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Best gravel bike 2022: Tackle tarmac or off-road trails with ease

Joseph Delves
28 Feb 2022
Best gravel bike
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Whether you’re a dedicated off-road racer or just after a versatile drop handlebar bike, these are the best gravel bikes on the market

Gravel cycling has become extremely popular in recent years. Riding drop handlebar bikes on unpaved surfaces makes for a refreshing change from time spent on the tarmac. With less traffic and greater potential to explore, bikes catering specifically to the gravel trend have sprung up in large numbers, so finding the best gravel bike for your needs is key.

Sporting fast-rolling all-terrain tyres and powerful disc brakes, gravel bikes are designed to let you cover long distances off-road efficiently and in comfort. More capable than a road bike and far quicker than a mountain bike, they’re versatile enough to take on many other tasks, too. In fact, they’re so versatile that, if you only own one bike, we think there’s a good argument for making it a gravel bike.

Given the increased popularity of gravel cycling, the sheer number of bikes available can make deciding which one to buy rather tricky. Here we’ve put together a buying guide to help you decide which features you need most, and this is followed by mini-reviews of our favourite gravel bikes.

READ NEXT: The best commuting, folding, MTB and road electric bikes


Best gravel bikes: At a glance

  • Best value: Boardman ADV 8.9 | Buy now
  • Best overall: Specialized Diverge Comp E5 | Buy now
  • Best high-end: Cannondale Supersix Evo SE | Buy now

How to choose the best gravel bike for you

As the name suggests, gravel bikes are designed to hold their own when it comes to riding on gravel. However, beyond this feature, not all gravel bikes are the same: some are more suited to particular styles of riding than others. If you want to mix in some time on the road or intend to stick to smoother paths, a lighter bike with narrower tyres might be best.

However, if you want to take on trickier off-road trails and don’t mind the extra weight, a machine with bigger tyres and a more relaxed geometry might be better. Although most gravel bikes are generally quite comfortable, some will feature riding positions that are more or less aggressive. More aggressive bikes suit riders with greater core strength and flexibility and can be faster. However, they’re often less comfy on longer rides. Then there are extras to consider: these include whether the bike has mounting points for a luggage rack or additional features like suspension. In general, it’s a good idea to find a bike to match the riding style that most appeals to you.

Which features should I look out for?

Frame material: Aluminium is the most common material used on entry-level bikes as it’s affordable and lightweight. Carbon fibre dominates among higher-end bicycles as it’s even lighter and potentially far stronger. On the other hand, although it’s heavy, steel can be a good choice for longevity and comfort. Some costly bikes also use titanium, which manages to be both light and comfy.

Tyres: At the narrower end, they can be slightly wider than those of a road bike (which are generally between 23 and 28mm). At the wider end, they can be almost as broad as those on a mountain bike (around two inches on average). Narrow tyres tend to be faster on smooth surfaces but suffer as the terrain breaks up. If you intend to ride in the mud or on loose surfaces, you’ll also want to look for increased amounts of tread.

Brakes: Disc brakes are universal on gravel bikes. They’re more powerful and reliable than other styles, especially in the rain. However, they come in both mechanical and hydraulic versions, with the latter providing better stopping power and requiring less servicing.

Extras: Look out for the ability to fit mudguards and a rack if you want to carry panniers. Other features to look out for include different styles of gearing, suspension forks and fittings for dropper-style seatposts.

How much do I need to spend?

Although they have become popular, gravel bikes are still slightly niche. Some of the parts they rely on are also more specialist than those found on more general styles of bike. This means that entry-level gravel bikes start at a slightly higher price than equivalent road bikes.

Expect to spend at least £600 on an entry-level gravel bike of decent quality. As you pay more, you’ll get better features, reduced weight and a wider choice of models. Once you start counting the bike’s cost in thousands rather than hundreds, you’ll find that frames switch from aluminium to carbon fibre. Features such as fast-rolling tubeless tyres and automated electronic gearing will also become more common.

READ NEXT: The very best road bikes money can buy

The best gravel bikes to buy in 2022

1. Specialized Diverge Comp E5: Best overall gravel bike

Price: £2,200 | Buy now from Rutland Cycling

Specialized’s original Diverge was one of the first gravel bikes to hit the market. Although it has since been joined by hundreds of others, it still defines the genre.

Growing ever more capable over the years, its tyres have settled on a quick-rolling but still trail-cushioning 38c. However, the massive amount of clearance in the frame and fork make it possible to switch to tyres all the way up to a 47c, if you wish. This means you can stick wider and grippier tyres on, which will drastically change the personality of the bike. A frequent winner at the world’s leading gravel races, the Diverge manages to be both fast and comfortable.

A large part of this is down to its FutureShock system. This isolates the bars from the frame to give a couple of centimetres of suspension. Softening blows to your hands without compromising efficiency, it’s a great feature, and this Comp model is one of the cheapest to include it. Of course, you’ll have to make do with an aluminium frame; however, the Diverge Comp’s single-chainring Shimano SLX groupset is excellent and offers a superwide 11-42t cassette, which makes it great for riding in the hills.

Key features – Wheel size: 700 x 38c; Frame material: Aluminium; Gears: 1x11-speed; Extras: FutureShock Suspension

Buy now from Rutland Cycling


2. Cannondale Supersix Evo SE: Best high-end gravel bike

Price: £4,850 | Buy now from Sigma Sports

A faster alternative to Cannondale’s more adventure-focused Topstone, the SuperSix EVO SE offers aggressive geometry and an aerodynamic profile.

One for racers rather than adventurers, its short chainstays aim for explosive acceleration and nippy handling, while its low weight also means that it will perform well on the road given a change of tyres.

However, the SuperSix EVO is no delicate flower. Arriving with 40c tyres, it packs in space for models up to 45c. At the same time, Cannondale claims that the off-road SuperSix is roughly as aerodynamically efficient as the brand’s road-going models.

Seriously capable off-road, it’s nevertheless a bike that prioritises speed over trail-taming stability. This focus on going quickly sees it forgoing mounts for racks and mudguards. Beyond fixings for a snack box on the top tube, you’ll be restricted to strap-on bikepacking bags if you want to take it camping.

Key features – Wheel size: 700 x 40c; Frame material: Carbon fibre; Gears: 2x12-speed; Extras: Electric gears

Buy now from Sigma Sports


3. BMC URS One: Best gravel bike for versatility

Price: £2,850 | Buy now from Sigma Sports


This versatile gravel bike strikes a good balance between speed on smoother terrain and strength on rougher surfaces. It manages this partly through its Micro Travel suspension, a feature built into the seat stay. Adding a small amount of vertical flex to the URS’s carbon fibre frame, it takes the buzz out of the trail where other bikes might rattle along. The same goes for its fork, which has been tuned to absorb vibration.

The bike’s geometry also helps build off-road confidence, with a slack head angle and lengthened wheelbase creating heightened stability for the rider. A broad range of sequential gears is easy to navigate, while its 40c tyres are on the chunky side.

With oversized disc rotors and clearance for even larger tyres, the URS is a bike that can be pushed even further towards rocky and technical trails. It’s also happy to go camping or exploring, with mounts for mudguards plus the ability to run a dynamo hub for off-grid power.

Key features – Wheel size: 700 x 40c; Frame material: Carbon fibre; Gears: 1x11-speed; Extras: Micro travel suspension

Buy now from Sigma Sports


4. Ribble Gravel Ti Sport Apex 1: Best titanium gravel bike

Price: £2,299 | Buy now from Ribble

Strong, comfortable and light, titanium is an excellent material to make a gravel bike from. However, it’s usually extremely expensive. Although this titanium bike from Ribble isn’t cheap, it’s still exceptional value for money.

Based on an easy-riding upright frame, the Gravel Ti can be configured in numerous ways. This means it works well with both full-size 700c wheels plus smaller and more agile 650b hoops. Thanks to Ribble’s custom build options, details like gearing and tyres can also be specified when purchasing.

We’ve opted for the entry-level bike, which comes with Sram’s excellent Apex 1x11 groupset. As standard, the bike arrives with smaller wheels and chunky 47c Halo GXC tyres. Like those of a mountain bike, they’re ready to take on anything you can throw at them. The same goes for the wide and dramatically flared handlebars, which provide oodles of leverage. Extremely versatile, the bike’s full range of mounting points includes an extra set of bottle bosses along with fixings on the top tube.

Key features – Wheel size: 650 x 47c; Frame material: Titanium; Gears: 1x11-speed; Extras: Cargo mounts on fork

Buy now from Ribble


5. Boardman ADV 8.9: Best-value gravel bike

Price: £1,100 | Buy now from Halfords

Based around a sensible aluminium frame, the Boardman ADV is a competent gravel bike with an excellent selection of parts given its relatively low price.

With comfortable but not slouchy geometry, the bike could efficiently function just as well as a cyclocross racer, touring bike or even on the road. This is helped no end by the quick yet grippy Schwalbe G-One tyres – these come in a 38c width, which strikes a good balance between speed and cushioning.

This go-anywhere approach is further reflected in the sensible component choice and full range of mounts for racks and mudguards. The sub-compact twin crankset and close-ratio cassette are as equally suited to a slogging up unpaved hills as they are the daily commute, while the superb Shimano GRX shifters, derailleurs and hydraulic disc brakes are similarly ready for anything.

Useful premium features also include bolt-through axles, a carbon fork and tubeless-ready wheels. Adding up to a very efficient package, the ADV is keenly priced and well balanced.

Key features – Wheel size: 700 x 38c; Frame material: Aluminium; Gears: 2x10-speed; Extras: Tubeless-ready tyres and wheels

Buy now from Halfords


6. Triban GRVL RC120

Price: £600 | Buy now from Decathlon

The Triban GRVL RC120 is a lot of bicycle for not much money. The cheapest gravel bike we’re happy to recommend, it still offers excellent features. These include a versatile and well thought out aluminium frame, reliable cable disc brakes and gearing is supplied by Microshift. 

Microshift isn’t as well known as its larger competitors but it’s still solid enough stuff, while the wide-ratio 11-42t 10-speed cassette is particularly impressive. Allowing for a simplified range of gears that will see you up any hill, it’s one element of a very on-trend build list. This is finished off with wide flared bars that increase control and make things easy on your arms and back. 

Twinned to an upright riding position, the GRVL RC120 will suit people looking for a comfortable and versatile gravel bike. Rolling on upgraded Hutchinson Overide tubeless-ready tyres, these combine with an equally tubeless-ready wheelset, a rare find on a bike at this price point. 

Key specsWheel size: 700 x 38c; Frame material: Aluminium; Gears: 1x10-speed; Extras: Tubeless-ready tyres and wheels 

Buy now from Decathlon


7. Cervelo Aspero GRX RX600

Price: £3,399 | Buy now from Sigma

 

Known for its fast road bikes, Cervelo’s Aspero takes a similarly speed-centric approach to gravel. More focused on going fast than hauling cargo, don’t expect to find any accoutrements for panniers or mudguards. This is a bike that would do well with a number board pinned to its handlebars, the highly wrought carbon frame prioritising stiffness and low weight over luggage capacity. 

This racey disposition extends to the bike’s gearing. The double chainset and close-ratio cassette gives more finely-tuned gearing options than that of single-ring alternatives. While this makes the bike a potential race winner, it’s nevertheless still quite trail-capable. 

This dual personality comes thanks to the ability to swap in smaller 650b wheels with bigger tyres should you so wish. Accommodated by the bike’s Flip-Chip dropouts, these keep handling the same regardless of the wheel size used. At the same time, if you stick with the 700c wheels, the Aspero is also a bike that would also work well on the road. 

Key specsWheel size: 700 x 38; Frame material: Carbon fibre; Gears: 2x11-speed; Extras: Top tube bag mounts

Buy now from Sigma


 

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