We pick out some of the best gravel bikes and adventure road bikes on the market, and explain what defines the genre and what to look for

Gravel bikes and adventure bikes: the basics

Gravel bikes sit somewhere between cyclocross bikes and endurance road bikes – they’re more nimble on the road than their mud ready cyclocross brethren, but more capable of tackling rough surfaces than endurance road bikes.

These bikes are ideal for multi-terrain adventures – they’ll take you on bridlepaths and farm tracks, and of course gravel – they won’t deal so well with thick mud.

They’ve generally got a lower bottom bracket when compared with cyclocross bikes, giving a more road-like feel but making them less tailored to rocks and roots.

Gravel and adventure bikes often have water bottle cages, pannier rack mounts and even mudguard eyelets that you wouldn’t find on a full-on cyclocross racer.

Wide tyres (28c+) are usually specced, with room for more, and you can expect disc brakes

What is a gravel bike or adventure road bike?

If you’ve ever gone out on a ride on your best road bike and noticed farm tracks, bridlepaths and canal towpaths as you passed, wondering where they lead but hesitating to head off the tarmac, then a gravel bike or adventure road bike may be for you.

It’s a bike which aims to meld on-road speed with off-road capability and so overlaps in design features with both road and cyclocross bikes, as well as incorporating elements borrowed from mountain bikes. It follows the trends for disc braking and for clearance for wider tyres.

>>> Cyclocross bikes: a buyer’s guide

A gravel bike is similar, but is designed for riding on the untarmacked roads which are more prevalent in the US and some European countries than the UK. It will have clearance for even wider tyres, which may be up to 40mm across.

Below is our pick of the best adventure road bikes and gravel bikes – read on for more details on what to look for when shopping for a knobbly tyred road bike.

With each bike is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.

Our pick of the best gravel bikes and adventure road bikes

Specialized Diverge 2018 gravel bike

Specialized Diverge adventure gravel bike

The Diverge now sits firmly in the adventure / gravel bike camp

When the Specialized Diverge first arrived on the scene, it was very much a ‘do it all’ bike – but updates for 2017/2018 (it’s ok, they’re available to buy already!) see it move firmly into the adventure/gravel bike family.

The American brand has added its ‘Future Shock’ front suspension to the front end, with a progressive spring on the 20mm travel so there’s no bottoming out. The bottom bracket is now lower, providing stability, and at S-Works level the bike comes with a dropper seat post. This can be purchased separately and fitted to lower ranked frames.

Disc brakes are a given, and 650b wheels can be fitted, with 42c tyres being the max.

>> Read more about the Specialized Diverge range here 

>> See the range, from £799 to £8,500 at Tredz here 

Orro Terra C carbon gravel bike

Orro Terra C gravel bike

Orro Terra C gravel bike

New on the market, the  Terra C from Sussex based brand Orro features a UK made fibre with vibration-busting ‘Sigmatex Innegra’ that aims to reduce the chances of frame damage. The material is embedded at the bottom bracket, chainstays and forks – areas likely to suffer attack from rough roads.

A low bottom bracket also aids stability, and there’s clearance for a 42c wheel.

>>> Read more about the Terra C gravel bike from Orro here 

>>> See it with hydraulic discs and Shimano 105 shifting for £2099  and with TRP mechanical brakes for £1799.99 here

Open U.P. gravel bike

best adventure road bikes

The Open U.P.

Closer to a cyclocross or even mountain bike, we can’t help but include the Open UP – it’s got a little MTB pedigree, meaning it can handle some techy trails but still feels quick on the road. This versatile frame is both mechanical and Di2 compatible and can house 650b wheels as fat as 2.1 inches wide to standard 700c hoops. This takes gravel bike riding to new levels.

>> Read our full review of the Open U.P. here

> Buy now for £2,230 at the Tri Store

GT Grade 2018 gravel bike

GT Grade gravel bike

GT Grade gravel bike

GT was one of the first in line to create gravel bikes, and seeing the success take off, they broadened the range in 2017  and continued it into 2018.

The Grade is designed to ride well on gravel paths, whilst still feeling good on the road. It’s got a long wheelbase to add to stability, and comes with a 52/36 chainset and 11-32 cassette – giving plenty of options on those short sharp ascents often found off road.

Hydraulic disc brakes provide quick stopping and the tyres are comfortably wide at 32c.

Models start from £649 and travel up to £2899.99.

>>  Read our review of the GT Grade Carbon Ultegra gravel bike

>>> Buy now at Evans Cycles from £649 to £2899.99

Cannondale Slate 2018 adventure road/gravel bike

Cannondale Slate adventure road/gravel bike

Cannondale Slate adventure road/gravel bike

One of the most fascinating bikes to come out in recent years, the Slate effectively kickstarted the adventure bike craze with its fusion of road and mountain bike technology.

>> Read our full review of the Cannondale Slate here

>> Buy now for £1,949.99 from Sigma Sport

Marin Gestalt 2 2018 gravel bike

Marin Gestalt 2 gravel bike

Marin Gestalt 2 gravel bike

An aluminium frame with carbon fork and Shimano Tiagra shifting, Tektro mechanical disc brakes and wide 30c tyres at a sniff over the £1k cycle to work voucher threshold.

>>> Read our full review of the Marin Gestalt 2

>>> Buy now for £1,150 at Tredz

Giant AnyRoad 1 2018 adventure bike

Giant Revolt 1 adventure road/gravel bike

Giant AnyRoad 1 adventure road/gravel bike

Suited to any road (as the title might suggest), this aluminium frame comes with carbon fork. For £1399 you get Shimano Tiagra shifting, hydraulic disc brakes, and 30c tubeless tyres.

Adventure and gravel bike frame geometry

An adventure road bike is built for a stable ride, which particularly comes into its own off road. So there will be a long wheelbase and low headtube angle which should result in controlled steering and less chance of washing out in wet or muddy conditions.

>>> Cycling Weekly Adventure Cross sportive series

The frame will be built for rider comfort too, typically having compliance zones and often a carbon seatpost for shock absorption. The head tube will be long and the top tube short to allow the rider to adopt a more upright position to move their weight around when negotiating off-road obstacles.

15mm thru axle and hydraulic discs on the GT Grade

15mm thru axle and hydraulic discs on the GT Grade

Axle standards are increasingly being borrowed from mountain bikes. Although quick release wheels are still found – particularly at the rear – there is increasing use of 12mm and 15mm thru axles, which provide more rigidity to the wheel-frame junction and easier brake disc alignment. Rear axle spacing for disc braked wheels is usually 135mm, although adventure road bikes are appearing with 142mm spacing, which gives a more robust rear wheel.

>>> Raleigh’s 2016 adventure road bike range

Often the frame will come with mudguard eyelets and mounts for a rack too, so that the bike can be used as a rugged commuter or all-year road bike. The bars are usually wrapped in squishy bar tape for comfort and some bikes come with bars which are wider at the drops to help with steering accuracy.

Gravel bike and adventure bike tyres

You can get adventure road and gravel bikes shod with tyres of pretty much any width between 28mm and 42mm. Since they are designed to perform well on the road as well as off it, adventure road bikes will typically come fitted with tyres with less aggressive tread patterns than cyclocross bikes.

Cannondale Slate is a gravel bike with 42mm tyres and a suspension fork

Cannondale Slate is a gravel bike with 42mm tyres and a suspension fork

There’s not really a consensus on the best pattern, with some bikes coming with slick tyres, whilst others have file treads or low profile knobs. Depending on where you find yourself riding, it may be useful in the UK to use a set of more aggressively knobbed cyclocross tyres which afford more grip when it’s wet or muddy and are less likely to side slip when making turns on loose surfaces.

>>> Cannondale Slate gravel bike range

Many adventure road bikes come with tubeless or tubeless-ready tyres and rims. This allows the tyres to be run at lower pressures, as there’s no risk of pinch flats. The sealant in the tyre will deal with many leaks without loss of pressure or needing to stop for a repair.

Gravel bike and adventure bike gearing

Adventure road bikes are designed to be ridden on the road as well as off, so they have a wider range of gears than a cyclocross bike to ensure that they can be pedalled faster on the road without spinning out.

>>> Road bike groupsets: A complete buyer’s guide (video)

SRAM's 1x and thru axles are appearing more frequently

SRAM’s 1x groupset and thru axles are appearing more frequently

This often means a compact or semi-compact double chainset, although – as with cyclocross bikes – SRAM’s 1x (pronounced One-By) single chainring groupset is becoming increasingly popular for its simpler set-up, mud clearance and control of chain slap.

Adventure and gravel bike pedals

Pedal system choice is a matter of personal taste and dependent on riding style. If you ride predominantly on roads and well-maintained paths where you rarely need to put a foot down, then road shoes and cleats may be a good choice.

Mountain bike style pedals make walking, mounting and dismounting easier

Mountain bike style pedals make walking, mounting and dismounting easier

On the other hand, more demanding off-road riding may mean that you need to dismount and walk with the bike or put a foot down for stability. In this case, mountain bike pedals and shoes may be a better choice for their ease of walking, treaded soles and recessed cleats.

Adventure and gravel bike brakes

Braking exclusively uses discs, for their better modulation and more consistent stopping in dry, wet and muddy conditions.

>>> Disc brakes in the WorldTour: are they necessary on road bikes?

On higher speced models the brakes will be hydraulic, whilst lower priced bikes will typically have mechanical calipers. With Shimano 105 now available with hydraulic disc brakes and the increasing use of SRAM 1x mechanicals, hydraulic systems are becoming increasingly prevalent.