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The 9 Best Gravel Bikes of 2021

Gravel bike riding has exploded in popularity over the past few years, particularly in central US states with long stretches of dirt tracks.

Recently, more and more commuters are moving towards using gravel bikes as an alternative to hybrids or road bikes due to the versatility they offer. The main advantage of gravel bike riding is being able to ride fast in areas with less vehicle traffic and more natural beauty. Many gravel enthusiasts find it more fun than MTB riding due to the bikes being lighter and quicker.

gravel bike on logs stack

Gravel bike is basically a drop bar mountain bike with a road bike geometry [Image courtesy: Unsplash.com]


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What is a Gravel Bike?

Gravel riding comprises anything from smooth single-track to rocky jeep tracks, hardpack dirt, or forest paths. These days many bike manufacturers make gravel-specific bikes that are tailored to operate best on dirt and single-track. Gravel bikes combine elements of road bike racing with mountain biking and involve race-style drop-bar bikes with thicker-treaded tires to handle off-road conditions.

Gravel bike is considered as a mountain bike!

  • Drop-bar
  • Slack geometry
  • Comfortable stance
  • Increased tire clearance
  • Multi-surface performance
gravel bike essential features

List of essential features suitable

Gravel bike must-have features.

Many gravel bikes have internal cable routing and components that are designed to better resist dirt and grime. Usually, the frames will come with extra mount points for water bottles, racks, or other bikepacking-related gear.

Gravel Bike = Gravel Grinder = Gravel Bicycle = All Road Bike = Off road bicycle

Are Gravel Bikes great for everyday commuting?

Gravel bikes make excellent everyday commuters and touring bikes, particularly for cyclists who need to cross varied terrain and have a fair bit of cycling background. They are quicker on tarmac than mountain bikes but can handle dirt track far better than traditional road bikes. For this reason, they make good all-rounders but are not ideal for specific tasks like road racing or downhill mountain biking.

Gravel vs Cyclocross?

See the comparison down below.

long gravel road


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Top Picks

Best Gravel Bikes of 2021

1. Niner – MCR 9 RDO
2. Orbea – Terra M20
3. Specialized – Diverge Comp Carbon
4. Cannondale – Topstone 1 Alloy
5. Niner – RLT 9 3-star
6. Trek – Checkpoint ALR 5 2021′
7. Santa Cruz Bicycles – Stigmata Carbon CC GRX
8. Cannondale – Synapse NEO SE
9. Cervelo – Aspero
10. Salsa – Cutthroat (29er) NEW!


Let us introduce you to the recommended gravel bikes of 2021

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1. Niner – MCR 9 RDO

A full-suspension gravel bike

niner full-suspension gravel bike

MSRP: $4,700
Jenson USA

The MCR 9 RDO by Niner bikes is a gravel bike with a Shimano GRX groupset and a full-suspension frame. As most gravel bikes in this list feature a rigid fork for the fastest riding experience, the MCR 9 RDO-series is among the most innovative of them all.

MCR stands for Magic Carpet Ride, suggesting a ride so smooth it feels like a magic carpet.

This is due to the inclusion of both front and rear suspension, laying the claim for the “first-ever full-suspension gravel bike“. It’s an interesting concept and probably the first drop-bar bike we’ve seen with rear suspension.

So isn’t it just an MTB with drop bars? Not exactly. Just from looking at it, you can see this Niner full suspension gravel bike is a different beast altogether. It has dedicated gravel-specific frame geometry designed to handle well at speed, with the suspension tuned to swallow vibrations rather than high-gravity drops. This means you get a far more rigid ride with full power transference out of each stroke of the pedals. Clearly, a simple gravel bike with front suspension is no longer enough – full suspension gravel bikes are the future.

Rather than the wave-like bounce of a mountain bike, the Niner MCR simply glides over rough surfaces like a hoverboard, reducing fatigue on the rider and allowing for faster speeds. Unlike a standard gravel bike with front suspension, the Niner doesn’t need to rely solely on frame flex to absorb high-pressure cornering or sketchy descents. This allows you to ride more aggressively with the knowledge that you’ll stay on track.

MCR 9 RDO Builds
The MCR 9 RDO is available in two different SRAM builds, the Rival 22 and SRAM Force ETAP AXS which are $5,400 and $8,200 respectively. There are also five Shimano builds including the GRX 400 for $4,200 and variations of GRX 800 with 1x and 2x gearing from $5,900 to $7,000. All builds come with Niner’s patented CVA full-suspension system, Fox 32 SC Float front suspension, Stands NoTubes Grail S1 wheels, and Schwalbe G-One Evo tires.

Shimano GRX800 – Shifters, Rear Derailleur & Brakes / Carbon frame / X-Fusion 50mm rear shock & Fox 32 SC 40mm front fork

Availability

JensonUSA.com/


 

2. Orbea – Terra M20

orbea terra gravel bike

MSRP: $3,499
Jenson USA

The Terra Orbea gravel bike is a notable pick by a brand that specializes deeply in the mountain bike scene. They have covered a broad spectrum of mountain bikes, and here’s their take on a gravel bike.

11-speed (11-40t) GRX 810 drivetrain, GRX hydro brakes and a Carbon OMP frame w/ full carbon fork. The Terra boasts a rather sweet set-up for both performance gravel racing, and touring alike.

  • Carbon frame & fork
    Monocoque frame, full carbon fork
  • TLR tirs & rims
  • Orbea GR-ready wheels
    700x38c Vittoria Terreno Dry Gravel G20 TNT tires
  • Prologo Akero AGK STN saddle

To conclude, we’ve chosen to add the Terra as number two due to its superb price-to-quality value. It truly resembles a performance set-up which is hard to compromise at this particular price range. There isn’t anything to add or remove it for most users out there.

Availability

JensonUSA.com/


 

3. Specialized – Diverge Comp Carbon

specialized diverge

MSRP: $4,200
Mikes’ Bikes

The Diverge series is a well-known competitor in gravel races, known by their great performance and outstanding finish. Yes indeed, gravel bikes get dirty rather quick, but who doesn’t love a beautiful gravel bike with Specialized written on its downtube?

Carbon frame, carbon fork and 2×11 speed drivetrain by a powerful and sturdy GRX groupset, the Comp Carbon is a great tool for performance gravel riding.

Kenneth B “So Fun! – Faster than my old road bike on pavement but comfortable and fun on dirt as well.”

  • DT Swiss G540 wheelset
  • Shimano GRX 810 hydro brakes
  • Frame – Specialized Diverge FACT 9r carbon, SWAT™ Door integration. Threaded BB, internal routing. 12x142mm thru-axle
  • Fork – Future Shock 2.0 w/Damper, Smooth Boot carbon fork
  • 700x38c Pathfinder Pro tires

The Diverge series starts from $1,299

Availability

Mikesbikes.com/


 

4. Cannondale – Topstone 1 Alloy

Product image for slate

MSRP: $2,150
REI Co-op

Cannondale is one of the top competitors in bike sales due to its great value in every possible cycling discipline. The Topstone series has well proven to fit most gravel riders’ needs, and the Alloy 1 is no exception. The lightweight aluminum frame coupled with a carbon fork, 2x11speed Shimano GRX drivetrain, and 700x37c tires speak for the bike. The braking department is guarded safely by Shimano GRX 400 hydro disc brakes, which are great at this price range,

You’ll also get 3x water bottle mounts, a Fabric Scoop Radius Sport saddle which are must-have components at this price range. There’s hardly anything to change or upgrade at this price point – awesome value!

Availability

REI.com/


 

5. Niner – RLT 9 3-star

One of the best gravel bikes under $3000

Niner 3-Star Rival 650b Gravel Bike

MSRP: $2,900
Competitive Cyclist

This impressive Niner gravel bike doesn’t come cheap but does it live up to its price tag? The SRAM Rival drivetrain combined with a Shimano Ultegra HG800 cassette is certainly a good start, especially with the integrated SRAM flat mount hydraulic disc brakes.

Keeping our interest piqued, the Stan’s NoTubes tubeless rims with the ever-popular Maxxis Rambler TLR EXO tires are a clear winner. The choice of aluminum over carbon for the frame is questionable but Niner has included both a Niner RDO carbon fork, stem, AND Seatpost. These, combined with the well-formed RLT 9 endurance geometry, make for a surprisingly smooth ride.

SRAM Rival Derailleurs & Brakes / 650 x 47mm Maxxis Rambler TLR EXO / 6061 Aluminum frame & Niner RDO carbon fork

Availability

CompetitiveCyclist.com/


 

6. Trek – Checkpoint ALR 5 2021′

Best-value men’s gravel bike out of the Trek Checkpoint-series

Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 teal gravel bike

MSRP: $2,100
Trek bikes – Available in-store only

The Checkpoint ALR 5 is a mid-level aluminum Trek gravel bike that offers some impressive features for the price. Notably, the lightweight frame with a carbon fork, front and rear rack, and fender mounts plus internal cable routing and horizontal sliding dropouts.

The drivetrain uses a combination of an excellent 11-speed Shimano 105 cassette with Shimano GRX shifters and derailleurs plus a 2-cog front crank to provide 22 gears. The grouping works well together and integrates perfectly with flat-mount Shimano RX400 hydraulic disc brakes.

The wheelset utilizes standard Bontrager tubeless-ready rims and GR1 Comp 700x40c tires, which are decent but nothing to write home about. Overall, this Trek Checkpoint gravel bike offers great value-for-money from a well-trusted and established brand. Not available online.

  • Shimano RS500 PressFit 92mm bottom bracket
  • Shimano 105 Cassette & Chain
  • Bontrager Montrose Comp Saddle
  • Shimano RX400 Hydraulic Disc brakes w/ 160mm rotors

11-speed Shimano GRX600 drivetrain / 700c x 40c Bontrager GR1 Comp / Aluminum frame & carbon fork

Availability

Trekbikes.com/


 

7. Santa Cruz Bicycles – Stigmata Carbon CC GRX

Best Carbon Gravel Bike

Santa Cruz Bicycles Carbon CC GRX Gravel Bike

MSRP: $5,499
Jenson USA

Santa Cruz is already well known for its excellent trail and MTB bikes and is now making waves in the gravel bike scene. The 2021 Stigmata CC Force 1X is a full carbon bike with a top-quality SRAM Force groupset, 12-speed SRAM XG cassette, and Force hydraulic disc brakes.

Also available at Mikes’ Bikes

It’s built in the traditional XC style with no suspension but provides a surprisingly smooth ride due to the tough but highly absorbent Carbon CC frame. Naturally, Santa Cruz didn’t scrimp on the wheelset, giving us impressive Race Face ARC rims and the ever-popular Maxxis Ranger 27.5×2.0 tires.

This is a professional-level Santa Cruz gravel bike so unfortunately, it comes with the price tag to match but, hey – that’s what you pay for quality!

Shimano Force & X01 eTap AXS / 650×2.0 Maxxis Ranger / Carbon frame & fork

Availability

SantaCruzBicycles.com/


 

8. Cannondale – Synapse NEO SE

Best Electric Gravel Bike!

cannondale electric gravel bike

MSRP: $4,500
REI Co-op

As gravel bikes gain in popularity, we are seeing more and more gravel eBikes on the market. This new e-bike from the 2021 Cannondale gravel bikes range is one of the best we’ve seen yet. 

The Synapse Neo is based on Cannondale’s popular Synapse range, with the addition of a powerful 250W Bosch Active Line motor. The 500W long-range battery will keep the motor running for up to 93 miles (150km) with pedal assistance!

With an 11-speed SRAM Apex groupset, 47mm WTB Byway tires, and STi23 tubeless-ready rims, this bike is focused on maintaining the challenge and sport of cycling. As a Class 1 eBike, most cyclists will only use the motor assistance for long or steep inclines. However, if you’re looking for something with more speed than you can pedal, you’ll want a Class 2 or Class 3.

The design and geometry of the Synapse NEO closely resemble Cannondale Women’s Topstone AL gravel bike.

  • Pedal-assist range: 93miles
  • Max speed: 20mp/h
  • Batter capacity: 500wH
  • Torque: 50Nm
  • Charge time: 4.5h

11-speed SRAM Apex / 650b x 47mm WTB Byway TCS TLR / SRAM Apex hydro disc / Alloy frame

Availability

REI.com/


 

9. Cervelo – Aspero

Best Gravel Bike For The Money

Cervelo - Aspero Apex 1x Gravel Bike - Black/Gold

MSRP: $2,800
Backcountry

With a steep head tube and moderate head tube for increased balance, comfort, and speed, the Aspero can run both 700c and 650b wheels. Internal cable routing allows for an additional dropper post. Size-corrected geometry for each rider, this is truly a beast of a machine if you are looking for a performance-based gravel machine.

Powered by the SRAM Apex 1 groupset, full carbon frame and fork make up a deal at this price point. Hydraulic disc brakes, 700x40c tires, and Alexrims Boondocks 7-D rims, the bike is decorated like a Christmas tree, while hiding all its features behind this subtle glossy black frame.

Is there anything to add or remove about the bike? Most likely not as Cervelo has proved to be one of the top names in the game.

Availability

Backcountry.com/


 

10. Salsa – Cutthroat

Is it a gravel, touring or a cx bike?

salsa cutthroat 29 gravel bike

4-5 water bottle mounts on the frame, depending on frame size

MSRP: $2,899
REI Co-op

The Cutthroat is a beast of a machine -a  29er gravel bike with Race Face crankset and a full carbon frame. SRAM Apex 1 drivetrain, TRP Spyre-C mechanical disc brakes are nearly as good as a set-up found on a CX race bike, while having all the comfort and versatility borrowed from the touring bikes.

Is it great for touring? Of course. Is it suitable for gravel races? Of course. Is it an overkill for commuting? No.

  • 1×11 speed SRAM Apex 1
  • 29×2.2 wheels
  • 4x water bottle mounts

Availability

REI.com/


 

Gravel Bike Q & A

↓    ?    ↓

How did we choose? We went through several new and old best-rated gravel bike reviews and looked up the best deals you can purchase online.


Are Gravel Bikes suitable for bike touring?

Adventure, touring and gravel bikes are all very similar in their geometry.

While adventure and touring bicycles are basically the same – built for long-distance touring with panniers and racks, a gravel bike in its essence is more performance-driven, while not as rigid as a cyclocross bike. Many cyclists use gravel bikes also as touring bikes while having the capacity to use it for training only.

  • Touring bicycle – 2x or 3x front cogs for a large variety of gears, generally $1,000 – $1,500 on average.
  • Gravel bicycle – 1x or 2x front cogs, slightly pricier due to ‘heavy-duty’ purposed use. from $1,500 to $3,000 on average

Related: Best Touring Bikes 2021


Is a gravel bike worth it?

Any bike is worth it if you are going to use it often and for its intended purpose. If you enjoy spending a lot of time riding fast on gravel, dirt, or singletrack, you will appreciate the subtle differences that gravel bikes offer. They are not simply road bikes with thicker tires.


Are gravel bikes a fad?

Gravel bikes are certainly a niche that fits somewhere between off and on-road cycling. However, their practicality and varied range of uses mean they are likely here to stay. Many people thought mountain bikes were a fad when they first came out in the 70s and now they dominate the cycling landscape.

 


What are the best gravel bike brands?

Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, Kona, Scott, Salsa, Surly, Niner, Bianchi, Santa Cruz, Fuji, Marin, Orbea, Co-op, Evil, Jamis, Norco, Ibis, Pivot, Look, All-City


How much does a gravel bike cost?

Cheap gravel bikes start from around $1,000, while mid-entry gravel bicycles cost around $1,500. The variety of bikes, designs, and components start to get better at around the $2,000 to $2,500 price range.

Don’t forget, that a Gravel bike is an above-average bicycle type since it has to perform well on different terrains and hold up on rather demanding trails where you simply can not use weak components!

Shortcomings


RESOURCES – Where To Shop for the best gravel bike deals?

You can buy gravel bikes nowadays in most well-equipped bike shops or from online bike retailers.

REI – Cannondale, Co-op Cycles, Salsa Cycles

Aventuron – Salsa, All-City

JensonUSA – Argon 18, Bjorn, Devinci, Evil, GT, Ibis, Look, Marin, Masi, Niner, Norco, Orbea, Rocky Mountain, Sage Bicycles, Santa Cruz Bicycles, VAAST

evo.com – Evil, Giant, Juliana, Marin, Santa Cruz

Trekbikes.com – Trek Gravel Bikes (Very few models can be ordered online)

Specialized – Official Specialized Gravel bikes

Giant-Bicycles – Giant gravel bikes

Canyon – Canyon gravel bikes are one of the most popular

Alchemy Bicycles –


Gravel vs Road Bike

However, many road bikes can be converted to adequate gravel bikes with the simple addition of thicker, treaded tires. However, dedicated gravel bikes do have certain additions and frame adjustments that make them far more comfortable on the dirt. Most notably, they fit wider tires and have hydraulic disc brakes for better braking and control on loose gravel.

Gravel road bikes are the models which can be used as road bikes when changing out the wheels to 700c wheels.


Gravel Bike vs Mountain Bike

Due to the thinner tires and lack of suspension, gravel bikes can’t handle sand and mud or steep rocky descents as well as mountain bikes. Gravel bikes generally do


Gravel Bike vs Hybrid Bike

Since their introduction a few years ago, gravel bikes have often been compared to hybrids but there are several important distinctions. Most notably, hybrids usually use flat handlebars whereas gravel bikes are almost exclusively designed with drop-bar handlebars. Similarities are commonly made between the road-style frames and thicker tires, two characteristics that both hybrids and gravel bikes share.

However, beyond these obvious similarities, dedicated gravel bikes incorporate several features that make them distinct from hybrids. They are usually built from higher quality materials and have lighter frames with more expensive components designed to reduce wear-and-tear from offroad riding. However, with a few minor tweaks, a high-quality hybrid or road bike could be converted into a decent gravel bike.


Gravel Bike vs Cyclocross

Cyclocross and gravel bikes both look the same while having a ‘slightly’ different approach towards their field of use

  • Cyclocross bike (CX) = A more performance-driven for fast, tight, and twisty courses. Stiffer geometry with steeper head angle.
    – No braze-ons for the lightest set-up
    – Generally Quick-Release axles for fast repairs (not a rule of thumb though!)
    – Knobby, thicker tires
  • Gravel bike = Best for long rides on gravel roads or marathons. Slacker head angle with more comfort-orientated geometry.
    – Braze-ons for racks, fenders
    – Smoother tire pattern, wider tires

difference between cyclocross vs gravel bike

Yes, you can race cyclocross on a gravel bike and you can use a cyclocross bike on gravel, but in order to maximize comfort on gravel roads or speed on cyclocross races, there’s a reason why these bikes have a subtle difference.


650b vs 700c wheels

650b (27.5″) =  Stronger, best for off-road touring. Slightly smaller than 700c which gives a better acceleration
700c = Fast-rolling, ideal for on-road commutes. Slightly larger than 650b
29” – Salsa Cutthroat is a gravel bike with 29-inch wheels


Gravel bike tire sizes:

700c x 32mm
700c x 35mm
700c x 40mm
700c x 42mm

650b x 47mm = 27.5″ x 1.9″
27.5″ x 2.1″ = 650b x 53mm

29″ x 2.2″

Top 3 Best Gravel Bike Tires:

gravel bikes tires

1. Vittoria Terreno Dry
2. WTB Resolute TCS
3. Maxxis Rambler EXO TR


Gravel Bike Size Chart

It is recommended to look up each manufacturer’s size chart to find the best-suited model for you. Some brands recommend going for the height only, while others recommend choosing the right size bike by the length of your inseam.


Steel, Aluminum, Titanium, or Carbon Gravel bike frame?

Stiffness – Weight – Strength

Steel is known to be somewhat bulletproof while adding little extra weight. Aluminum frames are lighter. When it comes to touring bikes, chasing the grams is not much of a deal.

  • Steel frames = One of the strongest. Inexpensive, but also the heaviest.
  • Carbon frames = Super lightweight, good vibration reduction qualities. Expensive.
  • Aluminum frames = Lightweight. Great stiffness & flexibility. Not as durable as steel frames. Affordable.
  • Titanium frames = Super tough, best vibration reduction qualities. Titanium won’t rust or corrode! Rides smooth & comfortable like a steel frame. Expensive.

Related: Bike frame materials

metal tubes

Image source: Pexels.com


1x / 2x / 3x drivetrains

x1 drivetrain – Often seen on high-end mountain bikes, or cyclocross bikes. No derailleur on the front = less maintenance and weight
x2 drivetrain – Popular section among mid-range bikes
x3 drivetrain – Mainly used on entry-level, or long-distance touring bikes.


Hydraulic vs Mechanical disc brakes on gravel bikes

Although hydraulic brakes have become a standard for even the cheapest bikes, it doesn’t play such a big role in cyclocross or gravel bike riding. You see many mid-range bikes with cable-actuated mechanical disc brakes as you don’t actually want to entirely block your wheel on softer surfaces with a touch of a finger. It’s also common for cyclocross bikes to use 160mm rotors in the front and a 140mm rotor in the rear to prevent locking the wheel.

disc brakes and thru-axle wheel


 

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Best Bike Deals – Discounted Gravel Bikes & frames

2 thoughts on “The 9 Best Gravel Bikes of 2021

  1. Sam Millers says:

    Hi Raphael,

    Thanks for pointing that out. We’ve added Giant as a brand to “Where to buy” section, as Giant bikes can be found all around the country basically in every large town across the US. Their bikes and selection are indeed very good. We made this post to diversify the selection and point out some of the best bikes you can order online, without the middleman.

  2. Raphael says:

    Curious as to why Giant isn’t listed as one of the best gravel bike manufacturers. Their Revolt Advanced series is top-notch.

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