Without a doubt, the fastest moving and most exciting category of bike this year has been gravel and adventure. Inspired by long-distance US gravel races but hugely appealing to a far wider range of uses, from commuting to club rides, Audax to bikepacking and lots more besides, these bikes are all about mixed terrain riding ability, wide tyres and versatility. They’re also huge fun as well.
It’s been another year of testing more adventure bikes than ever before, with cyclocross bikes going back to their racing roots most of the adventure bikes in this roundup have been designed from the ground-up to excel both on the road and off-road. They all have disc brakes, wide tyres but there the similarities end as we have a range of interpretations, frame materials and price points.
The Specialized Women’s Diverge E5 Comp is a bike that will turn its hand to most types of riding and one that genuinely hits the do-it-all landmark - it's pretty much identical to the men’s bike too. As a jack of all trades, we liked this versatile gravel and adventure bike but it needs tougher tyres before you take it too far off the beaten track.
We absolutely loved the S-Works Diverge last year and this bike despite the much lower price tag, gets much of the same technology including the innovative Future Shock providing 20mm of vertical handlebar movement. The geometry, what Spesh calls Open Road, is the same too and provides a good balance on and off-road with a more relaxed head angle and longer wheelbase promoting a stable ride at speed or on loose surfaces.
The aluminium frame is cleanly made and nicely appointed with mudguard and rack mounts, and space for wider tyres than the 30mm Espoir Sport tyres that come fitted as standard. These are really good for mainly road riding, making this an ideal choice for commuting and leisure rides, but you’ll want to swap the tyres for something meatier to unlock its true off-road capability. A pair of Schwalbe G-One Bite's in 40mm did the trick to gain grip on the dirt whilst still making relatively light work of the road.
In summary, the Diverge E5 Comp is a multitalented bike, if you are looking for something that you can commute on in the week and take bike packing or gravel riding at the weekend then this bike could be right up your street, albeit with a change of tyres for the latter
Why it’s here: Really good performance with the comfort of the Future Shock smoothing out the bumps
This isn’t strictly a gravel and adventure bike, but those 650b tyres give a strong indication that it can handle dirt roads. It can, but it leans more heavily into the road bike camp that most other bikes here while bringing some of the bomproofness we like in gravel bikes to the table.
Some bikes are easy to pigeonhole. Some are not. The new Whyte Glencoe is a case in point. Whyte pitches it primarily as a road bike, albeit one that is intended, with its big tyres and relaxed geometry, to be able to tackle the poorly surfaced roads most of us have to contend with better than a conventional road bike.
Whyte's all-new Glencoe combines an aluminium frame with 650B tyres and a very different approach to geometry to provide a supremely relaxed, comfortable and confidence-inspiring ride that excels on rough roads and fast descents.
What it’s not really is a pure gravel and adventure bike. Yes, it has fat tyres and a relaxed geometry but it’s more intended for dealing with poorly surfaced roads. That’s not to say it can’t turn its hand to well-maintained and dry gravel and dirt roads though, it’s more than capable, but you might find it out of depth on really chunky and slippery terrain.
The innovative geometry, based around a long front centre, slack head angle and short offset fork produce really calm handling that makes riding at speed on rough surfaces a breeze. It did take some getting used to, as did the very wide handlebars and short stem, but the fit is spot on and we had no trouble in any situation at all.
Those 47mm WTB Horizon tyres produce incredible comfort on poorly surfaced country lanes, with the only downside being a hit on top-end speed and a bit of extra weight, but keep the speed modest and they roll along very nicely. The tyres also let you indulge in riding gravel and dirt tracks too, provided it’s dry.
The Glencoe is no lightweight at 11.56kg (25.48lb) and it's easy to see where some weight savings could be made, but Whyte has clearly focused on keeping the price as low as possible in an admirable attempt to make the Glencoe as accessible as possible.
For riding urban and rural roads at a comfortable pace and maybe throwing in the odd canal towpath, the Glencoe is a real delight. The handling really sets it apart from conventional road bikes, with a stability and relaxed manner that few road bikes can rival.
The WTB Horizon tyres provide loads of comfort and are virtually bombproof when encountering holes and rocks and let you tackle some gravel. But this is a bike that leans more towards the road than the off-road compared to other bikes in this category.
Why it’s here: Really comfortable, smooth and stable bike for smoothing rough roads and can handle dry dirt and gravel tracks
The Pinnacle Arkose 3 is a great option if you're looking for a versatile aluminium adventure, commuter or winter bike (or indeed all three at once) that is well specced for the price.
The Arkose 3 is very much a do-it-all bike and really eats up rough road surfaces, always maintaining comfort. Taking this over typical British 'gravel' terrain including towpaths, trails, rough paths and potholed roads was no issue at all. It never felt out of depth on a huge variety of surfaces and conditions.
One reason gravel and adventure bikes are finding favour with many cyclists is their wide-ranging versatility. The Arkose 3 offers a relaxed endurance position thanks to a 71.5 degree head angle and 589.5mm stack height. This is ideal for the kind of all-day multi-terrain riding the bike is designed for, and it's also good for commuting.
It’s very much at home as a commuting machine too, with the casual geometry making it easy and comfortable to jump on every day. It'll take whatever the roads chuck at it and holds the promise of being up for something a bit more exciting at the weekend.
The Arkose 3 certainly has some additional touches that favour this kind of riding. The huge clearance means there's scope to swap tyres for whatever your commute demands, plus there are eyelets/bosses for a rack and mudguards, and powerful hydraulic disc brakes provide reliable performance in all conditions. And with the oversized tubes and strong construction, it can take a few knocks without doing too much serious damage.
The Arkose 3 is a well-specced bike for the money, with Shimano hydraulic discs and a 105 groupset, plus Praxis Alba M30 chainset. It has a good gearing range for mixed terrain, with 48/32t rings on the front and an 11-32t cassette out back. Braking is courtesy of Shimano's RS505 hydraulic discs with RT66 160mm rotors. These stop the bike well and allow for reliable control and shaving speed where necessary.
Why it’s here: Well specced and priced aluminium gravel bike that is ideal for the daily commute
If you want a gravel bike that doesn’t shy away from challenging and technical terrain but is right at home on the daily commute and long adventure ride, the new Gestalt X11 is a really solid choice. A gravel bike that borrows heavily from our mountain bike cousins, with a dropper post and really stable handling on all terrain.
The Gestalt has been a presence in Marin’s range for a few years, representing the US company’s foray into the growing adventure and gravel bike scene. The Gestalt X11 has been supercharged with an extra dose of mountain bike influence making it even more capable on the rough than possibly any other gravel bike currently available.
Most gravel and adventure bikes are thinly disguised road bikes. The new Gestalt X11 owes a lot to its mountain bike cousins. A wide bar and short stem, sloping top tube, dropper post, wide tyres and relaxed geometry mean that when you swap the smooth for the rough, bumpy and technical the Gestalt X11 is right at home, unfazed by challenging terrain that can sometimes have other gravel bikes all in a twist.
It’s the geometry that really makes the Gestalt X11. Marin calls it ‘beyond road’ which in other words means it’s slacker and longer than most road bikes - 71.5-degree head angle and 1,036mm wheelbase. Combined with a stubby stem and wide handlebar it combines to give the Gestalt something of a mountain bike character when you’re riding off-road trails. Critically, your weight is less pitched over the front wheel when careening down steep escarpments, a fact helped by the 105mm dropper post and wide handlebars to ensure you’re in control, not out of control during such situations.
Ah, that dropper post. A what now? It’s a height adjustable seatpost activated by a remote lever, in this case smartly concealed as the redundant SRAM left-hand shifter lever. It makes tackling steep and techy descents a bit easier as the saddle is dropped low out of the way. If you’re regularly tackling really steep terrain it provides an appreciable benefit.
£2000 is a competitive price point, and the Gestalt X11 does a good job of holding its head high at this money. The SRAM Rival groupset works well with smooth gear changes and the 42t FSA Gossamer Pro crankset combines nicely with the 10-42t cassette to provide a useful spread of ratios for everything from road cruising to tackling the steepest gravel tracks.
Why it’s here: A gravel bike infused with lots of mountain bike DNA is a playful and highly capable bike for tackling steep and super techy trails
The Sonder Camino Al is an adventure bike from outdoor specialists Alpkit. Sonder is their bike brand and, as with the rest of their products, aims to provide great value for money. The Camino proves to be a versatile ride for a variety of conditions whilst being great value.
It’s not often that you get hydraulic brakes and a modern SRAM Apex 1 drivetrain at this price point. Pair that with the excellent WTB Riddler tyres, a good looking aluminium frame, well thought out components and finishing kit and on paper you’ve got something that is amazing value for money.
As is typical of gravel and adventure bikes, the Camino has clearance for wide tyres, up to 700c x 40mm or 650b x 47mm tyres. That gives you the option to change wheelsize and try out the smaller, fashionable 650b wheelsize if you want.
The Camino is really good value for money. The drivetrain comes courtesy of SRAM with an Apex 1x11spd set up with a 40T chainring up front. This is coupled with SRAM Apex hydraulic brakes with 160mm rotors from and rear. The frame gets a threaded bottom bracket and all the rack, mudguard and bottle mounts you'd expect on a bike of this type.
For the money, this is an amazing piece of kit and any compromises aside will definitely put a smile on your face. The upright position helped by the tall stack puts you in a good position for off-road jaunts. Where this bike really suffers is comfort, the lack of refinement at this price point is noticeable. Whilst the bike provides a very comfortable seated riding position, the house-brand components transmit a lot of vibration which can get tiring over long distances. So a few choice upgrades might be necessary: fit some slightly larger tyres and double-wrap the bar tape and you’ll be golden.
This is a bike that enjoys going off-road but would also be quite happy taking you longer distances on tarmac too. The bias - and the way the bike is specced certainly corroborates this – is towards off-road adventuring. The comfortable position is perfect for gravel excursions or riding long distances loaded with luggage.
Why it’s here: Incredible value for money with good parts and tyres but needs a few upgrades ideally
In the new Monsal Forme has managed to create a very enjoyable bike to ride, with well-sorted geometry and a comfortable feeling frameset finished off with a decent selection of components, most notably the excellent SRAM hydraulic disc brakes.
The frame and fork are made from carbon fibre it offers a good balance of stiffness and compliance with a smooth ride quality apparent. Modern details include the dropped chainstay, tapered head tube and internal cable routing, but the press-fit bottom bracket might disappoint some readers.
There’s clearance for up to 45mm tyres with the Kenda Flintridges used here are pretty good, not too draggy on the road and plenty of grip when the surface is loose and unpredictable. The SRAM Rival 1 groupset is solid and reliable with all the gears you need and plenty of stopping power, and the finishing kit is all decent equipment.
On the road, the Monsal has a sort of mild-mannered ride thanks to a high level of neutrality in the handling. That doesn't mean it's dull – far from it. You can still point this thing downhill and have a blast through the bends with its long wheelbase aiding stability.
If cruising along on the gravel trails is more your thing, then you'll get on with the Forme here too. As the bike moves around it's easily corrected and the fact that it feels even lighter than its 9.12kg means the Forme is easily directed around tree roots, potholes or large stones and the like
The position on the bike felt spot on too. My body weight and centre of gravity felt really well balanced and I could just go with the flow of what the Monsal was doing; if it needed a nudge, a slight lean or shift of weight had it heading in the right direction.
The Forme is a great bike for any rider who likes a bit of choice without having to have a whole stack of bikes. It'll make a capable commuter with some slicks and mudguards bunged on it, before you get out and tackle the byways on your days off.
Why it’s here: Good looking, comfortable and capable gravel bike that is a joy to ride on and off road
The RUUT AL is the new aluminium adventure gravel bike from new Polish brand Rondo. It’s a super comfortable multi-surface machine with agile handling that can be adjusted between fast and racy to more upright and relaxed through its cleverly designed, geometry adjusting Twintip fork.
The RUUT AL is the cheapest machine in the four bike range, with a frame made from custom formed 6061 aluminium. From its neatly tapered headtube, flattened top tube and heavily sculpted seat tube, it exudes style and attention to detail with discrete mounts for both mudguards and racks tucked away on the inside of the seat stays.
The secret to the switchable personality of this bike is the full carbon Twintip fork. Using a 3mm hex key you can reverse the alloy dropout chip switching between a Hi or Lo axle position. By swapping this chip, you make a number of alterations to the geometry, changing the head and seat tube angles by 0.5 degrees, the cockpit up or down 10mm, and altering the trail by 13mm. If you like to fiddle and like the appeal of adjustable geometry, this will really appeal to you.
The change does make a difference to the ride, but how often will you really change it? I suspect that, like us, you will flip it back and forth a couple of times to see which version of the bike you prefer and leave it in that position. We felt the bike rode much better in the high axle position and would only choose the low axle option if we were to load the bike up for a bike packing trip somewhere where that extra stability and slightly slower steering feel would be welcome with some weight hanging off either end.
Spec on the RUUT AL is pretty good for £1,700. You get an almost full SRAM Apex 1 Hydraulic groupset the only deviation from the stock set up being non-series SRAM aluminium crankset with a 40T chainring and Sunrace 11-42 cassette. The bike uses a standard BSA GXP threaded bottom bracket.
Overall the RUUT AL is great fun to ride. The large downtube removes any bottom bracket flex when stomping on the pedals and the frame transfers your energy into driving you forward on whatever surface you happen to be on. The 43c tyres provide a large cushion of air that delivers a very smooth ride on all but nastiest cobbles and heavily rutted sections.
It’s a really a very good gravel and adventure machine for storming the byways and bridleways and a fabulous commuter to boot. We’re not sure that it makes a lot of sense to flip the Twintip back and forth on a regular basis, you’re bound to have your favourite.
Why it’s here: Very good gravel and adventure bike with unique adjustable geometry
With the ADV 8.8, Boardman has continued its theme of offering great performing bikes at a sensible price. Well made, well specced and fun to ride, this latest adventure machine covers plenty of bases, from blasting the local gravel byways to year-round commuting. It's a lot of bike for not a lot of money.
Geometry changes gift gravel and adventure bikes more relaxed handling, and this was true with the Boardman. The slacker front end means the ADV 8.8 never feels twitchy on loose surfaces, with similar steering and handling off-road to the SLR Endurance on the tarmac, which is confidence-inspiring, especially if you dart between the two terrains mid-ride.
On the road, the ADV loses some of its steering sharpness but it never really feels ponderous through the bends. If you commute in all weathers this slower steering benefits in dodgy weather conditions like heavy rain or greasy, salt-covered winter roads.
As standard, the Boardman comes with Schwalbe's G-One Allround tyres and they are very good, both on and off-road. We can’t rate this tyres highly enough really, they are good on and off-road. If you are going to spend a lot of time on the tarmac, though, as a commuter for instance, then a switch to some slicks will make for a better ride. We tried it with some 28mm road tyres and it made a fun and fast bike for commuting or day trips.
Gravel and adventure riders are split by their preference for 1x versus 2x drivetrains. The Boardman is specced with a Shimano Sora 9-speed groupset. It provides positive shifting and the gear levers are a joy to use. The TRP Spyre-C mechanical disc brakes are a bit of a letdown, requiring a lot of force at the levers, and remind us that hydraulic disc brakes really are better, but not a common sight on bikes of this price.
On paper, it's hard to discount the ADV 8.8. It's relatively light against the opposition, and quite a bit cheaper. In the real world that doesn't change either: it's a fun bike to ride, has loads of versatility and really is a bargain.
Why it’s here: Impressive ride on the road and on the trails and a highly competitive price
Most of the bikes featured here are made from either aluminium at the cheaper end of carbon at the price end of the scale. The brand new Fairlight Cycles Secan bucks this trend by opting for a Reynolds 853 frame with a beefy carbon fork. Following on from the excellent Strael road bike, the new Secan impresses with fine handling and great performance, whatever the terrain.
It’s hugely versatile and endlessly adaptable. In taking a plethora of tyre widths, the new Secan 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.
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. The weight isn’t all that much greater than some other bikes in this shortlist either.
The geometry works a treat, with the Secan excelling on the road and on gravel tracks. The steering leans towards the more relaxed end of the scale. That means when you're screaming down a fast and loose gravel road the Secan feels surefooted. You quickly get the reassurance it's not going to do anything alarming and try to pitch you into a ditch or tree at high speed!
Fairlight designer Dom Thomas has fine-tuned the custom Reynolds 853 tubeset to offer just the right amount of stiffness and flex. With the new beefy carbon fork, the front of the bike feels direct, but it doesn't transmit a lot of shocks whatever terrain you're riding on, be it a rough surfaced back lane or a gravel-strewn forest fire road. The frame also manages to tame the harsh vibrations to ensure riding across lumpy terrain is as comfortable as it can be without suspension.
And when you've swapped the knobblies for 32mm slick tyres and head out on a regular road ride, the Secan is smooth, comfortable and easy handling on backcountry roads
With the right tyre choice, there's no terrain where the Secan isn't right at home, whether it's blasting along smooth bridleways, hacking through the undergrowth on a long lost path or cruising along country lanes from tea room to farm shop.
Why it’s here: Classy steel frame packed with details and provides excellent handling and ride quality on all surface types
And so to our top spot in this closely fought gravel and adventure bike category, and the gong goes to the Merida Silex 700.
The Silex 700 wins because it’s a no-nonsense package of reliable components, parts and a geometry that brings a stable ride feel. Its geometry vaguely references mountain bikes, which makes for a really excellent ride feel, on road or off, blurring the line between road and mountain in a fast, fun bike.
The frame features some heavily manipulated and shaped parts - namely the head tube and main tubes, which are bold and striking, with a ‘is-that-carbon?’ look at first glance. The very tall head tube encourages you to ride in the drops more often, where the Silex displays great comfort and stable manners. The tallness also eliminates the usual stack of spacers most bikes tend to have.
The top tube is longer, again a mountain bike influence, but the length of the top tube is slightly offset by the shorter stem and compact drops - which are both quite short but work well with the frame. Riding on the tops is also good and stable, especially when climbing without ever feeling cramped.
With heaps of clearance both at the chain and seat stays, it meant the 35c Maxxis tyres had tonnes of clearance, and you could fit larger size in and sacrifice a bit of clearance for some more offroad or more cushioning with some tread.
Out of the saddle, climbing was good on road, feeling surprising spritely for the larger tyres - the slick centre tread helping. On loose off-road climbs, the slight side edges on the Maxxis tyres gave a little more confidence, but are obviously limited if things get really muddy. On twisty fast single track or gravel paths, it’s happy with quick weight transfer, and the stability of the ride is helpful in that.
The full Ultegra groupset was flawless, with the smooth Shimano shifting - the brakes also perfect and reliable. The bolt through skewers on the Fulcrum wheelset keeps everything nice and tight - and that extra degree of togetherness on the frame.
Immediately from the first clip in, the Silex 700 feels great, and more so sunk into the drops and pointing it downhill. This planted ride feel is down to the long top tube meaning you have plenty of room to move around the bike, and move the bike around the trail. It never feels nervous or skittish, just calm and settled. It’s very different to most other road-based gravel and adventure bikes but different in a very good and enjoyable way.
We really admire Merida’s different take on geometry and the long top tube and short stem/wide bar combo works a treat if you’re aiming to do a lot of actual gravel riding and tackle steep and technical terrain and descents. It doesn’t lose any of the versatility we look for in a gravel bike though and would suit the commute just as well.
It's worth mentioning that we've tested various examples of the Silex, which offer the same core frame and fork but with components to match the price. For example the recently tested SIlex 300 costs £1,200 and greatly impressed the reviewer. So if you like the sound of the Silex it's worth checking the full range to see if there's one that meets your price requirement.
Why it wins: Infused with mountain bike DNA the Silex 700 is hugely capable and bags of fun on gravel tracks and off-road trails
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.