If you do not have time for the details, here are our top picks for best gravel bike:
- Niner RLT 9 RDO 4-Star – Best Overall Gravel Bike
- Diamondback Haanjo 2 – Best Gravel Bike Under $1000
- GT Bicycles Grade Alloy Expert – Best Gravel Bike Under $1500
- Rocky Mountain Solo 50 – Best Gravel Bike Under $2000
- Diamondback Haanjo 6C Carbon – Best Gravel Bike Under $2500
- Trek Checkpoint SL 5 – Best Gravel Bike for Long Rides
- Evil Chamois Hangar AXS – Best Gravel Bike for Technical Rides
- Niner RLT 9 Steel 3-Star – Best Steel Gravel Bike
- Salsa MY20 Cutthroat Carbon – Best Multi-Purpose Touring Gravel Bike
- Vaast A/1 – Most Innovative Frame Material Gravel Bike
The best gravel bike will allow you to ride off-road with ease while tackling any terrain you encounter.
- Why do I need a gravel bike?
- Buyers Guide to Gravel Bikes
- Review and Comparison of the Best Gravel Bikes
- 1. Niner RLT 9 RDO 4-Star – Best Overall Gravel Bike
- 2. Diamondback Haanjo 2 – Best Gravel Bike Under $1000
- 3. GT Bicycles Grade Alloy Expert – Best Gravel Bike Under $1500
- 4. Rocky Mountain Solo 50 – Best Gravel Bike Under $2000
- 5. Diamondback Haanjo 6C Carbon – Best Gravel Bike Under $2500
- 6. Trek Checkpoint SL 5 – Best Gravel Bike for Long Rides
- 7. Evil Chamois Hangar AXS – Best Gravel Bike for Technical Rides
- 8. Niner RLT 9 Steel 3-Star – Best Steel Gravel Bike
- 9. Salsa MY20 Cutthroat Carbon – Best Multi-Purpose Touring Gravel Bike
- 10. Vaast A/1 – Most Innovative Frame Material Gravel Bike
- Conclusion: Best Pick Product
Why do I need a gravel bike?
While the concept of a gravel-specific bike is relatively new, cyclists have been riding on gravel for centuries. The appeal of leaving the tarmac for the quieter and more remote dirt roads is appealing to most cyclists who have spent hours on the pavement.
Often, riders are turned away from gravel due to the jarring nature of riding in adverse and variable conditions. However, the technology behind today’s gravel bikes can make riding in extreme conditions feel attainable and enjoyable.
At first glance, gravel bikes can look similar to road bikes. Most gravel bikes have drop bars, rigid frames, and relatively skinny tires.
However, gravel bikes are full of specific designs that optimize them for gravel roads as opposed to the tarmac.
If you are drawn towards the opportunities gravel has to offer, you’ll enjoy riding gravel roads significantly more with a bike that is optimized for the gravel conditions.
In recent years, cyclists who are excited about gravel riding have started competing in gravel-specific events.
Gravel races are known for bringing in a wide range of riders from professional road riders to novice riders who were recently introduced to riding. Some riders are focused on podium finishes while others are at races for the experience of riding with a group of friends and completing something challenging.
Having a gravel bike will open a world of possibilities for riders who are excited about adventure, expanded opportunities, and potentially entering races full of a range of riders and stoke for the sport.
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Buyers Guide to Gravel Bikes
Gravel bikes are a specific combination of components and capabilities, making choosing the bike that fits your needs a big and important decision.
Starting by learning a few key features of gravel bikes is a great place to start in making the best decision for you.
Gravel bikes, like most bikes, are made of a wide variety of materials. The most common materials are aluminum, carbon, titanium, or steel
Aluminum bikes are typically a less expensive, durable, and snappy option.
Carbon bikes are known for being lightweight, expensive, dampening and breakable. Most professional riders choose carbon frame bikes due to their lightness.
Titanium bikes are often custom bikes that are known for feeling soft yet snappy and similarly light to carbon bikes.
Steel is an incredibly durable material known for customizability and a snappy yet dampening ride.
The material of the bike you choose will likely have more to do with your price range. Most less expensive bikes are aluminum or steel and more expensive bikes are either carbon or titanium.
If you are looking for a custom frame, titanium or steel are your primary options.
If you are more interested in a trusted frame that thousands of other people have tested and enjoyed, you may pick a carbon frame.
The vast majority of gravel bikes have 700c wheels which are common for both road bikes and 29” mountain bikes.
Some gravel bikes do either come with or have the option to use 650b wheels.
The benefits of 700c wheels are a greater stability and added traction while 650b wheels are snappier and more playful.
Some smaller riders may choose 650b wheels which may make the bike feel more comfortable and be more well suited for smaller frames.
Gravel bikes sport a variety of brake systems. Almost all gravel bikes have disc brakes which are a safer and more effective braking system than rim brakes.
Within disc brakes, some bikes have hydraulic brakes while others have mechanical disc brakes.
Hydraulic disc brakes are more effective and efficient at stopping and keeping you safe in adverse conditions than mechanical disc brakes.
Review and Comparison of the Best Gravel Bikes
|Niner RLT 9 RDO 4-Star||
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|Diamondback Haanjo 2||
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|GT Bicycles Grade Alloy Expert||
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|Rocky Mountain Solo 50||
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|Diamondback Haanjo 6C Carbon||
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|Trek Checkpoint SL 5||
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|Evil Chamois Hangar AXS||
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|Niner RLT 9 Steel 3-Star||
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|Salsa MY20 Cutthroat Carbon||
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1. Niner RLT 9 RDO 4-Star – Best Overall Gravel Bike
As companies who make gravel bikes continue branching into various forms of suspension and unique geometry, Niner has built a straightforward, trusty, and well designed gravel bike that has enough versatility to take you anywhere you’d like to go.
The RLT 9 RDO 4-Star is a carbon frame bike with a carbon seatpost, offering dampening for long, rough rides. This bike comes with enough clearance for a 700x50c tire setup or 650bx2.0” setup.
Niner also chose the Shimano GRX groupset which is the first groupset built specifically for gravel riding. GRX is known for its comfort and design with smaller, more ergonomic hoods and a seamless derailleur.
Rounding out the GRX groupset, the RLT 9 RDO 4-Star comes with hydraulic disc brakes which will ensure you stay safe and secure while slowing down from high speeds.
Niner integrated 26 fixed mounting points for bottles, lights, bags, fenders, and racks, making this bike versatile enough for all of your needs.
If you’re looking for a straightforward gravel bike with the perfect balance of versatility and reliability, this could be the bike for you.
2. Diamondback Haanjo 2 – Best Gravel Bike Under $1000
The Diamondback Haanjo 2 is a great gravel bike for riders looking for an all-around affordable bike that is optimized for versatility.
The Hannjo 2 is a great bike for commuting, longer gravel rides, touring, or road riding. This bike offers features like fender mounts and pannier mounts to ensure you’ll be prepared wherever your legs take you.
Diamondback has chosen 38c tires which will allow you to ride with relative ease on the road while still tackling dirt roads or even mellow singletrack trails.
If you’re looking for a bike that is built to be “the one bike” you keep for years, the bike that takes you anywhere you need to go, the Haanjo 2 could be just that.
3. GT Bicycles Grade Alloy Expert – Best Gravel Bike Under $1500
For $1500, GT offers an awesome gravel bike that is capable of road rides, gravel rides, commuting or touring.
GT has chosen a sturdy and reliable alloy frame paired with a carbon fork which helps dampen the bumps of riding gravel.
This bike comes equipped with Shimano 105 drivetrain in a 2×11 which provides plenty of options for climbing and descending any terrain you encounter.
With 16 degree flared bars, an intriguing design and sensible components, GT has created an intriguing and sensible gravel bike for aspiring riders.
4. Rocky Mountain Solo 50 – Best Gravel Bike Under $2000
The Rocky Mountain Solo 50 is an incredible gravel bike for under $2000, offering a straightforward 1×11 drivetrain, an aluminum frame and a carbon fork.
The durable aluminum is dampened by the large tire clearance and the carbon fork, adding to the comfort of the ride.
Unlike many bikes in this price category, Rocky Mountain has prioritized hydraulic disc brakes, making this bike safer and more capable of stopping in variable conditions.
If you are hoping to commute on this bike, Rocky Mountain has you covered with fender mounts and wide tire clearance making this a stable and drier way to commute.
Aesthetically, Rocky Mountain has picked a good-looking brown and orange frame with tan sidewall tires which stand out amongst the crowds.
If you’re interested in gravel riding, the Rocky Mountain Solo 50 could be a great place to start your journey.
5. Diamondback Haanjo 6C Carbon – Best Gravel Bike Under $2500
Like many gravel bikes, the Diamondback Haanjo 6C Carbon bike prizes itself on versatility. Diamondback has chosen some key elements to ensure you’ll be riding wherever and whenever you can.
The Haanjo 6C comes with 12 degree flared bars, massive 47c tires, and 650 wheels which make this bike stable, maneuverable, capable, and also snappy. Mimicking some qualities of a mountain bike ensures the Haanjo 6C will feel wildly different than a road bike and be just the push you need to take to the dirt.
The aesthetic appeal of this bike, pairing the mint green frame with WTB’s tan sidewall tires will certainly turn heads as you fly by.
If your dream bike is an affordable gravel bike that pieces the best of versatile gravel riding together with a good-looking and well designed bike, the Haanjo 6C could be perfect.
6. Trek Checkpoint SL 5 – Best Gravel Bike for Long Rides
The excitement of turning off the tarmac can often be diminished by the jarring rattle of gravel roads. While adventure awaits, gravel roads can make even the strongest riders feel like their arms are jello and their whole body has been bouncing around.
However, part of the appeal of gravel bikes is the innovations which make spending hours on the gravel feel manageable and enjoyable.
Trek created the Checkpoint SL 5 with this in mind. By adding large 40c tires, an IsoSpeed decoupler which acts as a small suspension flex and a dampening carbon frame this bike is built to keep you feeling comfortable on the bike for long hours.
Interestingly Trek has also added horizontal dropouts to this frame, meaning you can convert the Checkpoint to a single speed more easily, adding an additional dimension of versatility. This feature also allows riders to customize the fit of their bike.
Trek has pulled out multiple stops to optimize comfort while gravel riding without compromising on speed and detail oriented design. The GRX components, hydraulic disc brakes, and carbon armor on the underside of the frame each contribute to the thoughtful, fast, and comfortable ride of the Checkpoint SL 5.
7. Evil Chamois Hangar AXS – Best Gravel Bike for Technical Rides
Both mountain bikers and road riders will likely look at the Evil Chamois Hangar and feel a combination of confusion and intrigue. Evil has combined many of the notable features of a mountain bike, such as the dropper post, 50mm stem, slack head tube, and significant tire clearance, with a rigid fork and drop bars, mimicking a road bike.
The Chamois Hangar AXS is built for gravel riders who are looking to shred the descents and push the limits of what a gravel bike can do in technical terrain. Evil typically builds mountain bikes, and their foray into the world of gravel bikes has certainly made a splash in questioning what to expect from the gravel world.
Evil has chosen the SRAM AXS electronic drivetrain meaning the dropper post and derailleur are all controlled by electronic shift levers, which minimizes cable and makes this bike easier to build, maintain, ride, and race.
If you’re a rider looking for hard-core gravel adventures with a nudge towards mountain bike terrain, this could be the perfect bike for you.
8. Niner RLT 9 Steel 3-Star – Best Steel Gravel Bike
Steel is real. Many bike brands are turning back to their roots and creating steel frames.
Steel is known for feeling more dampening than aluminum while still offering a springy responsiveness.
The Niner RLT 9 Steel 3-Star comes with a SRAM Rival drievetrain with a 2×11 gearset. This option, paired with SRAM’s hydraulic brakes makes the Niner RLT 9 Steel 3-Star an awesome option for tackling long days, technical terrain, or short mixed routes.
Niner has chosen a carbon fork as well as a carbon seatpost to further the dampening components of this bike and ensure you’ll feel comfortable during long days in the saddle.
If you are looking for a steel frame gravel bike, the Niner RLT 9 Steel 3-Star could be a great option.
9. Salsa MY20 Cutthroat Carbon – Best Multi-Purpose Touring Gravel Bike
Designed with the variable and demanding conditions of the Tour Divide in mind, the Salsa MY20 Cutthroat Carbon is a bike ready to take on whatever you may throw at it.
Salsa has chosen a relatively slacker head tube angle (65 degrees), dampening carbon frame and fork, and nearly countless options for mounting bottles, bags, lights, or racks. The 65 degree head tube angle gives this bike a longer wheelbase which adds to stability while taking on variable conditions.
This bike comes with Shimano GRX 810 drivetrain which is known for its ergonomic hoods and reliable shifting. Paired with Shimano GRX 600 hydraulic disc brakes, you’ll be safe and stoked out on the roads.
If your gravel aspirations include long days touring on variable terrain, this could be the perfect bike for you.
10. Vaast A/1 – Most Innovative Frame Material Gravel Bike
Bike builders have worked with seemingly countless materials, however, the Vaast A/1 is the first bike frame to use ALLITE Super Magnesium.
This material weighs 33% less than aluminum and a full 50% less than titanium by volume. Paired with its strength, ALLITE Super Magnesium makes for a great material to use in bike frame building.
Vaast has chosen to equip their new frame with internal cable routing, dropper post capability, as well as rack and fender mounts.
The Shimano GRX drivetrain rounds out this build with ergonomic hoods and hydraulic disc brakes to ensure you feel comfortable and safe on long or technical rides.
Vaast has built a beautiful and innovative bike that is certainly a key stepping stone for bike brands in exploring new frame materials.
If you’re excited by the idea of riding the newest technology in a gravel optimized bike the Vaast A/1 could be perfect for you.
What is the difference between a gravel bike and a cyclocross bike?
Most cyclocross bikes look similar to gravel bikes. However, there are some key differences.
For one, cross bikes are optimized for short races with strict rules pertaining to bike type and tire width. Due to these rules, most cyclocross bikes have only minimally flared bars and clearance for tires not much bigger than 33c.
Gravel bikes may come stock with flared bars and tires as large as 50c.
Additionally, cyclocross bikes are optimized for cyclocross courses which typically have dozens of sharp corners and limited ability to build significant speed compared to riding on a gravel road. Therefore, cyclocross bikes tend to have a less-slack head tube angle which makes cornering easier than a gravel bike.
Gravel bikes may have a slacker head tube angle and a wider wheel base for added stability on variable roads.
How many gears do I need?
Gravel bikes come with a range of gears, from 1×10 to 1×12 to 2×11. The combinations can be confusing but fortunately the differences are nuanced.
Any system with a front derailleur will have more gear options but also more overlap in gear ratio. If you are looking for the maximum number of options and also the largest range, opting for a system like a 2×11 will give you that.
Alternately, any system without a front derailleur will feel simpler to navigate and also slightly more limiting in terms of gear options and gear range.
Depending on the terrain you plan to ride you may choose different gear options. For steep climbs, having a 2×11 system could be great. If you plan to spend most of your time on flatter terrain, a 1×11 or 1×12 system is likely your best bet.
Is a gravel bike right for me?
Gravel bikes can function as “do it all” bikes for some riders. Particularly if you are intrigued by having one bike which can commute, road ride, and also ride dirt roads or trails, you may be a great candidate for a gravel bike.
Gravel bikes are often seen as a hybrid bike that straddles between road riding and mountain bike riding. Within this space, some gravel bikes do feel more like road bikes while others come close to having capabilities of mountain bikes.
Before you purchase a gravel bike, ask yourself where you’d like to ride. If you plan to be on roads primarily, you may not need the added weight. However, if you’re excited about riding tarmac, gravel roads, dirt roads, some singletrack, or commuting comfortably, a gravel bike could be perfect.
Conclusion: Best Pick Product
For strict gravel riding, the Salsa MY20 Cutthroat Carbon stands out as an incredibly well designed bike that is built to handle the range of gravel situations and conditions.
Salsa opted to design the frame to be closer to a mountain bike frame with a slacker head-tube angle than many gravel bikes.
The combination of the wider wheel base, number of busses for mounting gear, and the ergonomic GRX groupset, this bike has been designed considering all the options and needs you may have while riding.
If you are ready to take on the world of gravel riding with versatility and options as diverse as the terrain, the Salsy My20 Cutthroat could be perfect.
Emily Schaldach is a professional cyclist from Colorado. She grew up racing mountain bikes and competed at the University of Colorado, Boulder where she expanded disciplines to race downhill, road, and cyclocross. Emily is currently on the Firefly Bitchstix Cycling team, also known as Team BitchnGrit, and competes primarily in cyclocross and gravel events.