Discover Adventure: The Best Beginner Gravel Bikes

A good beginner gravel bike should be comfortable, reliable, and feel good to ride. We explain what cyclists should look for in their first gravel bike and take a look at some of the best beginner models.

Discover Adventure: The Best Beginner Gravel Bikes

Written by
Bruce Lin

Published on

Posted in
Gravel

Maybe you’ve been eyeing backcountry roads that wander far from the pavement. Or perhaps you’ve got a big event like Unbound Gravel on your bucket list. Whatever you dream of riding, a gravel bike is a perfect tool to explore roads less traveled. A good gravel bike can be your trusted companion for years to come. 

Need help picking the right gravel bike? No problem. We’ll cover what beginner gravel cyclists need (and don’t need) to look for in a bike and pick a few of the best beginner gravel bikes from our inventory. 

[button]SHOP BEGINNER GRAVEL BIKES[/button] | [button]SHOP ALL GRAVEL BIKES[/button]  

Gravel vs. cyclocross vs. road vs. mountain bikes

Gravel vs. road bikes

Gravel bike on the left, road bike on the right. Note the different tires.

Let’s be clear about what we mean when we say “gravel bike.” Generally speaking, gravel bikes are drop-bar bikes (drop bars are those curly bars you see on road bikes) that can fit wider and knobbier tires than regular road bikes to handle dirt and gravel roads. Gravel bikes usually have “relaxed” geometry that feels more stable off-road and easier gearing that helps you pedal up steep and loose climbs. They’re perfect for riding a mix of paved and unpaved roads. 

Though they’re slightly different, don’t discount cyclocross bikes. Before gravel bikes became a genre, we rode cyclocross bikes for unpaved adventures. Many still do! Cyclocross bikes have snappier geometry designed for tight and technical cyclocross courses, but they’ll still work great for general gravel riding. 

You could use a road bike or a mountain bike, but gravel bikes are purpose-built to be fast, efficient, and comfortable on gravel roads. If you mostly ride pavement, a road bike is better. If you want to ride singletrack mountain bike trails, a mountain bike is better. 

Learn more:

[button]ROAD VS. GRAVEL BIKES: 6 KEY DIFFERENCES[/button]

[button]GRAVEL BIKES VS. HARDTAIL MOUNTAIN BIKES[/button]

Good beginner gravel bikes need…

1. To be modern but affordable 

I suggest in “How Much Should You Spend On Your First Bike” to spend $1,000-2,000 on your first bike. With bike prices skyrocketing, I’d bump that number up to $3,000, just to give you more options. Sticker shock? Well, you’ll soon discover that $1,000 is very “affordable” in the cycling world. 

Of course, you don’t have to spend this much, but if your goal is to ride regularly and rack up miles, this price range will get you a bike made in the last 5-7 years that is safe, reliable, and resellable. It will ride well, be easier to use and maintain, and won’t need any immediate repairs. Plus, it will keep you stoked to continue riding.

2. Quality components

Related to the last point, a modern gravel bike from a reputable manufacturer comes with a drivetrain, brakes, wheels, and components that function better and are more reliable. Plus, it will be easier to find compatible replacement parts. Bike shops will have fewer issues working on your bike if something goes wrong.  

Beginners should keep an eye out for entry-level to mid-range Shimano or SRAM drivetrains. Prioritize bikes with: 

  • Shimano GRX
  • Shimano 105
  • Shimano Ultegra
  • SRAM Apex
  • SRAM Rival
  • SRAM Force

Two things that are nice to have are disc brakes and tubeless wheels and tires. Disc brakes provide more stopping power and control, especially off-road and in bad weather. Tubeless tires reduce punctures and allow you to run lower tire pressures for more comfort and traction. Though not 100% essential, I usually recommend riders start on a bike with these two features. Fortunately, most modern beginner gravel bikes already include disc brakes and tubeless-compatible wheels and tires. 

You may also need to choose between 1x vs. 2x drivetrains (i.e., one front chainring vs. two). Some riders have strong opinions about this, but both systems work very well, and it’s mostly down to personal preference. For those new to cycling, 1x drivetrains are simpler to use so there’s less to worry about while you learn how to ride gravel.  

Learn more:

[button]1X VS. 2X GRAVEL DRIVETRAINS[/button]

3. Proper fit

Measured Frame Size
Frame Size
Min. Rider Height
Max. Rider Height

48cm

XS

4' 11"

5' 2"

50cm

Small

5' 2"

5' 5"

52cm

Small/M

5' 5"

5' 7"

54cm

Medium

5' 7"

5' 10"

56cm

Large

5' 10"

6' 1"

58cm

Large/XL

6' 1"

6' 3"

60cm

XL

6' 3"

6' 5"

Buy the correct size. If your bike fits you, it will be more comfortable and easier to ride. If you need more guidance than a basic size chart, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Bike Sizing or contact our expert Ride Guides at rideguides@theproscloset.com, or call us at 866-401-9636 for one-on-one sizing advice. No matter how good the price looks, it’s a bad deal if the bike doesn’t fit you.

Good beginner gravel bikes DON’T need…

1. Carbon

Despite what bike media or snobby riders say, no one actually needs a carbon gravel bike (or carbon wheels). Yes, carbon has a lot of advantages, but that comes with a higher price. Aluminum used to have a reputation for being harsh, but modern aluminum bikes are way more comfortable, and they’re often much more affordable and durable. Steel is another great beginner option. Steel bikes are often a bit heavier, but they are super tough and will last forever. That being said, if you find a nice carbon bike you like in your price range, go for it! 

2. The latest technology

I love electronic drivetrains and gravel suspension forks, but they aren’t must-haves. If you can get them, great! But beginners (most riders, really) don’t need all the bells and whistles. They will be perfectly happy with old-school mechanical drivetrains and rigid forks that are simpler, cheaper, and easier to maintain. 

3. Race-focused design

The cycling world is obsessed with performance, but most of us aren’t getting paid to race. So don’t stress too much about having a “fast” bike. It doesn’t need to be super lightweight (weight doesn’t matter much anyway). It doesn’t need to be aero. The rider matters most, so focus on honing your fitness and skills first. 

Learn more:

[button]BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO RIDING GRAVEL[/button]

[newsletter]

The best beginner gravel bikes

These gravel bikes were made in the last 7 years and now sell for $1,000-3,000 — great beginner gravel bikes. The models featured here are easy to find and consistently good options for beginners. They will even appeal to more experienced riders on a budget. 

Trek Checkpoint ALR / Crockett

 

Trek Checkpoint ALR
[product-block handle="2020-trek-checkpoint-alr-5-m "/]

 

The Checkpoint ALR is one of the most popular budget gravel bikes we sell. It’s essentially the aluminum version of Trek’s flagship Checkpoint SL carbon gravel bike. The aluminum frame reduces cost and also provides more frame mounts for bags, racks, and fenders. The cyclocross equivalent to the Checkpoint ALR is the Crockett.  

Specialized Diverge E5 / Crux

 

Specialized Diverge E5 comp
[product-block handle="specialized-diverge-e5-comp-54cm-bike"/]

 

Similar to the Checkpoint ALR, the Diverge E5 is the aluminum version of Specialized’s flagship Diverge gravel bike. There’s a budget-friendly base version but the slightly more expensive Diverge E5 Comp includes Future Shock, a nifty suspension system under the handlebars that improves comfort. The Crux is the Diverge’s cyclocross counterpart. 

GT Grade

 

GT Grade
[product-block handle="2022-gt-grade-carbon-elite-m"/]

 

The GT Grade is an “all-road” gravel bike that has the tire clearance, geometry, and comfort to handle any terrain. It uses GT’s trademark Triple Triangle design which reduces unwanted lateral flex to improve acceleration and handling. On the Grade, the seat stays are also made extra thin, so they still have enough vertical compliance to smooth out bumpy roads. 

Niner RLT 9 / BSB 9

 

Niner RLT 9 RDO
[product-block handle="2021-niner-rlt-9-rdo-4-star-grx-l"/]

 

Niner specializes in adventure-ready off-road bikes and it offers a wide range of options. For the beginner gravel rider, the RLT 9 is the perfect tool. It comes in steel, aluminum, and carbon versions to suit your preferences and budget. The cyclocross equivalent is the BSB 9, which has seen success at major gravel races like Unbound Gravel. 

Giant Revolt / TCX

 

Giant Revolt
[product-block handle="giant-revolt-advanced-3-gravel-bike-2021-large"/]

 

Giant is the world’s biggest bike manufacturer and known for building bikes that provide more performance for less money. The Revolt comes in both aluminum and carbon versions that are more affordable than many of its rivals. Likewise, the TCX cyclocross bike will satisfy those looking for an aggressive race bike that won’t break the bank. 

Bomtrack Arise

 

Bombtrack Arise
[product-block handle="bombtrack-arise-geared-bike-s-cherry"/]

 

Bombtrack is the smallest brand on this list, but they come from the world of BMX, so they know how to build tough bikes that last. The affordable Arise uses a durable steel frame and bombproof components. The MTB-style flat bars add extra comfort and off-road capability, which is perfect for riders not ready to get low on drop bars.  

[button]SHOP BEGINNER GRAVEL BIKES[/button] | [button]SHOP ALL GRAVEL BIKES[/button]  

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