If you haven’t been paying attention, that thing called “gravel” continues to enjoy a massive growth spurt. From the days when there were but a few random events with a handful of riders showing up (on cyclocross bikes), gravel bikes, as with the events themselves, are the fastest-growing segment of the drop-bar world these days.
When it comes to the market of gravel bikes, just as occurred with the rest of the cycling world, gravel bikes have become much more segmented and discipline-specific in the last few years.
Probably not too surprising (given the performance-driven ethos that drives the bike industry at large), the most recent trend with gravel bike design has been towards more race-oriented rigs. Many early bikes borrowed from touring and adventure geometries and have dominated for the last few years. Thanks to the explosion in gravel racing (and the steady influx of former pro roadies), the number of lighter-weight, faster-handling, dual-purpose bikes have increased. It seems like everyone has been getting the same feedback from their athletes, and the response was almost simultaneous.
Thankfully, there are still a number of bikes that reflect the more stable, endurance/utilitarian style of riding. However, that is not what we are talking about here.
THREE TYPES OF FASTER
Cannondale, Giant and Specialized have all launched new race-oriented gravel bikes, with each in some way reusing a model name that already has brand recognition. With the SuperSix Evo SE, Cannondale has reutilized the identity of their popular road race bike for a dirt designation. Giant has taken their original Revolt endurance gravel bike and transformed it with a lighter weight frame and a much racier geometry. Finally, Specialized has taken their legacy Crux cyclocross race bike and completely redesigned it with gravel in mind.
Though the three bikes share a common DNA strain, each of them has its own identity with individual quirks and assets. As we do with all our gravel test bikes, we spent as much time in the dirt with them as we did on
the road, because, after all, what makes gravel bikes such a worthy category is their dual-purpose ability
to shine outside a single type of ride experience.
FILLING A NEED FOR GRAVEL SPEED
Cannondale’s SuperSix Evo gets a facelift
Cannondale’s legendary SuperSix Evo is no longer the super-light climbing bike that it was once known for being. Cannondale took the name of their well-known SuperSix Evo road bike and created a gravel bike, the SE, with nearly none of the characteristics of its namesake.
Much like the rest of the road bike market, the original SuperSix Evo underwent compliance-focused design cues to appeal to a wider assortment of riders and ride types. Now in a similar fashion, Cannondale is optimizing its former dedicated cyclocross bike, the SuperX, to appeal to the competitive gravel rider.
The Supersix Evo SE frame owes much of its geometry to Cannondale’s SuperX cyclocross bike. Our size-54 SE has a relatively short 102mm wheelbase. This is achieved by 422mm chainstays and Cannondale’s Asymmetric Integration. Cannondale’s AI offsets the rear triangle and requires the rear wheel to be dished 6mm to the right. This affects the angle of the chainline as well; but most importantly, it allows for more tire clearance.
“The SuperSix Evo SE responds quick to rider inputs and rides like a cyclocross bike, but with the added versatility of wide tires.”
Cannondale’s original gravel bike, the Topstone, was held back by a maximum tire clearance of 40mm; the new SE can fit up to 45mm tires. In addition to the wheelbase and chainstay length, the Cannondale SE shares the same 55.5cm stack, 37.8cm reach and 71-degree head tube angle as the SuperX.
Cannondale pulled similar airfoil tube shapes from the latest iteration of the SuperSix Evo road bike for use on the SE. The SE has a claimed frame weight of 1000 grams in a size 56. Like any proper road bike there are just two bottle mounts, but wait, we thought this was a gravel bike?!
We’re fans of the refreshingly simple Cool Mint colorway, but would like to see some flashier colors added alongside the other Meteor Gray option.
We were a bit surprised to find SRAM’s Rival AXS group on the $5000 build. Rival ranks the lowest on SRAM’s three-tier wireless AXS platform but includes much of the same shift performance as the higher-end Red and Force groups. What sets Rival components apart from the higher-end siblings is its weight, which scales in at nearly a pound and a half heavier than the Red AXS series.
The SE’s 46/33 chainrings can be found in either of SRAM’s other offerings and the choice to use the Rival left us desiring some weight savings since Cannondale is marketing the SE as a gravel “race” bike.
Our bike hit the scales at a hefty 19.12 pounds. A positive with the Rival spec is the hard-to-find 10-36 cassette, which isn’t offered in Red AXS but is available in Force. We also prefer the minimalistic hood design. They lack the ports for satellite shifters, making it significantly smaller and easier to wrap one’s hands around.
A pair of DT Swiss CR 1600 tubeless-ready rims were laced with 24 DT Swiss Aero Comp straight-pull spokes to DT Swiss 350 hubs. The rear wheel is offset to account for the 6mm Asymmetric Integration frame design mentioned earlier. This is a bit of a hindrance for anyone planning to swap wheels. In order to use another wheelset, it would require the same offset dishing. For most people, it’s going to be more expensive to build a new set of wheels specifically for the SE, which is especially complicated in our world of pre-built wheels.
Our test bike shipped with 38mm Vittoria Terreno tires. Cannondale says they are planning to use 40mm on future orders. We were impressed with the overall tire and debris clearance for a performance-oriented gravel frame.
Starting up front, small parts include Cannondale’s 6061 alloy bar and stem with a Hollowgram SL Knot carbon seatpost with 15 degrees of setback and a Prologo Dimension AGX saddle providing seating capabilities.
Given its nearly identical geometry to the SuperX, the SuperSix Evo SE responds quick to rider inputs and rides like a cyclocross bike but with the added versatility of wide tires. However, the geometry and road-bike-like tube shapes provide an aggressive, stiff approach to gravel. It feels at home on technical singletrack, thanks to its short wheelbase and steep head tube angle, but we could feel just about every rut more than usual.
The SRAM Rival AXS drivetrain offers a less than one-to-one gear ratio with its 46/33 cranks and 10-36 cassette, which is appropriate for climbing in steeper off-road conditions. On the flats, we found ourselves in the big chainring, usually in the middle of the cassette. It was rare we made the jump into the 10-tooth cog, but it was nice to have it for long road descents.
The braking on SRAM Rival is sub-par when compared to the Red AXS and Shimano GRX builds. Modulation is spongy, and the brakes lack the bite of their Shimano counterparts with less power than other options.
We were pleased that Cannondale has released a frame with clearance for up to 45mm tires. The Topstone left us yearning for more pneumatic cushion on the already compliant frame. Given the relative stiffness of the SE, the wider tire clearance adds much-needed utility.
Cannondale has added a distinctive offering to the gravel market with the SuperSix Evo SE. The cyclocross-like handling proves to be a fun, engaging experience that requires a rider to be on their toes. This was one of the most controversial aspects of the older SuperSix Evo road bike. Some test riders preferred the feeling of speed, while others preferred a more toned-down design. Evidently the toned-down design proved more popular on the road side of things, so we’d like to see how the hyper-responsive characteristics of the SE are tuned in the future.
• Quick, cyclocross-like handling
• Heavy for a “race” bike
• Pricey for Rival AXS
Weight: 19.12 pounds
Sizes: 46, 51, 54 (tested), 56, 58cm
A “CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE” GRAVEL BIKE
You decide how to tune your ride on the new Giant Revolt
Giant has just launched an all-new version of their gravel bike, the Revolt. The Revolt has been in the Giant catalog since 2013 and was one of the original gravel-specific bikes on the market. A lot has changed since its inception, and while Giant has stayed on trend, this new Revolt Advanced Pro 0 by far enjoys some of the most significant changes yet.
Giant has made some significant changes since the original Revolt was launched, and it’s now taken a turn towards the racer. The head tube has been steepened from 70.5 to 71.5 degrees. There is also a rear flip chip, offering a shorter and longer wheelbase than previous years. On our medium-sized frame, the chip would alter the wheelbase settings between 102.6cm and 103.6mm in length (versus the previous static 103.1cm).
The shorter wheelbase and reduced fork trail offered a more responsive ride, while the longer setting helped with high-speed stability. The bottom bracket has also been lowered 10mm to 80mm.
Another update in geometry is the longer reach, which is 6mm longer at 38.7cm, but the bike is now paired with a 70mm stem rather than the 90mm on the previous version. Giant has also retained their D-Fuse seatpost but now with a twist. The new Revolt frame has a round 27.2mm seat tube but uses a wedge system to accommodate their proprietary post. This means you can now run a dropper post or any other 27.2mm seatpost on the new Revolt. Giant still uses the oversized steerer, so if you want a different stem, remember it needs to be 1 1/4 inches, not 1 1/8 inches.
The frame has room for 42mm tires in the short wheelbase setting and 53mm in the long position. Giant offers the Advanced Pro (like our test bike) and an Advanced version of the carbon frameset. Giant claims the only difference is the fork, which has higher-grade carbon and adds more compliance on the Pro.
Our test bike hit the scale at 17.81 pounds rolling on Giant’s new CRX1 carbon wheels. The 35mm-deep CRX1 wheels have a hookless bead and 25mm internal width with a claimed weight of just under 1400 grams. On our Pro 0 build, they are paired with the Maxxis Receptor 40mm tires.
Our bike was spec’d with a Shimano 2x GRX 815 (Di2) drivetrain comprised of 48/31t rings matched to an 11-34t cassette. Giant also has a new Contact SLR XR D-Fuse handlebar that they say has the same flex design as their D-Fuse seatpost. Overall, the build is solid and a perfect pairing for a bike meant to be at the front of an event.
We have spent most of our time in the short wheelbase setting for the most responsive ride. We never spent much time on the older Revolt, but this new bike is definitely intended for a new audience. The bike has a claimed tire fitment of 42mm in short and 53mm in long, but we found that we could fit larger rubber in the short setting. The rear flip-chip feature is easy to change, but it’s not a roadside adjustment, so choose your setting before heading out.
We felt like the bike was incredibly stiff and transferred power efficiently. Giant claims 20 percent more compliance in the seatpost alone, and from the saddle, the D-shaped seatpost did wonders for in-saddle compliance. All of this comfort is in the rear, and there is room for larger tires than the 40mm Maxxis we tested, which means more rubber could make it even better.
“As the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer, Giant has always been able to provide greater cost/benefit value to the end user than many of their big brand-name competitors.”
In our opinion, the front end of the bike is a different story. Far from compliant, it veers towards being a bit harsh. Racers and those coming from the road will feel right at home, but on our long, very bumpy fire roads, we were left with sore palms. Giant claims the Pro version fork has more compliance than the lower-level Advanced, and if that’s the case, then new handlebars or larger tires might be desired for many riders. The D-Fuse carbon bars seemed to have little to no compliance.
On smoother and faster dirt sections, the Revolt did truly feel and perform like a gravel race bike. Even on the tarmac and in group rides, we had no trouble keeping pace. This could be partly because the 2x drivetrain offers smaller gear gaps and a great gear range whether the road pace is fast or the gravel pace is slow.
The long geometry feels very similar to the previous model, but with a lower center of gravity and slightly more responsive handling. The steeper head tube has made both the short and long position trail numbers smaller, which is reflected in the handling, but mostly in the short setting.
The new Revolt Advanced Pro offers more responsive handling for all, but is catering to the racer with the new flip-chip rear end and shorter position. For those that like the long and more stable position, you can now run a dropper
post, too, but you will definitely want more rubber to aid in compliance. Most of the stock builds run with a 2x, which we prefer for a “race bike,” but a 1x build is still preferred by many for its simplicity.
As the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer, Giant has always been able to provide greater cost/benefit value to the end user than many of their big brand-name competitors. We were impressed that our pinnacle model with Shimano GRX Di2 and the new carbon wheels was only $6200. There are two Advanced Pro versions and four Advanced versions starting at $2300. Giant also mentioned that there would be an alloy version, the Revolt 2, for $1400.
• Flip-chip geometry adjustment
• Steeper head tube and harsh front end
• Now 27.2mm seatpost compatible
Weight: 17.81 pounds
Sizes: XS, S, M (tested), L, XL
GETTING TO THE CRUX OF GRAVEL
Specialized’s all-new dirt bike borrows an old name
When it comes to designing race bikes, Specialized is fortunate to have an oversized roster of racers to call on for the type of feedback that would be helpful in the build process. So, when their top gravel racers said they wanted something lighter and a bit racier than the Diverge, the R&D team got to work.
Despite borrowing the name of the long line of cyclocross bikes that preceded it, though equally race-focused, the new Crux is nothing like its predecessors. In short, the design priority has shifted from the diminishing world of hurdling over barriers inside a ribboned-off closed course to the bigger picture of gravel racing.
At first glance the Crux has assumed all of the composite research and development used to design last year’s lightweight wonder, the Aethos road bike, but with added durability and reinforcement for the rigors of gravel.
Our size-54 S-Works version has a 56cm stack and 38.8cm reach. Specialized has maintained the 71.5-degree head tube angle and 50mm fork offset, but the new geometry offers a 67mm trail rather than the 65mm of the previous Crux. The head tube is 10mm shorter at 13cm, while the fork length is almost identical at 40.1cm. There are 42.5mm-long chainstays with a total wheelbase of 102.3cm that still leaves room for 47mm tires. As with the rest of Specialized’s recent road offerings, the Crux also gets the beloved threaded bottom bracket.
Like the rest of the Crux build offerings, their pinnacle model is targeting gravel, not ’cross. The SRAM Red XPLR eTap AXS 1x rear derailleur is paired with a 12-speed 10-44t cassette. Up front is a 40t chainring on a Red crank with Quarq power meter, something many performance-oriented riders will appreciate. The wheel spec relies on Specialized’s own tubeless-ready Roval Terra CLX carbon wheels. The carbon hoops have a hooked bead with an internal width of 25mm and are mounted with a set of 38mm Pathfinder Pro tires.
For the rest of the build, it’s all in-house, starting with the S-Works SL stem with a 6-degree drop. The gravel-oriented carbon Roval Terra handlebars have a 103mm drop, 70mm reach and 12-degree flare wrapped with Supacaz Super Sticky Kush tape. The Crux has the same 27.2mm Roval Alpinist Carbon seatpost topped with the carbon-railed S-Works Power saddle as found on the Aethos.
When it comes to riding gravel, a ’cross bike, while capable, has never been ideal. Specialized knows that the new Crux might not be ideal in stock build or geometry for the hardcore cyclocross racers, but it will still be capable of getting the job done. The lightweight frameset and quick-handling aspects will be spot-on for 90 percent of any closed-course battling needs. For the rest of us, the Crux is now a better option for pulling double duty.
One of the first things we noticed was the bottom bracket height. The original Crux had a drop of 69mm, and the new one is 72mm. It is now at a reasonably standard height since we have always felt like the Diverge was low with an 80mm drop. This helps when pedaling through turns or even maneuvering over technical terrain, especially at speed.
The new frame construction is impressive with a claimed frame weight of only 725 grams for the S-Works version and 825 grams for frames that use the lower-spec 10r carbon. Those weights are lighter than most modern road frames. Our test bike hit the scales at 16.12 pounds, and it is probably the most lightweight gravel bike to pass through the RBA office to date.
“The new Crux doesn’t replace the Diverge by any means, and we would say that for 60–70 percent of gravel enthusiasts out there that the Diverge is a better choice.”
On the road, this was immediately noticed, as the bike felt agile and responsive. The bike is surprisingly comfy and balanced; both the front and rear of the bike manage bumps and road imperfections well. The bike feels shorter than its 102.3cm length, thanks to its 42.5cm-long chainstays.
Although this bike has been spec’d for the racer, the center-click Pathfinder Pro tires are not our favorite. They are a bit small for our local terrain, and the smooth center had us sliding around on loose gravel more than we liked. The tubeless Terra wheels have a hooked bead for those who have not transitioned to tubeless or want to run tire pressures on the high side. The wheels are 25mm wide inside, but we would prefer a hookless bead for its added durability in the likely chance we strike the rim on a rock at speed.
When we look at the new Crux, we can’t help wish it was badged with a new name to minimize the confusion. With that said, the geometry changes are subtle enough that most CX racers will still be happy with its performance over the barriers, but more impressed with its new transformation to a gravel priority. The S-Works offering is incredibly lightweight, but so, too, is the rest of the line.
To spend $12,000 for the S-Works model, you probably either need to be a serious racer or prestige hungry rider simply willing to blow too much money on a high-end dirt bike despite three other lower-priced models that start
The new Crux doesn’t replace the Diverge by any means, and we would say that for 60–70 percent of gravel enthusiasts out there that the Diverge is a better choice. In our opinion, the Crux would be a solid choice for those that love racing and have the horsepower and handling skills for a race-oriented bike. We could even see a lot of consumers swapping the 38mm tires out for some road slicks and hitting the weekly group ride. Only time will tell, but we hope this ultralight race bike holds up to the abuse of gravel.
• Lighter than many road bikes
• A power meter stock
• Road bike ride for off-road
Price: $12,000 ($5000 frameset)
Weight: 16.12 pounds
Sizes: 49, 52, 54 (tested), 56, 58, 61cm
CANNONDALE VS. GIANT VS. SPECIALIZED
The gravel bike roundup
As we tested all three bikes, it is clear that these race-oriented gravel options are fun but definitely not for the masses. Sure, you can argue that they could all be a great do-it-all drop-bar bike, but in our opinion, you would be sacrificing on both spectrums. All three bikes did well on the smooth, paved roads with stiff and responsive handling. On the same note, they did well on the unpaved fire roads, too, but each lacked the level of compliance that is recreational-rider-friendly and that most of us would want for a three-hour-plus ride.
Our testers all agreed that they wouldn’t choose any of these bikes as their Unbound 200 bike and would be remiss to even use one for the shorter 100-mile version. All three bikes are targeting the person willing to compromise comfort and compliance for the chance to stand on the top step, and that’s just not most of us.
ONE BY ONE
Cannondale: For us, with gearing less ideal for gravel, the Cannondale was the most road-worthy of the trio. Since it’s historically been the model name for their go-to road race bike, some old-timers were confused by the SuperSix name, and while the geometry is also race-oriented, it’s very different from its skinny-tire counterpart. The gearing was a bit tall for our off-road needs, and we felt the $5000 price point for a bike spec’d with SRAM’s entry-level AXS Rival drivetrain was also on the tall side.
Giant: Even though it is still expensive at $6200, in our opinion, the Giant Revolt offered the best bang for the buck. Thanks to the 11-speed Shimano GRX drivetrain, the Revolt has the perfect balance of gearing for road and gravel. While the rear flip chip is novel, we think most riders will choose one setting and leave it. The Revolt is very responsive, but the front end is too stiff and harsh. The rear, on the other hand, is very compliant and puts it on the top of the list for the bike we would do longer gravel rides on.
Specialized: The Specialized S-Works Crux has made a transition to gravel rather than its history as a CX race machine. We have said for a long time that most people are better off racing ’cross on a gravel bike than vice versa. This remains true, and the new Crux is a better gravel option than previous versions. With that said, it is not the most ideal gravel bike that Specialized offers—that bike remains the Diverge. The Crux is a race-oriented bike and is stiff. The compliance is a bit more balanced than the Giant or Cannondale, but still not ideal for an endurance event.
Finally, there is the $12,000 price point, which is a ton of dough for any bicycle. As much as we’ve always marveled at mountain bikers who pay that kind of money for a bike destined to get dirty and beat up, we’d marvel, too, when it comes to a gravel bike. Still, weighing in at 16 pounds, spec’d with a power meter, a wide gear range and plenty of tire clearance, the S-Works Crux hits all the marks that are important for a racer. Overall, we would opt for the Pro or Expert version simply for the addition of color and a realistic budget.
With that said, these three bikes are all solid choices. The race-oriented geometry is a great option for those who are confident with their handling skills, especially in the dirt. All three are ready to ride on the path less traveled, but maybe not the best option for epic adventure riding or long gravel events.
Our desert island breakdown would be as follows: 1. The Giant for its realistic price and solid performance. 2. The Specialized is the optimum bike for serious racers and those who don’t see the high price of the S-Works on their downtube as a hurdle. 3. The Cannondale, which despite its limitations, could be made a whole lot better and still without getting close to the price of the Specialized.