Gravel bikes are hot because they expand the road. With over a million miles of unpaved roads in the United States, having a bike that can handle dirt and gravel as well as pavement is a great way to make sure you always have fresh places to ride. The best gravel bikes combine the speed and agility of road bikes with the sure footedness of mountain bikes. You’ll find carbon gravel bikes, as well as aluminum and steel. They often look similar to cyclocross bikes, but are typically more stable, more comfortable, and fit larger tires. While the 700c wheel diameter is dominant, the smaller 650b size has a real place in this world, especially for those who want to go rougher and farther beyond roads.
The Pro’s Closet has an unrivaled selection of gravel steeds. Used gravel bikes have a long life ahead of them. The selection is wide ranging, from bikes that seem more road-adjacent, like the aero Cervelo Aspero, to the utilitarian like Surly Gravel Straggler, to the almost a mountain bike, like the Evil Chamois Hagar. For some, they want to err even farther on the gnar, and for them, gravel bike suspension can be had. If you want to consider gravel vs. hardtail mountain bikes, we’ve had that discussion already.
When Specialized spies something they want to do, you can be sure it wants to do it faster and racier. The S-Works people wear their racing heritage like a custom-tailored speedsuit. When Specialized brought out the Diverge, it borrowed from the Paris-Roubaix-winning Roubaix, adding tire clearance and stability. When it retooled the Crux from a pure ‘crosser to a gravel racer, it leaned heavily on the super-light Aethos road bike. Specialized gravel bikes are always ready to rip.
Cannondale, ever the innovator, might have been the first big bike company to embrace gravel. It started with the Slate, a 650b wheeled bike with a Lefty suspension fork featuring 30mm of travel. It stood out in a crowd, a do-everything bike with a unique look.
While the Slate got people’s attention, Cannondale also drew inspiration from their road and cyclocross platforms. Incorporating steering geometry from their Super X ‘cross line and shapes from their road line, it has since released the Topstone, Topstone Lefty (front suspension!), and SuperSix Evo SE, which are designed to excel at both cyclocross and gravel. Cannondale marches to its own tune, but its designs move the bike industry to keep up.
Titanium, the forever material, started in the hands of niche builders, and they’re the ones doing the most with this metal in the gravel realm. Titanium innovators like Lynskey and Moots were among the first building with it when ti’ tubes were new, and their years working in the medium have yielded excellent gravel bikes. But they’re merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to great titanium gravel bikes.
Steel is a durable and versatile material that’s easy to manipulate. While it can bring the cost of entry-level down to a super-affordable price, it also is the province of beautiful low-batch productions from one-person frame-building operations. Salsa and Surly are two brands that build their steel gravel platforms with an eye toward quiver-killing. They, like many of those who work in steel, are building for people who are using their bike for gravel grinding, bikepacking, bike touring, and commuting.