The Best Gravel Bikes: 16 Top Brands and BikesPublished on 05/13/2023 · 10 min readCycling Expert Mikael Hanson gives you his top gravel bike picks from some of the best brands in the industry to help you find the best bike for your next ride.
Photo by Coen van der Broek
Gravel events have been some of the fastest-growing competitions within the sport of cycling, which led the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI)—or the governing body of professional cycling—to hold its first ever Gravel World Championships in April of 2022. Gravel riding is a unique blend of road cycling and mountain biking. And while a gravel bike resembles a road bike, it might have gearing more akin to a mountain bike.
Those hoping to find events do not need to look far, as gravel racing and rides are popping up all over the world. Plus, many of the top events can be found here in the United States, including:
- Unbound Gravel (formerly known as Dirty Kanza) reigns as one of the most popular races, with its back-breaking 200-mile premier event.
- Big Sugar is a 100-mile (50-mile version also available) race that features nearly 10,000 feet of climbing and spans parts of both Arkansas and Missouri.
- UnPaved Susquehanna River has both 120- or 90-mile, unpaved options (or shorter, paved ones) that span the Susquehanna river valley in rural Pennsylvania.
- The Heywood Ride can be found in southern Minnesota and features distances ranging from 100 to 300 miles long!
- Crusher in the Tushar is a California ride that covers over 10,000 feet of climbing over its 70-mile course.
- Barry-Roubaix attracts nearly 4,000 riders to Michigan for this early-spring ride.
- Badland Gravel Battle features distances of 60, 80, or 120 miles and covers some very scenic areas of western North Dakota.
Now that you’re on your way to getting hooked on gravel—and may have picked your next adventure—let's talk about bike options. Before we begin, however, it’s important to note that there are far too many different gravel bikes brands to be able to cover them all. So, in this list, we will focus on the major bicycle brands, as well as a few other niche models that I consider some of the best gravel bikes on the market today.
This iconic Swiss brand started with a focus on high-end road bikes before gravitating to triathlon and mountain bikes. Recently, they’ve made a push into the gravel market. BMC’s gravel options begin with the Roadmachine X, which features a 1x drivetrain built onto their Roadmachine endurance frame—allowing for a very versatile bike for both on-road or gravel use. Next up is the newer line of Unrestricted (URS) models from BMC, which come in aluminum or all-carbon frames. They are much more geared for gravel and off-road use than the Roadmachine X, and are also available in several build options.
Recently debuted at the 2022 UCI World Gravel Championships is the BMC Kaius, with a price tag between $9,000–$12,000. The Kaius offers a premium carbon frame, a carbon fork with internal cable routing, and a top-end build package. It is designed for those elite riders/racers looking for one of the lightest gravel race bikes on the market.
Another global brand, Connecticut-based Cannondale is known for their innovations in aluminum bicycles, featuring a full range of bikes for all riders and disciplines. Topstone, their gravel line-up, features models with either aluminum or carbon frames—and even an electric version. Prices start just over $1200 for an aluminum Topstone, and can exceed $10,000 for a carbon-electric version. Some of the top-end models also feature Cannondale’s proprietary Lefty Fork, a one-sided suspension fork also found on some of their mountain bikes.
Canyon: Grizil, Grail, and Grail:ON
This German direct-to-consumer brand has really shaken up the cycling market as of late. Not only as their bikes can not be bought in a store, but because they have sponsored some of the world’s top riders and teams—and they are now doing gravel! Plus, LeBron James is a part owner.
Canyon has been a mainstay in the sport of cyclo-cross and sponsors top rider Mathieu Van der Pol. They offer several models for gravel riding including the new Grizil (for rough gravel), Grail (for light gravel), and the Grail:ON—an electronic gravel road bike. A very unique feature of the Grail is their proprietary two-tier drop bars, which the brand claims provides superior shock absorption.
Compared to many of the other global brands, Canadian-based Cervelo is relatively young. They were also one of the earliest brands to focus on both the triathlon and road markets. Initially late to mountain and gravel bikes, they’ve turned heads with their new Aspero gravel model.
According to Cervelo, the Aspero is road-race inspired and designed with world-tour stiffness and lighter material to aid in climbing and acceleration. Plus, the geometry on this bike is not too far off their endurance road bikes. The Aspero also adjusts to different wheel/tire combinations, as it is engineered the bike to fit most 700x42 or 650x49 configurations. The Aspero is available in both SRAM Apex or Shimano GRX build packages. For a slightly lighter version of this frame, check out the Aspero 5.
Lauf: True Grit, Anywhere, and Seigla
Lauf is an Icelandic bicycle brand based in Reykjavik. They specialize in gravel bikes, and their models feature a rather unique fork. Their lineup of gravel bikes include the very popular True Grit (pure gravel bike), the Anywhere (for mixed road use), and the new Seigla (for the harshest off-road terrain). Each Lauf bicycle is available in numerous build packages, with prices ranging from $2500–$7,000.
Marin: Gestalt, Nicasio, and Headlands
Founded in 1986, this brand takes its name from Marin County, California, arguably one of the birthplaces of mountain biking. Marin’s focus is centered on mountain and gravel bikes, and they offer a full range of options from entry level to high end. Their line up of gravel bikes starts with the Gestalt aluminum frame model, with prices starting at around $1000, followed by the steel Nicasio model. Beyond these two entry-level models, Marin offers the Headlands 1 and 2 carbon gravel bikes with pricing between $2500–$3100.
Niner: RLT and MCR
Niner’s origins are in mountain bikes, so this Colorado-based brand’s move to gravel should not be surprising at all. Their lineup of gravel bikes start with the RLT—available in both aluminum and carbon frames—then jumps to the very hardy MCR 9, featuring a full suspension much like a mountain bike to handle rough terrain.
Open: U.P, U.P.P.E.R. and WI.DE.
This niche, US bicycle brand was started by the former CEO of Swiss-based BMC; his goal was to produce a small batch of bicycles that his employees themselves would ride. The brand offers two gravel models: the U.P./U.P.P.E.R. models combine road-bike speed plus go-anywhere capabilities, features dual-wheel-size compatibility, and a dropped chainstay; the WI.DE. model can run even bigger tires while still fitting road cranks, which helps to conquer the most extreme terrain.
Like BMC, this small Spanish brand started with road and mountain bikes, but recently made the move to gravel with their Terra model. Orbea claims the Terra was designed from the ground up for gravel. They’re emphatic about it not being a repurposed road bike or a slimmed down mountain bike. Like many other models, tire clearance is 45mm and this bike can accept both 700c and 650b wheels for great versatility.
This iconic Italian brand has been one of the premier high-end bike builders for many decades with racing accolades that span the globe, so it is only fitting they’ve moved into the gravel market. Pinarello’s lone gravel bike is the Grevil, which comes in several different build options utilizing Shimano, SRAM, and the new Campagnolo Ekar groupset. Like many of the other gravel bikes in this list, it can accommodate different wheel sizes (700c wheels or 650b) for any type of road riding or gravel terrain one can find.
Salsa: Warbird, Warroad, Cutthroat, Journeyer and Stormchaser
Based in Minnesota, Salsa Cycles produces touring, mountain, road, and gravel bicycles, as well as bicycle components. They are owned by Quality Bicycle Products (which also owns Surly Bikes and All-City Cycles).
Salsa has a gravel bike for almost every type of riding, and their models include high-end carbon models like Warbird and Warroad, as well as the Cutthroat. Plus, Salsa has a few entry-level models: the Journeyer and Stormchaser—which feature a suspension fork similar to a mountain bike.
Santa Cruz: Stigmata
A premier US-based mountain brand who offers a full range of high-end mountain bikes, Santa Cruz also offers an amazing all-carbon gravel bike—the Stigmata. The brand claims this model was resurrected in 2015, after fusing a number of MTB standards and design features to create a spin on the modern CX bike. Like many other gravel bikes, the Stigmata can accept both 700c and 650b wheels and is available in a variety of build packages.
Scott: Speedster and Addict Gravel
Scott is a Swiss-based brand that works across many sports, including cycling and skiing. This brand began with a focus on road, time trial, and mountain bikes, and have gradually found their way to gravel bikes. Their entry-level bikes are based on the Speedster aluminum road frame (Speedster gravel) and are offered in a variety of builds. Above the Speedster are the all-carbon Addict Gravel models, modeled after the brand's highly successful Addict endurance bike. The Addict Gravel runs $3,000–$10,000, depending on your build choice.
Specialized: Crux and Diverge
Founded in 1974, Specialized is arguably one of the largest bicycle manufacturers in the world. Their Stumpjumper mountain bike laid the foundation for generations of riders and bikes to follow. Specialized has a bike for just about every type of riding—including gravel. They feature a few gravel/cross models, including the Crux—a very lightweight racing-oriented gravel/cross bike ranging from $4,000–$12,000, depending on the build. The other model they offer is the Diverge, which introduces a unique high-end model, the STR (see picture below), featuring a new suspension system called Future Shock. According to Specialized, the Diverge STR “suspend[s] the rider—instead of the bike” to “increase control and efficiency.”
Trek: Boone and Checkpoint
This Wisconsin-based brand has been around for decades, but it was a rider named Lance Armstrong who really put them on the map. Their focus on gravel and cyclocross bikes prompted them to encourage the UCI to move the start of the cyclo-cross season to their backyard in Waterloo, Wisconsin. The lineup of off-road bikes for Trek includes the Boone (a cyclo-cross-specific bike) and the Checkpoint—their wider range of “gravel, backpacking, and beyond” bikes. The Checkpoint is available in both an aluminum alloy frame (starting near $2500) and a carbon frame (starting near $3400) with a variety of other build options.
An Italian company more known for their handlebars and stems, 3T moved into bicycle manufacturing several years ago and have now added gravel to their list of offerings with the Exploro lineup. The brand claims the Exploro pioneers gravel-bike aerodynamics, utilizing design features such as mud-covered, knobby tire wind tunnel testing. The Exploro is available in a few different options: the Pro/Team (a great choice for a high-end, highly versatile gravel bike at an affordable price), the RaceMax (the absolute fastest gravel bike possible and aero optimized for wider tires), and the Ultra (designed to go fast on the worst possible terrain).
Final Thoughts and Other Resources
If you want to learn more about gravel bikes, our Cycling Experts here at Curated have written quite a bit on the topic! Check out my article concerning the differences between gravel and road bikes, and fellow Expert Jared Fontaine’s recent overview of gravel bikes. And for more more Cycling articles -- check out the Expert Journal here on Curated.