We’ve put together some of our best riding, buying and window shopping tips for the latest gravel bike tech. Whether it’s a sub-$3000 entry-level bike or something truly exotic see what gravel bikes you can start getting dirty. Take a look at some of the best gravel bikes we’ve ridden, tested and seen for 2022.
WHAT MAKES A GRAVEL BIKE?
First and foremost, it starts with a frame that can accommodate anywhere from 38mm to 50mm tires. (So, don’t let anyone tell you a cyclocross bike that is bound by 33mm tires is a gravel bike!) After that, wider handlebars, different geometry, and now even suspension and dropper posts are all trending aspects of gravel.
This might sound like a mountain bike to some, but trust us, gravel has more in common with pure, paved road bikes than modern mountain bikes. For us, the dual-purpose versatility to ride on paved or unpaved roads is what makes them a great option for many cyclists. Gravel bikes also tend to have a more stable geometry that is also good for entry-level riders.
Just as it’s proven true with road bikes, the larger treaded tires also offer more traction, which is never a bad thing. Look for a bike that offers more tire clearance than you predict you will need, as you will also need room for mud and debris if the adventure gets extra eventful.
Gravel (and their kissing cousin, cyclocross) bikes often get lumped together because both are suited for non-paved roads. However, cyclocross bikes really prioritize racing with a priority of speed and quick handling (with less tire clearance), while gravel puts compliance and tire clearance on the top step. As such, ’cross bikes are more race-oriented in build spec and geometry.
LIKES AND DISLIKES
Like all things bike-related, personal choice is what’s best to rely on for picking and choosing your new bike and components. At this stage we can say that we aren’t on board with the super-flared and wide handlebars. Sure, they may be trendy, and they do offer an advantage in some circumstances in the dirt, but on the road, they feel far too awkward. For us, a slight flare in the drop is acceptable, but many gravel bars are getting bumped out 4–8cm at the hoods, with the drops placed at an even wider gap.
Gravel has also encouraged many to push the limits on what a drop-bar bike is capable of. This has led to further adaptation and borrowed tech from the mountain world, like dropper posts and suspension forks. Since gravel bikes follow the footsteps of road bikes, most come with 27.2mm seatposts, which means that they don’t fit the larger mountain bike dropper posts. But never fear, there is now an entire segment of gravel dropper posts.
Suspension is the other category that has been hitting the gravel segment with the newfound ideas of perceived need. And depending on how and where you ride, a suspension fork could make all the difference in the world, but remember that the added front-end weight will affect the ride. For most gravel riders, it’s the high-volume tires that will definitely bring the most trouble-free type of suspension. Lauf was one of the first brands to introduce a gravel specific fork with their unique leading link fork that provided 30mm of travel. Fox, X-fusion and Rockshox have also hit the market with suspension forks that closely resemble their mountain bike offerings, only with less travel (40-50mm) and fitment for 12mm thru axles as well as compatibility with flat-mount brake calipers.
The biggest talking point for gravel bikes are the many drivetrain options. While 1x cranks have been embraced as a “gravel drivetrain,” for many riders, having the wider capabilities of a 2x remains the better option. But, of equal note is the variety of wide-range, gravel-friendly cassettes, which can vary in gear spreads from 11-34 to 9-42 and 10-52. Key to this discussion, too, is where you live and what kind of riding you do.
If you’re taking our advice, we would say that if climbing is part of your regular routine, it’s important to have a minimum 1:1 gear ratio—and we’d usually recommend an even lower gear. This is because making steep climbs in the dirt is often harder than doing so on the road. Not only do you have less momentum leading into a climb, but there’s also the added rotational weight and rolling resistance of the larger tires that help slow things down.
FRAMES, WHEELS & TIRE PRESSURE
Just like road bikes, gravel bikes come in all different frame materials, with carbon fiber being the choice for performance-oriented riders. Aluminum is popular for those that are on a budget and want to test the water before diving in. The true underdogs (in terms of marketing) are steel and titanium. Not only do they have good ride characteristics, thanks to their material, but they are unbeatable when it comes to durability, and that’s something many want when on an epic adventure.
In order to fit larger tires, gravel bikes have slightly longer chainstays, which make the back end of the bikes longer. Gravel bikes also tend to have slacker head tubes when compared to road bikes. This all adds up to a longer wheelbase to provide added stability at higher speeds over loose, bumpy ground.
We talked about tire size when it comes to frame design, but tires themselves are continuing to expand. The number-one thing that everyone riding gravel should adopt is tubeless tires. Simply put, they make all the difference in the world when it comes to fighting flat tires, which are definitely more frequent in the dirt.
There are two main wheel sizes—650b, which are normally intended to run larger (mountain bike size) tires, and the more common 700c (aka 29er) that spans the entire range of sizes. Larger tires mean more air volume, which leads to needing less pressure (usually in the 20–50-psi range). These lower pressure settings can add compliance but, more important, traction is always an advantage in the dirt.
Last but not least, before picking out a new gravel bike, think of how you are going to use it. Like everything else, the gravel segment is now home to a handful of subcategories. There are bikes designed for racing and touring, each of which often dictates the component and accessory selection spec’d.
The more adventure-oriented bikes have a more utilitarian orientation and normally have at least three bottle-cage mounts, as well as countless other eyelets for bags and such. One of our favorite bag locations is the top tube, where we store easy-to-grab snacks so we don’t have to reach in our pockets while on rough roads.
At the end of the day, gravel bikes have greatly expanded the available route options and can offer a new adventure or challenge to those that have years of road experience. And, that’s a good thing.
As we all know, for the first few decades of the Tour de France (and likely most other road races at the time) a preponderance of the races actually took place not on paved surfaces but dirt, aka gravel. And recently, as I was replying to another gravel critic complaining about our enthusiasm for gravel, the thought occurred to me: do you think cyclists in the ’40s and ’50s were as much up in arms about the growing emphasis of paved road riding as so many of today’s gravel critics have been to the experience and technology aimed at multi-surface riding?!
As it is each year when we put together our annual “Gravel” buyer’s guide, the sheer obviousness of just how big this still maligned stepchild of road riding has gotten just leaves me amused. For many years we’ve taken the slings and arrows of those who said gravel riding was not a “real” sport, that the bikes were an abomination, that the sport would never catch on, and, best of all, that it had no place in the pages of Road Bike Action.
Sure, this site’s title points to the pavement, but, as we’ve argued before, specific nomenclature notwithstanding, it’s not like Road & Track Magazine had to change their name when they embraced the comeuppance of the SUV market and began including them in their pages.
THE BEST 2022 GRAVEL BIKES
And really, as if a newly recognized UCI gravel rainbow jersey race wasn’t enough validation in addition to the growing inclusion of gravel sectors in road races, what better evidence that gravel riding has been fully embraced (consumed) by the traditional road world than to see so many legacy road bike brands like Pinarello, Ridley, Colnago and Campagnolo all finding their own padded seat for a ride on the gravel bike bandwagon?! Here’s the big collection of 2022 dual-purpose bikes that we rounded up.
RODEO LABS FLAANIMAL 5.0 TITANIUM
From one of the more progressive bike brands today, the Flaanimal Ti is the upgraded sibling to the successful steel Flanimal ($1550 frameset). The titanium frame sells for $3050, with Shimano and SRAM drivetrain options. A complete bike with a Campagnolo Ekar drivetrain goes for $4056. The Cerakote finish adds $400. Six sizes are available, and the frame is dropper-post-friendly.
When it comes to picking a gravel bike, Kona makes it clear that the Libre is ready for some serious adventure. The Libre is definitely dirt-oriented with its SRAM 1x Apex drivetrain and wide drop bars. The Apex build keeps the price down, and the aluminum frame is available in five sizes.
Pivot converted their Vault cyclocross bike to better meet the demands of gravel riding. Wide clearance for up to 700x47mm tires and designed compliance features like the Isoflex seatpost sheath make the Vault frame a proper platform to tackle rough roads. The Vault is available in five sizes.
SAGE STORM KING
Boutique titanium brand Sage has long hosted a swathe of gravel offerings in its catalog. The Storm King is on the extreme end with clearance for up to 700x50mm rubber while maintaining a traditional titanium aesthetic. Those looking to venture onto more aggressive roads can look for the suspension-corrected Storm King GP and build it up with a Rockshox Rudy gravel fork.
Price: $4300 (frameset)
NINER RLT 9 ALLOY
Niner’s RLT 9 lineup consists of three versions—carbon (RDO), steel and alloy. All three are offered in 650b or 700c builds with their carbon fork paired with all models. The alloy frame is the balance between price, performance and weight, but most impressive is that Niner tests all their bikes to the more demanding test standards that mountain bikes require.
Long-time mountain bike and cyclocross enthusiast (and now avid gravel racer) David Turner has combined his two favorite pastimes with the present in the design of his titanium gravel frameset. From the machined head tube to the internal cable routing and added bottle mounts, artful features abound. The value-oriented price includes the carbon fork.
Price: $2695 (frame and fork)
Ritte’s Satyr blends road and off-road performance just like the mythical creature it’s named after. Smart spec like the T47 bottom bracket, Enve fork and Hunt 4 Seasons wheels prove the crew at Ritte know how to provide value to the consumer without compromising performance. The SRAM mullet build and clearance for 43mm tires keep the bike capable over a wide array of gravel.
Visually, it’s hard to mistake the Grevil for anything other than a finely crafted carbon gravel bike from legacy Italian bike maker Pinarello. The Grevil uses swooping tube shapes throughout its construction, and Pinarello’s decision to spec 650b wheels and tires are highlights of the design. Of course, Pinarello offers a Campagnolo Ekar build, as well as SRAM, Shimano and two e-bike versions.
The SoCal brand offers their 50/50 gravel bike in five sizes, three colors and your choice of either Shimano or SRAM drivetrains (mechanical or electronic). Thanks to the dropped chainstay design, the frame has room to run up to 45mm tires.
RIDLEY KANZO FAST
Coming out of Belgium, Ridley’s racing-inspired gravel bike brings a handful of healthy gravel features to the table. An assortment of colorways and customization options make the Kanzo Fast a worthwhile consideration for a personalized ride. Clearance for up to 700x42mm tires and tall stock gears emulate its flatland European birthplace. Ridley also offers the Kanzo Adventure and the Kanzo All Road as lower price-point gateways to gravel.
From one of Italy’s most venerable road bike brands comes the G3-X gravel bike that celebrates its heritage with an Italian spec that includes a Campagnolo Ekar drivetrain and Shamal wheels, Deda components, and Vittoria tires. Ridden to victory at last year’s Unbound 200 by Lauren De Crescenzo, the frame has internal routing, a bash guard and room for 42mm tires. Available in five sizes and two colors.
When it comes to going fast off-road, the Gerard Vroomen-designed Race Max is ready to answer the call, thanks to a carbon frame that has been aero optimized in every way possible. Available as a frameset ($3500) or a complete bike, the Campagnolo Ekar spec’d bike rolls on Fulcrum 650b wheels to lay down as fat a tread as possible.
LITESPEED ULTIMATE GRAVEL
Litespeed’s Ultimate Gravel blends weight, stiffness and aerodynamics for a speed-oriented gravel bike with a classic titanium aesthetic and ride quality. Frames are available starting at $2565, and a Shimano GRX 1x build starts at $4095.
LAUF TRUE GRIT RACE
Along with their proprietary suspension fork, the True Grit is also built with their special glass-fiber-integrated carbon handlebars to bring even more compliance. The bike is sold in four builds, ranging from $2790 to $6590, and is now available in sizes XS to XL.
The Arcadex marks Bianchi’s first official leap into the gravel world. Built with Shimano’s gravel-specific GRX 800 drivetrain, the Arcadex rolls on alloy Alex hoops with room for up to a 42mm tire. There is also a ($200) lower-priced version that uses a Shimano GRX 600 drivetrain.
The famed Irish road bike brand FiftyOne is now gravel-ready with the new Assassin that has clearance for up to 47mm tires. The frame is dropper-post compatible and features front and rear flip chips to adjust geometry for either 700c or 650b wheels with rack and fender mounts. It comes in nine models in four sizes with your choice of Shimano, Campagnolo or SRAM drivetrain.
OTSO WARAKIN TI
Unique with the Warakin Ti is the Tuning Chip rear dropout, which can lengthen or shorten the wheelbase by up to 20mm and raise or lower the bottom bracket by up to 4mm. Complete builds with Shimano GRX start at $4250, with the frame/fork going for $3055.
KONA ROVE AL 650
The Rove AL 650 starts the five-bike Rove family of gravel bikes at just under $1000. The aluminum frame is built with a 2x drivetrain for added versatility and rolls on 650b WTB wheels. The Rove lineup is pocketbook-friendly with a top priced spec at $2599. Choose between 1x and 2x builds, alloy or steel frames, as well as 700c and 650b wheel options.
Litespeed’s Watia blends performance and endurance geometries for a well-rounded gravel bike with a classic titanium aesthetic and ride quality. Frames are available starting at $2115 for an externally routed option with the most expensive build, topping out around $6500.
CANNONDALE SUPERSIX EVO SE
Not to be confused with the new SuperSix Evo CX cyclocross bike, the SE is a gravel race bike. The SE ships with a 2x SRAM Rival AXS drivetrain that is speed-oriented but still features a better than 1:1 ratio, thanks to the 46/33 crank matched with the 10-36t 12-speed cassette.
SCOTT ADDICT GRAVEL
Scott is continuing to merge race-oriented aerodynamic designs into their gravel line with airfoil tube shapes and lowered seatstays. There are three Addict Gravel models with Shimano and SRAM components, as well as a women’s-specific Contessa Addict gravel bike. The builds range in price from $3000 to $8500.
With a hint of gravel potential, the All-Road is built with T800 carbon tubes with lugged joints. Available in five sizes with customizable geometry and finishes through the MyCipo personalized paint program.
Price: $4390 (frameset)
The Grizl is offered in SL and SLX carbon options, and they ship with large 45mm tires. The frame leaves room for up to 50mm tires, and this makes it a great option for the racer or the adventurer. Canyon is even offering a build with the new RockShox Rudy Ultimate suspension fork and 1x gravel-specific SRAM AXS XPLR groupset.
The Gerard Vroomen-designed Open U.P. is the bike that popularized the dropped-chainstay frame design. With clearance for up to 40mm tires, the $3000 U.P. frame has been a trend starter and remains a top gravel choice. There are two models available with the $4500 U.P.P.E.R. frame weighing 180 grams less. Complete bikes are available with a Campy Ekar drivetrain and HED wheels.
FELT BROAM 60
The Felt Broam is intended for the bike-packing crowd, endurance riders, and anyone looking for a great riding bike with massive tire clearance and room for bags and fenders. The 60 is the most affordable option, offering plenty of bang for the buck. Disc brakes and 2x drivetrain make it a perfect all-road option for those looking for new routes.
SPECIALIZED CRUX PRO
Long the cyclocross go-to for Specialized, the all-new 2021 Crux has now morphed into a more gravel-friendly bike. Available with both 1x and 2x drivetrains and 38mm tires, but there is room for up to 47mm, so while the Crux is more gravel than ever, it remains their race option for CX or gravel.
Just like other Obed models, the GVR we tested comes in with a value-driven price tag of $5,275 for a bike that needs no upgrades. Impressive given its desirable Shimano GRX spec and upgraded HED Vanquish RC4 wheelset that added $1175 over the stock Sun Charger wheels. The GVR base build starts at $3,795.
LOOK 765 GRAVEL RS
The famous French road brand Look has jumped into the new dual-purpose bike category with the 765 Gravel RS that’s available at four price points and unique colorways. The carbon frame has been tuned with a specific layup for gravel, and also features asymmetric chainstays.
Comments are closed.