Want to take your rides off the beaten path? A gravel bike is a great way to explore roads, trails and paths less traveled. In this comprehensive buyer’s guide, you’ll learn all about the different types of gravel bikes and what features to look for when making your choice.
There are a variety of gravel bike frames to choose from, with each offering different advantages and disadvantages. Steel frames offer natural vibration damping for a smooth ride, while aluminum frames are lightweight and strong. Carbon fiber is the lightest frame material but is more expensive than other choices. Titanium offers an unparalleled blend of comfort and durability, though it can add more cost to your bike.
With so many different frame materials and types, it’s important to understand the nuances of each before making a decision. Steel frames are often favored for their ride quality, but are typically heavier than other materials. Aluminum frames shave weight off but may be stiffer and less forgiving than steel. Carbon fiber is the lightest material frame option, but is also the most expensive. Titanium bikes offer an incredibe blend of comfort and durability, though they come at a higher price point. To determine which material best fits your budget and needs it’s important to consult an expert or do some research online beforehand.
Generally speaking, gravel bikes come equipped with wide-range gearing for tackling a variety of terrain. Gravel specific drivetrains commonly offer 12 or 11-speed cassettes, with some high-end models offering an even greater range. Many gravel bikes also feature single chainring drivetrains that offer a simpler and lighter solution. Electronic shifting is becoming increasingly popular in the gravel bike scene, though you’ll most likely pay extra for this piece of technology.
Naturally, gearing is an imperative factor when considering which drivetrain will work best for your intended riding style. Compatible cassette options usually feature 10-50 or 11-42t configurations. Some cassettes even eliminate the smallest sprocket to provide a slightly wider range than the typical 11-36t. Single chainring systems feature specific chainsets that are designed around small chainrings (usually 34t) paired with mountain bike specific derailleurs and shifters. These drivetrains provide stronger chain security and allow you to switch into an easier gear when rolling terrain changes suddenly appear.
For optimal performance, gravel bikes will typically come with an aluminum frame and carbon forks for improved steering precision. The majority of gravel bikes use 700c wheels with either a 45 or 50mm tire width. Many bike manufacturers also offer larger 650b wheels with up to 2.2-inch tires for increased traction on rough terrain. Gravel specific designs focus on balance between fast acceleration and improved grip, which helps you conquer any off-road surface.
Safety features to consider when buying a gravel bike includes brakes and disc rotors, suspension components, frame reinforcement, handlebar position and clamp systems, bottom brackets and bearings, forks and axles. For added comfort, look for ergonomic saddle shapes with adjustable standoff height, thicker bike tires with reinforced sidewalls for better puncture protection, and longer top tubes for more efficient pedaling. Pre-assembled accessories such as mudguards, racks and cycling bags can also be helpful additions on gravel bikes.
Gravel bikes come in a variety of price ranges and with different features so it’s important to figure out your budget before you start shopping. Keep an eye out for second-hand options or entry-level models, as they are good places to find quality gravel bikes within your budget. If you’re on a tight budget, you may want to consider used or pre-owned options—just make sure that the bike is in good condition and has been properly maintained before making a purchase.
Understand that you don’t need to buy the most expensive bike to have the highest quality parts; there are plenty of quality components on mid-priced bikes. Consider the features you’re looking for—such as an adjustable seat, multiple gearing, or disc brakes—and determine what price range provides those features without breaking your budget. You can also review customer reviews on gravel bikes in your desired price range to get a feel for which models may be better investments. Ultimately, if you plan ahead and know what to look for, you should be able to find a great gravel bike at a reasonable cost.