Gravel bikes are the trendy choice these days and we can see why. These bikes generally suit the needs of the everyday cyclist far better than a road bike and features like a relaxed riding position, stable handling, wide tyres, mudguard mounts and hydraulic disc brakes makes a gravel bike an easy one to recommend to newer riders and those looking for one bike to rule them all.
Here are six of the best gravel bikes that we have ridden and reviewed, so you can sleep easy, knowing that these really are six of the best bikes on the market.
To form our selection of bikes for our six of the best series, we always turn to the people that have actually ridden these bikes, the road.cc reviewers and the Condor Bivio is one that our reviewers said absolutely must be included.
Boasting a beautifully made Columbus steel frame with a stunning ride quality, the Condor Bivio Gravel is well suited to long adventures whatever the terrain. The comfort levels are impressive while the endurance-based geometry delivers a machine that is stable on loose surfaces but with just enough 'edginess' that you can really have some fun.
A steel frame, even a quality one like the Bivio's, is never going to compete on the scales against a top of the range carbon frame, but to be fair to the Condor it totally defies its 10.3kg weight thanks, in part, to the sensible ratios of the Shimano GRX groupset, but mostly because of the 'get up and go' way it rides – the Bivio Gravel is an absolute blast.
Give the pedals a kick and the Condor feels responsive, and while you still get that lovely smooth feel of the steel tubing, stiffness is very impressive.
Its slacker front end, long chainstays and associated wheelbase mean that while it is a placid machine on the tarmac, on the gravel it behaves as a race bike does on the road – if you get my drift.
The handling is precise without being twitchy. If you hit some loose gravel at speed in the middle of a corner there is so much feedback coming through that beautiful tubeset and full carbon fork that even though the bike is sliding sideways you know exactly where the tyres are heading and you can hold the slide until the grip comes back.
Now, we reviewed the Bivio as a frameset as Condor’s website allows you to spec it to suit your riding. Ours came with a Shimano GRX 815 Di2 two-by groupset, a mixture of Deda Zero and Condor finishing kit, plus a Selle Italia saddle. Condor’s own hand-built wheels are shod with Continental Terra Speed tyres. That little lot would set you back £3,700 which isn’t stupid money for a bike of this kind, but there are cheaper builds available.
Before you start worrying that our collection of gravel bikes is full of expensive options, here we have one of the best value bikes on the market right now.
Merlin’s Malt G2X keeps a lot of what we loved about the first model. The G2X has been given a few geometry tweaks that make it more accessible to a wider range or rider heights but on the whole, the Malt still has neutral and balanced handling, which makes it ideal as a first graveller. It is also the perfect bike for those who enjoy spinning for hours offroad without having to focus too much on what's going underneath the tyres. You can just kick back and enjoy the scenery.
That makes it sound a little dull, but in fact, it is the opposite. It's fun to ride because it's so controllable and easy to live with, which also makes it pretty efficient on those longer rides. That's only helped by the comfortable position the new geometry allows.
The steering is still quick enough to deal with the trails, though. It's not quite as sharp as the more race orientated gravel bikes we've ridden, but you can still chuck this thing about should you want to get a shift on.
This relaxed handling means the Malt isn't as lively as a road bike once on tarmac – in the dry, anyway – but it's not trying to be replacement so it's not exactly a big deal. On its standard 35mm Schwalbe G-One tyres, it rolls well enough it's not a chore through your gravel link-up roads.
The Shimano GRX 600 groupset is brilliant and while you do step down to GRX 400 brake callipers, overall, this is a very good bike in terms of value at £1,199.
From one bike that delivers on the value score to another. The Giant Revolt 0 offers very impressive performance on the road and in the woods, with an easy agility that makes it fun to carve through the corners. The fast-rolling tyres aren't for the committed off-roader, and the alloy frame can be a little harsh despite its carbon fork, but the Revolt 0 is a fine all-rounder – and there's nothing to hold you back on your commute or weekend road ride either.
How fast the bike is and how nicely it climbs, despite the reasonable heft of 10kg, will surprise you. It does not feel sluggish at all. we’ve been fortunate to test some very expensive gravel bikes over the years, but we’re still impressed with how well the Revolt 0 conducts itself. Geometry is loosely based on endurance road bikes, but with slacker angles and a longer wheelbase for extra stability, and for pure enjoyment and grin factor off-road, the Giant does not come up short at all.
Where you can detect the difference between this and more expensive stuff is in the lack of suppleness on the road. There’s a fair amount of feedback through the contact points on hard surfaces, even with the tyres at low pressures. It’s never overly intrusive, but the Revolt 0 certainly can’t match the silky smoothness of a carbon or titanium gravel bike – OK, the comparison is maybe unfair, but it’s worth bearing in mind.
One thing we love about Giant’s bike is that, as it the case here, tubeless setups come ready to go with sealant inside. The bike shop that you buy from will do this for you, meaning one less thing for you to do before you can ride.
Cannondale Topstone Carbon Lefty 1
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.
Off-road surfaces are bumpy and that's why the trend in gravel biking has been towards larger-chamber tyres. Ten years ago you'd have been hard-pressed to find anything bigger than a 700x40c; nowadays 650b wheels and 50mm tyres to fit them are fairly commonplace.
Go any bigger than that, though, and the tyres don't work nearly as well on the tarmac. Adding a small amount of suspension gives a comfort gain on the rough without really sacrificing speed on the smooth. Provided you do it right.
And Cannondale has done it right with the Topstone Carbon. At the back the suspension is a combination of the frame and the seat post; there's just a single pivot, between the seat stays and the seat tube. Cannondale claims the system offers up to 30mm of rear wheel travel.
If the suspension at the back is as simple as it comes, the opposite is true at the front. The Lefty Oliver fork on this bike is specifically designed for gravel riding, and again gets just 30mm of travel.
The upshot of all the tech Cannondale has crammed into the Topstone is that it's a great bike to pilot over less technical stuff, and it's not compromised on the road either. Even though the approaches to suspension at the front and the rear are very different, the bike feels well balanced.
Away from the suspension, the geometry offers a good balance between speed and comfort. For your £6,600, you’d probably be hoping for a fancy spec sheet and that’s what you’re getting. SRAM’s Force eTap AXS and 12-speed Eagle AXS components combine to give you a 40T chainring with a whopping 10-52T cassette. There is also a rather cool-looking Cannondale HollowGram SAVE SystemBar at the front end, so you’ll have plenty of tech to geek-out on with your riding buddies.
The Kinesis Tripster ATR is a founding father of the new gravel/adventure bike scene. ATR stands for Adventure, Tour, Race; 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 lightweight it's always had for covering distance at speed. It is an excellent frameset, around which you can build any number of different bikes.
In essence, the Tripster ATR V3 remains the same thing as it's always been: a multi-surface, multi-purpose drop bar bike made from cold-drawn, butted, seamless 3Al/2.5V titanium tubing. Like the V2 before it, the new bike has 12mm thru-axles – now with a neat removable lever – and flat mount discs.
This new V3 bike is built from an entirely new tubeset, but the ride is familiar and remains everything you could want from a bike that, by its nature, can be built up to do very different types of riding.
The Tripster ATR V3 is, simply, a lovely thing to ride. It has the sort of unhurried calm that translates into distance at a reasonable speed. Mostly I've been riding the Tripster on 36mm Challenge Strada Bianca TLR tyres, which are big enough to cope with proper gravel roads – which we're lucky enough to have a bit of round here – while not giving too much away on the flat. Set up like that, with a Shimano GRX Di2 groupset and a flared bar, the Tripster feels like a bike that's at home on the road, but comfortable well beyond it too.
Our test build came with a GRX Di2 groupset which we really love, Reynolds AR41X carbon wheels and Challenge Strade Bianca 26mm tubeless open tubular tyres. A lovely build for a lovely-looking frameset.
We’ll round out our six of the best with the bike that took off.road.cc’s Gravel Bike of the Year for 2020. The Ribble CGR 725 SRAM Apex 1X 650b is a superb do-it-all drop-bar machine that offers a traditional looking frame with modern detail, plus comfort, versatility and great value.
The combination of steel frame and plump but fast-rolling 47mm tyres deliver a comfortable ride on dirt while still being plenty quick on the 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.
The CGR 725 is Ribble's steel-framed option in the versatile CGR lineup, with all bikes getting very similar geometry but offering you a choice as to the low weight of carbon, affordability of aluminium or more premium pleasures of titanium. While the skinny Reynolds 725 tubing means you get some traditional good looks, the downside is a little extra heft in the frame - a claimed 600g or so over the aluminium CGR we've tested previously.
It's nice and modern elsewhere, though, with a full carbon fork, a neat tapered headtube with internal bearings, plus 12mm through axles at either end. There's a full complement of rack, mudguard and bottle mounts, including a bento box mount on the top tube, so you're well catered for.
The real ace card is that all this is backed up by extremely impressive value. There's a solid kit list for the base build that's only improved further by the ability to fine-tune the spec to make it more suited to your exact needs. If we, god forbid, had to reduce ourselves down to a couple of bikes, the CGR 725 would be a very strong contender for the one of those that had drop bars.
Well, those are six of the best gravel bikes. Don’t agree with us? The comment section is just below. Tell us what bikes you’d have in your top six.
Son of a Marathon runner, Nephew of a National 24hr Champion, the racing genetics have completely passed him by. After joining the road.cc staff in 2016 as a reviewer, Liam quickly started writing feature articles and news pieces. After a little time living in Canada, where he spent most of his time eating poutine, Liam returned with the launch of DealClincher, taking over the Editor role at the start of 2018. At the weekend, Liam can be found racing on the road both in the UK and abroad, though he prefers the muddy fields of cyclocross. To date, his biggest race win is to the front of the cafe queue.