The fact that you're looking for the best gravel bike is no surprise. Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past few years – or a large pile of gravel, perhaps – you'll know that bikepacking is insanely popular among cyclists these days. In fact, gravel bikes are ‘cycling's current big thing’, as almost every brand on the planet has launched one. Raising the question, what is the best gravel bike?
Sitting somewhere between the best road bikes and mountain bikes, gravel bikes enable you to ride on uneven surfaces by having wider tyres and lower gearing. The idea is that you can ride them on the road and on gravel without missing a beat. Gravel bikes can be used as rough-and-ready commuting bikes with fat tyres to bulldoze through potholes and for bikepacking.
For both activities, we recommend wearing a bike helmet (see also: best cycling helmets). Having one of the best bike computers mounted on the handlebar of your gravel bike can also be useful for bikepacking – never leave the house relying on your smartphone only!
Best gravel bikes to buy right now
Why you can trust T3 Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
The Ribble Gravel SL Enthusiast is a brilliant out-of-the-box solution if you’re mad keen on the thought of getting into the gravel bike scene. Being a Ribble, the design and build is everything you’d expect from this premium brand. Cleverly though, the company has managed to produce a dependable gravel bike while keeping the price competitive. Sure, it’s not bargain-basement, but if you’re serious about gravel biking, this is as good a place to start as any.
You can get the Ribble Gravel SL Enthusiast in a range of sizes, from X-Small (5’3” – 5’6”/160 – 168cm) through to X-Large (6’ 0” – 6’ 3”/183 – 191cm) with small, medium and large options sandwiched in between. The frame is a Toray T1000/T800 Carbon Monocoque, and the high-quality components continue with SRAM Rival HRD 1x11 speed groupset, Mavic Allroad Disc 650b alloy wheels shod with Halo GXC Gravel 650bx47mm tyres.
Read our full Ribble Gravel SL Enthusiast review.
Although it might not have the same credentials as other big-name brands, the Pinnacle Arkose X is one of the best gravel bikes we've ever ridden. Fast, fun and confidence-inspiring, it's a do-it-all rig that feels at home on the road as it is off it. Moreover, the high-spec componentry and pocket-friendly price make it one of the best pound-for-pound adventure bike options.
On tarmac, it was surprisingly nippy for a gravel bike. Its wide, chunky tyres don't exactly scream 'aerodynamically optimised', but it was incredibly easy to hold averages of 32kph (20mph) on the flat, and we had no trouble keeping up with others on road bikes.
Off-road, though, is where it really shone. Light and agile, it helped us leave others in the dust when the trails got technical, and its high-volume tyres took the sting out of rock-strewn gravel paths.
Read our full Pinnacle Arkose X Di2 2023 review.
The Vello Gravel is a versatile and fully foldable two-wheeler that sounds like it has limited appeal – until you ride it. It’s handy for commuting, thanks to fatter tyres and some basic suspension that delivers a quality ride on all surfaces. And, as the name suggests, you can also take it pretty much anywhere on your travels, both on and off-road (to some degree).
It isn’t a complete solution if you’re a very keen gravel bike fan, but it offers a compromise, especially if you’re frequently commuting or travelling to places in the car where there might be the opportunity to dip into a bit of gravel fun. Out on the road, the Vello Gravel is comfortable and very enjoyable to ride. It feels very nicely engineered and very well designed. Everything is topped off by the excellent choice of components.
Read our full Vello Gravel review.
The Canyon Grail:ON is the perfect all-rounder e-bike. It would make an ideal commuting machine, with its super comfortable fat tyres and flexing seat post and handlebar top. It has plenty of power, so you don't have to break into a sweat on climbs, no matter how hilly it might be. But even if you're on the way back from the office or a weekend ride, and you spot an interesting-looking gravel path leading off your route, you're free to explore with the knowledge that the Grail:ON will take you wherever you want to go as long as you want to go, whatever your fitness level.
It's not the cheapest option on the market, but as expected from Canyon, you're getting a seriously well-specced bike for your money. You're also buying something that improves your physical and mental health and that you'll be able to enjoy for years. Sure, cheaper electric gravel bikes are on the market, but if you opted for a more affordable model to save a couple of grand, you'd be forever casting envious glances at the Grail:ON.
Read our full Canyon Grail:ON review.
Specialized’s Diverge gravel bike stands out from the crowd thanks to its front micro-suspension. The boffins at Specialized have taken the Future Shock design originally found on the Roubaix endurance road bike, which features a comfort-boosting spring inside the headset, and adapted it for off-road use.
The Diverge’s Future Shock design has a stiffer spring to offer more progressive suspension, so the front of the bike shouldn’t bob about like a witch at Halloween when you’re sending it over the rough terrain it was designed for. More comfort and improved control? That’s a win-win.
The Diverge range features both carbon fibre and aluminium models, and we’ve plumbed for the former here. You’ve got clearance for 42mm tyres - the Diverge is specced with 38mm rubber off-the-shelf, which is a fair size for all-round use - and there’s the option to go even wider with 650b wheels (increasing the tyre clearance to 47mm).
Throw in the slick shifting and first-class braking we’ve come to expecting from Shimano’s second-tier Ultegra groupset and you’ve got a seriously capable machine on your hands.
The Cannondale Topstone Apex 1 blurs the line between gravel and mountain bike by including a dropper seatpost. While there’s an argument to be made that a dropper post isn’t necessary on a gravel bike, it does open the Topstone up to the kind of terrain you just wouldn’t take other drop-handlebar whips.
The 40mm-wide tyres help, too, and additional clearance on top of that means there’s room to go bigger still. Plus you’ll still find rack and mudguard mounts for that everyday around-town practicality. By the way, if you don’t want a dropper post, Cannondale offers two other bikes in the Topstone range (and they are cheaper, too).
Cannondale has a well-earned reputation for quality aluminium bikes and the Topstone is based around a metal chassis, with a carbon fibre fork up front. The geometry is more relaxed than the company’s road race bikes to keep you comfortable over long distances and to inspire confidence on bumpy trails.
Canyon launched the Grail in 2018 as its first gravel bike - a machine designed to be fast on the road and comfortable off it. The Grail was initially only available as a carbon fibre frame, complete with Canyon’s radical double-decker handlebar, but there’s now also an aluminium chassis with a conventional handlebar.
We’ve chosen the aluminium option here, thanks to its durability for the rough-and-tumble of gravel riding and all-out affordability. This is a bike designed for curious minds, with Canyon, also offering a range of bikepacking bags if you want to plan a two-wheeled adventure, but mudguard mounts make it a seriously versatile bike equally at home on the commute to work.
This specific model, the Grail AL 7.0 SL, sits at the top of the aluminium range and sports a SRAM Rival 1 groupset, so a single chainring at the front is paired with a huge, climb-crushing cassette at the rear. That gives you the full spread of gears you need for nailing singletrack descents and scaling off-road climbs.
Other quality components include the 40mm Schwalbe G-One Bite tyres, which come in a tan-wall design sure to get cycling purists salivating. Canyon’s direct-sales model – you buy direct from the German brand’s website, with no bike shop acting as a middle-man – makes this a bargain.
Whereas the Specialized Diverge aims to take the sting out of rough terrain with its Future Shock front suspension, the Trek Checkpoint takes the opposite approach and focuses on the rear. Trek’s IsoSpeed decoupler isolates the seattube from the toptube to cushion the ride, protecting your rear end in the process.
That’s just one of the smart features on the Checkpoint, which also features a carbon fibre frame (with a protection plate on the downtube to defend against gravel), a Blendr-compatible stem (you can clip your lights directly into the stem, saving space on the handlebar) and Trek’s Stranglehold dropouts, which allow you to tweak the geometry to match your riding style. There’s up to 15mm of adjustability, so you can quicken or relax the handling as you wish.
Mudguard and rack mounts, as well as additional bosses on the fork, toptube and underside of the downtube for extra bottles or luggage, make this a bike with serious versatility. Fit a set of mudguards and use the Checkpoint as a burly, fat-tyred commuter, or go mad with bike-packing bags and head off into the wilderness.
The Italian maestros over at Pinarello are best known for their race bikes – Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas have all ridden the company’s bikes to victory at the Tour de France – but this is a departure from the norm: a Pinarello gravel bike. And if you needed further evidence that the gravel trend is here to stay, this is it. When a storied brand like Pinarello is getting on board, you know it’s a sure thing.
As we’ve come to expect from Pinarello, the Grevil+ gravel bike is suitably high-end. The frame’s tube profiles have been crafted with aerodynamics in mind (yep, an aero gravel bike) and the grade of carbon fibre is described as ‘the best existing today’. This build comes with smaller diameter 650b wheels wrapped in plump 47mm-wide tyres, while SRAM’s lightweight Force 1 groupset provides the shifting and braking. Of course, all that means you may need to sell a kidney to afford it.
British brand Kinesis has a well-deserved reputation for versatile and dependable bikes, and the Tripster AT only bolsters that. With an aluminium frame and carbon fibre fork, adorned in quality components, this is a machine capable of taking almost anything in its stride.
The Columbus Futura Cross fork is worth pausing on as it features a ‘flip-chip’ to switch the rake of the fork from 47mm and 52mm. Want to use the Tripster AT for blasting around with a grin plastered across your face, hopping from the road to bridleways and back again? Use the 47mm option. Heading onto unknown terrain or loading the frame with bike-packing bags? Lengthen the wheelbase for additional stability. This complete bike features a mix of SRAM Apex and Rival 1 components, with Kinesis wheels, Schwalbe tyres and Ritchey finishing kit.
How to buy the best gravel bike for you
The term ‘gravel bike’ came out of the US, where there’s an expansive network of gravel roads that need something tougher than a road bike but not as aggressive as a mountain bike. Really, it’s a catch-all term - these bikes are ultimately designed to offer maximum versatility.
But with a drop-handlebar and knobbly tyres, isn’t a gravel bike just a rebranded cyclo-cross bike? No: gravel bikes are far more versatile than their CX brethren, and also open up a whole new world of riding compared to a traditional road bike with skinny tyres. If you could only own one bike (perish the thought!), chances are it would be a gravel bike.
But that’s enough of that. What do you need to consider when buying a gravel bike? And what are the best gravel bikes money can buy? Read on.
Gravel bike frames are normally made from aluminium, steel or carbon fibre, although you can also find machines crafted from titanium. Aluminium is the most affordable frame material and well-suited to the demands of riding over rugged terrain, while carbon fibre bikes will be the lightest and, in the majority of cases, most expensive.
There are typically four features that combine to set a gravel bike apart from a road bike or cyclo-cross bike: geometry, disc brakes, tyre clearance and gearing. Depending on what you want to use the bike for, you should also look out for additional features that may further increase its versatility, like rack or mudguard mounts, while some manufacturers have also developed mini-suspension systems to improve comfort.
Let’s start with geometry - in other words, the layout (lengths and angles) of the frame’s tubes. There’s no single blueprint to follow but gravel bikes are designed with versatility at the top of the agenda, so most frames will have a geometry that favours long-distance comfort and off-road stability over race-ready speed and aerodynamics. As a result, you can expect to see a longer wheelbase than a road bike to provide mellower handling over rough terrain.
Cyclo-cross courses normally have lots of tight turns, and that’s reflected in the aggressive geometry of CX race bikes, but gravel bikes will have slacker headtube angles, again to provide more predictable handling. The frame will also put the rider in a more upright position, to cover big miles without needing to see a chiropractor.
Disc brakes are now standard on cyclo-cross bikes, and that’s also increasingly the case on road bikes, but all gravel machines will have discs. They give you more predictable braking performance in all weathers and over all terrains for starters, but disc calipers and rotors also free up much more space for tyre clearance.
And that is one of the key standout features of a gravel bike: plump tyres. You should look for at least 40mm of clearance, with most off-the-shelf bikes specced with tyres that fall somewhere between 30mm and 40mm. Ultimately, you can change the tyres to suit the type of riding you want to do, tweaking the width and tread as appropriate.
Want to use your gravel bike mostly for road use, with the odd tow path, bridleway or forest track thrown in? A 30mm tyre will provide a good balance of speed and versatility. Planning to head off-road or into the wilds? A chunkier tyre with a more aggressive tread pattern will give you more comfort and grip. Many gravel bikes will also accommodate smaller diameter 650b wheels, which boost tyre clearance further.
The gearing on a gravel bike should be more forgiving than a road or cyclo-cross bike to account for the steeper and tougher terrain you’ll find off-road, as well as the fact you may be weighed down by bikepacking bags. Many gravel bikes will be specced with a 1X (read, ‘one-by’) groupset with a single front chainring and wide-ranging rear cassette, while others will use a compact (50-34t) or sub-compact (48-32t) double chainset with two chainrings.