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?
Best Overall Gravel BikeSpecialized Diverge Comp Carbon Read More
Best Upgrade Gravel BikeAllied Able Force AXS Read More
Most Versatile Gravel BikeSalsa Warbird Carbon GRX 600 Read More
Best Gravel Bike for Long AdventuresCanyon Grizl 7 Suspension Read More
Lowest-Maintenance Gravel BikePriority Apollo Gravel Priority Bicycles Read More
What Is a Gravel Bike?
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, bike-packing 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.
Our Top Picks:
Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon
- Weight: 21 pounds, 2 ounces
- Frame: Specialized Diverge FACT 9r carbon
- Wheels and Tires: DT Swiss G540 rim, Pathfinder Pro tires
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. — Andy Cochrane
Allied Able Force AXS
- 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
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. — Andy Cochrane
Salsa Warbird Carbon GRX 600
- 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
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. — Andy Cochrane
Other Good Options
Canyon Grizl 7 Suspension
- Weight: 25 pounds
- Frame: Aluminum
- Wheels and Tires: DT Swiss LN aluminium gravel wheels; Schwalbe 45 mm G-One Bite tires
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.
Read our full review of Canyon's sister bike, the Grail:On CF 7, here.
Priority Apollo Gravel
- Weight: 24 pounds
- Frame: Ultralight 6061 T6 Aluminum
- Wheels and Tires: WTB i23 ST Tubeless Ready; Tubeless-ready WTB or Goodyear 40mm gravel tires
As I noted in my 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.
My most rigorous testing of the Apollo took place on the relatively short but surprisingly steep Cold Spring Gravel Grinder an hour north of New York City. On a sweltering summer day, I found the shifting to be super smooth, the brakes quite responsive and the ride itself incredibly comfortable and stable, instilling confidence that, with time, the course could be crushed.
Time is the key word there, though, because a combo of two factors slow this bike down on punishing ascents: when push comes to shove, I often felt like I was one or two gears shy of what I needed to power this not-heavy-but-not-ultralight 24-pound steed ever upwards.
That being said, for the price you get a hell of a lot here, and that’s before we get to the big reason it claims the lowest-maintenance superlative. Like all Priority bikes, the Apollo 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 when your chain breaks. — Steve Mazzucchi
Read our full review of the Priority Apollo here.
State Bicycle Co. 4130 All-Road
- Weight: 28 pounds
- Frame: 4130 Chromoly Steel frame
- Wheels and Tires: 650b: Tubeless Capable Wheel Set w/ Vittoria Barzo Tires, 2.1 inch
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. — Andy Cochrane
From the moment I swung a leg over this bike, it inspired confidence. The frame feels incredibly well-built and stable, with a geometry that feels comfortable when cruising on the road but simultaneously hungry for rocks and dirt, thanks to 440mm drop bars with a 12-degree flare and 90mm reach. Once I reached that sort of terrain — hitting the trails around Cold Spring, about 60 miles north of New York City — I was impressed by how smooth the pedaling and shifting was. Just a little tap of the levers on the right handlebar enabled seamless transitions thanks to the belt drive and internally hubbed Alfine 11 system. — Steve Mazzucchi
Read our head-to-head review of the State 4130 All-Road versus the Priority Apollo here.
Cannondale Topstone Carbon Lefty 3
- 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
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.
In testing this bike, we ripped up big road climbs, hopped over logs, rode through creeks and rallied down sketchy dirt roads, jumping on little lips and maintaining unprecedented traction in the bumpy corners. The engineers grinned as we told them again, “Damn, this thing really does absolutely rip.” For riders looking for a hidden gem in the world of gravel that can match their stoke on every ride, the Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty could be the answer. — Emily Schaldach
Read our full review of the Topstone Lefty here.
Scott Addict Gravel 30
- Weight: 20.28 pounds
- Frame: Addict Gravel Disc HMF Carbon
- Wheels and Tires: Syncros RP2.0 Disc; Schwalbe G-ONE Bite Performance
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.
Evil Chamois Hagar Force AXS
- Weight: 20 pounds (w/out pedals)
- Frame: Evil Chamois Hagar UD Carbon Frame with Internal Routing
- Wheels and Tires: WTB Proterra Light i23 Tubeless
What exactly is this thing, and why does it exist? Shake off such questions from hard-core roadies while pedaling this semi-controversial set of wheels. All that matters is that the hilariously named Chamois Hagar is an absolute beast to ride. With a geometry that’s clearly reverse engineered from a mountain bike — true to Evil’s pedigree as an MTB brand — it can really shred, both on and off-road.
I know this much because I’ve ridden it many, many places. First in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, where its gravel capabilities were on full display. The lightweight carbon frame, giant 42-tooth granny gear, fat 50c tires and stock dropper post takes the pain out of technical climbs and makes gnarly descents more manageable. But I’ve also found the bike to kick ass on the streets of NYC — hopping curbs and crushing potholes with reckless abandon.
In perhaps the ultimate test of its quirky versatility, I even rode the Chamois 300 miles from New York to DC (mostly on-road but with a couple detours for some borderline mountain biking around campsites) and somehow finished with both high spirits and fully functional quads.
The big knock here is that the unorthodox geometry and beefy tires (tubeless ones that are more trouble than they are worth, frankly) do prevent it from rolling as fast as many of the other options on this list. But it’s so fun and funky, why not just sit back and enjoy the ride? — Steve Mazzucchi
Editor's note: the GRX version comes in at a lower price point ($4,799), but sizing and availability is limited as of publication.
Pinarello Grevil F Ekar
- Weight: 19 pounds 8 ounces
- Frame: Toray T700 UD carbon
- Wheels and Tires: Fulcrum Rapid Red wheels; Maxxis Rambler tires
Some gravel bikes are like GMC Yukon Denalis — simultaneously adventurous and, well, kinda cushy. The Grevil F, meanwhile, is more comparable to a vehicle from its home country of Italy: the Lamborghini Huracan Sterrato. Part sport ute, part sports car, the Grevil boasts aero geometry, an ultralight carbon frame, fully integrated cables, a 13-speed Campagnolo Ekar groupset and a unique shifting mechanism, all of which presage its penchant for promptitude.
That figures: Pinarello riders have won a record 16 Tours de France, and the brand’s premiere road racing bike, the Dogma, is the basis for its premiere gravel racing bike. Once you get a feel for its aggressive posture, the Grevil really delivers. I know from experience, as it’s the bike I rode in my first gravel race, last year’s SBT GRVL.
To my surprise, I pretty much zoomed through the 60-mile course, steadily climbing uphill, cantering downhill and basically bombing the most technical section, a rocky stretch called Cow Creek. In the end, my only regret was not opting for a longer distance.
Two downsides: If you mountain bike, the thumb lever is counterintuitive, because it sits in a similar place to the lever used to hit easier gears on MTBs. And I had to take the Grevil to the shop twice for brake-responsiveness issues. Still, if you have a little patience with this Italian off-road machine, it will quickly become your new favorite race bike. — Steve Mazzucchi