Gravel riding is the hottest thing in the drop-bar world. It provides adventure, solitude, and dirty fun away from heavily trafficked roads. A gravel bike opens up new routes, new terrain, and new experiences on familiar road-like equipment.
Best of all, gravel bikes are the most versatile drop bar bikes going and the antidote to the N+1 theory of bike ownership. Though they’re best at what they’re designed for, they’re still very good for many kinds of riding. With a tire swap—and perhaps a gearing tweak—you can use them for pretty much anything: road riding, gravel, singletrack, cyclocross, touring, commuting, and bike packing.
Take a look below at quick info of the top-performing gravel bikes, then scroll farther for buying advice and more in-depth reviews of these and other worthy contenders.
What is a Gravel Bike?
Put a road bike, cyclocross bike, touring bike, randonnée bike, and a mountain bike in a blender and press frappé—what you get is a gravel bike.
Essentially it’s a road bike designed for use on unpaved roads. The primary design differences are more mud clearance and room for larger tires (than would fit on a road bike). Beyond that, there are as many interpretations of gravel bikes as there are types of unpaved roads.
The gravel category begins with all-road bikes. These are practically indistinguishable from endurance road bikes and have clearance for mid-30-millimeter-wide tires. Allied’s Alfa Allroad, the Trek Domane, and Liv’s Avail Advanced are good examples of this “gravel lite” end of the category. They’re fast, quick-handling, and work great on smoother dirt roads but don’t have the geometry, features, or clearance for gnarlier adventures.
On the other end are essentially drop-bar mountain bikes. These can fit 29×2.4-inch mountain bike tires, have stability-focused geometry, and tons of mounts for cargo so you can escape on unsupported multi-day backcountry trips. The Salsa Cutthroat is the best of these “super gravel” bikes.
Between gravel lite and super gravel is a bit of everything. In general, gravel bikes have long wheelbases and relaxed steering geometry for improved stability; taller stacks for a more upright position; wider bars for more control; tuned flexes—and perhaps suspension—to smooth the ride; lower gearing for grinding up steep and loose hills; additional mounts for carrying more water and food when you’re far from 7-Elevens; and wide, knobby tires for a smoother ride, better traction, and more control. Many gravel bikes also have fender mounts and rack mounts for additional versatility.
Features To Look For
How We Tested
Every bike on this list has been thoroughly evaluated and vetted by our team of test editors. We research the market, speak with riders like you, consult with product managers and engineers, and use our own experience riding these bikes to determine the best options. Our team of experienced testers spent many hours and miles riding and racing gravel bikes both in their natural element, and also on roads and singletrack. Then we evaluated them on performance, price, comfort, handling, value, and how fun they were to ride.
―SMOOTHEST GRAVEL BIKE―
Cannondale Topstone Carbon
For maximum smoothness over washboard bumps, check out a gravel bike with suspension. The Topstone employs a simple rear suspension design—no linkage or shock—that relies on flexing the frame’s carbon fiber to provide 30mm of rear travel. In spite of this travel, this bike is stiff and quick.
Super light, with a frame weighing 880 grams and a fork weighing 370 grams, the U.P.P.E.R. is the prototypical gravel race bike. It takes a 1x or 2x drivetrain and fits up to a 2.1-inch-wide mountain bike tires, but also rides great with a 28mm road slick. The simple design belies layered performance. It’s at once fast as hell and smooth as glass. Agile on the pavement, it still handles brilliantly off road. It’s so damn good, our tester bought the bike when she was done writing her review and has ridden it to the podium.
―INNOVATIVE RIDE-SMOOTHING SEAT TUBE―
The Vault is a race-ready gravel bike along the lines of the Open U.P.P.E.R. and the Salsa Warbird (below), but with one unique feature. The seat tube features Pivot’s IsoFlex sleeve, a hunk of rubber and nylon that isolates the seatpost from the rest of the frame. It provides a smoother ride, especially welcome when the bike is equipped with a stiffer-riding dropper post.
The Grail is one of the more unique gravel offerings, with its stem flush with the top tube and signature biplane handlebar. The bar’s flexing top section cushions the rider’s upper body when the ground is rough, but the stiffer drops provide control on fast downhills. This bike features Canyon’s heralded value, with excellent parts for the money.
―BEST WOMEN-SPECIFIC GRAVEL BIKE―
The Quincy—and its Santa Cruz sibling, the Stigmata—is ready for bike packing, gravel racing, and everything in between. It takes 700 x 45mm tires, or 650b x 2.1-inch mountain bike tires and has mounts for fenders and a third bottle cage. Though built to be versatile and utilitarian, it’s also a fast bike that, with narrower tires, is no slouch on the road.
―UP FOR ANY ADVENTURE―
Kona Libre DL
The Libre is a heavy-duty gravel bike—almost a drop bar mountain bike. No surprise that it’s from Kona, a company with deep roots in mountain biking. With tall and wide bars and provisions for a dropper post, the Libre DL is ready for the rowdiest gravel adventures.
―MOST DURABLE FRAME―
Gravel riding is hard on equipment. And there’s no better material to stand up to gravel’s punishment than titanium. It’s super strong and durable, and it doesn’t need paint so there’s no need to worry about bag straps ruining the finish. Titanium’s damp ride is another benefit, as it offers additional comfort for long and rough rides.
The WI.DE is the U.P.P.E.’s more adventurous sibling. It can fit a 2.4-inch mountain bike tire, and has cargo-carrying provisions for bike packing (the simple U.P.P.E.R. has none). Plus it’s more stable than the U.P.P.E.R. But, like its sibling, the WI.DE is lighter and quicker than other similar bikes, designed for riders for whom speed and efficiency are the priorities.
―MADE TO RIDE THE DIVIDE―
The Cutthroat laughs at your puny gravel rides. Designed for the Tour Divide—an unsupported race along the continental divide from the Canadian border to the Mexican line—it can carry more and handle a wider range of terrain than any other gravel bike. Though meant for burly rides, the Cutthroat still has a carbon frame and fork, plus a surprising turn of speed.
This is how Salsa makes an all-road bike. The Warroad is Salsa’s fastest gravel rig, with a stiffer frame and more responsive handling that makes it livelier than the company’s other bikes. It doesn’t have the cargo carrying capacity of a Warbird (below), but the Warroad is so fast you’ll get home before you run out of water.
―DOESN’T FLINCH DURING THE TOUGHEST RACES―
Between Salsa’s Cutthroat and Warroad sits the Warbird—the company’s original gravel-race bike. It has some of the capability of the Cutthroat, with some of the Warroad’s speed. Recently updated, the Warbird is better than ever and ready to reel off 100-plus-mile gravel rides quickly and comfortably.