Gravel bikes exploded into the cycling scene in recent years.
They’re designed to take you to roads you wouldn’t go with road bikes while offering similar aerodynamics and speed as road bikes.
In short, gravel bikes are designed to be ridden on rough roads at speed. It sits in between a road and mountain bike.
While gravel bikes are still quite new, their popularity is growing at an exceptional rate. Many cyclists are now jumping on the gravel bike bandwagon and I’m sure you’d be interested to know which are the best gravel bikes.
A Quick Glance : Our Favorite Top-Tiered Gravel Bikes
|Bike Model||Groupset||Tire Size||Weight|
|Santa Cruz Stigmata||SRAM Force eTap AXS||700 x 45c||7.8 kg / 17.2 lbs|
|Trek Checkpoint SL7||SRAM Force eTap AXS||700 x 40c||9.1 kg / 20.1 lbs|
|Cervelo Aspero||SRAM Force eTap AXS||650b x 47c||8.3 kg / 18.3 lbs|
|S-Works Diverge||SRAM Red eTap AXS||700 x 42c||8.5 kg / 18.7 lbs|
|Cannondale Topstone||SRAM Force eTap AXS||700 x 37c||8.7 kg / 19.3 lbs|
|Pinarello Grevil||SRAM Force eTap AXS||650b x 47c||8.8 kg / 19.4 lbs|
|Giant Revolt||SRAM Force eTap AXS||700 x 40c||8.2 kg / 17.1 lbs|
|Norco Search XR||Shimano GRX||700 x 42c||8.7 kg / 19.2 lbs|
|Bombtrack Hook||SRAM Rival||650b x 2.1"||9.6 kg / 21.2 lbs|
|3T Exploro||SRAM Force eTap AXS||650b x 2.0"||8.1 kg / 17.8 lbs|
What to Expect in A Top of the Line Gravel Bike
Top of the line components, wheelsets, and lightweight carbon frames are what you can expect to find with a high-end gravel bike.
That said, there is some variation to consider here. While some gravel bikes are designed to be highly versatile, others are focused on maximizing performance for racing.
Let’s take a look at the 8 things you can expect from a top of the line gravel bike.
1. Spectrum of Gravel Bikes
Not all gravel bikes are the same.
It’s best to consider gravel bikes on a spectrum somewhere between road bikes and mountain bikes. Imagine to the far left, you have road bikes, to the far right you have mountain bikes. And somewhere in the middle are your gravel bikes.
Gravel bikes such as the 3T Exploro sits closer to the left with its aerodynamic bike frame that closely resembles a road bike.
Meanwhile, bikes such as the Cannondale Topstone, S-Works Diverge, and Bombtrack Hook EXT-C sit closer to the right with their various mountain bike-like features such as rear-seat stay suspension, steerer tube suspension, and a bike frame that can take up to 2.1″ mountain bike tires.
Which you buy depends on the type of terrain you plan on tackling.
Tarmac and smooth gravel suit gravel bikes that are the road bike end of the spectrum, while single track and uneven terrain are better suited for gravel bikes on the mountain bike end of the spectrum.
2. Frame Geometry
One glance at a gravel bike and it’s clear that the frame geometry most closely resembles that of a road bike. You might even ask yourself, isn’t this just a road bike with fatter tires and different gearing?
The differences may be subtle to the eye, but they’re significant to how the bike rides. All the differences are geared toward improving stability for off-road riding.
Generally, gravel bikes have a longer wheelbase, higher bottom bracket drop, a longer chainstay length and lower bottom bracket height when compared to a road bike.
While this makes the bike less nimble, it adds stability by lowering the center of gravity, which is critical for riding on loose and uneven terrains.
Read More :
3. Carbon Frame and Fork
Carbon represents the lightest and stiffest material you can use to build a bike. This translates to weight savings and performance.
It’s important to note that each bike manufacturer uses different terms for the type of carbon they use. For example,
- Trek – 500 Series OCLV Carbon
- Cannondale – BallisTec Carbon
- Specialized – FACT 12r, 11r, 10r, 9r, 8r Carbon
Most gravel bike manufacturers have one version of their carbon frame and spec the bike using different types of components to cater to various price points.
For example, the Cannondale Topstone with SRAM Force eTap AXS uses the same bike frame as its Shimano 105 sibling.
The only exception is Specialized where lower-end models not only use cheaper components but also lower grade carbon. For example, the S-Works Diverge uses a FACT 11r carbon as compared to a Specialized Sport Diverge which uses a FACT 8r carbon.
The main difference between a high and low end graded carbon is stiffness and weight.
4. 1X Chainring with up to 50T Cassettes
As with most mountain bikes at around $2,000 price point, gravel bikes have almost universally moved to 1x drivetrains.
1x drivetrains eliminate the front derailleur.
For gravel bikes, the front derailleur shifts are typically awkward to execute on off-road terrain. Also, by eliminating the need for a front derailleur there’s one less piece of machinery to maintain on the bike, a real advantage when taking on muddy off-road terrain that can be hard on a bike’s components.
SRAM has long been the leader when it comes to 1x drivetrains. Most top-end gravel bikes’ drivetrains feature either the 12 speed SRAM Red eTap AXS or Force eTap AXS drivetrain.
Cassettes on these 1x drivetrains typically range from 11-34T and can go all the way up to 10-52T, with front chainring sizes ranging from 38T to 42T.
Read More :
5. Hydraulic Disc Brakes
Due to the fact that gravel bikes are designed for off-road terrain, expect to find disc brakes on all gravel bikes. Furthermore, all high-end bikes will feature better performing hydraulic disc brakes over mechanical disc brakes.
In order to fit the sleeker carbon bike frames, these hydraulic brakes will be flat-mount. Rotor sizes range from 160mm for front and back wheels to 160mm for front and 140mm for the back.
Why the larger rotors in the front?
That’s because the weight on the bike is transferred forward during braking, thus requiring more stopping power at the front.
6. Wide Tires
One notable difference you’ll see between road bikes and gravel bikes is the tire size.
While most wheels follow the standard 700c wheel size, tires are notably wider on gravel bikes, ranging from 32c all the way up to 40c.
The reason for this is fairly obvious. Riding on gravel terrain requires heftier tires.
For example, both the Cervelo Aspero and Pinarello Grevil are fitted with 47c tires. These bigger gravel bike tires offer better traction and more shock absorption since they can run on much lower tire pressures.
Standard 700c wheels, in comparison, offer better rollover and less rolling resistance.
Regardless of which wheel size you choose, you’ll find mainly tubeless tires. Tubeless tires offer several benefits. With no tube, you don’t have to worry about pinch flats. And, when coupled with a sealant, tubeless tires are virtually impossible to flat.
Tubeless tires can also be run at very low tire pressure, allowing you to adjust tire pressure to suit the riding conditions.
Read More :
7. Weighs Between 8 to 10 kg
As you might expect, a top-end gravel bike is heavier than top-end road bikes but lighter than top-end mountain bikes.
This is due to a mix of lightweight frames with heftier and therefore heavier components and wheelsets that can handle off-road terrain.
However, unlike mountain bikes, gravel bikes don’t need suspension systems, which add weight.
Our Favorite Gravel Bikes
Santa Cruz Stigmata
Amazing Versatility Across Gravel, Trails and Tarmac
Santa Cruz’s Stigmata gives you a lot of options on a carbon frame with an impressive set of components. In addition to being very lightweight, the Stigmata also features the SRAM Force eTap AXS 12 speed.
SRAM Rival, Shimano GRX, and SRAM Eagle AXS are also available as an option.
Other high-end features include internally routed hydraulic disk brakes and thru-axles. But what is also to love about the Santa Cruz Stigmata is its versatility.
The frame has clearance for gravel tires up to 700 x 45c or a 650b x 2.1” tire. With that kind of clearance, the Santa Cruz Stigmata is singletrack capable.
And that’s not all. The frame is fitted with three bottle cage mounts as well as fender mounts, illustrating its effort to serve a wide range of purposes.
Trek Checkpoint SL7
Massive 50T Gearing for the Steepest Climbs
The Checkpoint SL7 is Trek’s top of the line gravel bike. It features the 500 series OCLV carbon frame which has the ideal balance between lightweight, strength, and stiffness.
You’ll start to appreciate the technology and effort put into developing this bike when you start looking at the finer details. The frame includes Trek’s proprietary IsoSpeed decoupling technology on the seat post to provide maximum comfort over bumpy terrains. The Carbon Armor, which is a tough piece of polymer attached to the underside of the seat tube to protect your frame.
It also includes Trek’s Stranglehold dropout, which allows you to convert the bike to a single speed or adjust the chainstay length to fit your riding style.
The Trek Checkpoint comes equipped with Bontrager’s GR1 700 x 40c tires and Bontrager’s Aeolus carbon wheelset which carries a lifetime warranty.
Look No Further If You're After An Aero Gravel Bike
It makes sense that Cervelo, known for its high-end road racing bikes, would create a race-focused set up with its debut gravel bike.
The Cervelo Aspero is all about speed. Its super-stiff frame provides excellent power transfer while its tires remain thin enough for fast rolling. The Cervelo Aspero is fitted with a 1×12 SRAM Force eTap AXS drivetrain with a rear cassette that is built more for speed than climbing with a 10-33T range.
Whereas the geometry on other gravel bikes is more relaxed to facilitate a wide variety of off-road riding, the Cervelo Aspero is firmly rooted in road racing with a more aggressive headtube angle and shorter wheelbase for more nimble handling. Of course, the trade-off for all this speed is a bike that is a little less forgiving on uneven terrain.
The Cervelo Aspero is designed more for dirt tracks and packed gravel. It also doesn’t have the mounts for fenders, additional bottle cages, or racks, making it less versatile than other gravel bikes.
A Diverse Gravel Bike for All Your Gravel Adventure Needs
A better name for the S-Works Diverge might have been diverse because that’s exactly what this bike is. It has clearance for tires up to 700 x 42c or 650b x 47c, meaning it’s ready to handle everything from paved surfaces to flowy singletrack.
Into gravel racing?
The S-Works Diverge has you covered with a frame weight that, at less than 900g, rivals the lightest road bikes, and a full SRAM Red AXS eTAP groupset with hydraulic shift levers.
Planning a weekend of bikepacking?
Want to hit some single track? The S-Works Diverge features plenty of tire clearance for bigger tires and Specialized’s Future Shock technology, which provides shock absorption through up to 20mm of travel in the wheel axles.
Go Harder on the Trails with the Kingpin Rear Suspension
Cannondale has long been known for designing bikes with an excellent ride feel. And that’s exactly what Cannondale has done with its Topstone Carbon gravel bike, which features its proprietary Kingpin technology.
Kingpin is a thru-axle pivot that joins the seat tube and seat stay. The flexible joint acts as a shock absorber, providing up to 30mm of travel at the bike saddle. Kingpin works with what Cannondale calls flex zones in the frame that provides additional shock absorption.
In fact, Cannondale has shaped each tube on the frame to provide different levels of stiffness and compliance. The Cannondale Topstone is equipped with the SRAM Force eTap AXS, a 1×12 speed groupset.
A True Italian Beauty for the Roads Less Traveled
You know gravel bikes aren’t just a passing fad if the highly regarded Italian bike manufacturer Pinarello is getting in on it. And that’s exactly what it’s doing with the debut of its first-ever gravel bike, the Pinarello Grevil.
The Pinarello Grevil represents the company’s first foray into off-road cycling. Pinarello uses the technology behind its Dogma road racing bike to create a super-fast aero gravel bike that is fast on and off-road.
It’s fitted with 650b wheels and 47c Vittoria Terreno Zero gravel tires. Pinarello also tweaks the geometry on this bike, making the reach shorter and the stack higher for better stability over uneven terrain, and a wider fork for fatter tires.
Unwilling to compromise handling, Pinarello has kept the wheelbase very close to its road bikes, making the Pinarello Grevil a very aggressive gravel bike.
Giant Revolt Advanced Pro
A High Performance, All Rounder Gravel Bike
Giant has one thing in mind with the Giant Revolt Advanced Pro; winning races.
From top to bottom, this bike is designed for maximum performance. It accomplishes this through advanced road dampening features and high performing wheels and components.
Giant’s shock-absorbing technology is on full display here. This bike incorporates Giant’s Advanced composite carbon for road dampening. Giant’s D-Fuse seatpost adds comfort to the saddle while its Contact XR D-Fuse handlebar saves your hands and arms from shocks and vibrations.
A large frame clearance allows for tires up to a whopping 45c for even more shock absorption on the Giant Revolt Advanced Pro. Add to that aerodynamic wheels and SRAM Force eTap AXS groupset and you have a fully race-ready bike.
Norco Search XR
High End Gravel Bike at Mid-Tiered Price Levels
Canada-based Norco is well known for its mountain bikes. The Norco Search XR C2, like many of the other gravel bikes on this list, is designed with a do-it-all mentality.
Numerous mounts for racks, water bottle cages, and fenders make this a great option for commuting and bikepacking. Curved oval-shaped chainstays give the frame some built-in bounced for shock absorption.
And, with enough clearance for 42c tires, a dropped crossbar, and an X-Fusion dropper post, the Search XR C2 is also an excellent bike for cross-country mountain biking.
The Norco XR C2 is fitted with Shimano’s new GRX gravel-specific groupset from drivetrain to hydraulic disc brakes. Perhaps one of the nicest features of the XR C2 is its price tag. You get a carbon frame, high-end components and some nice add ons like the dropper post for less than $4,000.
Bombtrack Hook EXT-C
The Gravel Bike That Brings You to Wherever You Want to
Bombtrack is a small German company that produces mainly mountain and cyclocross bikes with a few road bikes.
One of the first things you’ll notice about the Bomtrack Hook EXT-C is the 650b tires, which at a whopping 2.1” wide are mountain bike-sized. This means you can pretty much ride wherever you want to on this bike, on single tracks, over obstacles, with all of that extra tire volume absorbing shocks.
And while you may compromise speed, this gives the Bomtrack Hook EXT-C amazing versatility, especially with its 1×11 SRAM Rival drivetrain. Speaking of versatility, the Hook EXT-C’s frame is riddled with mounts for bottle cages, fenders, and racks, also making it an excellent option for bikepacking adventures.
The World's First Aero Gravel Bike
Companies like 3T continue pushing the envelope when it comes to what a gravel bike really is.
If you think of a gravel bike as falling somewhere on a continuum with road bikes being to the extreme left and mountain bikes being to the extreme right, the 3T Exploro, as the first aero gravel bike, would be a pretty left-wing gravel bike.
3T knows that even though gravel bikes don’t go as fast as road bikes, they’re still subject to the same crushing head and crosswinds. With its aero geometry, this bike is fast, perhaps the fastest gravel bike out there.
Don’t be fooled though, the 3T Exploro is a gravel bike. That much is obvious in its frame, which allows clearance for tires up to 2″ wide for the roughest off-road tracks you can find,