One of the most interesting novelties of the last years are the gravel bikes, hybrid bicycles suitable to be used for a wide variety of purposes. In fact, a gravel bike can be used as an adventure bike for the off-road, road bike or downhill bike. If you want to jump directly to our top gravel bike selection, click on the links in the table below.
Since its launch on the market, the gravel bike became extremely popular, many cyclists from all categories considering investing in one. But what is so special about the gravel bikes? How it is made and what are the most popular models?
Find out more about gravel bikes in this guide, then read our best gravel bike reviews to choose the best gravel bike for you.
What Is A Gravel Bike
As the name suggests, a gravel bike is a bike built specifically to be used on poorly-maintained roads, on paths and downhill, although the frame and the overall aspect of the bike resemble more a road or urban bike than an MTB.
Before talking about technology, components and make, we should focus on what a gravel bike is designed to do, so you can understand if this can be the right choice for you.
At a first glance, a gravel bike might seem to be a racing bike designed for the off-road, but the reality is different. In fact, this type of bike has a more upright and aerodynamic design, favoring stability and comfort on the saddle. After all, the goal of a gravel bike is that of covering many miles a day on traces alternating asphalt, dirt roads, as well as undemanding trails.
To reach this goal, the inventors of the gravel bike studied a frame with relaxed geometries, with a longer rear chassis and an opened angle saddle, decisions that increased the wheelbase and the footprint of the bike, giving it more stability.
Since the main problem when pedaling on dirt roads or gravel roads is the lack of stability and grip, it is easy to understand why many off-road passionate consider gravel bikes the best compromise between an urban bike and an MTB.
On the other hand, the seat tube is less vertical, a choice that allows cyclists to have a more upright position in the saddle and that also has a vibration damping effect.
This being said, let’s find out more about the technical characteristics of a gravel bike.
Technical Features Of The Gravel Bikes
Typically, gravel bike frames are made either of aluminum or carbon fiber. In the first case, the main structure of the frame, namely the front quadrilateral and the rear chassis are made of aluminum with a carbon fiber fork. In the second case, the full frame is usually made of a composite that is extremely resistant, presents an excellent absorption of the vibrations and a lower rigidity compared to other types of frames. The geometry is relaxed, with an inclined seat tube, an opened steering angle and longer wheelbase for increased stability. The chainstays allow the mounting of larger tires and the wheel attachment utilizes an increased diameter.
The technology used the most in the case of the gravel bikes is the integrated headset with races integrated into the head tube where are housed industrial type cushions. To increase stiffness and impact resistance, the headset is conical and it has a diameter of 1 1/8 inches on the top and 1 1/4 or even 1 1/2 inches at the bottom. This solution increases the stress resistance and the connection zone between the headset and the fork head.
Internal Cable Passage
Gravel bikes use the same solution that was originally designed for the MTB, namely the gear shift and brake cables pass through the frame to avoid problems such as ripening off the cable, accumulation of dust and annoying sliding. This solution also offers an aesthetic advantage.
Gravel bikes have a low profile using 700C circles. The rays are often shredded or flat. The ideal dimensions of the wheels of a gravel bike are 28 inches, even though some gravel bikes come with 27,5 inches wheels that accommodate tires of various sizes.
Gravel bike’s transmission is quite similar to one of the racing bikes, with a double front and a sprocket pack of 10 or 11 speeds for the rear wheel. The difference between the two types of bikes is the number of teeth of the gears. In most of the cases, brake and gear controls are integrated and some models even propose electromechanical transmissions.
Gravel bikes are born with disc brakes, usually with rotors of 160mm in diameter. Disc brakes offer a superior braking power with a lever modularity and stable performance even on muddy terrains. The different models of gravel bikes can have either mechanical or hydraulic disc brakes and the choice of one type over the other depends on personal needs and preferences.
The handlebar of the gravel bikes is ergonomic and designed for increased comfort during use. The various controls are positioned within easy reach, the handlebar allows a leaner grip and increases the stability on the bike.
The saddle of a gravel bike should be less aerodynamic and less light than the saddle of a racing bike. It should be designed to provide increased support to the spine and it should have great vibration absorption characteristics. Nevertheless, the saddle is a matter of personal preferences and choice, therefore it can be easily customized to one’s needs.
Gravel bikes use the same quick release pedals typical of the MTB. This type of pedals are extremely comfortable and they offer excellent performances on any type of terrain. But just as for the saddle, the choice of the pedals is personal and the model can be easily adjusted to one’s needs.
By now you should have decided if a gravel bike is a right bike for you. If it is, our best gravel bike reviews below will help you choose the best from the most popular models available on the market.
Best Gravel Bike Reviews
Tommaso Sentiero Compact Gravel Road Bike
Tommaso Bikes is a manufacturer with over 25 years of experience in the bicycle manufacturing, the Italian company beginning its history with a few models of road bikes that gained excessive popularity in the USA. Today, Tommaso’s bikes are characterized by lightweight aluminum and Toray carbon frames.
From their selection of bikes, one that stands out is the Sentiero Compact Gravel Road Bike, a bicycle designed to deliver outstanding performances on almost any type of terrain.
Sentiero’s frame is made of durable aluminum combined with an SST steel fork designed for maximum durability. Regarding the drivetrain, Sentiero boasts a 3x8 Shimano Claris groupset and a 30/39/50T Claris crankset. In addition to this, the 12x25T Claris cassette makes the bike perfect for use on rugged terrain as well as on flat roads, the wide range of gears offering plenty options.
Regarding the rim, Sentiero comes with a 28-inch spoke rim designed to handle all types of terrains and with 32c tires designed for added grip and control during off-road riding, without slowing down the bike on streets.
Things We Liked
- Comfortable: Sentiero’s geometry is designed for maximum comfort, the frame is extremely compact. Compact is also the handlebar that offers a better balance and power.
- Kenda Kwick Trax 32c Tires: the tires designed for all the types of terrains provide excellent control and ease of handling the bike regardless of the weather or trail conditions.
- BB5 disk brakes: these avid disc brakes will be able to stop your bicycle in any conditions, including on heavy rain conditions, or when the trail is covered in snow or mud.
- Steel fork: to provide optimal stiffness and extreme durability, the manufacturer equipped this bike with a steel fork that optimizes the efficiency of the pedal strokes.
Things We Didn't Like
- There is to say that Sentiero is a gravel bike designed for all types of terrains, therefore it is a little bit heavy. Nevertheless, some cyclists complained about the excessive weight of the bike and wish it would have been lighter.
Charge Plug 2 Adventure Disc Brake Gravel Road Bike
Another popular gravel bike is the Charge Plug 2, a road bike designed to provide versatility and fun at a more than affordable price.
Plug 2 boasts a durable aluminum frame and massive tires with impressive clearance, two smart choices that make this bike a reliable companion regardless of the type of terrain you’re riding on. In fact, the 6061 butted aluminum frame is lightweight, stiff and extremely durable.
Apart from tires and frame, the Plug 2 also comes with custom disc tabs that help stiffen up the rear end of the bike, providing an optimal braking performance in any weather conditions. On the front side, the bike presents a straight blade fork made of carbon fiber, while reinforced discs help in keeping brake chatter to a minimum.
Things We Liked
- Shimano Claris Groupset: the Plug 2 impresses with its 8-speed groupset that delivers a 16-gear combination that will help you to switch gears depending on the challenges of the trail. Apart from this, Shimano components are renowned for their reliability and precision, and this Claris groupset delivers both characteristics.
- Promax DSK-300 disc brakes: with this bike, you will be able to brake in confidence on any type of terrain and regardless the weather.
- Impressive tires: the Plug 2 is equipped with 700x42mm Maxxis Roamer Custom tires that deliver impressive cushion and traction power.
- Attractive color: from an aesthetic point of view, this bike is simply beautiful, standing out thanks to the attractive blue finish.
Things We Didn't Like
- Although the color is beautiful, we have to admit that it is not a color suitable for everyone. Despite being an excellent bike, some cyclists might say pass because of the limited color options.
Diamondback 2015 Haanjo Alternative Road Bike
Without a doubt, one of the most popular gravel bikes available on the market is the Haanjo Alternative Road Bike by Diamondback. As one would expect from a Diamondback bike, the Haanjo is designed to provide an ultimate biking experience.
Haanjo comes with an ultra-lightweight 6061-T6 aluminum alloy frame that is made to withstand the test of any type of road. The endurance geometry specific to the Diamondback bikes is present on the Haanjo too, the bike providing an excellent comfort.
Another impressive feature is the Shimano Sora groupset with 9 speeds and double front chainrings that provide 18 gears. It is easy to understand that this type of flexibility will allow you to use the bike without hassle on any type of terrain, ensuring enough grip and power in any circumstances.
Things We Liked
- Precise fork: Haanjo comes with a road disc alloy fork designed for steering precision and vibration dampening. This means that you will be able to enjoy smooth and comfortable rides regardless of the trail you choose to take.
- Endurance geometry frame: if you are looking for a comfortable gravel bike, then Haanjo might be the one you are looking for. The endurance geometry frame ensures superior comfort during use.
- Wide tires: another interesting feature is the tires that are wide enough to provide excellent adherence on all types of terrains, including muddy or snowy terrain.
- Disc brakes: thanks to the reliable disc brakes Haanjo delivers a huge stopping power in all circumstances.
Things We Didn't Like
- Apparently, the saddle is not one of the most comfortable. Nevertheless, this is a minor flaw as the saddle can be easily changed with a more suitable model.
Tommaso Illimitate Gravel Road Bike
Illimitate is another impressive gravel bike manufactured by Tommaso. Just as Sentiero, Illimitate boasts a durable yet compact aluminum frame and a high modulus carbon fiber fork, characteristics that ensure a maximum dampening of the vibrations and increased comfort.
Similar to the other Tommaso bikes, the Illimitate’s frame is drilled to enable an easier installation of accessories such as racks or fenders, providing in this way an increased versatility.
Regarding the comfort, the Illimitate comes with a compact geometry and handlebars designed to provide increased power and also increased comfort during use.
Things We Liked
- Shimano Tiagra Groupset: Illimitate features a 50/34T Tiagra groupset by Shimano that comes with a huge range of speeds. Riding the bicycle on any trail will certainly be a breeze.
- Wide tires: the 32c tires are designed to provide excellent grip on all types of terrains and in all types of weather conditions.
- Reliable brakes: Illimitate is equipped with Avid BB5 disc brakes that are extremely reliable and provide great stopping power on all types of terrains and in all types of conditions.
- Various sizes: suitable for people of any height and weight, Illimitate comes in various sizes.
Things We Didn't Like
- A thing we don’t like about the Illimitate is that it comes as parts and it requires professional assembly to function properly. This is both inconvenient and costly.
Diamondback 2016 Haanjo Alternative Road Bike
Diamondback 2016 Haanjo is the upgraded version of the 2015 model presented above. Just as its counterpart, the 2016 Haanjo delivers impressive performances and it is an extremely reliable bike.
Built for adventure, the Haanjo presents a lightweight aluminum frame with slightly taller tubes compared to the previous model. Thanks to this characteristic, you will be able to stand in a more upright position, therefore feel less fatigue while riding on any type of road.
Apart from this, the bike also comes with a 2x11 drivetrain and with hydraulic brakes. This means that you will have enough gear to ride on all terrains and enough power to stop even on the most slippery road. To complete the design, the 40c tires provide excellent grip.
Things We Liked
- Superior brake power: thanks to the hydraulic brakes, stopping the bike is extremely easy and simple.
- Various size choices: The 2016 Haanjo is manufactured in multiple dimensions, therefore it will be easy to find the size most adapted to your physical requirements.
- Ergonomic design: thanks to the improved characteristics of the design, riding this bike will be a real pleasure.
- Free assembly: the bike doesn’t come assembled, but the manufacturer offers free assembly with the purchase, a big plus compared to other models.
Things We Didn't Like
- Just as for many other gravel bikes, cyclists complained about the weight of the item. Nevertheless, there is to say that the overall performances of this bike are superlative.
As you can see, there are many excellent gravel bikes on the market and choosing the best is not easy. Nevertheless, we believe that the best gravel bike is the Tommaso Sentiero, a reliable bike built by a manufacturer with tradition.
Its performances are excellent and even if some minor flaws could be improved, this still is a reliable and durable bike.