Features of gravel and adventure bikes
- Designed for riding on mixed terrain
- Wide tyres (28c+, right up to 40c) for comfort and grip
- Clearance for mud
- Mounts for bottle cages, unlike cyclocross race bikes
- Sometimes mounts for pannier racks for longer adventures
- Lower bottom bracket than a cyclocross race bike (less need for clearance)
- Disc brakes for quick stopping
- Sometimes flared handlebars for control
Adventure and gravel bikes occupy much of the same space, and, in most cases are two different names for the same machines. This is because of the nuances between the types of riding available in the USA (long open gravel roads) and the UK (bridleways and canal paths).
These 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, farm tracks, and of course gravel. You can even expect these bikes to handle advanced off roading riding and, in the hands of the right rider, mountain bike trails.
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.
Wide tyres (28c+) are usually specced, with room for more, and you can expect disc brakes as standard.
Explore new roads, and off-roads!
Our sister company UK Cycling Events hosts sportives and gravel rides throughout the country. Way-marking, feed stations, mechanical support and more – check out the upcoming events here.
Our pick of the best gravel bikes and adventure road 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 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.
Cannondale Topstone Carbon Ultegra RX
- RRP: £3500 Review Score: 10/10
- Groupset: Shimano Ultegra Weight: 8.46kg (large)
- Pros: Ride feel, spec Cons: Nothing!
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.
The chainstays, seat tube and top tube have ‘flex zones’ designed to deflect more 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 tyres.
Vielo V+1 gravel bike
- RRP: £5499 Review Score: 8/10 (higher spec model reviewed)
- Groupset: SRAM Force 1x Weight: 8.25kg
- Pros: Versatile on and off road, light for the spec Cons: Expensive
Designed for rough UK conditions, this bike can be run with 700c wheels or 650b hoops, the latter fitted with 2.1″ tyres 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.
Ribble CGR AL 105
Read more: Ribble CGR review
- RRP: £1399 Review Score: 9/10
- Groupset: Shimano 105 hydraulic disc Weight: 9.72kg (size large)
- Pros: Looks, versatility, spec as you like via bike builder Cons: Handlebar shape
Ribble’s CGR says what it does on the tin – it’s the Preston based brand’s Cross, Gravel and Road bike. This machine is all about versatility.
Ribble offers the chasis constructed from aluminium, titanium or steel – in this case we went for the entry level alloy creation.
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 slimmer and dropped for extra compliance.
It’s a disc brake specific bike with thru axles for rigidity, and the BB is threaded.
The geometry is very relaxed, with a short reach and high head tube lending to stability off road, though there’s plenty of room to drop it and get a bit more agressive if you want to.
Thanks to Ribble bike builder you can have this machine any way you like. Our model has Shimano 105 and came in at £1399.
Specialized Diverge gravel bike
Read more: Specialized Diverge Comp review
- RRP: £2750 Review Score: 9/10
- Groupset: Shimano 105 hydraulic disc Weight: 9.19kg (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 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.
For 2020, the range begins at £900 for the Diverge E5, though we’ve opted for the Shimano 105 build at £2750.
Orro Terra C carbon gravel bike
Read more: Terra C gravel bike from Orro here
- RRP: £2099.00 Review Score: TBC
- Groupset: Shimano 105 hydraulic disc Weight: 9.54kg
- Pros/Cons: TBC – with full review
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.
Buy now US: Orro Terra C Gravel bike at Wiggle for $1379.99
Open U.P. gravel bike
Read more: Open U.P. review
- RRP: £2230 (frameset only) Review Score: 9/10
Groupset: NA Weight: 1,150g (frame, size L), 8.2kg 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.
Buy now: Open U.P £2,230 at the Tri Store
GT Grade gravel bike
- RRP: £2599.99* Review Score: 9/10
- Groupset: Shimano Ultegra disc Weight: 8.8kg (size medium)
- Pros: Stability and control, top spec Cons: Tyres not great for UK conditions
- *Our test model came from 2019 line-up, 2020 line up features Shimano 105 build at £2000, or a leap up to Shimano Ultegra Di2 for £3500
GT was one of the first in line to create gravel bikes, back in 2014. The range has been continued each year ever since, with the 2020 collection seeing some tweaks – such as unbound seat stays which lead to additional compliance plus Di2 compatibility.
Glass fibre rods have been built into the seat stays, too, lending more flex and comfort.
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 wide range of gears to offer lots of options on steep ramps.
Currently, the GT Grade 2020 range consists of a selection of build options, starting at £850 for a Aluminium build with Shimano Claris.
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 noticed farm tracks, bridlepaths 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.
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. As standard you should expect disc braking and clearance for wider tyres.
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.
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.
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.
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 or 142mm, with some even increasing that to 148mm which gives a more robust rear wheel.
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.
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.
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.
Alternatively, if you’re riding on a loose gravel surface you might find it beneficial to have a slick centre with more aggressive knobs on the sides.
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.
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.
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 components
Adventure and gravel bikes almost exclusively use disc brakes for their better modulation and more consistent stopping in dry, wet and muddy conditions.
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.
Different types of handlebars are also worth considering on adventure bikes. The wider the flare, the easier it is to fit a handlebar bag on the front of the bike and still be able to grip the drops and brake at the same time. Recently, the humble handlebar has come under scrutiny and seen a radical redevelopment with Canyon’s double-decker bar designed to add additional compliancy to the ride.