Gravel bikes are drop-bar bikes that allow you to veer off the road and onto more exciting terrain. While some gravel bikes are tailored to suit the racing end of the spectrum, adventure bikes are typically built to cope with the demands of longer, multi-day off-road rides, or as it is commonly known, bikepacking.
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Gravel and adventure bikes sit somewhere between endurance road bikes and XC mountain bikes. They’re more nimble on paved sections of road compared to fat-tired MTB steeds, but more confidence inspiring when it comes to tackling rough surfaces than endurance road bikes.
These bikes are ideal for mixed-terrain adventures. Don’t look past the gravel paths, broken pavement, fire roads, sand dunes, and of course unpaved dirt roads. Don’t let the drop bars fool you, these bikes can tackle some pretty technical terrain too including flowy mountain bike trails, if that’s your bag!
Wide tires are usually specced, with room for more, and you can expect disc brakes as standard. Clearances range up to 47c for standard 700c wheels, or 650b wheels (the equivalent of 27.5″ MTB wheels) can offer tires over two inches for riders tackling really challenging ground.
Gravel and adventure bikes often feature mounts for pannier racks and extra storage, including on the fork legs, as well as mudguard eyelets that you wouldn’t find on a full-on cyclocross racer. You’ll also find wider gear ratios of gravel and adventure bikes compared to road bikes, which help on loose terrain and to help compensate for carrying luggage when bikepacking. Although 1X drivetrains are common, double chainrings are still preferred by some.
Gravel bikes generally have a lower bottom bracket when compared with cyclocross bikes, giving enhanced stability on rocky, rooty and rough terrain.
Our pick of the best gravel bikes
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 bike to help you take the trail less traveled.
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.
Cannondale Topstone Carbon Ultegra RX
- RRP: £3500 / $4200 Review Score: 10/10
- Groupset: Shimano Ultegra Weight: 8.46kg / 18.65lbs (size large)
- Pros: Ride feel, spec Cons: Nothing!
Read more: Cannondale Topstone Carbon Ultegra review
When we tested this bike, we awarded it a very coveted 10/10, which shows just how much we liked it.
The Topstone could be anything from an off-road bike to a winter road bike, but with ‘Kingpin’ rear suspension coupled with the lightweight carbon frame, we see it fitting best in the gravel category, although the range now has a full suspension, ‘Lefty’ fork, 650b wheels and even an electronic version in the mix, so it could fit in a number of different pigeon holes.
The chainstays, seat tube and top tube have ‘flex zones’ designed to deflect bigger impacts than in a traditional fixed-stay frame setup, creating a comfortable ride with a relaxed geometry which inspires confidence.
At this price point, you’ll enjoy a Shimano Ultegra groupset, paired with Cannondale’s own HG22 Hollowtech carbon rims and WTB Riddler TCS Light 37c tires.
Sonder Camino AL Rival1 Gravel Bike
- RRP: £1,300 Review Score: 10/10
- Groupset: Sram Rival 1 Weight: 10.3kg / 22.7lbs (size medium)
- Pros: Affordable, supreme comfort, practical Cons: Extreme flared bars not to everyone’s taste
Read more: Sonder Camino AL Rival1 Gravel Bike review
The combination of a well-designed frame coupled with the incredible value combined to give this bike a well earnt 10/10.
Although aluminium frames have a reputation for harshness, the slack head angle, long wheelbase and tall headtube, combined with some well-engineered flex, serve to isolate you from the road buzz. The plump 42c WTB tyres help in this department as well. Fully housed external cables not only make maintenance a breeze, but also provide no point of entry along their length of muck and grime to get in and degrade performance.
With mounts for front and rear panniers, as well as some for mudguards and an extra set of bottle bosses on the downtube, many luggage solutions are open to you for bike packing. The large flare of the handlebars leaves a lot of room for a bulky handlebar bag, whilst also putting your wrist in a more comfortable position.
The confidence inspiring geometry, along with the capacity to take 650b x 2.1 inch or 700c x 50mm tyres, meant that it was able to handle trails normally traversed by mountain bikes – and was a whole load of fun when doing so!
- RRP: £1500 / $1649 Review Score: 9/10
- Groupset: SRAM Apex 1 Weight: 9.7kg / 21.38lbs (size small)
- Pros: Comfort, versatility, plenty of clearance, great value Cons: Limiting gearing, needs more sizing options
Read more: Kinesis G2 adventure bike review
Unlike many of Kinesis’ frame-only offerings, the G2 adventure bike comes as a full build, aimed at providing versatility rather than targeting any specific gravel sub-genre.
At £1500 / $1649, the G2 represents great value for money that provides all the confidence you need for mixing up your ride with off-road segments. The build isn’t particularly lightweight, but upgrading both the finishing kit and wheelset could be quick wins to knock a bit of weight off.
Vielo V+1 UD Force Edition with dropper seat post
- RRP: £5499 / TBC Review Score: 8/10
- Groupset: SRAM Force 1x Weight: 8.25kg / 18.1p (size small)
- Pros: Versatile on and off road, light for the spec Cons: Expensive
Read more: Vielo V+1 review
The Vielo V+1 gravel bike impressed us in review with its versatility and lightweight when considered alongside the 38c tires specced.
Designed to excel in rough mucky conditions, this bike can be run with 700c or 650b wheels, the latter fitted with 2.1″ tires for the more gnarly off-road rider.
You get a SRAM Force 1 groupset, and there’s even dropper post compatibility. The only downside for us was the price, so it’s worth having a look at the slightly cheaper build options, or go frame only for your own custom build.
Ribble CGR AL 105 – Sport
Read more: Ribble CGR review
- RRP: £1399 / $1525 Review Score: 9/10
- Groupset: Shimano 105 hydraulic disc Weight: 9.72kg / 20.43lbs (size large)
- Pros: Looks, versatility, spec as you like via bike builder Cons: Handlebar shape
Ribble’s CGR says what it does on the box – it’s the UK-based brand’s ‘Cross, Gravel and Road bike. This machine is all about versatility.
Ribble offers the chassis constructed from aluminum, titanium or steel – in this case we went for the entry-level alloy option.
It’s a fairly hefty machine that you can trust on rooty trails, though it has been slimmed down when compared to former iterations. The seat stays especially are now more slender and dropped for extra compliance.
The geometry is very relaxed, with a short reach and tall head tube lending to stability off-road, though there’s plenty of room to get a bit more aggressive if you want to.
Thanks to Ribble bike builder you can have this bike any way you like. Our model has Shimano 105 and came in at £1399 / $1525.
Buy now: Ribble CGR at Ribble from £999
Read more: Pinarello Grevil gravel bike review
- RRP: £4500 / $5980 Review Score: 9/10
- Groupset: Shimano Ultegra hydraulic Weight: 8.87kg / 19.56lbs (size 530)
- Pros: Aero frameset, clearance, 650b wheels, fast on and off-road Cons: short saddle, thin bar tape
The Pinarello Grevil has the flashy aero looks of the brand’s top-end bikes yet doesn’t lose its footing when the tarmac ends, to let you go where no Pinarello ought to be. We found it great fun to ride and no slouch on tarmac either.
It’s certainly a considered purchase price-wise, but the Grevil actually sits at the mid-point range when compared to Pinarello’s road-going lineup. If you’re after one of the best all-around, do-it-all bikes, then you’d be hard pushed to find a better option.
Boardman ADV 9.0
Read more: Boardman ADV 9.0 review
- RRP: £1650 / TBC Review Score: 9/10
- Groupset: SRAM Rival 1x hydraulic Weight: TBC
- Pros: Great riding position, well-considered finishing kit Cons: sluggish on road, tires too heavy
We found the Boardman ADV 9.0 a very fun ride; it was comfortable and gave great control, as did the well thought out kit supplied on it. As an all-around package it works brilliantly with a spec perfectly suited to the riding style, although it might be worth investing in some faster tires if you’re riding longer stretches of tarmac.
This bike could be a specialist bike for true adventure riding, but has the capability to be a commuter, winter trainer, tourer or a cyclocross bike. If you’ve only got space for one bike at home, this is certainly a contender for that spot.
The ADV 9.0 series is pretty hard to come by now, but the slightly more affordable ADV 8.0 series should provide just as much fun on the road less traveled.
Specialized Diverge Sport
Read more: Specialized Diverge Comp review
- RRP: £2750 /$2900 Review Score: 9/10
- Groupset: Shimano 105 hydraulic disc Weight: 9.19kg / 20.26 (52cm)
- Pros: Excellent handling on and off-road, suspension works well Cons: External cables, divisive aesthetically
The Specialized Diverge comes with the brand’s ‘Future Shock’ front suspension, with a progressive spring providing 20mm travel to prevent bottom outs.
The bottom bracket is now lower, providing stability, and at S-Works level, the bike comes with a dropper 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 tires being the max.
For 2021, the range begins at around the £999 / $1150 for the Diverge Base E5, though we’ve opted for the Comp version which has a Shimano Ultegra (GRX in the US) build at around the £3400 / $3800 mark.
Fustle Causeway GR1
Read more: Fustle Causeway GR1 gravel bike review
- RRP: £2513.00 / TBC Review Score: 9/10
- Groupset: Shimano GRX 1X hydraulic disc Weight: 9.46kg / 20.85 (size M/L)
- Pros: Class-leading handling, durable build, very capable off-road, customizable spec
- Cons: Wheels kill the ride, not as snappy on the road
Although the Causeway GR1 may be new to the market, along with the brand Fustle from Northern Ireland, founder and Alastair Beckett is anything but. With a career designing mountain bikes for the likes of Nukeproof and Forbidden, it’s no real surprise that Alastair’s first drop bar offering has a strong MTB bias.
Fustle offers full build customization with their direct to consumer model, so you can choose from a range of wheel brands, 700c or 650b, a dropper post, tires, saddle and cockpit to suit you and your local terrain straight out of the box.
Buy now: Causeway GR1 at Fustle from £2399.99
Open U.P. gravel bike
Read more: Open U.P. review
- RRP: £2230 / $4500 (frameset only) Review Score: 9/10
Groupset: SRAM Force1 hydraulic on test Weight: 1,150g (frame, size L), 8.2kg/ 18.08lbs as tested
- Pros: Versatile, lightweight Cons: No mudguard eyelets
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.
Trek Checkpoint SL 5
- RRP: £2800 / $2900
Groupset: Shimano GRX RX600/RX800 test Weight:9.72 kg / 21.43 lbs (Size 56)
- Pros: IsoSpeed, Horizontal sliding dropout, Carbon armor on downtube Cons: No T47 BB
Trek’s Checkpoint is actually the third off-road drop-bar bike in the brand’s range, with the Boone and Crockett being pitched more towards the CX crowd. The Checkpoint SL5 is made from the brand’s OCLV 500 carbon and sees Trek’s bump-eating IsoSpeed decoupled, and the sliding Strangle Hold dropout for those who want to run a singlespeed, or make slight tweaks to handling characteristics.
The frame comes with a Shimano GRX 2×11 speed drivetrain and is shod with rack and fender mounts throughout, including on the top tube for a bento-style snack box. There is room between the stays for 45c tires, but Trek sends the bike out with 40c Bontrager GR1 rubber, so depending on where you ride it may be worth adding burlier bike shoes to your shopping cart.
What is the appeal of a gravel bike or adventure road bike?
If you’ve ever gone out on a ride on your best road bike and unpaved roads, fire trails or alluring singletrack 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.
These bikes aim to meld on-road efficiency with off-road capability, so you’ll find overlaps in design features with both road and cyclocross bikes, as well as incorporating elements from mountain bike technology. As standard you should expect disc braking and clearance for wider tires.
Whereas cyclocross bikes are designed with short, muddy races in mind, gravel and adventure bikes take longer unpaved rides into account. You’ll still find race-orientated builds in the gravel category for long-distance or enduro-style events, alongside adventure bikes that feature additional clearance and mounts to accommodate luggage and often wider tires for more remote journeys.
Adventure and gravel bike frame geometry
Stability and handling are key when it comes to riding off-road. Expect to see a lengthened wheelbase, slack headtube angle and lower bottom bracket compared to road bikes, which aid with technical terrain and steeper descents.
The rider position is typically more upright than on road bikes, both for comfort over long rides and to allow the rider to move their weight around more easily when negotiating off-road obstacles.
Thru-axles have quickly become standard, a technology borrowed from mountain biking along with disc brakes. Although quick-release wheels are still sometimes found – particularly at the rear – the new norm is 12mm or sometimes 15mm thru-axles, which make for easier disc brake alignment. Rear-axle spacing for disc brake wheels is typically 135mm (quick release) or 142mm (thru-axle), or occasionally 148mm boost spacing for stronger wheelsets.
More adventure or utility centric frames will come with mounts for racks and fenders, so that the bike can be used as a sturdy commuter or year-round road bike. At the most extreme end of the adventure bike market, fork leg mounts are becoming increasingly common for even more storage options.
Gravel bike and adventure bike tires
You can find adventure road and gravel bikes shod with tires of pretty much any width between a narrow 28c and 47c, plus tires measured in inches on 650b wheel builds! There’s a real range in tread patterns available off the peg or fitted to gravel and adventure builds dependent on their intended use. You can always consider changing these to suit the kind of terrain you’d like to ride.
There’s not really a consensus on the best pattern, with some bikes coming with fat, slick tires, whilst others have file treads or low profile knobs. It’s all depends on where you find yourself riding, and what the conditions are like. In the UK, you’re more likely to come across patches of wet mud year-round, so a more aggressive tread can be useful in those situations to help you maintain grip, although at the expense of road speed. While in the US gravel roads can range from well-graded packed dirt that almost resembles tarmac, to the crushed and graded limestone you find in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Finding the right tires for your riding terrain may take some experimentation, and don’t be afraid to try something with more or less tread than you’re used to.
Most gravel and adventure bikes are specced with tubeless or tubeless-ready tires and rims, ready for conversion to a tubeless set-up. Rather than having to replace an inner tube every time you flat, the sealant in the system will (in theory) plug any punctures from sharp objects like thorns, which is a real advantage when it comes to riding off-road. You may need to re-inflate the tire a little if you have a puncture, and make sure you’re equipped with a spare tube and full tubeless repair kit for more serious tire damage.
Gravel bike and adventure bike gearing
Adventure road bikes and gravel bikes are designed to be ridden on the road as well as off, so you’ll typically find a wide range of gears to allow both efficiency and speed on the road, as well as enough gears to cope with loose and steep terrain off-road.
The choice between a double or single chainring upfront is usually down to rider preference. A 1X (one-by) set up gives ultimate simplicity and often allows for greater tire clearance, often at the cost of top-end road gears for quick descending or sprinting. Double chainrings offer more options for riders that prefer to spend more time on smoother terrain or on the road.
Adventure and gravel bike pedals
Pedal choice is a matter of personal taste and will be dependent on your 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.
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, with grippy treaded soles and recessed cleats.
Adventure and gravel bike components
Adventure and gravel bikes almost exclusively use disc brakes for their better modulation and more consistent stopping in dry, wet and muddy conditions. This also has a really positive impact on wheel longevity compared to rim brakes for off-road riding.
On higher value models the brakes will be hydraulic, while budget bikes typically have mechanical calipers. With Shimano’s GRX gravel-specific groupsets available in hydraulic disc only, this tends to be the preference. You’ll occasionally find mechanical disc brakes on adventure bike builds, where long-distance riders find them easier to maintain and repair in more remote situations.
Different types of handlebars are also worth considering on adventure bikes. Flared bars are generally accepted as a good upgrade to give greater stability in the wider drops for rough terrain and descending off-road. The wider the flare, the easier it is to fit a handlebar bag on the front of the bike and still be able to fit your hands on the drops and brakes at the same time. Raised bars such as the Specialized Hover Bar also help to give more clearance over the front wheel for smaller riders, as well as providing a more upright riding position.
With a lack of innovation-quashing UCI rules in the gravel sector, more ambitious designs are being tested, like Canyon’s radical double-decker bar, designed to add additional compliance to the ride.