All gravel bikes are not made equal, and to get on my shopping list, it takes more than a set of 40mm tires to stand out. To be truly special, a gravel bike needs an X-factor working in its favor. Whether that comes in the form of innovative technology, race pedigree, or just plain good looks, some bikes just have it. If you’re on the hunt for the ultimate gravel rig, these are the 10 gravel bikes that deserve your consideration.
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Why you should know about it: The original (modern) gravel bike
These days, the Warbird might not seem like a unique gravel bike, with its conventional design and geometry, but it deserves a spot on this list because it was the first. When it was released in 2013, the Warbird helped kickstart the modern gravel craze by combining relaxed geometry with big tire clearance in a light and efficient frame. Like "Seinfeld," it influenced everything that came after it, becoming the archetype for the modern gravel race bike. Without it, we might still be gravel grinding on cyclocross bikes!
Why you should know about it: Future Shock 2.0
The Diverge is the reigning champ of Unbound Gravel, the world’s biggest gravel race. With 200 miles of body-beating gravel, it was the perfect race to exploit the Diverge’s party piece: Future Shock 2.0. Originally designed for rough cobbled classics, Future Shock is now a gravel darling. Specialized designed a hydraulically damped spring, located beneath the handlebars, to provide 20mm of bump-absorbing travel without the added weight of a suspension fork. If you struggle with hand pain or numbness, the Diverge is the answer.
Why you should know about it: American-made carbon with Innegra
The Allied Able had a dream debut in 2019 when it won both the men’s and women’s races at Unbound Gravel. This was a big deal because Allied is a small, American manufacturer, and one of only a few bike companies making carbon frames here in the U.S. Allied has also been innovating carbon frame construction by integrating Innegra, a tough polypropylene material, into key areas of its frames to increase durability and impact resistance.
Why you should know about it: IsoSpeed Decoupler
Like Specialized’s Future Shock, Trek originally developed IsoSpeed to help classics legend Fabian Cancellara conquer cobbled races. It turned out to be perfect for smoothing out rough gravel too. IsoSpeed is not suspension, but a “decoupler” system that separates key junctions like the seat tube and top tube with bearings and elastomers that absorb vibration and allow for extra flex. The Checkpoint uses an IsoSpeed Decoupler in the rear, so you get the smoothest ride.
Why you should know about it: The first aero gravel bike
With deep, sculpted aero tubes, the 3T Exploro looks more like a road racing weapon than a gravel bike. But with plenty of tire clearance, and the option to run high-volume 650b wheels and tires, it was meant to go off the pavement. With the Exploro, 3T wanted to bring aero-focused design to the world of gravel racing. It even wind tunnel tested the Exploro with mud-caked tires to ensure it stays slippery and efficient in real-world conditions. If you consider how windy it can get in the gravel heartland, aero makes a lot of sense.
Why you should know about it: Aggressive race-focused geometry
Cervelo’s tagline for the Aspero is “haul ass, not cargo,” and that tells you pretty much everything you need to know. While many gravel bikes favor relaxed geometry — higher stack and slacker angles — the Aspero goes the opposite direction with low stack for an aggressive riding position and steeper angles for agile handling. It’s a gravel bike designed for racers and KOM hunters who covet speed above all else. Plus if you’re used to the fit of a classic road bike, you’ll be happy with this stretched-out position.
Lauf True Grit
Why you should know about it: The Lauf Grit SL fork
Lauf comes out of Reykjavík, Iceland, which is best known for its most eccentric export, Björk. The True Grit is almost that weird, thanks to its Grit SL fork. This unique fork uses a pivotless trailing link design that provides 30mm of travel with glass fiber leaf springs. Huh? The gist is that you get the extra comfort and control of a suspension fork without too much extra weight. It’s all carbon fiber, baby.
Evil Chamois Hagar
Why you should know about it: Progressive MTB-inspired geometry
For years, Evil was all about downhill-shredding mountain bikes. So for its first foray into gravel bikes, it pushed the envelope by incorporating the same progressive MTB geometry into a drop-bar rig. Not only does the Chamois Hagar have a hilarious name, but it features an outrageously slack 66.67° head angle, extra-long reach, low standover, and internal dropper post routing so mountain bikers will feel right at home.
Why you should know about it: Introduced gravel suspension and 650b tires
The Slate was discontinued in 2019, so you might wonder why it’s on this list instead of its carbon fiber successor, the Cannondale Topstone (which is a great bike with an innovative Kingpin suspension system). The Slate is more iconic to me because it opened the technological floodgates by introducing the first gravel suspension fork, the 30mm travel Lefty Oliver, and the first production 650b gravel tires. Without those two innovations, the modern gravel landscape would look a lot less plush.
Why you should know about it: The alternative side of gravel
Crust isn’t so much a bike brand as it is a lifestyle. The first Crust frame was built around 2015 and the company gained popularity thanks to The Radavist and riders like Ultraromance. Like all Crust frames, this Bombora is designed more for exploring than racing. It’s made using traditional steel construction, a steel fork, and features plenty of extra mounts and space for bags. For riders put off by the performance-focused lycra side of the sport, it’s the perfect antidote.
So which one of these gravel bikes is going to be my next? I’ve already ridden the Warbird and the Slate, so I’m looking for something new and different. Part of me wants to try out the wild geometry of the Evil Chamois Hagar, but since my future riding goals involve plenty of races, including Unbound Gravel 200, I might need to go with something sportier. To give me every advantage, an aero bike like the 3T Exploro might be the ticket.
What gravel bike would you choose? And what other innovative gravel bikes deserve to be on this list? Let me know in the comments!