In this buyer's guide you can find out about the best gravel bikes and adventure road bikes available. We've ridden and tested these bikes in real conditions, and this is our pick of the bunch.
Gravel bikes and adventure bikes have gone very quickly from the latest craze to a significant part of most bike companies' ranges. These bikes are tailored for long-distance comfort, with disc brakes, big tyre clearance and geometry honed to excel both on the road and off, whether it's a gravel, forest or dirt track.
Descended from touring bikes, endurance bikes and cyclo-cross bikes, gravel bikes and adventure bikes are go-almost-anywhere machines for riders who want to explore and race on dirt roads, and ride Tarmac to get there.
Disc brakes allow frame clearances for fatter tyres, making for a bike that can cope with a very wide range of surfaces and that points & laughs at potholes.
With even the tiniest lanes infested with motor traffic, gravel bikes get you properly away from dangerous drivers.
At the adventure end of the spectrum, these are the rugged successors to traditional long-distance touring bikes.
Some manufacturers are exploring short-travel suspension and 650B wheels to improve comfort and traction.
The best gravel bikes
Best gravel bike overall
Mason ISO — Buy Now starting at £3,140 from Mason Cycles
Sometimes a bike comes along that completely delivers in capabilities, looks and build quality. The Mason ISO - In Search Of - is one of those bikes. With an Italian hand-built frame, and a superb level of finish and detail it nonchalantly comes along and redefines what a drop-bar bike is capable of being.
This is the sort of bike where you feel at home from the very first ride. It's a bike you ride in, rather than on; you feel integral to it. Its geometry sits you in an effective pedalling position and it handles gracefully and instinctively. It also encourages outright speed. You often find yourself aiming into corners or rooty sections off-road, at speeds that you have to brake and scrub speed. It’s properly inspiring and the only thing that slows you is your confidence in holding on.
Read our review of the Mason ISO
Best gravel bike for women: Liv Devote 1
Buy Now for £1,498.99 from
In a relatively small pool of female-focused gravel bikes, the Liv Devote 1 delivers a fun and sporty but confidence-inspiring ride, on tarmac or trail.
Tester Lara writes: “Straight away, I noticed how stable and planted it feels, both on the road and off, with the geometry and lower bottom bracket position placing me firmly within the cockpit for maximum control and confidence.
“Climbing is an absolute pleasure, and even on a fairly tricky off-road climb it gave no twitchiness in terms of handling or issues with front wheel lift at all. It actually climbs better than my hardtail mountain bike!”
Read our review of the Liv Devote 1
Find a Liv dealer
Best gravel bike for bonkers ultra-endurance racing: Salsa Cutthroat Carbon GRX 810
Buy Now for £4,700.00 from Epic Cycles
The Salsa Cutthroat is less a gravel bike and more a gravel/mountain hybrid designed for ultra-endurance off road racing, with the 2,745-mile Tour Divide event firmly in its sights. While that may seem niche, it’s nevertheless incredibly capable and a huge amount of fun to ride.
Tester Matt writes: “When you’re seated, the riding position feels more upright than many road or gravel bikes. On smoother terrain, such as roads or faster gravel tracks, it doesn't feel quite as fast as a more race-orientated gravel bike. But the rougher the terrain, the more at home it feels and on any gradient. Going uphill, the short front gives plenty of control, and I found myself choosing the drops on many technical climbs, as this position felt comfortable and more capable. I also found myself able to climb while seated far more often than usual, which has been impressively comfortable due to the steep, 74.5-degree seat tube angle.which puts you in a position that makes for efficient pedalling.
Overall, the handling makes for an extremely enjoyable ride, giving a feeling that you could tackle anything that stood in your way. From mile after mile of forest road to steep, rocky tracks, it balanced the need for distance and technical trails well and, at all times, kept me smiling.
Read our review of the Salsa Cutthroat Carbon GRX 810
Find a Salsa dealer
Best value gravel bike: Ribble CGR
Buy Now starting at £1,199 from Ribble Cycles
Cross, Gravel, Road, that's what the CGR initials stand for on Ribble's all-rounder, a bike with solid gravel bike DNA that's also up for adventure road bike riding. This disc brake-equipped, mudguard-shod 'do a bit of everything' machine that makes a lot of sense for the rider who doesn't always want to stick to the tarmac. Thankfully, this jack of all trades is no master of none.
The CGR is a very easy bike to ride thanks to some neutral and balanced handling. This might make it sound dull but it's far from it, especially when you go off-road.
With a long wheelbase, mounts for mudguards and racks plus being designed for disc brakes, the Ribble is likely to see a lot of use in the wet and cold of winter where the road surface is often less than ideal. It's a bike that's dependable and trustworthy when it comes to the handling.
Read our review of the Ribble CGR
Best gravel bike for going fast: Specialized S-Works Crux
Buy Now for £11,300.00 from Specialized Concept Store
The 2022 Specialized S-Works Crux is an exceptional gravel bike for fast riding that can still excel in cyclocross races. The lightweight package is combined with brilliant low-speed stability that makes the S-Works Crux insanely good at climbing, be it fast or technical, and it's a blast to ride on the lanes too. This machine is one that will best suit racers and roadies who want a fast bike for mixed surfaces. Oh yes, and as you've probably noticed it's outstandingly expensive although there are less pricey models available in the Crux lineup.
Tester Liam writes: “The Crux was long Specialized’s pure cyclocross bike, but when I first saw the redesigned model I wondered what the Aethos was doing wearing a set of gravel tyres. It's a bit more nuanced than that, but in essence, that is what you're getting here. Its low weight makes the Crux an excellent climber and it is a joy to ride on faster gravel as well as on the road. Okay, it might not be the best for loading up with luggage, but for going fast it is fantastic.
“Specialized has got the balance about right here. Some gravel bikes to me just feel dull and boring, but the Crux is just hands down a great bike to ride. I think one of the reasons it still feels fun is that Specialized seems to have added the length mostly at the back of the bike rather than increasing the fork rake or making the head tube super slack. It's a nice balance that I can see a lot of roadies being very happy with.”
Read our review of the Specialized S-Works Crux
Find a Specialized dealer
Best money-no-object gravel bike: Cannondale Topstone Carbon Lefty 1
Buy Now for £7,499.00 from Cannondale
Cannondale's Topstone Carbon Lefty 1 is a technological tour-de-force: a sub-10kg, full suspension gravel bike with a monoblade Lefty fork. It's also a hoot to ride, and well-suited to fast riding on a wide range of surfaces. Yes, it's expensive, but nice things often are.
Tester Dave writes: "It's often easy to think of state-of-the-art bikes like this, with their top-spec components and technological innovations, more as look-at-me statements than actual bikes you'd buy. But it's good the boundaries between riding types are blurring, and that companies are trying interesting things.
"For all its cleverness, my abiding impression of the Topstone Carbon is of a bike that's a lot of fun. It's light and fast – you can keep up on the road, and shoot off on the gravel. The suspension is a tangible benefit for riding on mixed surfaces at speed, and everything on it works brilliantly. There's lots to like here."
Read our review of the Cannondale Topstone Carbon Lefty 1
Find a Cannondale dealer
Best gravel bike if you're on a tight budget: Claud Butler Primal
Buy Now for £599.99 from Ash Cycles
Claud Butler's Primal is just about the cheapest gravel bike we've encountered but anybody with limited funds won't feel short-changed as it provides an impressive ride experience across a wide range of terrain. However, while it puts forward a good argument for being all the budget drop-bar bike you might ever need, a look at the price-point-focused spec sheet suggests it's not necessarily all the drop-bar bike you'd ever want.
A Claud Butler gravel bike for just under £600, eh? Bet you're not exactly salivating at the prospect. Well, you might want to hold fire on your prejudices there, kemosabe, because this is a multi-surface drop bar bike whose performance belies its budget price. The Primal is a fantastically fun machine that takes open roads, urban rat runs or even moderately slippy and slidey trails in its stride. It's comfortable, reactive to your efforts and quite a joy to ride.
Read our review of the Claud Butler Primal
Best value gravel bike frameset: Sonder Camino AL frame & fork
Buy Now for £449.00 from Alpkit
The Sonder Camino AL frame and fork is an excellent base on which to build a commuting, gravel or bikepacking bike. Loaded with features and at an excellent price, it compares well with far more expensive framesets. Thjis latest iteration has a full-carbon fork with three-bolt luggage mounts, internal cable routing and a slacker head tube at 69° with longer wheelbase.
Tester Mike writes: “Whopping tyre clearance really is the Camino's headline claim to fame. Big tyres mean comfort, grip and confidence on rough descents, all signature traits of a bike designed for adventure. The frame stats speak to a confident ride over rough, loose surfaces, but with chainstays and a bottom bracket drop that makes twisting through trees on windy trails fun. With its long wheelbase, I found the Camino ridiculously stable at high speed on gravel – even loaded with bikepacking kit.
“At £449 the Camino frameset represents cracking value for money. It's a bike you could build as a commuter or a round-the-world tourer, or a bridleway escape machine. Or all three, changing wheels, bar and luggage as needed. At about 2.7kg for frame and fork it's not winning any weight contests, but that's not what this sort of bike is about. Alpkit's full-build Caminos are great value for money, but if you have the bits kicking around, building an adventure-capable bike up using the Camino frameset won't disappoint.”
Read our review of the Sonder Camino AL frame & fork
Fairlight Cycles Secan 2.5 GRX 800 2X
Buy Now for £2,799.00 from Fairlight Cycles
In taking a plethora of tyre widths, the Secan from young British company Fairlight Cycles can be pressed into action as a rugged off-road bikepacking bike or shod with wide slicks, mudguards and racks for the daily commute or multi-day tour. It's a truly versatile gravel bike or adventure road bike, depending on how you configure it.
The Secan may not be the lightest option – steel never will be – but it doesn't lack the performance that makes it a really fun and exciting bike to ride. The ride quality and the smoothness on rough terrain more than compensate as well. I'm a sucker for a good steel road bike, which is why I've always owned one, and the Secan offers that unmistakable balance of comfort, unflappable smoothness and assured handling you expect from a very well designed steel frame.
Read our review of the Fairlight Cycles Secan 2.5 GRX 800 2X
Buy Now for 1,000-£3,300 from Edinburgh Bicycle
The Silex is an almost unique platform from Merida, driven by some intriguing ideas. Taking a cue from current mountain bike thinking, Silexes (Silices?) are long out front compared to almost all other gravel bikes and at 71° have a shallower head angle. The idea is to make the bike more stable over rough surfaces, and it works. The Silex 9000 got our tester grinning over a variety of terrain, offering excellent off-road handling whilst still able to turn a wheel easily to road riding too.
The Silex range comprises two carbon fibre models with 650B wheels for even more off-road capability, and three aluminium-framed bikes with 700C wheels.
Read more about the Merida Silex range
Read our review of the Merida Silex
Find a Merida dealer
Genesis Croix de Fer, CdA, & Fugio
Buy Now starting at £799.99 from Freewheel
British brand Genesis was doing adventure road bikes long before it became the latest trend, and the most recent changes to the Croix de Fer - a lower bottom bracket and taller head tube - took it further away from its cyclo-cross roots and closer to an adventure bike. And is there any adventure bigger than riding around the world? That's something that Vin Cox did in 2010, setting a new record in the process, aboard a Croix de Fer. Steel frames feature across the range with a choice of steel or carbon forks, plus disc brakes, external cable routing and eyelets for racks and mudguards.
If for some reason you don't fancy a steel frame, then check out the CdA and Fugio 10 for a range of aluminium options, and if you want perhaps the ultimate metal-framed gravel bike there's the Croix De Fer Ti at £4,999.99.
Read our review of the Genesis Croix de Fer, CdA, & Fugio
Buy Now starting at £950 from Sigma Sports
The GT Grade is available with an aluminium or carbon frame (which features a frame design and carbon layup designed to provide comfort in the rough) with disc brakes and space for up to 35mm tyres. You could fit a slick tyre in there or a treaded cyclo-cross tyre if you want to inject more dirt and gravel into your riding. The Grade has versatility too, with mudguard and rack mounts neatly incorporated into the frame and fork. The top models have a carbon thru-axle fork for added stiffness.
The £2,199 top model, the Grade Carbon Expert, is a superb bike that's brilliant at being fast and comfortable on rough roads, and right at home on forest trails and gravel roads. The new frame, with its 'floating stays' design, is impressively smooth at the saddle. Rough tracks, jagged roots and rippled fields are soaked up exceptionally well thanks to the seat post flexing backwards. It's freer to do this on the new frame since the seat tube can bow forwards, unhindered by the seat stays.
Read our review of the GT Grade
Find a GT dealer
Buy Now for starting at £1,199.00 from Sigma Sports
Specialized recently unleashed a major revamp of the Diverge range of gravel bikes, and those new features carry through into this year's models. The latest versions of the high-end carbon fibre Diverges get the Future Shock 2.0 front shock absorber from the Roubaix range, while the whole range has been redesigned with a slacker head angle, longer frame reach, shorter stems, a higher bottom bracket and longer chainstays.
The idea behind all these changes is to make for a bike that's more stable at high speed, but still nimble. The new Diverge design also features more tyre clearance, so you can fit 47mm 700C tyres or 53mm 650Bs and still have 6mm of clearance round them for crud to pass through. If you're looking at one of the high-zoot carbon fibre Diverges — the Comp, Expert, Pro and S-Works models — you also get an internal SWAT compartment in the down tube for storing tools, spares and so on, a feature that's crossed over from Specialized's mountain bike line.
And speaking of mountain bikes there's also the Diverge Evo which is, er, a flat-bar gravel bike. Looks an awful lot like a rigid mountain bike to us, but then these categories have always blurred one into the other at the margins.
Read our review of the Specialized Diverge
Find a Specialized dealer
Bergamont Grandurance 6
Buy Now for £1,449.00 from Hargroves Cycles
The Bergamont Grandurance 6 is a well-equipped aluminium gravel bike or adventure road bike. It’s decent value and has a striking paint job, if not paired with the most progressive geometry. This is a classic endurance road bike with allowances for gravel tyres, mudguards and racks, and for the price it makes a great weekend gravel bike or adventure road bike that will commute with ease on the weekdays too.
Read our review of the Bergamont Grandurance 6
Cotic Escapade 105
Buy Now for £1,899.00 from Cotic
Larger tyre clearances, a new carbon fork and a tapered head tube have now upped the performance and dropped the weight of the latest version of Cotic's venerable do-everything bike, making the new model an absolute joy to ride whether on or off road.
Launched back in the early 2010s, the original Escapade was ahead of its time but with the explosion of the whole gravel/adventure market, components have caught up and things like quality 1x groupsets, brilliant hydraulic disc brakes and 650B wheels mean the Escapade can really strut its stuff, especially if you like to chop and change your choice of terrain.
Tester Tony wrote: "I spent so much time on the gravel with the Cotic because it was just... infectious. The wide tyres floating around on the smaller aggregate were easy to control thanks to that quick steering, backed up by the lengthy 425mm chainstays which brought a feeling of stability to the whole thing."
Read our review of the Cotic Escapade 105
Nukeproof Digger 275 Factory
Buy Now for £2,499.99 from Chain Reaction Cycles
The Nukeproof Digger's chunky WTB Sendero tyres, dropper post, wide handlebar and short stem ensure it really shines on the dirt with great handling poise that’ll have you ripping, popping and sending in no time. Nukeproof is a mountain bike company and has brought this experience into its Digger gravel bike, with a lot of influence from the mountain bike world evident in its design and specification.
For razzing about in the woods, linking up bridleways, commuting to the office or just plain old road riding, the Digger Pro is very capable. You could easily chuck it into the lactic acid hell of a cyclocross race or eye up one of the growing number of adventure events like Dirty Reiver say. It’s also an excellent option for commuting especially if you want to take the more interesting route. And if you had a second set of wheels and tyres you’d have all the bases easily covered.
Read our review of the Nukeproof Digger 275 Factory
Find a Nukeproof deale
Buy Now for £2,945.00 from Shand Cycles
The British made Shand Stoater offers a steel frame and fork that has been designed for “the pure enjoyment of go-anywhere riding… refined enough to be your main road bike but rugged enough for off road trails and singletrack, it could be the only bike you ever need,” according to the company. It’s available in several builds, we tested one with a Rohloff hub and Gates Belt drive costing £3,595, but other builds are available. Tyre clearance is good enough for 45mm tyres and the frame is decked out with rack and mudguard eyelets and three sets of bottle cage mounts.
Read our review of the Shand Stoater
Mason Bokeh Force
Buy Now for £3,100.00 from Mason Cycles
The Mason Bokeh is a highly capable adventure bike with a feature-packed aluminium frame, splendid aesthetics, and handling that ensures it's as at home on the road as it is on the trail.
The Bokeh combines an aluminium frame and carbon fork with all the key ingredients of an adventure bike, including wide tyres, disc brakes, thru-axles, relaxed geometry and mounts for mudguards and racks. The Bokeh goes the extra mile with a front dynamo mount, third bottle cage mount, 700C and 650B wheel size compatibility and fully internal cable routing.
As lovely as the Bokeh undoubtedly looks, its appearance is pointless if it's not backed by a high-quality ride. Fortunately, a high-quality ride the Bokeh most certainly does deliver. In a nutshell, it's a lovely bike to ride, whether on tarmac or gravel roads, or woodland byways.
Read our review of the Mason Bokeh Force
Canyon Grail CF SL 8.0 Di2
Buy Now for £3,799.00 from Canyon
Canyon doesn't rush things. It studied the disc brake market before finally taking the plunge on its road bikes and then it entered the gravel bike and adventure road bike scene with the Grail, and boy was it worth the wait. The Grail CF SL 8.0 is light, nimble, fun… and that handlebar – laugh as much as you like, it's a clever design that brings a lot to the ride, especially if you want to go fast on a constantly shifting surface. What a machine!
Read our review of the Canyon Grail CF SL 8.0 Di2
4 more excellent gravel bike frames to build your own
Fearless Warlock frame & fork
Buy Now for £750.00 from Fearless Bikes
The Fearless Warlock is one of the new breeds of all-terrain bikes. Although it has drop bars, it holds its own on many off-road trails and keeps the speed up. The versatile build, thoughtful attention to detail and decent price point makes the Warlock a competitive, different and great riding steel frameset for off-road adventuring.
Tester Jim writes: “I never felt surprised by the Warlock. It feels very reassuring, with a consistent ride from the start. It felt like a familiar bike quickly, and if I wanted a daily ride that allowed me off-road as well, the Warlock would be perfect for that. It would also be perfect for a long, off-road adventure, loaded up with gear.
“The consideration that Fearless has put into their second frame is clear (the Vulture being the first), and it shows. The option to build a great gravel or adventure bike with this at the core means if you have a limited budget or a few spares, it's a great option. Saying that, it's equally as deserving of a high-end build. There is a slight weight penalty with steel, but I would have very little concern on the life and strength of the Warlock, and keeping in mind that it's meant for off-road use, the (slight) extra weight is peace of mind.”
Read our review of the Fearless Warlock frame & fork
Ritchey Outback frameset
Buy Now for £1,400.00 from The Woods Cyclery
The Ritchey Outback is a steel-framed, carbon-forked gravel and adventure frameset designed for everything from road to bikepacking and off-road touring, with all kinds of gravel in between. Its premium steel tubes and carbon layups have all the mounts you could want, and it's a supremely comfy ride.
The seamless, triple-butted chromoly Ritchey Logic tubing is proprietary, and the thicknesses are frame-size specific too – the idea is to maintain the same ride feel and quality across all the sizes. The result is incredibly smooth, even for a steel frame. Our test bike came fitted with Ritchey Speedmax 700x40mm tyres, which are not the fattest out there, yet comfort is outstanding.
t's a smooth ride that mutes trail feedback and bumps, while the front end is fantastic too – thanks in part to its less rigid, old-school straight steerer, and in part to the modern carbon fork.
Read our review of the Ritchey Outback frameset
Kinesis Tripster ATR V3
Buy Now for £2,200 (frame only) from Kinesis Bikes
ATR stands for Adventure-Tour-Race and it's a bike built for adventure riding, cyclo-cross, touring and sportives. Kinesis build the frame from custom drawn 3AL/2.5V titanium tubing, with geometry featuring a low bottom bracket, long head tube and relaxed head angle, something that all these adventure bikes have in common. There’s space between the rear stays and carbon fork for up to 40mm tyres (but we’ve comfortably fitted wider) along with full-length 45mm mudguards, and there are rack mounts too.
This third iteration of the bike feels like it's come of age in terms of its adventure capability whilst keeping the comfort, road manners and reasonably light weight it's always had for covering distance at speed. It is an excellent frameset, around which you can build any number of different bikes.
Read our review of the Kinesis Tripster ATR V3
Find a Kinesis dealer
Gravel bikes & adventure bikes FAQ
What's a gravel bike anyway?
Gravel bikes have drop handlebars, wide-range gearing and fat tyres, hung on frames configured for stable handling over rough surfaces.
The best gravel bikes and adventure bikes aren’t simply rebranded cyclocross bikes. While there’s no single blueprint that the best gravel bikes and adventure bikes follow, they generally sit between an endurance road bike and a cyclocross race bike, if anything leaning more towards the former. Gravel bikes and adventure bikes are designed with longer wheelbases, so they’re stable on the road and when riding over an unpredictable surface like gravel, and provide comfort over long distances. The geometry is more relaxed than a race bike, the head angle slacker and the head tube often taller. The bottom bracket of a gravel bike or adventure road bike will usually be a little lower than a cyclocross bike.
Gravel bikes are also referred to as adventure bikes but that term is becoming rarer. As well as covering a genre of motorbikes, 'adventure bike' perhaps doesn't sounds as much fun as 'gravel bike'. It's like the early days of mountain biking when 'all terrain bike' was suggested as a better term for flat-bar, fat-tyre bikes. It might be more accurate, especially in countries without much in the way of mountains, but all terrain bike is kinda clunky and unromantic.
What sort of brakes do gravel bikes have?
They all feature disc brakes. Discs make it easy for bike companies to design a frame and fork able to accommodate bigger tyres. Disc brakes, especially hydraulic discs, offer more power which provides more confidence when riding off-road and are useful in mixed conditions.
How big are gravel bike wheels and tyres?
Gravel bikes and adventure bikes have space for bigger tyres, but how big varies from brand to brand. Endurance road bikes go up to about 32mm as a general rule, but gravel bikes and adventure road bikes increase the clearance up to as much as 55mm. That provides a vast range of tyre choice options, including many rugged touring and cyclocross tyres, as well as road slicks, so you've got plenty of options for setting the bike up for your riding demands. In some cases you can even fit 29er mountain bike tyres.
Tyre choice very much depends on the riding you want to do and the terrain in your local riding spot. There’s nothing to stop you fitting light 25mm or 28mm tyres if you want it to be fast on the road. Or you could use a 35mm treaded tyre if you want to include some gravel and dirt paths in your rides. We’re seeing more tyre choice as well to go with the bikes, such as the Panaracer Gravel King, to name one example of the growing selection aimed at gravel and adventure riding.
As for wheels, the majority of gravel bikes use the same 700C wheel size as road bikes and 29er mountain bikes. However some come with the smaller 650B size that's popular on mountain bikes as a compromise between the original mountain bike 26-inch wheel and the modern 29-incher. A 700C wheel is 622mm in diameter at the rim; a 650B is 584mm, so you can fit a fatter tyre for more grip and cushioning and end up with the same overall diameter. Only a few bikes come with 650B wheels off the peg, but many more will take hem if you want to experiment with wheel and tyre sizes.
What about gravel bike gears?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to gearing on gravel bikes. The Keep It Simple tendency favours single chainrings and very wide-range sprockets out back. That makes gear changing straightforward, and there's less to go wrong with no front derailleur.
Proponents of double chainrings point out that you get a wider gear range overall with closer steps between gears, and it's not like flipping between chainrings is exactly difficult.
Both Shimano and SRAM offer gravel bike gear systems with single and double chainrings. Campagnolo's Ekar is probably the most sophisticated single-chainring system, with a gear range to rival double-ring systems from its 9-42 13-speed cassette.
Can you fit racks, bags and mudguards to gravel bikes?
While gravel bikes and adventure road bikes have grown from the gravel racing scene, manufacturers have been wise to cotton on to their do-it-all appeal, and many equip their gravel bikes and adventure road bikes with eyelets for fitting racks, mudguards and extra bags on the forks and top tube. That means you could build up the perfect winter or commuting bike, or add a rack for some light touring and explore further afield.
Why might you want a gravel bike?
Their adaptability, versatility and ruggedness makes them the perfect commuter bike, an ideal light touring or audax bike, a great winter training bike, or simply one bike that can tackle any sort of terrain you care to take it along. If ever there was a case for the one perfect bike for the British non-racing cyclist, then one of the best gravel bikes is probably it.
The US gravel bike racing scene hasn’t been much emulated in the UK yet, but the style of bike has piqued the interest of British cyclists. The idea of the bigger tyres and relaxed geometry that promotes extra comfort when the going gets rough and bumpy is very attractive given the generally poor state of repair of UK roads. Let's be honest, in many places they're almost gravel anyway.
They can be ridden anywhere, these bikes, on the road and off it. The idea of adventure (or allroad, roadplus and enduroad as some people are calling this style of bike) is also finding fans, with the ability to dart down a bridleway or over the plain or along a fireroad to mix up a regular road ride appealing to cyclists keen to get away from the congested streets and into the wide open countryside.
Of course, the idea of riding a road bike across any sort of terrain, be it smoothly paved roads or rough and bumpy gravel tracks, woodland trails laced with roots or edge-of-field bridleways, is nothing new really. Road cyclists have been doing it since the dawn of the bicycle. How do you think cyclocross was invented? Gravel bikes and adventure bikes, though, are better suited to the demands of on and off-road riding. They split the difference between an endurance road bike and a cyclocross bike, with space for bigger tyres than an endurance bike and geometry better suited to road riding than a cyclocross bike.
Don't confuse a gravel bike or adventure bike with an endurance road bike like the Cannondale Synapse or Giant Defy. While they do look similar, the key difference is in the bigger tyres the former accepts and the modified geometry. It's worth taking a look at our roundup of endurance road bikes for examples of bikes that come close to a gravel and adventure bike.
Call them what you want, these bikes are all about having fun and exploring the beautiful countryside we’re fortunate to be surrounded by. You could be riding along smooth tarmac one minute, then hurtling down a tree-lined bridleway the next, then trucking along a fireroad in deepest Wales. And that really appeals to a growing number of British cyclists.
>>Read more: all reviews of gravel bikes and adventure bikes
Cafe wisdom: road.cc readers weigh in on gravel bikes
Our readers are always a useful source of knowledge and opinion on all things cycling. Here are the best comments from readers from previous versions of this article.
sammutd88: Whilst I’m sure the Mason Bokeh is a hoot to ride, I can’t see how it’s 3 times the bike of another aluminium framed, carbon fork gravel bike considering its price. I must say, even some of these steel bikes from “bespoke” builder (non-custom however) are really just taking the piss out of the consumer.
Blackthorne: It is interesting how so many exciting gravel bikes are coming out of the UK, in spite of the USA's surplus of adventure trails. Here we have a choice of mass produced or smaller manufacturers that stay on the conservative side of things, offering either overbuilt touring barges or 'gravel' bikes that can barely fit a 40c tire. The majority take the lazy route: stretch out chainstays to 435+ mm instead of applying a bit of creativity to the tire clearance issue. And finally the bikes that do show promise are invariably missing mudguard and rack mounts.
SlartiB: I can't find the bike I want, which is:
- 27.5 Plus
- Steel bikepacking frame/fork
- Drop bars
- 580% gear ratio (to match my 18 y.o 3x9 MTB! - it is EXCELLENT)
So I'll just keep my old MTB.
ktache replied: I built a Surly Ogre, not quite drop bars, Jones H, and not quite 580%, Rohloff 526%, missing a bit on the top end, but everything I wanted her to be. In fact slightly better off road than my 23 year old Ti Xcountry XTRed good bike, not quite as fast but seems more capable. Didn't intend that to be the case, she's meant to be my Ultimate Commuter.
I do do the 27.5x3 and when I can no longer keep that going, in seems that it is already a redundant format, I will go for 29er, she's good for 2.5 and I think that I can probably squeeze in most 2.6s.
I am shockingly happy with her. Because I was me, it took almost 2 years to get her built, but I've had her almost a year now.
Smartstu: I have a 2016 Tifossi Cavazzo - I ride 90% on the road on the stock G-One's - which are great all round tyres. The position on this bike is perfect for me - it's fast on the road but not back breaking. I can ride it all day and I've done a bit of single track through woods on it, bridleways, etc. For 40+ blokes like me who only have 1 bike - gravel bikes are a great option.
Marin92: The Thorn Raven would sit well in this group. Low maintenance go anywhere bike.
jasecd: This is my new winter/gravel/adventure bike - I don't think they're selling them in the UK anymore, which is a shame as it's amazing fun. Not exactly subtle but puts a smile on my face every time I ride it.
JimboBaggins: The OPEN UP wasn't in the list, but I can give positive reviews... Mostly use 40mm tires for the rough roads in Azerbaijan where I now live, but mtb tires were great for blasting around Dorset where this pic was taken. No mudguard mounts though so not really a traditional UK winter bike. It's crazy light considering what it can do.
Daddylonglegs: My gravel bike dates from 1999, well before the marketing teams had thought of the phrase. I had always had a yearning for a mountain bike with drops that would perform well on the road, (so no suspension!) I also wanted an off-road bike that was light and climbed fast and efficiently both on and off-road.
With the help of a friend and local bike shop owner who had similar ideas, I had built for me a steel frameset to take 26 wheels and up to 2.125 inch tyres. It was based on the compact, short seat tube geometry that Giant had begun to make popular around that time.
My first excursion was shortly after delivery when I took it to the Atlas Mountains for a week with a dozen mountain-bikers riding everything from tarmac and trails to gruelling, rocky descents. For that trip I used 2.125 Continental Explorer Pro tyres. The bike performed brilliantly.
Since then I have used the bike regularly, both on and off road. Fitted with road slicks it is very happy devouring the road miles as a tourer or a leisure bike for an afternoon spin in the country. A few years ago I had its v-brake bosses removed and replaced with disc mounts, necessitating a change to carbon forks.
Yesterday I got back from a brilliant week in Ambleside in the Lake District riding the numorous rocky trails and hills the area offers. While I was there I dropped into the Sonder Bikes store. It's gratifying to see nearly twenty years later what is effectively my bike being sold and marketed as the latest new bicycling innovation.
Morgoth985: "super-versatile bikes that are at home on lanes, potholed streets and dirt roads"
Which given the way the surfaces are deteriorating will soon be everywhere other than the M23.
SirruslyFast: I've been happy with a £450 Revolution Cross.
Done the C2C a few times, hundreds of miles commuting on bridleways and wagonways, road days, lanes, gravel paths, stony paths, forest tracks, beaches and Northumberland hills.
Sometimes with racks and guards, sometimes with niether. Sometimes with 35mm unpuncherable Conti Tourers, other times with 28mm tyres.
Deals with anything. This latest craze seems just another fad and excuse to flog more £1,000 bikes.
BehindTheBikesheds: These bikes are very limited in some respects, quite a few don't have much clearance for a really wide tyre (despite the continual statements that discs afford wider tyres to be fitted), some have barely any clearance for reasonably wide tyres plus mudguards or indeed have no proper guard mounts or eyelets for a pannier rack either.
None are a match for the specialized Tricross in the high end models for flexibility, comfort and the ability to have 55mm wide tyres, even wider at the rear.
I can fit 60mm wide tyres on a 29 rim to my globe expert drop conversion which is a rock solid but fairly lightweight audax/tourer/winter racer/utility machine with a set of guard/pannier mounts plus low rider mounts, carbon forks/stays/seatpost plus a sturdy alu triangle.
To pique my interest you'd have to match all the functionality, keep the ruggedness and comfort as well as to a reasonable pricepoint and frankly none of the above come close to matching framesets such as the Globe or Tricross that are 10 years old now.
Yeah, but you're kinda crossing into expedition tourer territory there. These are all day (or several day) bikes and 60mm tyres are not generally chosen by many people for the road - not knocking you for liking them! If I wanted a bike like that I would be looking at a Salsa La Vaya or something more 'boss'. I know you're going to tell me that a 60c tyre is great for x and y, but most people are simply not going to put something that heavy on a road bike that is not for touring. I have two of the above bikes and find anything over 32c a bit of drag, though I would certainly go out to 42c for a off roady tour on the Tripster. 28c seems a good balance between weight, comfort and reliablity on Uk roads. So writing these bikes off because they won't take 60s seems a little, er, edge-casey.
But a road bike that is lightweight, reasonably agile AND flexible in terms of its use/fittings is far more advantageous than those that aren't.
There is nothing in the list here that is any better than the frames I mentioned, currently my Globe is set up for Audax/light touring duties but it could be used for expedition, it'll take 140kg all up without batting an eyelid plus it has a 24 tooth inner ring that with a 36T sprocket can get you up/along pretty much anything (and with a normal long cage rear d).
I could use it for commuting, I can and have used it during winter and warmer months for general road riding (albeit at my meagre 16-17mph av.), it can be used as an offroad 'adventure' bike as the ones listed are pitched at and with all those types of cycling have the ability to fit a huge range of tyres widths on anything from a 27.5 to the current 700C and 29er type rims AND be able to have a proper pannier rack fitted and normal full length mudguards whilst still having clearance for 45mm+ tyres with them fitted. none of the bikes here can do all that can they accept the Jamis Renegade which can 'only' accomodate 40mm tyres without guards and is best part of £3k.
Why wouldn't you want the best all-rounder you can have (especially valid to those that can have only one bike) why compromise to spending upward of £2,000 and still be woefully short in terms of flexibility compared to that of frames that do everything these do and more but were designed 10 years ago?
my point is, it's all well and good pitching these bikes but losing the practicalities so that you can have a bike for all occasions means compromise.
Make a bike the equal or better than what has already being made previously and I'd be interested. none of these interest me because of the reasons I've stated.
Oleschroder: For a low budget but fun gravel bike (without thru axles) I can recommend the Mango Point AR, I use it as a winter bike with 32c slicks and a summer gravel bike with 40c knobbly tyres. So much fun to ride!
Geraldaut: Strange that GT Grades get more and more expensive. I have the 105 2015 model that I got for 900 EUR.
Changed wheels and ride 50/50 road and single trials. Fantastic bike!
dgmtc: While I am sure the Mason Bokeh is a better bike, I personally went for the (cheaper) On One Bish Bash Bosh as I wasn't sure how much I'd be using a gravel/adventure/monstercx bike. Was lucky to get the frameset at £370 during a sale.
ianguignet: just buy a cross bike for fks sake...
DoctorFish replied: With mudguard mounts and rack mounts? I'll stick with my adventure bike thanks.
moonigan replied: Cross bikes don't have the tyre clearance and the geometry isn't suited for anything other than cyclocross, which is a surprise.
rogermerriman replied: does depend on the CX some of the more commuter focused CX bikes have had more relaxed geometry for a while now, certinly before the gravel/all road/adventure road etc terms and bikes turned up.
I have a Norco Search it's not got huge clearances but to be honest I have a good MTB so in many ways that's fine.
LastBoyScout: My only criticism of my hybrid - Whyte Portobello - is that it doesn't have the chainstay clearance to put CX tyres on it. Yes, I know it's one of their "fast urban" series, but there seems to be plenty of clearance on the forks and seatstays and the ability to put something knobblier on would be fantastic for family rides to/round the local park and varying my commute with some tow path action.
I do wonder whether a hard-tail 29er would have been a better choice, but the Whyte was a bargain at the time and does most of what I want it to do very well.
I mostly use an old road bike for commuting and winter training - as and when that gives up, I will definitely replace it with some sort of CX/gravel bike
LastBoyScout wrote: "I do wonder whether a hard-tail 29er would have been a better choice..."
I keep thinking the same, as these CX inspired Graventure bikes become more off-road capable, at what point should we start slapping drop bars on XC bikes? Will it even be worth keeping RS-1s instead of solid carbon forks?
Initialised: My 'Gravel' setup is a 2013 Specialized Secteur Sport Disc running a 2.1 Thunder Burt up front and a 33mm Tracer at the back, both tubeless with Orange Seal on Mavic Allroad Pros gearing is 50/34x11-34.
It got me round Moors & Shores last weekend (30% road, 30% gravel, 30% farm/fire road, 10% single track) and should cope well with the Dirty Reiver later this month.
Forzamark: I'm really interested in getting a gravel bike for my new winter bike. Does anyone have any recommendations for an Alu framed bike that has mudguard mounts, disc brakes with thru axles that can be used mostly on road but with some easy off road?
gthornton101 replied: I had this thought last winter, but instead of buying a trendy gravel bike aka more expensive (from what I found) I went with a Cannondale Badboy secondhand off ebay.
It is more hybrid frame than road-orienteered with flat bars, but it has hydraulic discs, 35mm tyres and full mud guards. Does my winter commute superbly on the road, and manages cutting through the woods or along tow path without issue.
abracingwalk replied: I've just come back to cycling after quite a long break and after doing my research I chose a Trek 920 for my new bike. I've been very pleased with it, despite a couple of minor niggles. It meets your stated criteria and comes already fitted with its own sturdy front and rear racks.
I did first suffer regular punctures with the OEM tyres but solved this with Schwalbe replacements - seems like a common experience with other owners too - and I've fitted 65mm wide SKS Bluemels. (Thank you to Walthamstow Cycles!)
Bottle cage mounts are strangely placed - yes you can fit four cages on frames sized 56cm and above, but in practice their positions affect the size of bottle you can use.
Some complain about the standard saddle but it suits my body shape comfortably although I do wear padded cycling shorts.
The reach of the standard stem was too long for me so I opted for a shorter one.
Other than that, it's been great for my fully loaded touring needs as well as longer day trips.
Hope this helps.
andyp: 'gravel bike'. Godawful marketing shite. It's this generation's 'All Mountain'.
Morat replied: How about 'Everyday bike for real people on real roads'
Yeah, we don't have gravel roads in the UK like they do in yankland but we do have plenty of rubbish roads in fantastic countryside that are no fun on a peloton replica. Now that the 23mm myth has been busted there's reason to suffer at 120PSI anymore.
bikezero: Please enlighten me. What advantages do I get buying a budget gravel bike vs putting mtb style road bike tires on a budget road bike?
To the lay person of my age (a teen in the 1990 mtb boom) "gravel" and "hybrid" bikes of today seem to look suspiciously like the now absolutely not manufactured mountain bikes of yesteryear, only that they often have road bike style handlebars fitted and tend to be more expensive.
It seems like a marketing trick to have completely altered what a consumer mtb used to look like and introduce 'gravel' and 'hybrid'.
Miller replied: Typically you can't put MTB-style tyres onto a road bike - road frames won't accept the required tyre widths. 30mm width is the bare minimum you need for mixed terrain, 35mm and up is better. A road frame, any road frame, is unlikely to accept anything beyond 28mm and some won't even manage that.
Arno du Galibier: Has anyone tried using 27.5 in wheels with narrow MTB tyres to make some kind of rigid 80's style MTB for the lower end of the technical riding scale?
alotronic replied: Funny you should say that, I have two of these bikes (!) Tripster and Datum. The Datum is more 'roady' and I have it set up for ditance riding, but the Tripster I currently have set up with flats and a long stem and 35c tyres. It's actually a very good 'light MTB' and I was blasting the dry tracks in epping forest today and having a great time. Bit like MTBing back in the day - your arms are the suspension. Setup like this it's a great runabout, commuter and gnar-road (just made that up) and I wouldn't hesitate to pop luggage on it for a European tour. I could easily get some 4os in there with knoblies, so wouldn't feel the need for 27.5 myself - IF they worked it would be a sweet ride though.
HowardR: Alotonic - "gnar-road" - Definitely deserving to going in the Dictionary. I shall be attempting slip it in to as many conversations as possible.
Explore the complete archive of reviews of gravel bikes on road.cc
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