Gravel and all-road are terms used for this rapidly growing segment of the road bike market. These bikes have generous tire clearance and geometry that is more stable and forgiving than traditional road bikes.
Gravel bikes were born out of the American Midwest, where racing on gravel roads took hold a decade ago and has steadily gained popularity. In the early days, riders tackled these endurance events on cyclocross bikes with the largest tires that would fit between the stays. Today, there are numerous purpose-built machines gravel-curious riders can choose from.
Key elements of a gravel bike
Four key features can usually be used to distinguish a gravel bike from a traditional road bike.
First and foremost, gravel bikes have wider tires. Since these bicycles are designed to traverse miles of unpaved roads, their tires are substantially larger. Likewise, mud clearance is also a concern in these conditions.
Tire widths range anywhere from 30mm to 48mm. In addition to 700c wheels, it is also common to see smaller diameter 650b wheels used with higher volume tires. Most gravel tires feature a fast-rolling center tread with knurling or side knobs to improve cornering ability on mixed surfaces. Tubeless tires are also commonly found on gravel bikes, as the latex sealant provides a degree of insurance against punctures.
In addition to wider tires, gravel bikes have geometry that favors stability and comfort. The wheelbase of a gravel bike is longer than most road bikes, thanks to longer chainstays and slacker head tube angles. Head tubes are generally taller as well, placing the rider in a more relaxed, upright position. Bottom brackets are often lower, which gives the rider the sensation of riding in, rather than on the bicycle.
The end result of these geometry differences is a more comfortable, confidence-inspiring and forgiving ride than one would find in a typical road bike.
Gearing is another area where these bikes diverge from the pack. Given the terrain, many gravel bikes feature compact or smaller gearing and wide-range cassettes. Cranksets with 50/34 or 48/32t are common. Likewise, many gravel bikes come with 1x gearing with ultra-wide 10-42t cassette.
In addition to wide tires, relaxed geometry and low gearing, many gravel bikes have active or passive suspension systems built into them.
Much like bikes in the endurance road category, these features could take the form of slender chainstays, a bowed top tube, or a skinny seatpost, all of which are designed to flex in order to absorb road chatter.
Some gravel bikes take things one step further by using short-travel suspension forks such the Lefty Oliver or aesthetically odd but very effective Lauf Grit fork.
How much do I have to spend on a gravel bike?
Well, that depends on what you define as a gravel bike. A used cyclocross bike, for example, could work perfectly well as a gravel bike and cost you a fraction of the cost of even the most basic 'true' gravel machine.
If you'll looking at a purpose-built gravel / all-road bike, then expect to pay around $1,200 / £800 for an alloy frame example with entry-level components from a big brand.
A mid-range build from a major brand will likely cost in excess of $2,800 / £2,000 but should feature a carbon frame and hydraulic disc brakes. As is normally the case in the cycling world, it’s possible to spend a small (or not so small) fortune on a custom-build bike should you wish to.
GT Grade Carbon Ultegra
Price: £2,599 / US$3,580 / AU$TBC
- Mechanical Shimano Ultegra drivetrain
- Lightweight carbon frame
- Comfort and performance in one package
The Grade is designed for versatility and long-distance, all-day comfort. GT believes the term ‘gravel racer’ is too niche, claiming the bike can tackle gran fondos, pavement and gravel with equal aplomb.
Its slightly slackened head angle and heightened head tube are there for comfort, and the frame is designed to accommodate wheels shod in rubber up to 35mm wide to increase its go-anywhere potential. The fork has a 15mm thru-axle for steering precision and to cope with the extra forces generated by hydraulic disc braking.
You could cyclocross on the Grade, and even if its 52/36 chainset and 11-32 cassette might offend ’cross purists, the wide gear range makes it more versatile.
We rode the Grade on gravel tracks and singletrack and found that GT’s ambitions for the bike have been realised. It could have handled pretty much anything we threw it at, which is no surprise from a company with so much off-road heritage.
Cannondale Slate Ultegra
Price: £2,799 / US$3,520 / AU$4,999
- Lefty suspension fork
- 650b wheels and tyres
- Agile handling
If those examples are making you shudder, let's break it down: Cannondale has taken aggressive road bike geometry (for quick, responsive handling), 650b mountain bike wheels, massive 42mm-wide tyres and a road-specific version of its Lefty single-sided suspension fork, with extra low-speed compression damping and virtually no sag when you sit on the bike.
The fork may have ‘only’ 30mm travel — not much compared with a modern mountain bike — but this proved sufficient to deal with large ruts and washboard descents. The rear matches the front well, helped by features like Fabric’s comfortable Scoop saddle.
Raleigh Roker Pro
Price: £2,000 / US$TBC / AU$TBC
- 1x drivetrain
- Front and rear thru-axles
- Comfortable frame
All our testers appreciated the simplicity of purely sequential gearing offered by a single ring, so you never have to work out which ring and sprocket combination delivers the next ratio.
It also results in a clean look — albeit one with uncommonly large sprockets for a drop-bar bike — and reduces the chance of grass or other off-road debris clogging the frame, while there’s no chance of anything getting caught in the front derailleur as there isn’t one.
On the road the Roker Pro is comfortable, with a lively ride and a slightly racy riding position. The result is a versatile ride if you don’t want to be restricted by a pure road bike.
Norco Search Ultegra/105
Price: £2,100 / US$3,450 / AU$TBC
- Stable handling
- Road compact gearing
- Best suited to mixed-surface rides
The Norco may be best known for its mountain bikes, although this Canadian-based company produces very capable road bikes as well. The Search fits somewhere in the middle, as an adventure road bike that can handle a bit of off-road excursion.
Our tester found the Norco excelled on mixed surface rides, where it has the pace as a regular road bike but its off-road capability is enough for you to take shortcuts and lines you wouldn't normally on a bike dedicated only to tarmac. If your favourite loops involve road as well as a bit of dirt or gravel this is one to consider.
Devinci Hatchet Carbon
Price: £TBC / $5,749 / AU$ TBC
- Good tire clearance
- Relaxed, endurance-focused handling
- Compliant frame
Devinci’s Hatchet Carbon ticks off many of the boxes of what a modern gravel bike should be. It can clear 700x40c tires with ease, has geometry suited to endurance riding and a carbon frame with enough engineered flex to take the edge off rough roads.
Hidden fender mounts and internal routing also make this bike a good choice for a performance-oriented all-weather road riding. It could also be used for light-duty touring with frame bags.
Our test time aboard the Hatchet included a 60-mile mixed surface race called the Grinduro that included plenty of gravel as well as some surprisingly rugged singletrack. The Hatchet proved its worth as an efficient, comfortable and forgiving ride.
Why Cycles R+
- Durable and comfortable titanium frame
- Impeccable build details
- Good tire clearance