Best Steel Gravel Bikes
Steel is most definitely real according to plenty of current bike manufacturers, which is why we’ve made a list of the best steel gravel bikes.
Known for its strength and durability, steel is one of the most desirable bike frame materials out there. Steel-framed bikes can absorb more damage and take more blows than aluminum or carbon fiber. Steel bikes can often produce better ride quality, with the absorption of bumps more noticeable, which is especially important on gravel bikes.
Steel gravel bikes are nothing new, but this article will help you understand why steel is a material of choice for many bike builders and manufacturers and give you a list of a few top ones to get you started.
One downside to steel as a bike frame material is its cost. Often it costs more than aluminum, and if it’s a bespoke bike it can cost even more as you pay for the labour of the bike being made specifically to your size. So although steel is a great material, let’s look at the alternatives and their cost in relation to steel.
- Great vibration damping qualities
- Been around for ages
- Doesn’t rust, but does corrode
Related: Bicycle Frame Materials Guide
Aluminum is the cheaper alternative to steel. Why? Because it’s generally mass-produced and lighter than steel. It’s a great budget option for gravel bikes (and other bikes), and it’s corrosion-proof. It may not have the superior ride quality that steel does, but it’s a great option for those on a budget.
Carbon fiber is one of two main options if you’re looking to spend more money. It’s stronger than aluminum and much lighter. The downside is, of course, the cost. A carbon fiber gravel bike will set you back a lot more than aluminum and more than a steel gravel bike. Carbon fiber frames are usually only mass-produced as it is difficult to make carbon molds in-house for bespoke models.
A further issue of carbon fiber is its durability. Although it’s strong, it needs to flex to absorb some of the energy from the road or gravel. If it is constantly hit by rocks or large impacts, it could fracture and you could easily weaken the carbon fiber structure.
If carbon fiber isn’t your thing, titanium is the next best upgrade from steel. Titanium might be among the most expensive frame materials you can buy, but it’s for good reason. It’s a sort of wonder material, in that it doesn’t require painting (so you can worry less about scratches and stripping the paint back). And it’s also corrosion-resistant and wear-resistant, so you don’t need to worry about hitting rocks or stray bits of gravel hitting your downtube as if it were a carbon frame.
Titanium gravel bikes are often things of beauty and are usually made by bespoke frame builders rather than mass-produced, off the shelf brands. Titanium bikes are incredibly durable and often outlive their owner’s riding interests. Scratches can be easily buffed out and it’s not rare to see decades-old titanium bikes still thriving.
Anyway, let’s take a look at the best steel gravel bikes of 2021
Co-op Cycles ADV 1.1
Score: 4.6 / 5 – 38+ ratings
MSRP: $1,599 REI Outdoors (Earn a 10% member dividend)
The Co-op Cycles ADV 1.1 might be a steel touring bike, but it gets a place on our list due to its versatility.
It’s perfect for bikepacking as well as long rides thanks to the multiple racks already secured to the bike. They allow you to pack plenty of bags suitable for your journey. In addition, the gear choices available allow for ultra-low gearing which makes climbing hills far easier. Tektro hydraulic discs provide powerful braking on this gravel touring bike, and 38mm tires are suitable wide for both gravel and asphalt riding.
Related: Co-op Cycles ADV-series Review
It’s a versatile machine and one of the best budget gravel bikes around.
- 3x10sp Shimano Deore
- 700c x 38mm
- Weight: 30 lbs
- Hydraulic disc brakes
- Sizes up to XXL / 6.6′”
MSRP: $1,725 Jenson USA
Available in both 700c and 650b wheel configurations, the Surly Straggler is one of the best steel gravel bikes around.
Designed to be at home either on or off the tarmac, it comes with clearance for 41mm tires (both wheel sizes) and powerful disc brakes. Mounts for bags make the bike versatile enough for bikepacking, while this steel-framed gravel bike also comes with a one-by drivetrain with a wide range of gears, ideal for steep climbs.
It’s available in three colorways, Chlorine Dream, Gloss Black, and Salmon Candy Red and it’s priced at $1,725 making it reasonably affordable for those looking to get into gravel biking.
- 1×11 SRAM Apex
- 700c & 650b options
- Clearance for 41mm tires
- 3 color options
- Disc brakes
Niner RLT 9 Steel
MSRP: $2,700 Jenson USA
Another excellent steel gravel bike on our list is the Niner RLT 9 Steel.
It can be bought as either a steel gravel bike frame, or as a fully built bike. There are also plenty of variations to suit different budgets, with the price ranging between $2,850 and $5,800. With these variations come different levels of components, ranging from 1×11 SRAM Apex, to 1x SRAM Force AXS LTD.
Related: Niner Gravel Bikes Review
- Choice of groupsets
- Clearance for 45mm tires
- Multiple color options
- Disc brakes
- Weight: 20lbs (model dependent)
Marin Nicasio Ridge
MSRP: $2,700 evo.com
The Marin Nicasio Ridge combines super-fast road geometry with the ride quality and components of an off-road beast.
It features hydraulic brakes and wide knobbly tires so you can tackle anything from asphalt to singletrack. It also comes with a dropper post, something that is more commonly seen on mountain bikes which help lower your centre of gravity and get a better position on descents. Paired with a 1×11 drivetrain, this bike is similar to a steel mountain bike but with the geometry of a road bike.
It comes in a choice of two-wheel sizes, 700c and 650b. The 700c can accommodate tires up to 35mm wide, and the 650b up to 47mm. It’s available in a stylish Gloss Black colorway and is priced at $2,700.
- Steel frame & carbon fork
- 700c or 650b wheels
- 35mm or 47mm tire clearance
- 1×11 drivetrain
Norco Search XR S1
MSRP: $3,199 evo
Whether you’re after a backcountry adventure or a gnarly gravel race, the Norco Search XR S1 is a great steel-framed gravel bike option.
It comes with numerous mounting points so you can kit it out however you like – bar bags, frame bags, etc. The Reynolds 725 Chromoly Steel gives the bike a great ride quality while the carbon fiber forks reduce vibrations through the front wheel. It comes equipped with a 2x Shimano GRX drivetrain, but there is the option to run a 1x system instead.
Unusually for a gravel bike, it also comes with a dropper post. This is great for descending on technical sections where you need to balance your weight over the bike. 42mm tires will allow you to tackle everything from asphalt to singletrack.
- Steel frame & carbon fork
- Up to 42mm tire clearance
- 2×11 drivetrain
- Dropper post
Rondo Ruut ST1
MSRP: $2,899 Mikes’ bikes
The Rondo Ruut ST1 is the steel frame gravel bike in the brand’s collection of adventure bikes.
Ideal for commuters looking for a smooth ride and a rugged bike, or for gravel riders and off-road adventurers looking for a versatile bike that’s capable of tackling the rough stuff. It comes with mounting points for various frame bags, and a wide gear ratio of 11-42 on the cassette. This is a decent ratio designed to be able to help you get up the steepest of inclines.
Rondo has made this gravel steel bike with custom shaped heat-treated tubing. They have used a rounded top tube for more front end compliance, and an S shape seatstay for extra comfort. The forks are incredibly wide and can take up to 50mm tires for a 700c wheel, and 2″ tires for a 650b.
- 700c or 650b wheel options
- 50mm or 2″ tire clearance
- SRAM Rival 1×11 drivetrain
- Flat mount hydraulic disc brakes
Curve – Kevin of Steel III
MSRP $3,477 (Australian store)
The Curve Cycling Kevin of Steel III is the Australian brand’s latest steel bike frame for gravel riding and the third iteration of the Kevin.
Curve Cycling have used Italian Columbus Zona steel for the frame, and a carbon fiber GXR Seek fork. It’s a bike that’s been used in ultra-endurance racing across the globe with plenty of success and can be ridden with either 700c or 650b wheels. The 700c wheels can accommodate 45mm tires, while the 650b can take up to 2.2″ tires.
It’s a tried and tested formula for Curve, and with the bike now in its third generation, they have refined it to create a bike that’s versatile and exciting to ride. It’s priced at $3,477 in the US, although most stock is in Australia so you’ll have to check your local dealer.
- 700c or 650b wheel options
- 45mm or 2.2″ tire clearance
- Columbus Zona main triangle
- Carbon GXR Seek fork
- SRAM Rival 1 groupset
Salsa – Vaya GRX 600
MSRP: $2,599 Salsa Cycles
The Salsa Vaya GRX 600 is a great all-around gravel steel bike.
It is designed for everything from asphalt to loose gravel and can tackle most terrain thanks to the wide tire clearance available on this bike. You can run up to 45mm wide tires on 700c wheels without fenders, and up to 38mm with. The bike comes with built-in rear rack and fender mounts so you can make it an adventure-style bike, or a commuter hack.
Salsa have used their own designed steel tubing to create a comfortable and durable ride featuring stable geometry suitable for both on and off-road applications. This version comes with a Shimano groupset and powerful disc brakes and is priced at $2,599.
- 700c wheels
- 45mm tire clearance
- Shimano GRX 600 drivetrain
- Vaya Triple-butted CroMoly steel
- Rack and fender mounts
Masi Tavolo GRX
MSRP: $1,799 Masi bikes
One of the best cheaper gravel bikes on the list, the Masi Tavolo is a great steel-framed do-it-all bike.
The brand uses tig-welded double-butted Chromoly steel tubing combined with a Dirt Tuned MC7 Full Carbon fork for the ultimate ride experience. The weight of the frame is 10.6kg without components. The Tavolo comes with an 11-speed Shimano GRX groupset, with 46/30T chainrings, which is a generous gear ratio for even the steepest climbs.
Ready to tackle anything you throw at it, the 23mm internal width of the wheels and wide fork clearance allows for tires up 40mm. Additionally, flat-mounted hydraulic disc brakes are included to help stop you on a dime. The Tavolo is priced at $1,799 and comes in a distinct red color.
- 700c wheels
- 40mm tire clearance
- 11-speed Shimano GRX drivetrain
- Flat-mount hydraulic disc brakes
- Weight: 10.6kg
MSRP: $1,999 Bombtrack
The only single-speed bike on our best steel bikes for gravel list, the Bombtrack Arise is an adaptable and versatile steel gravel bike.
Designed to be ridden wherever you want, the Arise is happy as a commuter bike, a road bike, or a gravel bike. The idea behind using a single-speed drivetrain is so you can focus on riding rather than maintenance. However, if single-speed isn’t your thing, it is compatible to be run with an 11-speed drivetrain.
The Arise comes with disc brakes, thru-axles and wide tires up to 40mm for 700c wheels. Sizes XS and S will come with 650b wheels as standard, and 38mm tires equipped. The frame is available in a glossy metallic blue color.
- 38/40mm tire clearance
- 650b wheels for XS/S, 700c for other sizes
- Single-speed drivetrain
- Disc brakes