We pick out some of the best gravel bikes and cyclo-cross bikes on the market and give our thoughts.
What is a gravel bike for?
A gravel bike gives you the best of all worlds. It is a combination of a road bike for going out with your road riding friends, or a sportive bike, for those who want to enter and compete in any of the sportive competitions are now throughout the year. Then there is a cyclocross bike for those who want to ride on the fire tracks in the hills or the canal tracks along the river, or if you are feeling strong, enter a cyclocross competition famous in Belgium with their own UCI Competitions, and now available in the UK. It is a bike that can be fitted with quality and mile crunching 30mm, or 42 mm gravel riding smooth feeling tires for off-road and on road use.
Gravel riding is also a great way to get out into the fresh air and exercise to burn some fat. You can go flat out if you like or just ride through the hills, forests or on the road and get the benefits of being outside in the fresh air and losing weight at the same time.
Gravel Bike Vs Cyclocross
Cyclocross is a sport mainly seen in Belgium where a road bike style with bigger, wider tires and drop style road handlebars are used to compete in serious competitions as in road racing to win real cash prizes. The courses are normally short on gravel tracks and through forest paths as they are fast and furious courses where the rider is at 100% max from the moment the bell goes until they reach the finish line. Normally under 2 hours long but competitive.
Here are a few of the Best Gravel Bikes of 2018
SPECIALIZED S-WORKS DIVERGE 2018
Probably “the” most sought-after gravel bike on the planet – the Specialized S-Works Diverge is the ultimate gravel/road bike combo. It is un-affordable to most of us as it is around the 10k price mark, which is beyond extreme. But that said they do not come any better than this.
The new 2018 Specialized diverge now has space for 42mm tires, 1×11 Shimano Di2 gears fitted disc brakes, a dropper seat post and the future suspension shock absorber.
This is a lot of changes on an already very good bike, but changes that make this bike something very special. It is now a sophisticated bike that can challenge any gravel course you throw at it, and with a decent tire change is capable of producing stunning results in any sportive you wish to make, or join road bike friends for any day out on the road without having to think you will be outgunned.
Perhaps the only change I would consider is a 2×12 SRAM electronic groupset as for me it is the best groupset out there.
Pros: Incredibly capable on and off-road, smooth ride, wide tires, light build
Cons: Very expensive build, Di2 not yet perfect for winter riding.
This is a big step up from the original Diverge that was launched back in 2014. This was the time when gravel had taken off in the USA and was still a baby in the rest of the world.
Specialized was one of the first mainstream brands to see the future of this sport and as usual, has thrown the full weight of what they have to offer in a bike that is capable of doing all sports on a bike with just one frame. Mountain biking is, as usual, another step up for any machine.
The Norco Search XR is non-conformist yet familiar, pushing the limits of what you’d expect from a drop bar bike. With ample tire clearance, rack, fender and bottle mounts, and a lightweight carbon frame, the Search XR takes you off the beaten path and allows you to ride every road and trail your heart desires.
Explore singletrack, tackle a gravel grinder or load up for a bike-packing trip. The Search XR is for all the adventures you can imagine, and for those you have yet to dream up.
The Search XR is truly pushing the limits of what you would expect from a drop bar bike. Generous tire clearance, adventure geometry, and various rack, fender and bottle mounts turn the bike into an all-new breed of adventurer that takes you off the beaten path and allows you to ride every road and trail your heart desires.
Felt is a name known in the peloton of the Tour de France from years gone by, so they know how to build a quality bike. The Felt VR looks like a superb piece of engineering that should be exceptional on the gravel tracks in any country.
It is light in weight and made with endurance in mind so will perform well for those who want to take gravel riding and sportives in there stride.
The Felt VR comes from the factory with gearing that is closer to the ‘adventure bike’ side of the equation. This frequently means slightly smaller chainrings (48/32 instead of 50/34) and a nice wide ratio rear cassette (11-32+) in the back.
Unless someone wants to road race, this gearing is frequently appreciated by most gravel capable bike buyers. Considering we are frequently changing gearing on many bikes to be more like what comes on the Felt from the factory, we applaud their approach.
The Cannondale Topstone is Cannondale’s all-new, very recently announced a line of affordable and adaptable alloy gravel bikes. This is probably one of the best gravel bikes on the market right now that is affordable to almost everyone. With generous clearances, rack and mudguard mounts and a comfort-focussed geometry, on paper at least, the Topstone looks like an ideal bike for touring, gravel racing and year-round road riding.
But what makes this affordable yet fairly unadventurous gravel bike one of the most important of 2018? This bike is a gravel grinding, road riding sportive bike thrown into one.
An aluminum frame with a full carbon fork and massive tire clearance make this a great choice for those who want the best of both worlds in road biking and gravel grinding threw into one bike for a considerable amount of cash.
Add on top of that a dropper seat post for those tricky descents and you are looking at a really well-equipped gravel bike that can take you almost anywhere.
The SRAM Apex1 drivetrain makes gear selection simple. add to that a 40-tooth chainring and an 11-42 11-speed cassette, to give you a good choice at either end of the spectrum. this groupset also gives you a well balanced and reliable shifting selection without paying a premium price normally associated with top-flight components.
Hydraulic disc brakes are standard as you would hope for on a gravel bike, and they provide powerfully, precise braking under all conditions.
To complete the package we have WTB i23 rims, fitted with good quality and gravel smooth 40mm WTB Nano TCS tires to take away the rough surfaces of the gravel or dirt tracks.
This is Trek’s first truly dedicated gravel bike named Checkpoint. It is a lightweight OCLV Carbon frame with ISO speed coupler and a full Shimano groupset. Trek have come very late to the scene of gravel riding, which for an American brand is most unusual as Specialized recognized the sport as early as 2016 with their Diverge range of bikes.
This is the top-of-the-range £3,400 SL6 model and reviews are not all in favor as it seems to be viewed as not quite a gravel bike as the gearing is too tall, and the tires are not wide enough (35mm) shipped with the bike, (which is what I run on my gravel bike and find superb), and the front end too stiff.
I am not sure that all reviews will view these as bad points as Road CC have done. See their review below.
Pros: Versatile, space for wide tyres, IsoSpeed
Cons: Tall gearing, stiff front end
First things first, despite similarities to many 650b/700c swappable bikes like the Open U.P. or 3T Exploro, namely the dropped drive side chain stay, the Checkpoint was designed for 700c wheels alone. But Trek didn’t let that get in the way of the tire volume.
While many, like our Checkpoint SL6 test bike, will ship 35mm Schwalbe G-One All around tires, the bike can straddle 28mm to 45mm knobby tires with ease, while running traditional road gears.
One of the best looking bikes on here and priced accordingly
Mason Bikes are a UK brand that came onto the bike scene around 4 or 5 years ago with the original Mason definition.
This is the Mason Definition 2 Rival 1X that has been brought bang up-to-date with thru-axles front and rear in place of the quick releases. As you can see from the photo above the bike is a beautiful piece of modern alloy design that is really well made.
This bike is perfect for using to travel on your daily commutes to work, or for those gravel trips through the forest on the fire tracks, or to go out with your mates on a long road ride. It is designed for all day riding.
The Mason Definition 2, SRAM Rival, 1X build underlines the ‘Progressive’ nature of the brand name. Durable, dependable, smooth shifting coupled with the superb SE4SON performance of modern hydraulic disc-brakes and the uprated Definition frameset.
1X setups don’t drop chains in rougher situations like double/triple ones. I can confirm this as I have a SRAM 10-speed chainset fitted to my gravel bike. It is simply superb and never misses a beat.
The gear cable has to be perfectly aligned though or you may have problems in 1st gear when the cable is at its tightest and it slips down a gear when you are climbing hills of over 71%.
One of the best gravel bikes you can buy at a decent price
Stable on the rough, agile on the smooth, the Grail CF SLX 8.0 Di2 features our most advanced gravel frameset plus a full Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset with RX clutch technology.
Some bikes have the potential to truly open your mind from the first ride – the Grail CF SLX 8.0 Di2 falls firmly into that category. Lighter than most road setups yet with a geometry and components that make it truly capable over rough terrain, it’s like a swiss army knife on wheels. Mountain biker or roadie, all riders can unite behind the Grail CF SLX.
Pivot Vault Gravel Bike 2018
Around $4300 – Weight 20lbs or 9 kilos – Carbon – 700×48 Tire Clearance
This is my favorite looking gravel bike and one of the best gravel bikes out there today. What a stunner this is. This bike is designed with everyone in mind. Sportive challenges, road racing with your mates, any sort of gravel path or track you want to throw at it, and cyclocross events with extra large tires needed.
It fits the bill for all of them and looks stunning as well. It also comes in at around 9 kilos which is a very light and capable bike considering it is fitted with gravel specific tires.
Fitted with Shimano ultegra gears, which for me are not ideal in winter conditions when I will use my own gravel bike a lot, and feel it should be decked out in Sram eTap as an option. This is one of the best looking bikes available for 2018 and would be at the top of my list of wanted if it was available with a SRAM option.
The Addict CX RC is Scott’s only true, dedicated, cyclocross race bike, and it’s built for hardcore ’crossers and new racers alike. The SRAM Force 1 drivetrain offers precision shifting on a budget, and the simplicity of the 1x drivetrain is ideal for cyclocross.
The full-carbon fork has plenty of mud clearance and a tapered steerer, so it’s ready to tackle the sloppiest courses you can find and will chew up frozen ruts typical of winter racing. Replaceable dropouts are a welcome addition, and the thru-axle system makes changing wheels quick and easy—without the need for tools.
Syncros RP 2.0 Disc aluminum clinchers are great for training or as entry-level race wheels, and at just over 18 pounds, this bike is light, stiff, and ready for action./p>
The Addict Family
While the Addict CX RC may be Scott’s only true, dedicated cyclocross race bike, the Addict family crosses over into the world of gravel.
The Addict Gravel 20 ($3,700) has the same carbon frame as the CX RC, but with an Ultegra 8000 2x drivetrain and a modified, full-carbon fork (with less mud clearance than the CX RC fork).
The Addict Gravel 30 ($3,100) has the same frame and fork as the Gravel 20 and features Shimano 105 11-speed components.
The GT Grade Gravel Bike is the flagship model of the GT range but is now a little dated compared to some of the gravel bikes we have listed here. So much so that I cannot find enough reviews to add to the review section here. This bike has been around since 2016 and not really updated, but still a well sought after bike in the UK market.
The Giant Revolt Advanced 0 has just hit the dirt and appeared on the scene with a Shimano Ultegra build and Giant carbon rims. The company claims clearance for tires up to 45mm wide, and both the frame and fork have rack and fender mounts.
The Revolt Advanced takes the slack geo approach to gravel, with a head tube angle of 70.5 degrees and a wheelbase of 103.6cm on a Medium frame with a 55cm top tube. The downward-sloping top tube and low seat stays create small triangles that Josh Berry said help with the long-distance comfort during his 2nd place at Dirty Kanza 200 in June 2018.
The Kona Rove AL LTD is kitted out with some decent parts for those who like to feel the steel between their legs. The top of the range Kona Rove LTD features a Reynolds 853 steel frame with a carbon fork. Add to that the SRAM Force 1 drivetrain and you have a beautiful steel frame that is capable of taking you anywhere.
Frame Material: Reynolds 853 Cromoly
Fork: Kona Full Carbon Flat mount CX Race Disc
Wheels: WTB Asym i23 TCS 650b
Crankset: SRAM Force 1
Drivetrain: SRAM Force 1 11spd
Brakes: SRAM Force 1 160mm front / 160mm rear rotor
Seat Post: Kona Thumb w/Offset
Cockpit: Kona Road Bar/Kona Road Stem
Front Tire: WTB Horizon Road Plus TCS 650x47c
Rear tire: WTB Horizon Road Plus TCS 650x47c
Saddle: WTB Volt Comp
The Rove Family
All Kona Roves share the same geometry capable of fitting both 700c and 650b wheels, and rear rack mounts. The model above which is the top-end Rove LTD features a Reynolds 853 steel frame, carbon fork, 650b wheels, and SRAM Force 1 drivetrain for $3,599 (also available as a $1,499 frameset).
Also notable is the $1,099 Rove DL, which upgrades the base frame with fenders, TPR Spyre dual-piston disc brakes, and a Sora 9-speed drivetrain. The urban-oriented bike would make an excellent all-conditions commuter.