightly more clearance and tubeless wheels. Dozens of bike brands are rolling out hundreds of models each year, designed for wildly divergent use cases — pro-level racing, bikepacking across countries, flowy singletrack and just comfortable commuting.

Innovation is fast and furious, and frankly, some of it is better than others. Designers are pushing limits, using a newfound freedom to build bikes from the ground up. To help you invest your hard-earned dollars into the right gravel steed, we put together this simplified guide. Below we focus on the important differences and similarities, so you can prioritize and ride away clean — even if you do get a little (blissfully) muddy in the process.

Best Overall Gravel Bike

Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon

You can pry this bike out of my dead, cold hands. I’ve taken the Diverge on a three-week bikepacking trip, ride it regularly on singletrack near home and sometimes bring it on group road rides. But more than being fast and comfortable, it’s just damn fun. The Future Shock 2.0 provides 20mm of travel, smoothing out rough patches of trail and dirt. It helps reduce the strain on my body from long hours in the saddle, even on tarmac. With a progressive geometry and 47mm of clearance, you’ve got full permission to get creative and kit it out for the next adventure.

Best Upgrade Gravel Bike

Allied Able Force AXS

Thanks to an innovative drive-side chainstay design, the Able offers something that few other gravel brands can: an aggressive geometry with large tires. The Able is a nimble, agile and incredibly fast bike that still allows a variety of tire sizes for various roads and conditions. Want proof? The bike made its debut in 2019 at one of the world's gnarliest races — Unbound Gravel in Emporia, Kansas — as the ride of choice for both the male and female winners. One downside of the design is that it can only accommodate a one-by drivetrain (a set-up we favor anyway). The upside is a responsive and snappy ride, great on hardpack, fire roads and rough gravel adventures.

Best Budget Gravel Bike

State Bicycle Co. 4130 All-Road

If you’re a devotee of the less-is-more philosophy, this bike is for you. Simple, affordable and durable, the All-Road is an easy pick for the best bang-for-your-buck bike. A steel frame (the only one on this list), plenty of mounting options, multiple tire size options, and standard disc brakes make it a perfect choice for long tours where there is no rush, a year-round commuter, or just a solid, entry-level bike to get into gravel riding.

Editor's note: one tester had some derailleur issues with the Black Label edition of this bike, but they were so minor that a bike shop was able to recalibrate it at no cost.

Most Versatile Gravel Bike

Salsa Warbird Carbon GRX 600

If you were to map the entire gravel market, the Warbird would sit right in the middle, in terms of price point, components and style of riding. As one of the earlier gravel bikes, it set the standard for others to follow. Today the Warbird is above an entry-level bike, but it’s not hyper specific, either. You’ll see Warbirds just as often on race day as you will on bikepacking rides, because it’s a good option for people looking for reliability, without buying a bike the price of a new car.

Smoothest Downhilling Gravel Bike

Cannondale Topstone Carbon Lefty 3

We all knew that gravel bikes would have dual suspension eventually. It just makes sense if you want to ride more trails, more aggressively. The Topstone was the first to solve this riddle and in my opinion, remains the smoothest downhill gravel bike out there. Sure, it sacrifices speed and weight, but 30mm of travel in the rear Kingpin suspension and 30mm in the Lefty Oliver front fork enable an entirely different ride from the rest of the bikes on this list. If you love speedy singletrack, this is likely the bike for you.

Best Dirt/Tarmac Split

Scott Addict Gravel 30

Part of the road bike lineage at Scott, the Addict Gravel is based on a road frame, intended for riders who spend as much time on pavement as they do on gravel. The burly carbon build boasts a number of clever features that make the Addict at home off-road, including more mounting points, clearance for 45mm tires, larger brake rotors and the option for a one-by or two-by drivetrain. And yet, the bike leans into its aero frame, internal cable routing and tighter cockpit to help maintain its performance when you hit the streets.

Most Badass Gravel Bike

Evil Chamois Hagar Force AXS

Is the Hagar actually an enduro bike? Does it defy classification altogether? Does anyone care? What we can say for certain is that the Hagar is an absolute beast to ride. With a geometry that’s clearly reverse engineered from a mountain bike, it brings a new level of stability to long, technical descents. It’s slower and not as good at climbing as other bikes on the list, but it can really shred. If you’re looking to get extra weird, the bike allows for 50c tires, a dropper post and MTB brakes, just to see how far you can push it.

Editor's note: the GRX version comes in at a lower price point ($4,799), but sizing and availability is limited these days.

Best Racing Gravel Bike

Specialized Crux Pro

When I first saw the Crux in person last fall, I probably started drooling. The lightest gravel bike on the market, the Crux has a very aggressive geometry optimized for performance and winning races. Blurring the lines between cyclocross and gravel, it’s incredibly agile and snappy — and on the flips side, not the best option for long, multi-day adventures. With a large tire clearance and a simple one-by drivetrain, this bike is just begging to be raced on the wettest, muddiest days.

Editor's note: One trim level and $900 below the Pro, the Crux Expert is super-frisky and fun as well.

Best Gravel Bike for Long Adventures

Canyon Grizl 7 Suspension

Employing the new RockShox Rudy front fork with 30mm of travel, the Grizl is one of the few gravel bikes that can tackle an all-terrain bikepacking trip without feeling like your teeth are going to fall out. From the ground up this bike is designed for long-haul functionality, highlighted by a large cockpit, comfortable seat, ample mounting points and large tires to smooth out rough roads. At a relatively affordable price point, this bike is excellent for anyone going the distance.