Best Gravel Bikes for Your Adventures on Two Wheels

Last updated: April 07, 2020
BEST OVERALL
High-Performance, Versatile and Comfortable
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BEST BUDGET
Lightweight, Durable and Affordable
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BEST FOR MEN
Speedy, Progressive, Balanced and Comfortable
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BEST FOR WOMEN
Lightweight, Nimble, Versatile and Efficient
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BEST FOR KIDS
All-Purpose, Lightweight and Responsive
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Your guide

When it comes to selecting the best gravel bike for yourself, a host of factors will influence your buying decision. These include aspects such as riding aspiration, riding style, color/brand preferences and budget.

This buying guide has been compiled using our years of experience in gravel riding and hours of research and test rides to choose top-quality bikes that score high on factors such as build and ride quality, tech spec, performance, comfort, price and value.

The guide will be periodically updated as we continue to test upgrades and new launches to find better alternatives to our featured models.

Top 5 Gravel Bikes

Your adventures on two wheels may not always be driven by an agenda. Sometimes, you may just want to go where the journey leads you, and that could mean riding past variable terrain to explore the unknown and unseen.

riding a bike off road

If you are looking for a bike that’s more than a pure tarmac machine and that’s capable enough to adapt to mixed terrain (read pavement, backcountry roads, forest service roads, fire trails, bridleways, mellow singletracks, dirt, gravel etc.), an all-encompassing, all-conquering do-it-all gravel bike is the right choice for you.

By blurring the distinction between an endurance road bike and a cyclocross bike, a multifaceted gravel bike manages to find a sweet spot between the two to offer you the best of both worlds. A relaxed geometry, drop handlebars, fatter and knobbier tires, wider tire clearance, disc brakes and mounts for carrying accessories and water are a few of the features that you can expect as standard in this category of bikes.

Although “gravel” is a relatively new buzzword in the world of bicycles, there is no shortage of options when it comes to one’s choice of brands, models, features, price point etc. in this rapidly growing segment of bikes. As someone with little or no understanding of how to differentiate one gravel bike from the other, it can be overwhelming for you to choose the best fit.

Thankfully, you don’t have to spend hours reading scores of reviews and sifting through numerous sites to determine the right pick for you. We have done the tough job of analyzing and test riding a host of bike models to put together a handy buying guide that will enable you to make an informed choice when purchasing a gravel bike online or in-store.

Keen to unveil our pick of the 5 best gravel bikes that are worth spending your hard-earned money on? Read on to find out which ones made it to our cherry-picked list.

1. Best Overall - Topstone Carbon 105

Specifications:

  • Weight: 20.9lbs
  • Wheel Size: 700c
  • Tire Width: 37mm
  • Frame Material: BallisTec carbon

Key Features:

  • Upgraded geometry with refined rider position for stable, comfortable rides
  • Proportional Response size-specific construction for a superior overall ride-feel
  • Revolutionary, super-light Kingpin Suspension System for better control and traction
  • 30mm of travel without the weight or complexity of a linkage system or shock

Cannondale Topstone Carbon 105 Review

Securing the top position in our category of “Best Overall” is Cannondale’s carbon alternative of the Topstone 105 – Topstone Carbon 105. Cannondale claims the Topstone Carbon to be “the most off-road capable and on-road comfortable bike ever made” and we think this gravel bike with real suspension has enough going for it to live up to this distinction.

Designed for exceptional riding comfort on ordinary terrain while retaining the fun factor when veering off the path commonly traveled, this purpose-built machine has an incredibly light and robust Kingpin Suspension System at its core to ensure improved comfort, control and traction with up to 30mm of suspension.

The cutting-edge technology is further bolstered with Proportional Response construction for rendering the perfect suspension response and ideal frame stiffness based on size.

The geometry is refined and more forgiving than that of a traditional road bike – not surprising considering that the Topstone Carbon 105 has been built to cope with a wide range of surfaces, including gravel roads and low-impact trails.

An OutFront steering geometry is utilized to keep the steering light and agile, and the wheel is positioned further in front of the rider for enhanced stability on rougher trails.

Cannondale has also done a good job of balancing an upright rider position with a low and forward profile to ensure long-distance comfort, better vision when commuting and better control for technical off-road riding – all without the rider losing that spark.

Drawing inspiration from the mountain bike industry, this off-road capable bike comes dropper-ready and can accept an internally routed 27.2 dropper seatpost. It is also fully fender ready with a removable fender bridge for mess-free rides when the weather plays truant.

Bump and road vibration absorption are impressive, thanks to big 700 x 37c WTB tubeless-ready tires that are grippy enough to tackle a variety of surfaces. The use of disc brakes facilitates greater modulation and leaves enough room to accommodate even wider tires of up to 40mm for maximized fun and manageability when hitting the trails or dirt roads.

Coming to the componentry, the Shimano 105 drivetrain, Shimano 105 hydraulic disc brakes and a Cannondale 1 crankset are welcome additions. An easy-to-set-up, hyper-accurate, integrated Cannondale Wheel Sensor is a major highlight.

It automatically starts recording rides when it senses movement and keeps you informed of various details pertaining to your ride activity. And it also issues automatic service reminders through the free Cannondale App – quite a novelty.

Lastly, if storage is a key consideration, expect plenty of places to store essential riding gear such as water bottles, racks, fenders and sleeping pads by way of a multi-position mount on the downtube, and more on the top tube, seat tube, under the down tube and on the forks.

At $2,750, the Cannondale Topstone Carbon 105 is not a budget model. Neither is it your best bet for intense racing endeavors. Then again, it doesn’t claim to be any of those anyways.

It is what you need for your varied cycling pursuits – a true all-rounder that packs in ample versatility and performance to help you excel both on the road and off it.

Pros
  • Versatile road bike that is also off-road capable
  • Considerable clearance with room for up to 40mm tires
  • Dropper-ready and compatible with most thru-axle wheelsets
  • Integrated Cannondale App connectivity for accurate tracking of ride activity
  • Equipped with mounts for storage of gear and water
  • Lifetime frame warranty
Cons
  • Competitively priced but not cheap
  • Not the lightest model out there

2. Best Budget - Trek Checkpoint AL 3

Specifications:

  • Weight: 23.15lbs
  • Wheel Size: 700c
  • Tire Width: 32mm
  • Frame Material: 200 Series Alpha Aluminum

Key Features:

  • 200 Series Alpha Aluminum frame for maximum strength and minimum weight
  • All-new Flat Mount disc brakes for superior stopping power under harsh conditions
  • Lightweight carbon fork for absorption of road vibration
  • Blendr-compatible stem for clean and easy installation of bike accessories

Trek Checkpoint AL 3 Review

Looking to combine your everyday commutes with escapes beyond the paved roads, but don’t fancy spending a fortune to uncover your potential for a real adventure? Suit yourself with the Checkpoint AL 3 – Trek’s introductory gravel bike that strikes the right balance between affordability and performance.

Priced at $1,199.99, the Checkpoint AL 3 is one of the best gravel bikes under $1,500, and, despite being an entry-level gravel bike, it performs well as an all-road adventure rig that is well-suited to the riding needs of new and experienced gravel grinders alike.

If you thought that buying a cheap gravel bike meant compromising on comfort, versatility or performance, you are in for a surprise.

Trek manages to bundle in a host of adventure-ready features in its affordably priced gravel bike to offer you reliable performance that will comfortably see you through from the pavement to the rugged terrain. Weekday workhorse or casual weekend adventurer – this versatile bike can double as both.

Available in three sophisticated colors, Trek’s gravel offering is quite the looker with its stylish 200 Series Alpha Aluminum frame. The aesthetically designed build includes a Blendr-compatible stem that lets you clip your desired bike accessories directly to the stem for clean looks.

The cables are protected using Control Freak – touted to be the lightest, quietest and most versatile cable management system – to enable internal routing for an easily customizable set-up and clean aesthetics.

Discreet mounts accept full-coverage fenders for dependable protection of your cycle’s moving parts in wet and muddy conditions, without affecting the aesthetics of your bike.

A comfortable and stable geometry is supported with a 2×9 Shimano Sora drivetrain, a Bontrager saddle, 700×32 Bontrager R1 Hard-Case Lite tires and tubeless-ready wheels. The all-weather stopping power of Tektro mechanical flat-mount disc brakes further up your confidence to ride in inclement weather.

For a bike designed for rugged all-road rides, we weren’t impressed much by the narrow 32mm tires. That said, the provision of additional clearance does leave room for accommodating wider tires of up to 38c.

The cleverly placed mounts on the seat tube and both sides of the down tube did win brownie points from us for their utility in stashing racks, cages, mudguards, bottles etc. for bikepacking trips and overnight stays.

The Checkpoint AL 3’s DuoTrap S compatibility is also impressive. It lets you seamlessly integrate a Bluetooth/ANT+ sensor into the frame for measuring speed, distance and cadence on your comp or device.

With a weight of 23.15lbs, Trek’s gravel offering is undoubtedly a relatively heavy build. But we appreciate how the high-performance road alloy has been cleverly configured into sophisticated tube shapes to maximize strength without the bulk.

All in all, if you seek the no-holds-barred kind of adventure and fun that gravel riding is capable of offering and fancy a dependable budget bike to help you explore uncharted territories, you can trust the Checkpoint AL 3 to take you just about anywhere and also leave you with enough cash for post-adventure fun.

Pros
  • Lightweight and budget-friendly
  • Suited to a variety of ride styles
  • Designed for riding in all-weather conditions
  • Massive tire clearance for extra traction and stability
  • Equipped with rack mounts and hidden fender mounts
Cons
  • Tires are relatively narrow for off-road cycling pursuits
  • May come across as a bit heavy to weight-conscious riders

3. Best for Men - Diverge Comp

Specifications:

  • Weight: Over 20lbs
  • Wheel Size: 700c
  • Tire Width: 38mm
  • Frame Material: Specialized FACT 9r carbon

Key Features:

  • Fast and stable Open Road Geometry for reliable on-road and off-road performance
  • Progressively-tuned Future Shock technology for excellent road harshness isolation and predictive handling
  • 20mm of suspension for added comfort at the front end plus preservation of forward momentum
  • Ample clearance with room to accommodate wider 700 x 42mm or 650b x 47mm tires

Specialized Diverge Comp Review

Do you aim to ride without being intimidated by a particular type of terrain? Are shockingly fast, seriously fun rides on tarmac, thick gravel and trails your kind of adventure on two wheels?

Discover a capable exploration machine in the Specialized Diverge Comp – built for riders who aspire high-speed, all-day rides on routes less traveled.

Regular roads, flowy singletracks, gravel or dirt – trust our best gravel bike for men to shred them all with equal authority. Push your limits with the Diverge Comp and unlock hitherto unknown adventure possibilities on a drop-bar bike that enables you to conquer terrain that you only dreamt of attacking someday.

With the Diverge Comp, the adventure truly begins where the pavement ends. Expect smooth, fast, comfortable and confident rides, plus efficient power transfer and precise handling on and off the pavement – made possible with Specialized’s Future Shock technology.

The innovative suspension system not only soaks up bumps with ease but also keeps nasty surprises at bay with extremely predictive handling, even during aggressive cornering.

The riding experience is taken up by a notch with a special treatment that emphasizes a progressive, supporting spring over damping to smooth out road chatter without any adverse impact on the bike’s ride quality or performance.

As true of this category of bikes, the Diverge Comp’s Open Road geometry is fast and stable and designed to inspire you to dip your toes into the grit with confidence. An upright, relaxed riding position is balanced with playful handling and predictable steering for efficient rides on a range of surfaces.

Thoughtful refinements (read a slacked-out head tube angle, a shorter wheelbase, shortened chainstays and a bottom bracket that’s over a half-centimeter lower than the previous iteration) make the Diverge Comp a true riding partner on any terrain – paved or unpaved.

Specialized has ably spec’d its speedy gravel grinder with own-brand components as well as quality parts from other brands.

The tech spec features the likes of a Shimano Ultegra 11-speed group, a Praxis Zayante crankset, Pathfinder Pro 2Bliss Ready tires, smooth and sturdy DT R470 Disc wheels, Shimano Ultegra 8070 flat-mount disc brakes, a Body Geometry Power Comp saddle and Specialized Dirt pedals.

Moving to the bike’s build, the exterior is Specialized’s ever-popular FACT 9r carbon frame, which is equipped with the revolutionary Future Shock front suspension system that delivers 20mm of travel without any degradation in speed, handling or comfort.

The paint job is contemporary and the frame weight, although a tad bit heavier than some of the other models we reviewed, is still in sync with that of today’s road bikes.

Braking and steering efficiency is maintained with twin thru-axles and three water bottle mounts, extra mounts for racks/fenders and Specialized’s Road SWAT kit make sure that you are not short on essential gear for your daily commutes and weekend adventures.

At its current price of $3,750, the Specialized Diverge Comp is expensive, primarily because of the FACT carbon frameset and fork and the advanced suspension system that drive the cost up.

The Giant Revolt Advanced 2, our next best choice in men’s gravel bike, is worth considering if you are unwilling to stretch your budget beyond $2,500.

What you will forego though in the process is the Diverge Comp’s impressive front suspension, which is undoubtedly a damper if the rugged terrain beckons you more than smooth tarmac and you want to go beyond the pavement, even if you are unsure of where the adventure is headed.

Pros
  • Revolutionary design with adventure-focused features and technology
  • Compliant, comfort-led, all-surface, pedal-powered rides
  • Impeccable braking performance and all-weather stopping power in diverse terrain
  • Front shock absorption for increased speed and control
  • No under-steer or sloppy handling while tackling dirt skids and mid-corner drifts
  • Provision of multiple mounts for carrying water bottles, racks and fenders
Cons
  • Relatively heavy
  • Expensive

4. Best for Women - WMN CF SL 7.0

Specifications:

  • Weight: 19.62lbs
  • Wheel Size: 27.5 or 28 inches
  • Tire Width: 40mm
  • Frame Material: Carbon

Key Features:

  • Lightweight carbon frame and fork
  • Latest-generation Shimano 105 groupset with optimized ergonomics
  • Premium DT Swiss wheels wrapped in Schwalbe gravel tires
  • Selle Italia X1 Lady Flow female-specific saddle with Friction Free technology

Canyon Grail WMN CF SL 7.0 Review

Today, buying a women’s bike no longer means settling for the “next best option to a unisex bike” or purchasing one influenced by stereotypes of the female gender (e.g. smaller frames and so-called “women-specific colors”).

With more and more bike manufacturers increasingly emphasizing gender-specific geometry for female riders, you now have the advantage of bikes specially tailored for women’s body sizes and proportions (note: you may still find a unisex model to be your best fit).

After testing several makes and models, we found the Canyon Grail WMN CF SL 7.0 to be the best gravel bike for women. So, what makes this carbon gravel bike a top performer in the category of “Best Women’s Bikes”?

To begin with, we were impressed by how various aspects of this bike have been uniquely optimized for the average female body’s typical physical attributes such as a lower body mass, a shorter torso and proportionally longer legs.

Canyon claims the Grail to be the “perfect partner for female riders” and we think it has hit a home run with lighter frames equipped with correctly proportioned wheels and handlebars, a women-focused saddle, a Shimano 105 groupset with optimized ergonomics for riders with smaller hands and more size options across small and medium.

What this implies for women cyclists is long-haul comfort that is achieved with a superior fit, improved handling and better control.

The Grail’s vibration-damping properties are reliable, and, coupled with balanced handling, they render smooth, stable rides for multi-terrain adventures. The women’s specific cockpit dimensions and touchpoints are efforts taken in the right direction to make female riders feel confident enough to explore what’s beyond the pavement.

Regardless of whether you are new to the gravel scene or claim to have put on several miles on dirt roads and broken surfaces, expect a new dimension to your daily gravel grind, winter explorations and backpacking holidays with fast, lively and responsive rides.

Durability, modest weight, stiffness, stability or a broad gear range – no matter what you seek from your riding machine, this women’s version of the Grail CF SL 7.0 delivers.

The Grail comes with a lightweight carbon frame, which is backed up with a carbon fork. It is designed with a pro gravel geometry that boosts comfort and efficiency alike – noticeable both on the road and off it.

The component set has ample going for it by way of the latest generation Shimano 105 groupset, a gravel-specific premium DT Swiss wheelset and a comfort-led Selle Italia X1 Lady Flow women’s saddle that weighs less than 300g.

Canyon has done well to offer a specially developed 650B version of the DT Swiss wheelset for its 2XS and XS frame sizes – targeted at women riders with lower body masses (40-70kg).

Powerful hydraulic disc brakes challenge you to undertake any off-road adventure while the grip is ensured on loose surfaces with Schwalbe G-One Bite 40mm Tubeless Easy gravel tires that combine low rolling resistance with incredible traction.

The Canyon Grail WMN CF SL 7.0 is currently on offer for $2,299, which is a markdown of $200 on the regular price. While it is still not the most pocket-friendly option out there, it is definitely a good investment for its high-quality spec, dependable performance, superior comfort factor and great looks.

Final verdict? If mixed-terrain riding is your ultimate goal and you seek a multifaceted women’s adventure road bike to conquer tarmac, gravel tracks, forest roads and the like and have fun doing that, you are more than likely to find your ideal companion in Canyon’s gravel offering for women.

Pros
  • Women-specific geometry for the utmost comfort of female riders
  • Broad gear range for fast rides on tarmac and confident tackling of steep off-road climbs
  • Superior vibration-damping properties
  • No-hassle assembly
  • 6-year warranty
Cons
  • Relatively expensive

5. Best for Kids - Giant TCX Espoir 24

Specifications:

  • Frame: ALUXX aluminum
  • Wheel Size: 24 inches
  • Crankset: Prowheel Burner
  • Shifters: Microshift SB-R842 internal cable

Key Features:

  • Lightweight ALUXX-Grade aluminum frame
  • Youth-specific compact geometry
  • Low stand-over height and short-reach handlebars
  • Special drivetrain with a wide range of gears

Giant TCX Espoir 24 Review

If you are looking for a fun way to introduce the youngest member of your family to the world of adventure, an assured pick awaits you in the Giant TCX Espoir 24 – the bike we loved the most in the category of “Best Gravel Bikes for Kids”.

Although a cyclocross bike, this children’s bike isn’t at its limit when it comes to the way it can be ridden or even the type of terrain that it can roll over, which includes gravel.

Thanks to a lightweight but durable ALUXX-grade aluminum frame that delivers a responsive ride quality, the TCX Espoir feels as competent for your kiddo’s gravel adventures and uphill climbs as it does for your junior’s first attempt at a cyclocross race.

Make your child’s growing years more fun for him or her with the sort of freewheeling rides that appeal to his or her innate sense of freedom. Watch your aspiring junior cyclist take on road, dirt and everything in between with the utmost comfort, speed and confidence that you can possibly imagine with a kids’ bike with drop bars.

Giant’s TCX Espoir comes equipped with a robust youth-specific compact geometry to help build confidence in young riders by putting them in control of their rides on two wheels.

The design features a low stand-over height to encourage young riders to ride fast and have fun, simultaneously making the mundane activity of hopping on and off the bike a breeze for the juniors.

Short-reach handlebars are thoughtful additions for deft handling and a special drivetrain with a broad range of gears combats fatigue and promotes added comfort when the going gets rough and bumpy for the young rider. A comfy saddle further ensures the biking experience remains enjoyable for the pint-sized rider, even after long hours in the saddle.

As for traction and control, wide knobby tires and powerful disc brakes are in use to ensure your adventure-loving child does not feel rattled or tired when attempting to corner, climb or accelerate and is equally at home riding smooth roads, dirt or challenging terrain.

This aspect of the Espoir further ups its versatility and makes this all-purpose vehicle a reliable first road bike for a budding cyclist.

The Giant TCX Espoir 24 is priced at $700 and there is also a 2020 model with 26-inch wheels that costs an extra $30. Sure enough, the TCX Espoir is not your cheapest option in this genre of bikes, especially with the likes of FROG Cycles, Trek and Specialized offering budget models under $500.

However, what you get to benefit from this mid-range bike is a very competent companion for your growing rider’s transition from a balance bike to a capable, versatile offering that is as good for cyclocross races as it is for backroad adventures, gravel rides, uphill climbs and more.

Pros
  • Versatile youth bike for racing and riding
  • Powerful disc brakes for reliable performance in all weather conditions
  • Fast, confident, fun rides on a variety of surfaces
  • Comfortable saddle for young riders
Cons
  • Not the cheapest option in this genre of bike
  • Complex triple chainring

Gravel Bikes: Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Difference Between a Cyclocross Bike and a Gravel Bike?

Despite many commonalities, subtle differences exist between a cyclocross bike and a gravel bike.

A gravel bike is meant for variable terrain riding. So, it emphasizes features that promote comfort and stability for long hours in the saddle. A cyclocross bike is built for short, intense racing around short cyclocross courses. Thus, it is optimized for greater ground clearance to tackle obstacles.

Unlike a cyclocross bike that features a more aggressive geometry to complement its racing profile, a gravel bike sports a more relaxed geometry to facilitate adventures on varied surfaces. This also means that a gravel bike forgoes the higher bottom bracket of a mud-ready cross bike and embraces a lower bottom bracket to offer a more road-like feel. There is a difference in the ride quality as well with a gravel grinder feeling nimbler on the road than its more purpose-specific racier alternative.

It is also worth noting that a cross bike tends to have a narrower gear range and a shorter wheelbase as compared to its gravel brethren. Furthermore, although both the bikes exploit large tires, a cross bike is limited to a tire width of 33mm, as mandated by UCI regulations, which does not hold true for a gravel grinder.

Lastly, because a cross bike is designed for short-distance racing, most models have few or no mounts and eyelets for extra water and gear as opposed to a gravel bike that comes with an array of mudguard eyelets, along with cages and mounts for water bottles and pannier racks.

What Are Gravel Bikes Good For?

Gravel bikes are good for multiple cycling pursuits. Although they do not boast the off-road capabilities of an MTB or the speed of a road bike on tarmac, they are versatile enough to adapt themselves to different riding styles on a broad range of surfaces.

Their versatility and adaptability make them great do-it-all bikes that can complement diverse riding needs such as daily commuting, light touring, gravel riding, winter training and bikepacking.

Are Gravel Bikes Good on the Road?

Yes, gravel bikes are good on the road because they are built for riding on mixed terrain. And because they are designed for long-distance comfort, they are suitable for diverse on-road adventures such as daily commutes, recreational rides and long tours.

Can I Take My Road Bike on Gravel?

Yes, you can take your road bike on gravel. That said, the level of ride quality and handling will not be comparable to that of a gravel grinder. Also, your bike will be prone to flats as skinny road tires are not capable of handling loose gravel well.

Best Gravel Bikes for Your Adventures on Two Wheels — Bike Hacks