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.
Gravel bikes have generally taken a step up in tyre width — where 35mm was standard a couple of years ago, most gravel bikes will take now tyres over 40mm wide
The ability to take 650B wheels with even fatter tyres is common on the latest 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 20 of the hottest gravel bikes you need to know about from Specialized's Campagnolo-equipped Diverge LTD Carbon to Condor Cycles latest and lightest gravel bike.
If you prefer skinny slick tyres, be sure to check out the hottest road bikes.
Specialized has jumped straight on the launch of Campagnolo's 1 X 13-speed Ekar gravel bike groupset with this gorgeous-looking version of the 2021 Diverge, a platform that itself gets a major makeover for 2021. The new Diverge has Future Shock 2.0 front suspension, a re-jigged geometry, increased tyre clearance, and storage inside the down tube.
Ekar squeezes 13 sprockets on to the rear hub for a wide gear without too many cadence-disturbing large jumps between sprockets, and two of the three offered cassettes come with a 9-tooth smallest sprocket to provide a high gear even with a fairly small chainring.
Specialized says there'll be just 100 of the Diverge LTD Carbon made, so if you're already drooling you'll have to move fast.
If £6,400 is too steep, the rest of the Diverge range starts at £999 for the aluminium-framed Diverge Base and goes up to the £9,500 S-Works Diverge with SRAM Red AXS eTap shifting.
For the new Croix de Fer 50, Genesis continues the use of the steel tubing that gives the line its name, but bumps it up to Reynolds 853, one of the highest-strength (and therefore lightest) tubesets from the renowned British tubing maker.
Up front there's a carbon fibre fork and braking and shifting is courtesy of Shimano's GRX 8xx components, with a GRX FC-RX600 46/30 chainset for a wide gear range with the 11-34 cassette.
It's positively festooned with braze-ons for racks, cages and a top-tube food box and it'll take
For just £1,000 for a gravel bike with hydraulic brakes and wide-range Shimano GRX gears, we think we're going to see a lot of these on the dirt roads and lanes over the next year.
The updated ADV 8.9 gets a thru axle fork for increased stiffness and more precise handling, plus it's now bolt through at the rear too. The head angle has been slackened to 71 to 71.5° (depending on size) for steadier handling and there's more bottom bracket drop compared with last year's bikes which the brand says will inspire more confidence as it will increase also stability off-road.
It's shod with some of our favourite tyres too, 38mm Schwalbe G-One All Rounds in tubeless ready variety.
Gravel riders who believe steel's still real have an abundance of riches to choose from in 2021 bikes, and here's Fairlight joining the fray with an updated 2.0 version of the Faran steel do-it-all adventure bike.
The new Fairlight boasts a revised geometry that focuses on front end handling to give what the brand says is a good balance between loaded and unloaded handling.
Fairlight says that the release of this updated version has been a little delayed due to demand for their other models, but taking a look at the amount of neat integration and solutions for different setups, it looks like their time has been well spent.
A long-standing favourite in these parts, Cotic's Escapade was one of the early do-it-all drop bar bikes, predating the current gravel riding trend by a good few years. For 2021, the fourth iteration of the design keeps the skinny steel tubing but revises the cable routing to better suit 1x setups and gets a 142x12mm through-axle rear end.
The geometry, ride feel and versatility all remain - just as well, because we liked the old bike a lot when we reviewed it. The frame is made from butted chromoly steel, with an ovalised top tube, with a full carbon fibre fork plugged in the front. There's loads of clearance for 700x42mm tyres or chunky 650bx47mm in the rear and even fatter in the front, while there's a full complement of rack and guard mounts too.
The main update to the bike comes from a move to the now-standard-for-road-bikes 142x12mm hub spacing at the rear, while the front is 100x12mm. You also get flat-mount brakes front and rear.
UK brand Factor's first pure gravel bike offers increased tyre clearance of up to 43mm over their 35mm Vista all-road bike. Factor has also focussed on keeping the weight down to a claimed 950g per frame.
The LS also offers mounting points for three bottle cages, compatibility with a frame bag, bar bag, top tube Bento mount and dropped seatstays. The frame is also able to take 1x and 2x drivetrains with electronic or mechanical shifting.
Bristol's Temple Cycles has launched a new Adventure Disc 1 bike based around a heat-treated Reynolds 725 steel frame, along with the Adventure Disc 1 tourer at a more accessible price.
"A couple of seasons ago, we released our long prototyped Adventure Disc model," says Temple Cycles. "From seeing what this bike was being used for – such as gravel epics in the High Atlas, multi-week tours across Africa and hardcore daily commutes – the team decided it only natural to branch out and offer more models of this versatile platform. They also now come with lifetime warranty on the frameset."
The new version of the CGR Ti is the latest bike from Ribble to get the dropped seatstay treatment. They claim that they’ve boosted front end stiffness while keeping the ride quality of this “dream metal.”
While Ribble is aiming to add rear-end compliance with the dropped stays, they’ve beefed up the headtube to 44mm, claiming “further stiffness when riding out the saddle along with increased handling confidence”. Head of Product at Ribble, Jamie Burrow says that “this detail is a personal favourite of mine, bringing a beautiful touch of class to a very elegant bike designed to perform at every level”.
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 Outback itself is not new, but for 2020 it's been updated with increased tyre clearance – it can now accept 650b wheels – a new carbon fork with mounting points, thru-axles front and rear, and disc brake flat mounts.
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, it happened for the 2020 model year and carries on into 2021.
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 Carbon Lefty 1 above, with 30mm of built-in suspension front and rear. 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'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.