Top gravel bikes of 2023: race-ready rigs and those designed for the path least travelled
We take a look at the best offerings for the year ahead
This year we’ve seen loads of new gravel bikes launched, from the generalist to the specialist; several of the specialist bikes are designed so you can go fast over gravel, giving gravel racers the edge in the increasingly high profile events like Unbound Gravel.
On the other hand, there's been just as many gravel bikes released with features like suspension, dropper posts and big tire clearance, all designed to make them more capable on territory that used to be just for mountain bikes.
So here’s our pick of the crop of the new gravel bikes for the year ahead...
Specialized Diverge STR
The Diverge has been around for a while, but this year Specialized added the Diverge STR with rear Future Shock suspension to add to the front Future Shock. The front Future Shock gives you 20mm of travel and the rear adds another 30mm of tunable saddle deflection. Specialized says that the result is over 20% less vibration at the saddle.
Specialized’s new system is light too, with a complete S-Works bike weighing 8.5kg. That’s less than 400 grams more than the ordinary S-Works Diverge.
You can fit 47mm wide 700c tires or 2.1 inch 650bs, load up with gear and hide your tools in the SWAT compartment in the down tube. You can even add a dropper post, making the Diverge STR super versatile.
Unfortunately for prospective buyers, it's also super expensive. If you want the top spec S-Works Diverge, it will cost you £13,000 or $14,000.
The Cannondale Topstone is another gravel bike with front and rear suspension and, like the Diverge, it got a refresh this past year.
At the rear, its Kingpin suspension system received a makeover, making it100 grams lighter and more streamlined.
You’ve still got the option of the Lefty Oliver single leg suspension fork at the front, with its 30mm of travel, but the head tube angle has been decreased to 70.5 degrees. And Cannondale now gives you the option to spec its Smartsense integrated lights and radar on the new Topstone as well.
The Topstone’s tire clearance has been upped by 8mm from 37mm to 45mm for 700c tires and by 7mm from 47mm to 54mm for 650bs. Cannondale has also opted for a more user friendly threaded bottom bracket instead of the pressfit on the outgoing models. In another nod to practicality, the new bike will take a standard rear wheel instead of a symmetrically dished one, so you’ve got more wheel choice.
The Topstone Carbon range starts at £2,800 or $2,800 for the 4 spec with a standard, non suspension fork and heads up to £7,500 or $7,850 for the top spec Topstone Carbon Lefty 1.
Cannondale also released an alloy version in 2022, which starts at £2,600/$2,300.
3T Exploro Ultra
3T has been at the pointy end of gravel bike design for years, thanks to Gerard Vroomen who runs the company and was one of the original founders of Cervélo. The 3T Exploro followed on from Vroomen’s aero obsession with go-faster tube profiles and pushed the envelope in gravel bike design.
Now Vroomen has done it again, with the 3T Exploro Ultra aero, which is optimised for 650b tires up to 66mm wide - that’s 2.4 inches and as wide as many mountain bike tires. 3T reckons that’s as wide as you can go while still keeping gravel bike performance rather than having a bike that handles like a mountain bike.
It’s got a massive downtube that’s 60mm wide and a new aero seat tube that can still take a standard dropper post. 3T tells us that the Exploro Ultra has “the aerodynamics to get through the easy stuff fast and massive tires to get you through the tough stuff safely.”
3T offer an Exploro Ultra frameset for £3000 or $3200 or a complete bike from £5,700 or $5,700 up to £8,700 or $8,200.
Talking of mountain bikes, YT is a direct sales mountain bike brand that’s just gone gravel with the Szepter.
It’s designed for what YT calls “gravity-oriented gravel”, which we reckon means bombing downhill. Certainly the inclusion of a RockShox Rudy XPLR 40mm travel suspension fork suggests this could well be the case. The higher spec model gets a 50mm travel SRAM Reverb AXS XPLR wireless electronic dropper post to help you get down more easily.
The Szepter has a slack 69.4 degree head tube for stability and a steep 74.4 degree seat tube, putting you quite upright, so you’re ready to take on the descents. YT also gives you a 180mm front rotor to help slow you down better. You can fit 45mm tires and it’s single ring only with a SRAM 12-speed wireless Force or Rival AXS groupset. All that suspension tech makes it a bit heavy at 9.9kg or 21.8lb though.
The YT Szepter costs from £3,200 or $3,300 up to £4,500 or $4,500.
Gravel race bikes
Gravel racing bikes have really taken off this year, and the next few bikes on our list are all designed to help you go fast over a variety of gravel surfaces.
They may not have the mounting points for luggage, fenders and racks that gravel bikes are usually known for, but they borrow go-faster aero designs from fast road race bikes to help you get from A to B as quickly as possible.
Pinarello Grevil F
Bikes don’t come much more race-ready than the Pinarello Grevil F. It borrows its aero, asymmetric frame design and fork flaps that shield the disc brakes from the road-going Dogma F of the Ineos Grenadiers.
The aero doesn’t stop at the frame, with all the bike’s hoses routed internally and pop-out thru-axle levers to reduce drag. Pinarello reckons it’s 4% more aero than the old Grevil, saving you five watts at 40kph. It says that the Grevil F is 8% stiffer than the old model Grevil as well.
Pinarello gives you a road bike-like ride position on the Grevil F for stability when you’re riding fast but also great handling over rough terrain. It uses mid-modulus Toray T700 carbon fibre for some extra resilience over the higher modulus carbon in the Dogma F. There’s loads of clearance and you can fit 650b tires as wide as 2.1 inches to make your ride a bit more comfortable too.
A Grevil F with a Campag Ekar groupset currently retails for £5,300 or $6,500 or with Princeton Grit wheels for £7,000.
Factor Ostro Gravel
The Factor Ostro Gravel is another gravel race bike that borrows from a pro-level road race bike, in this case the Ostro VAM ridden by Isreal-Premier Tech. Factor says that it’s beefed up the frame though and tuned its aerodynamics for lower speeds with deeper tubes and an integrated bar and stem.
The frame weighs a claimed 900 grams with geometry designed to allow it to still handle well shod with 45mm tires, here fitted to a Black Inc 34 carbon wheelset. When we rode it we were impressed with both its snappy acceleration and its fast handling.
It's worth noting that's its designed to work with electronic groupsets only, something that's becoming more commonplace.
Factor will build you a bike from £7,400 or $8,700 or you can buy a frameset from £4,730 or $5,500. The top spec build weighs under 8kg.
BMC’s entry in the aero gravel race bike space is the Kaius.
It’s another gravel race bike that borrows heavily from a road bike, looking a lot like the BMC Roadmachine, with a 910g frame with aero tubes and an integrated cockpit. BMC reckons that it’s stiff enough for sprints and climbing, but comfortable enough for the longest gravel race. Even its bottle cages are extra aero to smooth airflow over the junction with the frame.
You can fit 44mm tires, a dropper post and 1x or 2x drivetrains and you can mount a Bento box on the top tube as well. Prices start at £5,700 or $6,000 and head up to £11,500 or $12,000.
Argonaut Cycles GR3
Finally, if you’re looking for something extra special, take a look at the new G3 from Argonaut Cycles based in Bend, Oregon. Argonaut custom builds all its carbon frames by hand and if one of its standard size frames won’t fit you, it will build a new mould just for you. Its tech includes the same resin in its frames as is used in the landing legs for SpaceX rockets and a patented high pressure moulding system.
Argonaut says that the G3 is another bike for gravel racing, but it’s built with an extra-slack 68.5 degree head tube angle that it says makes for great descending and its chainstays are really short at 415mm for snappy handling. It still reckons you can still fit 50mm wide gravel tires though, thanks to the dropped chainstays.
We rode it recently and found it be lightweight and lively and capable of handling pretty much any terrain that comes its way.
You can choose your own paint scheme and take a tour of Argonaut’s factory when you pick up your bike. Argonaut calls in a professional photographer to take studio shots of your new bike before it hands it over. If you want an Argonaut GR3, the lead time is four months and the frameset costs $6,500.
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Paul started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2015, covering cycling tech, new bikes and product testing. Since then, he’s reviewed hundreds of bikes and thousands of other pieces of cycling equipment for the magazine and the Cycling Weekly website.
He’s been cycling for a lot longer than that though and his travels by bike have taken him all around Europe and to California. He’s been riding gravel since before gravel bikes existed too, riding a cyclocross bike through the Chilterns and along the South Downs.
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