You don’t need me to tell you that gravel bikes and adventure bikes are hot stuff right now, with more manufacturers rushing to launch new bikes all the time, and what actually constitutes a gravel bike or adventure bike evolving constantly.
2020 gravel bikes have generally taken a step up in tyre width — where 35mm was standard a couple of years ago, most 2020 gravel bikes will take tyres over 40mm wide
The ability to take 650B wheels with even fatter tyres is common on 2020 gravel bikes, and some come with this wheel size
Shimano's GRX components are making inroads in a gravel bike sector previously dominated by SRAM's 1X drivetrains
The bike industry can't seem to make up its mind whether gravel bikes should have single or double chainsets; neither can we, so it's good to have a choice of 1X for simplicity or 2X for wider gear range
Here then are 13 of the hottest gravel bikes you need to know about from Cannondale’s Topstone Carbon to Condor Cycles latest and lightest gravel bike.
If you prefer skinny slick tyres, be sure to check out the hottest road bikes.
The 3T Exploro Pro GRX is an excellent gravel bike that's focused on aero efficiency, and this is the first complete bike in the range to be specced with a Shimano groupset. With loads of tyre clearance, it offers plenty of comfort and control to go along with its speed.
3T unveiled the Exploro, designed by Gerard Vroomen (the co-founder of Cervélo who has gone on to design bikes at Open as well as at 3T), back in 2016, calling it "the world's first aero gravel bike". Fusing different genres can be chancy. You might end up with something cool like salted caramel popcorn, or you might end up with something hideous like a liver trifle. Thankfully the 3T Exploro remains a triumph.
Like the Nukeproof Digger, Merida's Silex+ 6000 and it's big brother the 8000-E come with 650B wheels rather than the road bike standard 700C. Because a 650B wheel is smaller than a 700C (584mm across the bit where the tyre sits rather than 622mm) you can use a fatter tyre and end up with a set-up that's about the same size but that offers more grip and shock absorption.
That makes the Silex+ 6000 ideally suited to the gnarlier end of gravel bike shenanigans. It's one of the few gravel bikes that really is like a rigid mountain bike with drop bars and the more the riding resembles classic cross-country mountain biking, the more it likes it.
First launched in 2014 into an emerging gravel scene, GT's Grade hit all the right notes for roadies just beginning to venture off-road. An update quickly became overdue, however, but at last it's here... or at least, it is for the 2020 model year.
Some key changes ensure it’s still as relevant now as it was all those years ago, whilst retaining everything that was so loved of the original.
The Grade is 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.
US brand Cannondale entered the gravel bike market properly with the aluminium Topstone bikes, then followed up with carbon versions, including the Topstone Force eTap above, with 30mm of built-in suspension. This a range of bikes packed with all the details we’d expect on bikes designed to be able to do everything from a bikepacking weekend to daily commuting duties.
For the aluminium bikes, Cannondale has used its considerable expertise in shaping aluminium to produce a smart frame with space for 42mm tyres on 700c wheels, but you can run 650b if you prefer. There is internal routing and provision for a dropper post, plus rack and mudguard mounts.
As well as the Kingpin suspension, the carbon frames feature lots of bottle and rack mounts, wide tyre clearance and SpeedRelease thru-axles.
The Levarg (gravel backwards) is an aluminium gravel and adventure bike available for 2020 in two builds priced at £1,100 to £1,350. You'll also find some 2019 models still around, including the Levarg OR whose Fox AX suspension fork and dropper post, two components that help to blur the lines between a road and mountain bike.
All Levargs use the same custom butted 6061 aluminium frame with a 142x12mm rear dropout and a full carbon fibre fork with a tapered steerer tube. The down tube is curved at the head tube to ensure clearance with the suspension fork crown, and there are additional bottle cage mounts and internal routing for gear cables and brake hoses.
The new G2 builds on the success of the company’s ATR and AT gravel bikes with a more affordable package, it costs £1,500 with an SRAM Apex groupset and that includes hydraulic disc brakes and a wide range cassette.
"Building on the huge success of our Tripster AT and ATR models, the G2 offers a well thought out complete bike", says Kinesis. "Sitting as the third model in our Adventure category, the G2 is a bike that delivers versatility in spades coupled with the same DNA of the even more adventurous Tripster models.”
This is the second-generation gravel bike from the mountain bike company brought to you by Chain Reaction Cycles, and it’s got a lot of crossover design and tech from mountain bikes. The aluminium frame is adorned with 650b wheels and 47mm wide tyres, a 120mm dropper post for tackling steep descents without squashing your bits and all the versatility you want for everything from commuting, road riding and off-road adventures.
Another mountain bike company that is bringing its off-road experience into a multi-surface go-anywhere gravel bike. The second-generation Gestalt rolls on 700x42mm tyres but it’ll take 650b if that floats your boat and the frame has some trick details such as the internal routing for the dropper post, which is cleverly activated by the left-hand SRAM brake lever. A Rival 1 groupset gives you a wide range of gear ratios for tackling chunky terrain and the hydraulic disc brakes keep you out of trouble at high speed.
British company Fairlight Cycles has entered the growing gravel and adventure bike market with its Secan. It’s loosely based on the more road-focused Strael but the steel frame and new carbon fork have space for 650 x 57mm or 700 x 47mm wheels and tyres.
The Secan is built from a Reynolds 853 custom tubeset, like the Strael, but with a few key changes. A close relationship with Reynolds allowed Fairlight to develop a Dual Zone Butting (DZB) down tube that meets the specific requirements for this frame. More material reinforcing the down tube at the head tube avoids the need for a gusset, and it passes tough ISO (International Organization for Standardisation) tests.
Following on from the Bokeh with an eye on even bigger terrain and adventures, the new Mason InSearchOf is a big-tyred aluminium gravel bike that has a lot of mountain bike influence in its design, yet it stays this side of the road/gravel bike divide.
A custom Dedacciai Zero steel frame has been developed with a swoopy downtube to provide clearance for a suspension fork, while the top tube is also curved to provide extra frame bag clearance. There’s all manner of mounts for racks, mudguards, a dynamo light and internal routing for both 1x and 2x groupsets. The frame is accepting of both 29x2.4in and 27.5x2.8in mountain bike tyres.
You can watch an exclusive first look video here
London-based Pearson Cycles has lined up this good-looking aluminium gravel bike with some good details that look to make it ideal for a spot of off-road riding plus commuting and touring. It has clearance for a whopping 46mm tyre and there are a full complement of rack and mudguard mounts and a carbon fibre fork with 12mm thru-axle and flat mount disc brake.
“The aim of this bike was to be able to adapt to different disciplines of cycling without compromise in performance, versatility is the name of the game,” explains the company.
British company Forme may not be the most well-known of bike brands but its new Monsal Rival is sure to elevate its profile, especially among those people wanting a really nicely designed and good value gravel bike. You get a smart full carbon frame, with a dropped chainstay to improve clearance, with disc brakes and thru-axles and space for up to 45mm tyres. This model pictured features a full SRAM Force 1 groupset with Mavic Aksium wheels and Kenda 35mm tyres.
London's Condor Cycles used the last Cycle Show to launch its lovely new Bivio Odyssey aluminium gravel bike. Handmade in Italy from 7005 aluminium tubing, it's the lightest gravel/adventure bike Condor offers, with clearance for up to 40mm tyres, a carbon fork, 12mm thru-axles and flat mount brakes.
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David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.