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BEST GRAVEL BIKES OF 2019

Rock bicycles—otherwise called experience or all-street bicycles—are worked to deal with territory going from timberland administration streets to asphalt, soil, and even smooth singletrack. Basically, they are more proficient than street bicycles yet more effective than off-road bicycles, progressing pleasantly from every day drives to end of the week undertakings. While the meaning of these soil centered models still is questionable, they share a couple of key structure highlights including an increasingly upstanding seating position for included solace over long separations, high-volume tires to help smooth out harsh streets, and different mounting focuses for additional water and apparatus. From driving spending choices to go beating carbon rigs, underneath are the top rock processors of 2019. For more foundation data, see our rock bicycle examination table and purchasing counsel underneath the picks.

Best Overall Gravel Bike
1. Cannondale Topstone 105 ($1,900)
Frame: Aluminum
Gears: 2 x 11
Tires: 700c x 37mm
Brakes: Hydraulic disc
What we like: Quality components and impressive versatility at a good price.
What we don’t: A bit heavy for weight-conscious riders.

We'll begin by saying that we didn't envision our top rock bicycle pick being an aluminum-outline rig, yet the Cannondale Topstone 105's adaptability, keen form, and focused sticker price prevailed upon us. As far as plan, the Topstone highlights a Shimano 105 drivetrain complete with pressure driven plate brakes, demonstrated WTB Riddler 37-millimeter tires and properly wide wheels, and the bicycle absorbs knocks stunningly well. The wonderful finish: the Topstone figures out how to undermine a significant part of the challenge in cost at a sensible $1,900. From weekend rock rides to every day drives, the Cannondale Topstone is a phenomenal alternative.

The aluminum edge doesn't come without trade offs, nonetheless. At 22.5 pounds without pedals and set up tubeless (on our scale in a size medium), the Topstone absolutely isn't the lightest rock bicycle available and likely won't be the main decision of speed-centered riders (if this seems like you, look at the carbon Giant Revolt Advanced 2 beneath). Further, we suggest investigating the size diagram before purchasing. Our medium had a 56.1-centimeter top cylinder length, which wound up being a piece on the enormous side for us. In any case, these are moderately little worries about a generally great all-around rock bicycle. Credit to Cannondale for hitting that sweet spot among cost and execution.

A Close Second (With a Carbon Frame)
2. Giant Revolt Advanced 2 ($2,450)
Frame: Carbon
Gears: 2 x 11
Tires: 700c x 38mm
Brakes: Hydraulic disc
What we like: Lightweight carbon frame and Shimano 105 drivetrain at a reasonable price point.
What we don’t: For some, the carbon frame may not be worth the price increase over the Topstone above.

Giant has built a reputation around producing high-quality bikes at affordable prices, and their Revolt Advanced 2 is a shining example. For $2,450, you get a light and compliant carbon frame, a smooth-shifting Shimano 105 drivetrain, hydraulic disc brakes, and ample clearance for tires up to 45 millimeters wide for damping rough roads. Other thoughtful features include a rubber downtube protector to ward off high-speed rock impacts and a chainstay guard to help keep the chain quiet on bumpy rides. Added up, you’d be hard-pressed to find a similarly equipped carbon design in this price range.

Why do we have the Giant Revolt Advanced 2 ranked below the Cannondale? Both are top-notch gravel bikes, but the simple answer is that we don't think the $550 bump in cost is worth it for most riders. The bikes share the same Shimano 105 drivetrain, and we found the aluminum Cannondale to be surprisingly comfortable. But if you’re more interested in gravel races than mellow rides, the lighter carbon-framed Revolt Advanced 2 is well worth a look. And for a hardcore racing bike, see the Trek Checkpoint SL 5 below.

Best Budget Gravel Bike
3. Salsa Journeyman Claris 700 ($949)
Salsa Journeyman Claris 700 gravel bikeFrame: Aluminum
Gears: 2 x 8
Tires: 700c x 38mm
Brakes: Mechanical disc
What we like: Extremely versatile and offered in multiple configurations and sizes.
What we don’t: Components are less impressive at this price point.

Just because you can spend thousands of dollars on a race-ready carbon gravel bike doesn’t necessarily mean you should. For budget-oriented riders interested in casually exploring backroads or taking the scenic route to work, Salsa’s Journeyman Claris 700 should be plenty of bike. For a palatable $949, the Journeyman includes a quality aluminum frame, ample mounting locations for accessories, water, and gear, and a dependable Shimano Claris drivetrain. Best of all, there’s no shortage of variety with nine models of varying handlebar types and wheel sizes to choose from. Salsa has been a leader in the adventure bike category since its inception, and the Journeyman Claris is a testament to their expertise.

As with any budget offering, the Journeyman Claris 700 has its fair share of compromises. Compared to the Cannondale above, the Claris is a significant downgrade in both components and features. Most notably, it forgoes thru-axles (which add stiffness and inspire confidence during fast descents) in favor of the quick-release style, uses wire-bead, non-tubeless tires which add weight (26 pounds), and sports mechanical disc brakes rather than hydraulic. For $300 more, we recommend checking out Cannondale’s Topstone Sora, which addresses some of these issues and features a more premium carbon fork and drivetrain. But for those hoping to stay under $1,000, Salsa’s Journeyman Claris is a stellar value.

Best Gravel Race Bike
4. Trek Checkpoint SL 5 ($2,900)
Frame: Carbon
Gears: 2 x 11
Tires: 700c x 40mm
Brakes: Hydraulic disc
What we like: Rear decoupler does a great job of soaking up bumps.
What we don’t: The Giant Revolt Advanced 2 above is a better value.

While small, niche bike companies have dominated the gravel race scene for years, this growing category has more recently started to attract the big players. With decades of racing experience under their belt, Trek throws their hat into the ring with the Checkpoint SL 5. The biggest news with the Checkpoint is its IsoSpeed, which functions similarly to the rear suspension on a mountain bike. By decoupling the top and seat tubes, this technology effectively reduces vibrations and creates a less jarring, smoother ride. If you’ve ever spent time cruising washboard roads at speed, you’ll understand why this is so important.

This unique tech and impressive performance does come at a cost. For example, you can score the similarly spec’d Giant Revolt Advanced 2 above for a notable $450 less, which shares the same Shimano 105 drivetrain and is plenty capable for most speed-focused riders. In the end, if your cycling goals include winning the Dirty Kanza 200, we wholeheartedly recommend spending up for the Trek and its more forgiving ride. But for most racers and those on a tighter budget, you can get away with paying less.
See the Trek Checkpoint SL 5  See the Women's Trek Checkpoint SL 5


Best of the Rest
5. Diamondback Haanjo 3 ($1,000)
Diamondback Haanjo 3 gravel bikeFrame: Aluminum
Gears: 2 x 9
Tires: 700c x 37mm
Brakes: Mechanical disc
What we like: Approachable price point for a quality do-everything ride.
What we don’t: Fewer mounting location and size options than the Salsa Journeyman above.

Diamondback is best known for their budget-friendly bikes sold at big-box stores, but being value-driven isn't necessarily a bad thing. In the gravel realm, we especially like their Haanjo 3, which is nicely spec’d and very competitively priced at $1,000. This entry-level ride features a 2 x 9 Shimano Sora drivetrain (which should provide a large enough range for most cyclists), and its mechanical disc brakes are easy to operate and provide consistent stopping power. To be sure, the Haanjo 3 can’t match the performance or low weight of pricier models on the list, but it’s a capable companion for those who do a little bit of everything—including commuting, cruising mellow doubletrack, and exploring forest service roads.

With an upgraded drivetrain and only a $50 price increase over Salsa’s Journeyman above, you might be wondering why the Haanjo 3 didn’t earn our spot for the top budget gravel bike. First, the Salsa features additional mounting locations for extra water and gear, which is crucial for longer and more remote rides. We also like that the Journeyman comes in six different sizes compared to the Diamondback’s four, ensuring that every rider finds a suitable fit. And finally, we appreciate the expertise and adventure-by-bike experience that Salsa brings to the table. But it was a close call and Diamondback does a really nice job at targeting budget-conscious riders with the Haanjo 3.
See the Diamondback Haanjo 3  See the Women's Diamondback Haanjenn 3


6. Salsa Warbird Tiagra ($2,400)
Salsa Warbird Tiagra gravel bikeFrame: Carbon
Gears: 2 x 10
Tires: 700c x 40mm
Brakes: Mechanical disc
What we like: Excels at racing but can still carry gear for overnight trips.
What we don’t: At this price, we expect hydraulic disc brakes and slightly better components.

We’d be remiss not to include Salsa’s venerable and highly sought-after Warbird on this list. Originally launched in 2013, the Warbird saw a host of changes this year: the geometry was tweaked slightly for improved stability at speed, additional mounting locations were added to the frame, and the bike is now compatible with 650b wheels and tires up to 2 inches wide (a couple of models even come stock with this tire size). We especially like the new Waxwing fork, which features three-pack mounts that add versatility for storing water bottles or shuttling overnight gear. All told, Salsa’s fourth-generation Warbird is an enviable gravel race bike that happily pulls double duty as a lightweight bikepacking rig for weekend trips.

Our biggest complaint about the Warbird Tiagra is cost. At $2,400, we think there are better deals to be had in the gravel bike category. For example, the Giant Revolt Advanced 2 above comes in around the same price and features a more premium drivetrain. And while the Warbird’s high-performing TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes are one of the better options on the market, they simply can’t match the ease of use or stopping power of the hydraulic version on the Giant. However, the Warbird’s additional storage spots on the frame and fork make it better-suited to all-day epics and backcountry adventures. If versatility is a key consideration, we think it’s a nice choice.
See the Salsa Warbird Tiagra



7. Canyon Grail AL 7.0 ($1,799)
Canyon Grail AL 7.0 gravel bikeFrame: Aluminum
Gears: 2 x 11
Tires: 700c x 40mm
Brakes: Hydraulic disc
What we like: Good looks and quality components at a reasonable price.
What we don’t: Buying consumer-direct has its own set of challenges.

Germany-based Canyon might not have the name recognition of other brands on this list, but their Grail AL 7.0 adventure bike certainly is worth a look. In short, it ticks most of the important boxes in this category, including a high-quality aluminum frame, lightweight carbon fork, and newly updated Shimano 105 2 x 11 drivetrain. The Grail’s proven and tubeless-ready DT Swiss wheels also are wrapped in one of our favorite gravel tires at the moment: Schwalbe’s 40mm G-One Bite, which transition nicely from tarmac to trail. Finally, if appearance is a consideration for you, we think the silver and black version is one of the classiest-looking gravel bike designs on the market.

Compared to the Cannondale Topstone 105, the Grail AL 7.0 has a similar price but comes up slightly short in a couple key areas. First and foremost, buying from a consumer-direct company like Canyon sometimes can be a pain—we’ve heard reports of poor customer service, plus you don’t get the convenience of walking into your local bike shop to get replacement parts or ride the bike before buying. Further, Cannondale’s lifetime frame warranty is more impressive than Canyon’s six years, and we prefer the Topstone’s slightly easier gear range on the mountainous terrain that we frequent in the Pacific Northwest. But the Grail AL 7.0 is a solid value nevertheless, which is one of the biggest perks of buying consumer-direct.
See the Canyon Grail AL 7.0  See the Women's Canyon Grail AL 7.0



8. Specialized Diverge Sport ($2,800)
Specialized Diverge Sport gravel bikeFrame: Carbon
Gears: 2 x 11
Tires: 700c x 38mm
Brakes: Hydraulic disc
What we like: Lightweight carbon frame and front suspension do a great job of taking the edge off while descending.
What we don’t: Pricier than the similarly equipped Giant Revolt Advanced 2 above.

California-based Specialized is one of the biggest names in cycling, so it should come as no surprise that they offer a winner in the gravel-focused Diverge Sport. Similar to Trek’s Checkpoint SL 5 above, the most noteworthy component on the Diverge is its suspension that delivers a relatively high 20 millimeters of travel. But unlike the Trek, the Specialized bike focuses its shock absorption at the front rather than the rear. For those who spend a lot of time descending rough washboard roads, this feature will considerably dampen your ride and reduce arm fatigue.

What pushes the Diverge Sport down to a mid-pack finish? Simply put, you can get an almost identical drivetrain and similarly lightweight carbon frame for $350 less with the Giant Revolt Advanced 2 above. That said, you do forego the Diverge’s impressive front suspension, which should be a key consideration if you frequent rough and rocky roads more often than smooth gravel bike paths. And an added bonus of going with a heavy hitter like Specialized: the Diverge lineup is incredibly extensive, starting at $1,100 and going all the way up to $10,000, so most riders should be able to find exactly what they’re looking for.
See the Specialized Diverge Sport  See the Women's Specialized Diverge Sport



9. Cannondale Synapse NEO SE ($4,500)
Cannondale Synapse Neo SE gravel bikeFrame: Aluminum
Gears: 1 x 11
Tires: 650b x 47mm
Brakes: Hydraulic disc
What we like: E-bikes are a blast to ride.
What we don’t: They’re also very expensive and very heavy.

Love them or hate them, electric bikes are here to stay, and Cannondale’s first go at a gravel-focused model is a huge success in our opinion. After spending some time on the Synapse NEO SE, we came away extremely impressed by the bike’s smooth acceleration, confidence-inspiring ride, and quality build. While the electric Synapse will only assist up to 20 miles per hour (similar to all class 1 e-bikes), this was enough of a grin-maker for even the most skeptical riders among us. You do pay a steep premium for the Bosch drive unit and 500Wh battery, but it’s a boon for daylong enjoyment on remote backroads.

As is the case with all e-bikes, the Cannondale’s battery and motor are very heavy (the Synapse NEO SE weighs in at a hefty 39 pounds). If you plan to transport your e-bike with any regularity, it’s important to consider the weight limit of your rack and your ability to lift and load the bike. Another issue is power: if you run out of juice on the trail, it’ll be a slow and difficult ride back to your car. And finally, e-bike laws still are evolving and changing, so it’s important to know the rules before you head out. But none of these issues are specific to the Synapse, and if you’re set on an electric model, we think it’s a true standout.
See the Cannondale Synapse NEO SE



10. Santa Cruz Stigmata Rival ($3,599)
Santa Cruz Stigmata Rival gravel bikeFrame: Carbon
Gears: 1 x 11
Tires: 700c x 40mm
Brakes: Hydraulic disc
What we like: Typical Santa Cruz craftsmanship and attention to detail.
What we don’t: Not the best value.

Santa Cruz is lauded within the mountain biking community for their quality frames and remarkable attention to detail, and that reputation holds true with the gravel-oriented Stigmata Rival. For 2019, the Stigmata saw a complete redesign including additional clearance for tires up to 45 millimeters wide (as well as 650b tires), updated geometry with a slightly longer head tube that translates to a more upright and comfortable riding position, and internal routing for dropper seat post compatibility. What does all this mean for you? In short, the versatile Stigmata is now just as at home on the cyclocross course as it is on far-off backroad adventures.

Where does the Stigmata Rival fall short? Like all Santa Cruz bikes, the gravel rig is pricey at $3,599. In the same price range, Giant’s top-of-the-line Revolt Advanced 0 ($3,650) features similar ride characteristics but you get major upgrades to both its drivetrain (2 x 11 Shimano Ultegra) and wheels (carbon). But buying from Santa Cruz involves paying a premium for the brand’s exquisite finish and hard-to-rival bike expertise, and whether that’s worth the added expense is up to you.
See the Santa Cruz Stigmata Rival  See the Women's Juliana Quincy Rival



11. Norco Search XR Aluminum Apex 1 ($1,599)
Norco Search XR Aluminum Apex 1 gravel bikeFrame: Aluminum
Gears: 1 x 11
Tires: 700c x 38mm
Brakes: Mechanical disc
What we like: Good overall performance for a palatable price.
What we don’t: Gear range is lacking for mountainous terrain.

Better known for their extensive lineup of mountain bikes, British Columbia-based Norco did a nice job with the dirt-focused Search XR Aluminum Apex 1. For a reasonable $1,599, you get a quality aluminum frame, SRAM Apex 1 x 11 drivetrain that works well across most terrain, and healthy selection of mounting locations for racks, bottles, and gear. Further, the Schwalbe G-One Bite tires roll fast on pavement yet still provide ample grip on everything but the deepest and loosest of gravel. While it can’t match the race-ready pedigree of the Trek Checkpoint SL 5 or versatility of the Topstone 105 above, the Search XR nevertheless is an impressively capable companion for everything from backroad exploring to daily commutes.

At this price point, however, the Search XR can't quite stand up to the all-around performance of our top pick, the Cannondale Topstone 105 above. For $300 more, the Cannondale features hydraulic disc brakes (the Search uses mechanical brakes) that are easier to use and engage. Additionally, the Topstone 105’s wider gear range outperforms the Search XR’s 1x system on both steep and arduous climbs and long and fast descents. These issues aside, the Norco is another well-built and versatile gravel bike and a good value.
See the Norco Search XR Aluminum Apex 1



12. Trek Checkpoint AL 3 ($1,200)
Trek Checkpoint AL 3 gravel bikeFrame: Aluminum
Gears: 2 x 9
Tires: 700c x 32mm
Brakes: Mechanical disc
What we like: A solid budget option that excels at everything from gravel rides to commuting.
What we don’t: Narrow 32mm tires aren’t great on super rough roads.

Sitting at the entry-level end of Trek’s gravel bike lineup is the Checkpoint AL 3. For $1,200, it's one of the most affordable gravel grinders on our list that doesn't require making many major sacrifices. The rig features a dependable Shimano 2 x 9 Sora drivetrain, mechanical disc brakes for consistent stopping power, and tubeless-ready wheels for better traction and helping to smooth out choppy sections of road and trail. The Checkpoint AL 3 doesn’t deliver the same lightweight and suspended ride of its pricier sibling, the SL 5 above, but it’s a quality multi-purpose option for a significant $1,700 less.

What do you give up with the budget-friendly Checkpoint AL 3? Compared to the SL 5, it's designed more for casual cruises and cross-town commutes than all-out racing with its hefty 23-pound weight, and the bike’s 32-millimeter tires are narrow for its class and better suited to tarmac than loose gravel. If you plan to spend the majority of your time off-road and are looking to stay in the $1,000 price range, we recommend checking out Diamondback’s Haanjo 3 above. But for a reliable commuter that can double as a casual weekend adventurer, the Checkpoint AL 3 can get the job done.
See the Trek Checkpoint AL 3



13. Donnelly G//C Force ($4,000)
Donnelly G//C Force gravel bikeFrame: Carbon
Gears: 2 x 11
Tires: 700c x 40mm
Brakes: Hydraulic disc
What we like: Race-inspired design and geometry; premium build.
What we don’t: Not a great all-rounder.

If you’ve never heard of Donnelly Cycling, you’re not alone. Formerly Clement, this niche and adventure-oriented company made its name in the tire arena, but in 2018 decided to shift its focus to dedicated cyclocross and gravel bikes. The G//C Force listed here is purpose-built to own gravel roads with a race-oriented ethos, smartly spec’d build kit, and high-quality, tubeless-ready wheels and tires made by Donnelly themselves (the bike comes stock with 700c wheels, but it can also accommodate 650b). All told, there’s a lot to like about the speed-hungry G//C Force.

If you’re looking for a capable all-rounder, however, you’ll likely be better served by a bike like Salsa’s Warbird Tiagra above. With additional mounting locations for food, water, and gear, the Warbird more effectively moonlights as a backcountry adventure machine. Alternatively, those consistently tackling long, steep grades likely will prefer the Giant Revolt Advanced 2’s wider gear range (although the G//C Force is perfectly adequate for riding rolling terrain). For a step down in price, check out Donnelly’s G//C Rival, which shares the same carbon frame and wheel compatibility as the Force but with a slightly downgraded drivetrain.
See the Donnelly G//C Force



14. Niner RLT 2-Star ($2,200)
Niner RLT 2-Star gravel bikeFrame: Aluminum
Gears: 2 x 10
Tires: 700c x 40mm
Brakes: Hydraulic disc
What we like: Classic old-school looks and off-road features.
What we don’t: Cannondale’s Topstone 105 performs better across most categories.

Niner may not be a familiar name to many road cyclists, but this Colorado-based company has been pushing out quality dirt-focused models for almost 15 years. From their lineup, we like the RLT 2-Star best: it features a mix of Shimano Tiagra and GRX400 components (new gravel-specific parts from Shimano) and hydraulic disc brakes, can fit up to 700c x 50mm tires, and includes mounting locations for racks and fenders (the carbon fork even has additional spots for storing extra water on those all-day rides). Not to mention, we can’t help but love the old-school look of the RLT’s raw aluminum frame.

Compared to the top-ranked Cannondale Topstone 105 above, the Niner RLT 2-Star comes in $300 more expensive yet sees a substantial downgrade in the drivetrain department (the Cannondale features a Shimano 105 build kit). Not only does this include a wider gear range, but it also shifts more smoothly and saves weight compared to the RLT’s Tiagra parts. Within the Niner lineup, you can upgrade to a SRAM Rival drivetrain with the RLT 3-Star model, but that will cost you a whopping $2,900.
See the Niner RLT 2-Star



15. Lauf True Grit Race Force1 ($4,990)
Lauf True Grit Race gravel bikeFrame: Carbon
Gears: 1 x 11
Tires: 700c x 40mm
Brakes: Hydraulic disc
What we like: Lightweight carbon frame and leaf-spring fork make for a very fast ride.
What we don’t: Pricey and purpose-built for racing.

Iceland-based Lauf Cycling is a relative newcomer to the biking world, but they’ve already got a winner on their hands with the True Grit Race. In this case, it’s the company’s namesake leaf-spring suspension fork that sets the True Grit apart from the competition. By delivering 30 millimeters of front travel (10mm more than the Specialized Diverge Sport above), Lauf created a capable partner for those who like to venture off the beaten path and push the boundaries of what a drop-bar bike can handle. On the flip side, it's also a great companion for long days in the saddle where low weight and comfort are crucial.

While many casual riders might wish for a wider gear range, strong racers should find the 1 x 11-speed drivetrain to be a great match for most terrain. And the rest of the build kit is what you’d expect from a top-notch race rig: a lightweight 17-pound build, quality DT-Swiss wheels and Maxxis tires (which easily can be converted to tubeless), and carbon bars and seat post that shave weight and increase comfort. The nearly $5,000 price tag certainly is steep, but you often get what you pay for. In this case, that’s a quality, race-ready setup that won’t hold you back on the course. The True Grit lineup also includes the less purpose-built Weekend Warrior ($3,690) that should meet the needs of more casual cyclists.

16. Surly Straggler ($1,650)
Surly Straggler gravel bikeFrame: Steel
Gears: 1 x 11
Tires: 700c x 41mm
Brakes: Mechanical disc
What we like: Quality steel frame and versatile geometry.
What we don’t: Heavier and more expensive than aluminum models.

One of only two steel-framed designs on our list, the Surly Straggler is a gravel bike with a do-it-all personality. Although quite a bit heavier than the carbon and aluminum models above, the Straggler’s smooth-riding steel frame and classic design are ideal for those who prioritize comfort and durability over speed and new tech. Other notable features include a 1 x 11 drivetrain for ultimate simplicity, multiple mounting spots for racks and gear, and fender mounts for rainy-day commutes. From all-out touring to weekend gravel rides and everything in between, the Straggler makes for a solid one-bike quiver.

What pushes the Straggler toward the bottom of our list? For $250 more, Cannondale’s Topstone 105 is lighter, has a wider gear range, features better stopping power with hydraulic rather than mechanical disc brakes, and includes thru-axles for a more efficient ride. All that said, there’s a reason behind the saying “steel is real.” In short, it’s hard to ignore the ride characteristics, burly feel, and long-term durability of a steel build. If you take care of the Straggler, it should last for many years to come.
See the Surly Straggler


17. Moots Routt YBB Ultegra Di2 ($8,670)
Moots YBB Ultegra Di2 gravel bikeFrame: Titanium
Gears: 2 x 11
Tires: 700c x 40mm
Brakes: Hydraulic disc
What we like: Titanium softail frame and large tires are great for rugged roads.
What we don’t: The most expensive gravel bike on the list.

Moots’ Routt lineup has been around for years, but it’s the new-for-2019 YBB version that really caught our eye. The “softail” design—first used on the company’s mountain bikes in the 90s—delivers 20 millimeters of rear micro-suspension that really takes the edge off on rough roads. Combined with a smooth-riding titanium frame and beefy 40-millimeter Mavic tires, this is a true backroads rig that’s ready to handle just about anything you throw at it. Further adding to the elite-level build (and price) is the crisp shifting of Shimano’s electronic Ultegra Di2 drivetrain. Simply put, if price were no issue and we could only ride one gravel bike for the rest of our lives, it almost certainly would be the Routt YBB.

Now it’s time to address the elephant in the room. At well over $8,000, the Routt YBB is reserved for committed cyclists who ride often and ride hard (and have deep pockets). On the flip side, titanium undoubtedly is pricey, but Moots uses a high-quality, U.S.-made version that’s welded in-house at the company’s headquarters. In other words, it’s hard to put a price on such excellent craftsmanship. For those on a tighter budget who don’t want to make big sacrifices in ride quality, Trek’s Checkpoint SL 5 above is roughly one-third the price and features similar bump-absorbing tech with its rear IsoSpeed.

18. Co-op Cycles ADV 3.1 ($1,399)
Co-op Cycles ADV 3.1 gravel bikeFrame: Steel
Gears: 2 x 10
Tires: 650b x 50mm
Brakes: Mechanical disc
What we like: Steel frame and large tires make for a comfortable ride.
What we don’t: They also add a lot of weight.

REI’s in-house bike brand, Co-op Cycles, isn’t known for pushing the envelope in terms of frame design or technology, but what they offer is a major focus on value. The steel-framed ADV 3.1 is a prime example: for $1,399 (and often marked down further during sales), the ADV is a solid all-rounder that can confidently tackle adventures ranging from gravel road exploration to extended weekend bikepacking outings. And with a comfortable upright seating position and mounting locations for racks and panniers, it makes for a solid commuting and touring companion too.

Why isn't the Co-op Cycles ADV 3.1 ranked higher? The steel frame and wide 650b x 50mm tires make for a comfortable ride, but they also add a lot of weight. At 27.4 pounds, the ADV is the heaviest bike on our list (not including Cannondale’s Synapse e-bike, which really is a different category). If the goal is covering ground quickly, we recommend checking out Trek’s Checkpoint AL 3 above, which cuts over 4 pounds of weight and features more performance-oriented geometry for $200 less. All that said, the ADV 3.1 has its place for easygoing and leisurely outings.

Gravel Bike Buying Advice
What is a Gravel Bike?
Frame Material: Carbon vs. Aluminum
Drivetrain and Gears
Wheel Size: 700c vs. 650b
Brakes: Hydraulic Disc vs. Mechanical Disc
Tires
Proper Tire Air Pressure (PSI)
Suspension
Weight
Going Tubeless
Shoes and Pedals for Gravel Bikes
Gravel, Road, and Cyclocross Bikes: What are the Differences?
What About Hardtail Mountain Bikes on Gravel?
Buying a Gravel Bike: In-Store or Online?

What is a Gravel Bike?
As their name suggests, gravel bikes are designed to be ridden on surfaces like gravel trails, doubletrack, and forest service roads. While people have been taking their road bikes onto unpaved roads for decades, this emerging category has a number of thoughtful design features that make the experience much more enjoyable. In general, you should look for frame clearance to accommodate up to 700c x 45mm tires, multiple mounting locations (three or more) for water bottles and food, longer wheelbases that are more stable at high speeds, and disc brakes to handle long descents over varying road conditions. Put simply, gravel bikes can continue on when traditional roads bikes are forced to turn around, and they can easily handle the daily commute to work too.
Gravel bike (storage and tires)
Gravel riding demands high-volume tires and multiple bottle mounts

Frame Material: Carbon vs. Aluminum
From the list above, you’ll notice that carbon and aluminum are by far the most popular materials for gravel bike frames. You also might come across steel (including the Surly Straggler and Co-op Cycles ADV 3.1 ) or titanium (like the Moots Routt YBB), but these are far less common. Carbon is the lightest material of the bunch and often the choice among gram-counters and speed-focused riders. Additionally, because carbon bikes are made with molds instead of welds, companies are able to better “tune” their ride characteristics, making them more compliant for comfort or stiffer for better power transfer and efficiency. Salsa’s Warbird, for example, has been through many iterations over the years in search of that perfect balance.

All that said, carbon bikes are quite pricey, and you can often get a similarly equipped aluminum model for hundreds of dollars less. Although heavier than carbon, aluminum typically is more durable, and even heftier steel and titanium rigs will stand up to years of use and abuse. For the majority of casual cyclists, we recommend sticking with an aluminum gravel bike simply to get the best bang for your buck.
Gravel bike (descending)
Aluminum bikes hit a nice balance of weight, price, and performance

Drivetrain and Gears
Most gravel bikes come with one of two popular drivetrain options: 1x (which features a single front chainring and fewer overall gears) or 2x (which has two front chainrings and more gear options). We love 1x drivetrains for their simplicity, ease of use, and generally lower weight. And because of the fewer gears (typically 11-12 vs. the 16-22 found on 2x systems), we think they’re a great match for fit riders and those whose frequent rolling terrain as opposed to steep climbs and descents. That said, we prefer 2x setups for more mountainous terrain. Although they generally weigh a bit more than 1x drivetrains, 2x systems (like the 2x11 included on the Cannondale Topstone 105) typically offer the rider both an easier gear for the uphill and a harder gear for the flat sections. Of course, it’s possible to modify a 1x system with a larger-range cassette, but we prefer the convenience of sticking with the original components.

Wheel Size: 700c vs. 650b
700c
In general, 700c wheels and tires offer the best overall performance for mixed-terrain riding, and they continue to be the most common option for gravel bikes. 700c tires are narrower than 650b options, usually weigh less, and roll faster on tarmac and most gravel paths. Further, when the time comes to replace your tires (or you simply need a different tread pattern that better suits your local terrain), there are significantly more options available in the 700c size. In the end, unless you spend the vast majority of your time on exceptionally rough gravel, we think 700c tires and wheels are the best choice for all-around riding.

650b
Alternatively, if comfort is your main priority or you spend almost all of your time on gravel, then a 650b tire and wheel combo makes a lot of sense. Although they are heavier and roll slower than 700c wheels, the larger footprint and lower air pressure allows them to float over obstacles much more smoothly. The bigger contact patch with the ground also translates to increased traction, which can be especially helpful on soft or loose sections of road. As gravel riding expands into increasingly rugged terrain, 650b tires are becoming more and more common. However, if you consistently frequent pavement and mellow trails, you’ll probably be better served by 700c wheels described above.

Brakes: Hydraulic Disc vs. Mechanical Disc
Another choice you’ll have to make when choosing a gravel bike is whether you want hydraulic or mechanical disc brakes. In short, the main differences between the two relate to power and ease of use. Mechanical brakes, as their name implies, use a cable system to actuate the brakes and slow you down. Hydraulic disc brakes, on the other hand, use fluid rather than cables to initiate the brakes. This means that hydraulic brakes provide better stopping power with less effort, are easier to control and fine-tune, and can’t get clogged with trail debris and mud (mechanical brake cables can easily get dirty and rust over time). In the end, the choice often comes down to cost: hydraulic brakes come with a bump in price, while mechanical brakes can be found on most budget-friendly models.

Tires
Tires are an often-overlooked component, but as the only thing connecting you to the ground, are an important consideration for gravel riding. There is no one-size-fits-all tire, but we do have some recommendations regarding tread patterns, sizes, and widths. For those who spend the majority of their time on pavement but like to explore the occasional gravel road or path, we’d pick something in the 30- to 32-millimeter range with a slick or herringbone tread pattern. In short, they roll fast on tarmac, weigh very little, and provide an ample amount of comfort and traction. Tires in the 35- to 38-millimeter range are more versatile and a great choice for those who split their time evenly between pavement and gravel. Tires in this size come in a variety of tread patterns which cover everything from smooth slicks to knobby options (resembling mini mountain bike tires). In this category, we really like Schwalbe’s fast-rolling and surprisingly grippy 700c x 38mm G-One.

Last but not least, if you frequent gravel more than pavement, we recommend opting for a tire that is 40 millimeters or wider. While these larger sizes will be heavier and roll slower on pavement than the skinnier options above, the added comfort and traction they provide off-road is well worth the tradeoff. We’re particularly fond of two tire manufacturers at the moment: WTB and Donnelly. Both brands offer a solid lineup of sizes and tread patterns that cover everything from smooth road tires to aggressive gravel options. And one final note: if you’re upgrading or replacing tires on an existing bike, it’s important to make sure you have enough room for these larger sizes. At a minimum, we like 3 to 4 millimeters of clearance to account for mud and debris between the tire and frame.

Proper Tire Air Pressure (PSI)
One of the most important parts of bike setup is properly adjusting tire pressure, which is measured in pounds per square inch (psi). Too much pressure will result in bouncing down the path or road and feeling every little bump along the way. Too little pressure, on the other hand, will make you feel as though you’re riding with the brakes on and can result in flat tires or bottoming out your rims on rocks. The ideal tire pressure lies between these two extremes, but unfortunately, there’s no universal number—there simply are too many factors to account for, including rider weight, tire width, surface type, and riding style.

All that said, we do have some general advice on how to find an appropriate psi. To start, inflate your tires to the maximum pressure labeled on the sidewall. Next, lay an object larger than a pencil in your driveway or on the sidewalk—a wooden dowel or mixing spoon handle works great—and ride over it at a comfortable speed (about 10mph). You’ll likely feel the object beneath you. Lower your tire pressure by 3 to 5 psi and repeat this process again until you barely feel the item. Make note of this pressure and take your bike for a real ride. During your outing, think about how your tires feel and consider any adjustments that you might want to make (this goes for every outing, not just your first). While experienced cyclists might balk at this method, it’s a great way for new riders to understand and learn to adjust pressure based on conditions, terrain, and other factors. And a final note: we recommend running anywhere from 3 to 8 psi less in your front tire than the back as most of your weight is over the rear.

Suspension
Suspension isn’t common on gravel bikes, but it’s nevertheless important to explain for riders looking for a smoother and more comfortable ride. From the picks above, the Trek Checkpoint SL 5, Specialized Diverge Sport, and Lauf True Grit Race all feature some sort of suspension-like technology or dampers to help take the edge off big potholes and washboard roads. We particularly like Trek’s IsoSpeed on the Checkpoint SL 5, which decouples the top tube and seat tubes to create a less jarring ride. Alternatively, Specialized focuses their tech at the front of the Diverge Sport (they call this “Future Shock Progressive suspension”), which they equate to about 20 millimeters of suspension travel. If you spend a good amount of time on exceptionally rough roads, it may be worthwhile to consider one of the models listed above.

Weight

It nearly abandons saying that a lighter bicycle will feel sprightlier and more responsive than a heavier apparatus out and about or way. In addition to the fact that it makes the uphills increasingly tolerable, however it likewise enables you to make progress all the more rapidly with less exertion. What's more, execution benefits aside, we constantly welcome lifting less weight onto our rack. Be that as it may, weight regularly connects straightforwardly with cost: the more you spend on a bicycle, the less it will gauge. For instance, the $949 Salsa Journeyman Claris 700 weighs in at around 25 pounds, while Santa Cruz's first class carbon Stigmata ($9,899) weighs a little more than 17 pounds. We think the sweet spot is in the 21-pound extend for most riders, which will generally slow down you about $2,500. Race-centered cyclists likely will spend up for less weight.

Going Tubeless

Truly outstanding and most economical updates you can make to your bicycle is moving up to tubeless tires. The greatest advantage is the capacity to run lower tire weights, which means the tires are better ready to ingest impacts without expanding the danger of a squeeze level. This likewise means a bigger contact fix with the ground, making them perfect for rough terrain use. Also, disposing of cylinders for sealant can drop a little rotational load from your unit.

All that stated, it tends to be a test changing over your bicycle to tubeless. While establishment has turned out to be essentially simpler throughout the most recent couple of years because of upgrades in the innovation, regardless you get the intermittent tire-and-edge mix that simply wouldn't like to blow up. You'll additionally need to supplant the sealant a few times each year—it tends to dry and wind up ineffectual at fixing little openings. Lastly, tubeless arrangements can be somewhat of a wreck should you ever need to place a cylinder in your tire. On the off chance that you don't feel great with the underlying establishment, we prescribe approaching your nearby bicycle look for assistance.

Shoes and Pedals for Gravel Bikes

All in all, we incline toward crosscountry shoes and pedals on our rock rigs. Why? While rock bicycles share a great deal in a similar manner as street models, asphalt arranged shoes regularly have smooth and level outsoles that make strolling on rock awkward and bulky. Then again, XC pedals shoes still are lightweight yet highlight a significantly more walkable and progressively agreeable outsole. For pedals, we like Shimano's clipless 520 SPD specifically—we've put more than 5,000 miles on our own and have been intrigued. Regarding shoes, we prescribe an alternative like Giro's Privateer R or Shimano's ME3—they're light, moderate, solid enough for proficient power move, and still truly agreeable for time spent off the bicycle. For a total rundown of alternatives, see our article on the best trail blazing bicycle shoes.

Rock, Road, and Cyclocross Bikes: What are the Differences?

Tire Clearance

While rock bicycles look somewhat like both cyclocross and street bicycles, there are various key contrasts to call attention to. First of all, while most present day street bicycles maximize at around 30-millimeter tires and cyclocross bicycles at around 40 millimeters, rock bicycles regularly can oblige up to 700c x 45-millimeter or 650c x 50-millimeter tires (Salsa's Warbird, for instance, can suit both). The fundamental bit of leeway to these beefier tires is their capacity to run lower pneumatic force, which results in an all the more lenient ride and more prominent footing. What are the drawbacks? They're significantly heavier than something in the 28c territory (regularly found on street bicycles), yet fundamentally increasingly agreeable and certainty rousing on unpleasant streets.

Geometry

Another key distinction between these kinds of bicycles is their geometry, or the estimations of the casing. Cyclocross models will in general have high base sections to address race course roadblocks and shorter wheelbases for simpler mobility at more slow speeds. Rock rigs, then again, will in general be lower and longer for expanded dependability during quick paced plunges. Contrasted with conventional street bicycles, hope to discover loafer head cylinder points just as longer wheelbases, which again mean expanded certainty and steadiness while investigating harsh streets with rough plummets.

Mounts

Contrasted with street and cyclocross bicycles, rock processors highlight essentially additionally mounting areas for additional water containers, packs, and apparatus. As a rule, long rock rides go through far less assistance territories, which means you'll have to load up on nourishment, water, and other rigging before taking off. To place this into viewpoint, Cannondale's mainstream Synapse street bicycle incorporates two mounting areas, while their rock centered Topstone (our main pick) highlights four. Cyclocross bicycles are regularly deprived of extra braze-ons for bumpers or racks, the two of which you'll likely discover on a rock bicycle.

Shouldn't something be said about Hardtail Mountain Bikes on Gravel?

The individuals who effectively claim a hardtail may ponder: "Wouldn't i be able to simply ride my off-road bicycle on rock streets as opposed to acquiring something new?" And the appropriate response is a resonating "yes." indeed, we really urge riders to utilize what they as of now have at whatever point conceivable. All things considered, individuals have been riding a wide range of bicycles on soil streets for a considerable length of time—some time before the appearance of this specialty classification.

All that stated, there are numerous advantages to acquiring a genuine rock centered bicycle. For instance, models like Trek's Checkpoint SL 5 are fundamentally lighter than trail blazing bicycles, the drop bars offer different hand positions for throughout the day solace, and you get all the more mounting areas for nourishment, water, and rigging. Rock bicycles additionally include a more extensive apparatus extend for the fluctuated territory you can expect on timberland administration and byways. While a hardtail with thin tires surely will work (we did this for a long while), for the individuals who plan on investing a ton of energy in asphalt and rock, it's difficult to overlook the presentation contrasts. There's valid justification why this is one of the quickest developing bicycle classifications.

Purchasing a Gravel Bike: In-Store or Online?

Most importantly, we completely urge you to shop at your neighborhood bicycle shop at whatever point conceivable. There's simply no substitution for an extraordinary nearby shop, the bicycle and trail counsel that goes with it, and the capacity to ride a specific model in advance and effectively get new parts and administration. Having said that, purchasing on the web unquestionably has its advantages. It's staggeringly simple to look at specs, costs, and parts on the web, and bicycle choice and transportation has improved significantly as of late.

There are a couple of key inquiries you should pose to yourself before starting your inquiry. Do you realize which size bicycle you need? It is safe to say that you are OK with some get together? What amount of will transportation cost? Beginning with fit, it tends to challenge—and particularly for first-time purchasers—to decide the right-sized bicycle from the solace of your lounge chair. To help, many major online retailers, for example, REI Co-operation and Backcountry give geometry diagrams and size suggestions for the vast majority of their models. Others, as Competitive Cyclist, additionally highlight bicycle fit apparatuses that should enable you to decide your right size.

In the event that you go the online course, most bicycles transported to your home will require some get together. Some basically require tossing on the front haggle, yet others will require a broad measure of work before they're prepared to ride. This can incorporate cutting the steerer tube, introducing drivetrain parts, and cautiously modifying segments for appropriate arrangement. It's additionally normal to pay a "larger than usual" shipping charge. For instance, Backcountry and REI regularly have an extra charge for transportation a bicycle, in spite of the fact that REI offers a free ship-to-store choice, which is an extraordinary option for purchasers who need the additional advantage of representative counsel and aptitude. At last, it relies upon how agreeable you are picking, estimating, and amassing a bicycle.

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