So you’ve got about £2,000 to spend (lucky you!) on a brand new gravel bike (aka adventure bike), but you don’t know where to start looking? Fear not, we’re here to help to help you with some really good choices of versatile and capable road and off-road bikes in this price range.
With fat tyres, wide-range gearing and drop handlebars, gravel bikes can go almost anywhere from potholed city streets to remote forest roads
2021 model year gravel bikes are just beginning to appear, but there are plenty of 2020 bikes still in the shops
At this price point you'll often have a choice of carbon fibre or aluminium frame. Carbon's lighter, but aluminium usually comes with a better groupset for the money
Versatility is the raison d'etre of gravel bikes so look out for lots of mounts for pannier racks and other carriers and the ability to take very fat tyres
Gravel and adventure bikes are all the rage right now. They’re ideal for bikepacking adventures and gravel races, but they’re also super versatile and can be used for more road-based riding including touring, Audax and even the daily commute.
Most of the bikes here are around and about £2,000, we've included a few above and below the price simply because not every manufacturer offers a bike at precisely this price point.
We're beginning to see bikes with Shimano's new GRX gravel-specific components, which feature a choice of double or single chainring transmissions, generally lower gear ranges and the Shadow Plus clutch technology from Shimano mountain bike rear derailleurs which helps reduce chain slap and clatter.
One of the early adopters of the whole gravel/adventure/do-it-all bikes, the Cotic Escapade has had a few upgrades since its inception a good five or six years ago. Larger tyre clearances, a new carbon fork and a tapered head tube have now upped the performance and dropped the weight, making the new model an absolute joy to ride whether on or off road.
At its heart is still a quality chromoly steel frame that just wafts along, taking the vibration and bumps out of all but the roughest of road surfaces, helped by the fact that it can now accommodate larger volume tyres. The heavily sloped top tube also means no matter how tall you are you are going to be running a lot of exposed seatpost, bringing a little more flex and comfort to the ride.
Ribble's custom-spec tool makes it easy to create a version of the versatile CGR in aluminum, steel or carbon fibre, and the version with Reynolds 725 steel tubing and 650B wheels was a hit with our colleague Jon Woodhouse at off-road.cc who said the "combination of steel frame and plump but fast-rolling 47mm tyres delivers a comfortable ride on dirt while still being plenty quick on road, with sorted handling that's a happy medium between stability and steering agility; it's quite possibly all the drop bar bike you need for gravel, road or commuting."
Jon concluded: "There's little not to like about the CGR 725. It's equally adept on tarmac or fireroad, with the combination of steel frame and fat 650b tyres giving comfortable cruising ability, no matter what surface you're on. It's stable on dirt without feeling lethargic on tarmac, while it feels just as happy weaving in and out of traffic as it does at the end of the long, full laden day of bikepacking."
With a roughly £2,000 budget we went for Shimano's GRX 600 transmission rather than the SRAM Apex shown above, and Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheels, but we're sure you can find your own way to tweak the spec.
One of the first bikes of the 2021 model year to hit the shops, the latest version of the Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 bins off last year's Shimano 105 components in favour of Shimano GRX. The most important practical advantage is a change of chainset from 50/34 to 46/30, which makes this version much more compelling as an all-rounder.
It’s built around an aluminium frame bedecked with mounts for just about every accessory you might need, and neat sliding dropouts so you can either go singlespeed or choose the wheelbase for your riding style. You get Trek's own Bontrager GR1 Comp 40mm tyres, and there's clearance to go up to 45mm.
If you want a gravel bike for going fast in the dirt, then Giant's Revolt Advanced 2 is definitely worthy of your attention. Tester Stu loved its ride and handling, saying: "After returning from my first ride on the Giant Revolt Advanced 2, I couldn't believe it weighs nearly 10kg as it felt so light and agile off-road.
"I love proper race bikes for the rough stuff that are an absolute hoot to ride flat-out with their tyres scrabbling for grip on loose material. The Revolt is just like that. The harder you ride it, the more you get back. I spent huge sections of my rides through wooded trails or twisty gravel byways knowing that I was so close to the bike's limits that it could all go pear-shaped in an instant.
"I just couldn't stop it, though – it was addictive."
Highly capable, with a performance that shines on any surface as it smooths out bumps with the skinniest of skinny rear stays – and a very competitive price – the GT Grade Carbon Expert is a top choice in an increasingly crowded gravel bike market.
Hailing from Hamburg, Bergamont may not be a household name, but they've been doing some great work in the gravel/endurance/adventure field. The latest version of the Grandurance Expert has a carbon fibre frame and fork with Shimano's new GRX gravel components and 35mm Schwalbe G-One tyres.
You can get Canyon’s most affordable carbon fibre Grail for this price, specced with a GRX600 groupset with hydraulic disc brakes and Schwalbe G-One tyres with snazzy tan sidewall tyres. A defining feature of the bike is the distinctive CP07 Gravel Cockpit, a double -decker handlebar designed to provide a smoother ride on rough terrain. It might look odd but we found it to be a big help when it comes to providing stability and a real feeling of confidence.
Gravel and adventures bikes owe a lot to their mountain bike cousins, and this Marin Gestalt X11 owes more than most. It’s got a dropper post for smashing down steep tracks with extra confidence, a wide flared drop bar for increasing handling control, and a wide-range Shimano GRX 1X transmission.
It’s a bike we’ve reviewed, and here’s a snippet of the full review linked below:
“It really encourages you to find the most adventurous route between A and B, to seek out that overgrown path in case it reveals itself to be a ribbon of singletrack ebbing and flowing between the trees with which the Gestalt can really shine. It puts a smile on your face. And when you get to some steep and technical descents you’ll still be smiling, as it’s impressively surefooted and capable.”
The latest Secan gravel and adventure bike from UK brand Fairlight Cycles was a hit with the review team, combining the elegant composure of a well-designed steel frame with very generous tyre clearance and versatility and capability in equal measure.
Tyre clearance has been key to the Secan's development. It provides massive tyre clearance, up to 650x57mm or 700x47mm tyres, or 650x50mm/700x42mm when using the mudguard mounts. That's extremely generous and puts more than a few adventure bikes to shame.
You can buy it as a £1,299 frameset or choose a complete bike with Shimano GRX for £2,349.
Following on from the launch of the aluminium Topstone range, Cannondale introduced a carbon fibre Topstone and — on first impressions at least — it's lovely. This is a thoroughly competent gravel and adventure bike that offers noticeably more seated comfort than many of its rivals.
Like many manufacturers who missed out on Shimano GRX in 2020, Cannondale have adopted it enthusiastically for 2021, and here the GRX derailleurs are paired with Cannondale's own 46/30 chainset for a wide, low gear range.
When it comes to geometry, most gravel and adventure bikes split the difference between cyclocross and endurance bikes. Not so with the Merida Silex, which borrows a few ideas from mountain bikes and combines a long top tube with a short stem, and a very tall head tube to get away from an ugly stack of head tube spacers. The result is a riding position that promotes control and stability on loose surfaces and off-road trails, if it’s not the prettiest bike to look at.
There’s a wide range of models to pick from; this Silex 700 is right on the money with Shimano's GRX 800 components.
Legendary Basque bike brand Orbea launched its foray into this sector with the Terra, designed around 40mm wide tyres and with disc brakes, thru-axles and internal cable routing. The model we’ve picked out uses an aluminium frame with triple butted tubing and a carbon fibre fork and is specced with Shimano's GRX groupset with Kenda Alluvium 40mm tyres.
When we reviewed the 2019 version we found it to be a flighty and responsive adventure bike that has one eye on bikepacking adventures and gravel races and another on the daily grind, with mudguard eyelets for commuting and winter training.
A bit over £2k is the Vitus Substance CRX. It’s equipped with a Force SRAM 1x groupset with fat WTB Venture 47mm tyres and a really smart yet understated paint job. It's an absolute cracker off-road, offering a fun yet stiff ride, plus it rolls surprisingly well on the tarmac too.
Having wide, high-profile tyres fitted will make even the stiffest bike feel more palatable to ride, but even with the 47mm 650B rubber pumped up to 60psi for use on the road the Vitus still deals with every road imperfection without issue.
On road rides you can dart off down a new track you haven't seen before and yeah, it's a bit rattly over the really rough stuff, but you can pick out that the frame and fork were doing a damn fine job of absorbing a fair amount of the vibration.
Rounding out our list is the Kinesis Tripster AT, AT being short for All Terrain which points to the sort of riding this bike is intended for. It’s a smartly designed aluminium frame with a Columbus Futura carbon fork and specced with a SRAM Rival/Apex 1x groupset with Kinesis Crosslight wheels and 38mm wide Schwalbe G-One tyres. It’s another bike we really got on well with when we tested it following its launch in 2017.
In our review we said this: “Kinesis has designed a really nice bike in the Tripster AT. It's taken the best bits from the more expensive Tripster ATR and reimagined it in aluminium, and added some useful features along the way. It's a frameset that offers a multitude of build options from a fast road commuter to a large-tyred bikepacking setup for bigger adventures.”
While it's now only available as a frame, a Tripster AT with a sensible build should wind up ciosting you around two grand.
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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.