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What Bike Should I Buy: The Best Steel Gravel Bike Under $4,000

If you're looking for a good "mid-range" steel gravel bike, what should you choose? Emil is looking at the Bombtrack Hook, All-City Cosmic Stallion, and Sklar Super Something. I compare them to help him decide which bike he should buy.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Gravel

While carbon is the dominant frame material these days, there are still plenty of cyclists who believe “steel is real.” One of these riders is my friend Emil. 

Emil is looking for a steel gravel bike that he can use for commuting, training, a few gravel races, semi-regular singletrack shredding, and some multi-day bikepacking adventures. He likes steel because it provides a comfy ride and it can handle tons of abuse. Plus, classic steel tubes just suit his aesthetic tastes. His budget is capped at $4,000, and he specifically asked me to help him decide between three bikes we carry:

  • Bombtrack Hook 
  • All-City Cosmic Stallion
  • Radavist x Sklar Super Something 

Let’s take a deep dive and compare these three steel gravel bikes to figure out which will fit Emil the best. You can help him decide too. I’ll put a poll at the end where you can vote on which bike he should buy. If he doesn’t listen to me, maybe he’ll listen to you!

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Bombtrack Hook 

Price: $2,329.99
Drivetrain: Shimano GRX400 2x
Fork: Carbon
Wheels: WTB ST i19 Aluminum
Weight: 24 lbs 13 oz

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Bombtrack is a German brand that came from the world of BMX bikes. I actually own a BMX bike and a dirt jumper made by its sister brands: WeThePeople Bike Co. and Radio Bikes. I can personally attest that the people behind Bombtrack know how to build bombproof steel frames.

The Hook is a tough and versatile bike, with plenty of mounts for a top tube bag, three bottle cage mounts, as well as standard rack and fender mounts. You can load it up for bikepacking and commuting or leave it stripped down for training rides and races.

The Hook comes in a few different versions, including the EXT with 650b wheels and tires, and a “C” version that uses a carbon frame. Emil specifically wants 700c wheels and mentioned he likes the purple accents on this particular frame. Conveniently, it’s on sale and has been marked down over $1,100, which makes it even more attractive. 

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All-City Cosmic Stallion

Price: $3,799.99
Drivetrain: SRAM Rival AXS (2x)
Fork: Carbon, Whisky No. 7
Wheels: WTB KOM Light i27 Disc Aluminum
Weight: 23 lbs 6 oz

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All-City is based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and it is one of the biggest names when it comes to mass-produced steel bike frames. Its frames are known for their gorgeous paint and often goofy names.

The Cosmic Stallion is All-City’s flagship gravel bike. It uses All-City’s custom ACE steel tubing, which stands for “air-hardened, custom-extruded.” This custom tubing reduces weight when compared to standard steel tubesets. It also gets an E.D. (electrophoretic disposition) coating that creates a uniform and durable base coat to prevent rust. This is followed by multiple coats of custom-mixed wet paint that gives the Cosmic Stallion a nice high-gloss look.

One feature I like is that the rear drop-outs are custom, investment-cast dropouts designed specifically for the Cosmic Stallion rather than an off-the-shelf dropouts. This gives the Cosmic Stallion the look and feel of a boutique custom steel bike without the high price. Normally, it would be over budget, but with a $250 mark-down, it squeaks right under. Also, it’s the only option here with an electronic drivetrain.

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Radavist x Sklar Super Something

Price: $3,799.99
Drivetrain: SRAM Apex 1 (1x)
Fork: Double-butted, Chromoly Steel
Wheels: Industry Nine AR25 Aluminum
Weight: 24 lbs 9 oz

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Adam Sklar is a one-man boutique bike-building operation based in Bozeman, Montana. Sklars are instantly recognizable thanks to their ovalized and curved top tube, which make the bike easier to shoulder, but also give them a distinctive classic look. Sklar has won awards at NAHBS and gained a lot of notoriety among steel bike lovers in recent years.

The Super Something is Sklars first production gravel bike model. Adam Sklar created the Super Something to provide a more accessible lower cost option for riders interested in his bikes but who don’t want to pay a premium or wait months for a custom handbuilt frame. It uses Sklar’s stock geometry as well as a custom-butted chromoly tubeset based on the tubes Adam uses in his bespoke builds. It also has Paragon Rocker Dropouts which allow you to adjust chainstay length or go singlespeed and a steel fork (versus carbon) which should increase both comfort and durability.

The Radavist edition Super Something is super unique because it features a limited-edition paint colorway and custom build curated by John Watson, the founder of The Radavist. Only 50 total Radavist x Sklar frames were made, so it’s the rarest bike here.

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Hook vs. Cosmic Stallion vs. Super Something

All right, we’ve met the competitors. Let's pit them against each other. We’re going to look at a few key metrics and find out which bike comes out on top in each. 


The Bombtrack Hook is the cheapest bike here by a healthy margin. Does that mean it’s the best value though? The All-City Cosmic Stallion comes with a wireless electronic drivetrain, while the Bombtrack and Sklar have budget mechanical drivetrains. Does that make it a better value even though it’s nearly $1,500 more? That’s a tough call. So let’s stick to the price here.   

Winner: Bombtrack Hook


The Sklar has the nicest finishing components (handlebar, stem, seatpost, etc.), plus Industry Nine wheels and hubs. But I think the All-City Cosmic Stallion takes this because it’s equipped with a wireless electronic group which will have a big impact on your ride experience.

Winner: All-City Cosmic Stallion


Bombtrack Hook: 48/32t chainrings, 11-36t cassette
All-City Cosmic Stallion: 43/30t chainrings, 10-36t cassette
Sklar Super Something: 42t chainring, 10-42t cassette

All three bikes have a decent gear range, but I’d say the Cosmic Stallion is the best. It has the lowest low gear, which will help a lot on tough climbs when loaded up with bikepacking gear. 

Winner: All-City Cosmic Stallion

Tire Clearance

Bombtrack Hook: 700c x 45mm front / 700c x 42mm rear
All-City Cosmic Stallion: 700c x 42mm
Sklar Super Something: 700c x 50mm

The Super Something has way more tire clearance than the others. I’ve even seen a 2.3” mountain bike tire fit in the rear with the dropouts fully extended. 

Winner: Sklar Super Something


There isn’t much difference when it comes to Effective top tube length, stack, reach, and standover. But the Sklar is my pick because the head angle is 70.5-degrees, around 1.5-degrees slacker than the other two. I like slack head tubes, and I think this will make it feel much more stable and confidence-inspiring off-road.

Winner: Sklar Super Something


Does weight even matter? If you’re buying a steel gravel bike, it’s probably pretty low on your priority list. But if we’re going to compare, the All-City is over a pound lighter than the other two. 

Winner: All-City Cosmic Stallion


All three frames have extra mounts for attaching stuff. I’d say the Bombtrack is likely the best for commuting. The All-City is probably the best racer. And the Sklar is the best on singletrack and rough terrain. The Sklar also has sliding dropouts that will allow it to go singlespeed. I’m giving it to the Sklar because of that but the winner here may depend more on your priorities as a rider.

Winner: Sklar Super Something

Cool Factor

For me, it’s between the All-City and the Sklar. I love All-Citys (I raced on a Nature Boy all through college) and their paint, but I have to give it to the Sklar. Sklar frames look like nothing else on the market. It’s the type of bike you get asked about on group rides.

Winner: Sklar Super Something

Which Bike Wins?

Final Score

Bombtrack Hook: 1
All-City Cosmic Stallion: 3
Radavist x Sklar Super Something: 4

It might seem like the Bombtrack got beat up in this comparison, but I actually think it’s a fantastic option. You can’t beat that price, and it’s a gravel bike that you could ride for years, maybe decades, without upgrading.

The All-City is the bike I would probably pick for myself. It’s the lightest (yeah I’m a weight-weenie at heart) and I’m a total AXS convert so I think it has the best drivetrain. But I actually don’t think Emil would enjoy it. His phone is always dead or in low-battery mode. He hates complicated tech. There’s no way he’s keeping a derailleur charged or using a phone app on his bike.

Sklar Super SomethingSo my final recommendation is the Sklar Super Something.

I think it’s the simplest (I'm a 1x lover), the most versatile, and the coolest. For me, the biggest downside is the mechanical disc brakes (though this might be a plus to riders who dislike hydraulic discs). If Emil would extend his budget a bit because he could get the Rival AXS build of the Super Something, but he’s pretty strict about capping it at $4,000, and like I said, AXS might be a tough sell for him. Oh well.

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One thing I didn’t cover is resale value. I consulted with my co-worker David, who leads our bike purchasing team, and he thinks the Super Something will hold its value best simply because it’s a limited edition bike from a well-known boutique brand. David described it like this: “I could see the Super Something ending up in a bike museum or vintage collection 30 years from now. The other two, not so much.”

Emil hasn’t decided yet. If and when he does make his decision, I’ll update this post with his pick. Which bike would you choose? Let me know!

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