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. But for the uninitiated, the new category in cycling can be both exciting and a little head-scratching: what exactly is a gravel bike?

What Is a Gravel Bike?

pinarello grevil f ekar drop handlebars
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Put simply, a gravel bike is a drop-bar style bike that has been engineered to allow you to ride over a variety of surfaces. Gravel bikes are a curious mix between road and off-road and 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.

Who Is a Gravel Bike for?

A gravel bike is for anyone who appreciates both well-paved roads and (semi) rugged off-road trails and who doesn't want to have to choose between the two. 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.

Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon

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Best Overall Gravel Bike
Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon
specialized.com
$4,200.00

  • Fast, comfortable and fun

  • Will make it hard to go back to any other bike

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.

  • Weight: 21 pounds, 2 ounces
  • Frame: Specialized Diverge FACT 9r carbon
  • Wheels and Tires: DT Swiss G540 rim, Pathfinder Pro tires

    Allied Able Force AXS

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    Best Upgrade Gravel Bike
    Allied Able Force AXS
    alliedcycleworks.com
    $7,925.00

    • Nimble and aggressive

    • Base price is high, without add-ons

    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.

    • Weight: ~18 pounds
    • Build: ABLE - SRAM Force AXS 1x12 Build Group
    • Wheels and Tires: Industry Nine UL250 CX 700 Wheelset - XDR; WTB Resolute 700x42 TCS 120tpi SG2

      State Bicycle Co. 4130 All-Road

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      Best Budget Gravel Bike
      State Bicycle Co. 4130 All-Road
      statebicycle.com
      $899.99

      • Easy on the wallet, with performance to boot

      • Lacks premium components of more expensive bikes

      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.

      • Weight: 28 pounds
      • Frame: 4130 Chromoly Steel frame
      • Wheels and Tires: 650b: Tubeless Capable Wheel Set w/ Vittoria Barzo Tires, 2.1 inch

        Salsa Warbird Carbon GRX 600

        Most Versatile Gravel Bike
        Salsa Warbird Carbon GRX 600
        salsacycles.com
        $3,299.00

        • Dual wheel size compatible

        • Only for purchase at dealers

        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.

        • Weight: 20.09 pounds
        • Frame: Warbird Carbon
        • Wheels and Tires: Shimano RS470 12 x 100 mm hub, WTB ST Light i23 TCS rim, 28h ;
          Teravail Cannonball 700c x 42 mm

          Cannondale Topstone Carbon Lefty 3

          Smoothest Downhilling Gravel Bike
          Cannondale Topstone Carbon Lefty 3
          cannondale.com
          $4,250.00

          • Front and back suspension elevates ride

          • Not as comfortable on-road

          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.

          • Weight: 23.31 pounds
          • Frame: BallisTec carbon frame with Kingpin suspension
          • Wheels and Tires: WTB ST i23 TCS, 28h, tubeless ready; WTB Venture TCS Light, 650 x 47c

            Scott Addict Gravel 30

            Best Dirt/Tarmac Split
            Scott Addict Gravel 30
            als.com
            $3,999.99

            • Great on streets as well as trails

            • Not available for purchase online/ have to find a dealer

            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.

            • Weight: 20.28 pounds
            • Frame: Addict Gravel Disc HMF Carbon
            • Wheels and Tires: Syncros RP2.0 Disc; Schwalbe G-ONE Bite Performance

              Evil Chamois Hagar Force AXS

              Evil Bikes
              Most Badass Gravel Bike
              Evil Chamois Hagar Force AXS
              Evil summitbicycles.com
              $4,799.00

              • Beefy, burly, capable

              • Not as good climbing as other gravel bikes

              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.

              • Weight: 20 pounds (w/out pedals)
              • Frame: Evil Chamois Hagar UD Carbon Frame with Internal Routing
              • Wheels and Tires: WTB Proterra Light i23 Tubeless

                Pinarello Grevil F Ekar

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                Best Racing Gravel Bike
                Pinarello Grevil F Ekar
                competitivecyclist.com
                $6,500.00

                • Nimble and ready to race

                • Probably not your daily driver

                Some gravel bikes are like domestic SUVs — simultaneously adventurous and, well, kinda cushy. The Grevil F, meanwhile, is more comparable to a set of wheels from its own home country of Italy: the Lamborghini Urus. Part sport utility vehicle, part sports car, the Grevil’s aero geometry, ultralight carbon frame, fully integrated cables, 13-speed Campagnolo Ekar groupset and unique shifting mechanism (including a thumb lever that helps you shift gears even in the drops) all presage its penchant for promptitude. Having experienced this Italian stallion’s capability firsthand at SBT GRVL, we’re happy to anoint it as our new favorite race bike.

                • Weight: 19 pounds 8 ounces
                • Frame: Toray T700 UD carbon
                • Wheels and Tires: Fulcrum Rapid Red wheels; Maxxis Rambler tires

                  Canyon Grizl 7 Suspension

                  Best Gravel Bike for Long Adventures
                  Canyon Grizl 7 Suspension
                  canyon.com
                  $2,499.00

                  • Low price point + a quality build

                  • A little on the heavy side

                  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.

                  • Weight: 25 pounds
                  • Frame: Aluminum
                  • Wheels and Tires: DT Swiss LN aluminium gravel wheels; Schwalbe 45 mm G-One Bite tires

                    Priority Apollo Gravel

                    Lowest-Maintenance Gravel Bike
                    Priority Apollo Gravel
                    Priority Bicycles prioritybicycles.com
                    $1,999.00

                    • Carbon belt drive minimizes maintenance needs

                    • Bikes are often sold out

                    As we noted in our full review, this bike as a whole delivers a ton of value thanks to an 11-speed Alfine internal hub with a 409% gear range, a vibration-damping full-carbon fork, responsive disc brakes and confidence-inspiring build quality. But it wins the lowest-maintenance superlative for one big reason. Like all Priority bikes, it boasts a Gates Carbon Belt Drive, which spares you the pain of ever having to lube a chain or adjust a derailleur or worry about rain or mud or dust or rocks interfering with your drive train. That means more time riding your bike, less time fixing it — or hiking out of the woods after your chain breaks.

                    • Weight: 24 pounds
                    • Frame: Ultralight 6061 T6 Aluminum
                    • Wheels and Tires: WTB i23 ST Tubeless Ready; Tubeless-ready WTB or Goodyear 40mm gravel tires