Gravel bikes and adventure bikes: the basics
Adventure and gravel bikes occupy much of the same space, and, in most cases are two different names for the same machines. This is because of the nuances between the types of riding available in the USA (long open gravel roads) and the UK (bridleways and canal paths).
These bikes sit somewhere between cyclocross bikes and endurance road bikes – they’re more nimble on the road than their mud ready cyclocross brethren, but more capable of tackling rough surfaces than endurance road bikes.
These bikes are ideal for multi-terrain adventures – they’ll take you on bridlepaths, farm tracks, and of course gravel. You can even expect these bikes to handle advanced off roading riding and, in the hands of the right rider, mountain bike trails.
They’ve generally got a lower bottom bracket when compared with cyclocross bikes, giving a more road-like feel but making them less tailored to rocks and roots.
Gravel and adventure bikes often have water bottle cages, pannier rack mounts and mudguard eyelets that you wouldn’t find on a full-on cyclocross racer.
Wide tyres (28c+) are usually specced, with room for more, and you can expect disc brakes as standard.
What is the appeal of a gravel bike or adventure road bike?
If you’ve ever gone out on a ride on your best road bike and noticed farm tracks, bridlepaths or alluring singletrack as you passed, wondering where they lead but hesitating to head off the tarmac, then a gravel bike or adventure road bike may be for you.
It’s a bike which aims to meld on-road speed with off-road capability and so overlaps in design features with both road and cyclocross bikes, as well as incorporating elements borrowed from mountain bikes. As standard you should expect disc braking and clearance for wider tyres.
>>> Cyclocross bikes: a buyer’s guide
A gravel bike is similar, but is designed for riding on the untarmacked roads which are more prevalent in the US and some European countries than the UK. It will have clearance for even wider tyres, which may be up to 40mm across.
Below is our pick of the best adventure road bikes and gravel bikes – read on for more details on what to look for when shopping for a knobbly tyred road bike.
With each bike is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
Our pick of the best gravel bikes and adventure road bikes
Mason Definition 2 Rival 1X Gravel Bike
Read more: Mason Definition 2 Rival 1X review
The Mason Definition 2 Rival 1X has been brought bang up-to-date thanks to a couple of nuanced technical developments including the speccing of thru-axles front and rear over quick releases. Happily, these design tweaks have done nothing to limit the bikes versatility that made us fall in love with it in the first place.
Overall, it’s beautifully finished, comes with a quality spec well suited for UK riding and has the versatility to cover everything from fast club runs to bikepacking adventures.
See more at Mason Cycles
Specialized Diverge 2018 gravel bike
The Diverge now sits firmly in the adventure / gravel bike camp
Read more: Specialized Diverge Comp review
When the Specialized Diverge first arrived on the scene, it was very much a ‘do it all’ bike – but updates for 2017/2018 (it’s ok, they’re available to buy already!) see it move firmly into the adventure/gravel bike family.
The American brand has added its ‘Future Shock’ front suspension to the front end, with a progressive spring on the 20mm travel so there’s no bottoming out. The bottom bracket is now lower, providing stability, and at S-Works level the bike comes with a dropper seat post. This can be purchased separately and fitted to lower ranked frames.
Disc brakes are a given, and 650b wheels can be fitted, with 42c tyres being the max.
>>> UK See the range, from £799 to £8,500 at Tredz here
>>>USA See the Specialized Diverge range at CycleStore
Orro Terra C carbon gravel bike
Orro Terra C gravel bike
Read more: Terra C gravel bike from Orro here
New on the market, the Terra C from Sussex based brand Orro features a UK made fibre with vibration-busting ‘Sigmatex Innegra’ that aims to reduce the chances of frame damage. The material is embedded at the bottom bracket, chainstays and forks – areas likely to suffer attack from rough roads.
A low bottom bracket also aids stability, and there’s clearance for a 42c wheel.
Buy now: Hydraulic discs and Shimano 105 shifting for £2099 and with TRP mechanical brakes for £1799.99 here
Open U.P. gravel bike
The Open U.P.
Read more: Open U.P. review
Closer to a cyclocross or even mountain bike, we can’t help but include the Open UP – it’s got a little MTB pedigree, meaning it can handle some techy trails but still feels quick on the road. This versatile frame is both mechanical and Di2 compatible and can house 650b wheels as fat as 2.1 inches wide to standard 700c hoops. This takes gravel bike riding to new levels.
Buy now: Open U.P £2,230 at the Tri Store
GT Grade 2018 gravel bike
GT Grade gravel bike
Read more: review of the GT Grade Carbon Ultegra gravel bike
GT was one of the first in line to create gravel bikes, and seeing the success take off, they broadened the range in 2017 and continued it into 2018.
The Grade is designed to ride well on gravel paths, whilst still feeling good on the road. It’s got a long wheelbase to add to stability, and comes with a 52/36 chainset and 11-32 cassette – giving plenty of options on those short sharp ascents often found off road.
Hydraulic disc brakes provide quick stopping and the tyres are comfortably wide at 32c.
Models start from £649 and travel up to £2899.99.
>>> UK see the range at Evans Cycles from £649
>>> USA see GT Grade range at Wiggle from $1148
Cannondale Slate 2018 adventure road/gravel bike
Cannondale Slate adventure road/gravel bike
Read more: Cannondale Slate review
One of the most fascinating bikes to come out in recent years, the Slate effectively kickstarted the adventure bike craze with its fusion of road and mountain bike technology.
UK buy now: Cannondale Slate for £1949 at Sigma Sports
USA buy now: Cannondale Slate at Sigma Sports for $2,115
Marin Gestalt 2 2018 gravel bike
Marin Gestalt 2 gravel bike
Read more: Marin Gestalt 2 review
An aluminium frame with carbon fork and Shimano Tiagra shifting, Tektro mechanical disc brakes and wide 30c tyres at a sniff over the £1k cycle to work voucher threshold.
Buy now: Marin Gestalt 2 at Rutland Cycles for £862
Giant AnyRoad 1 2018 adventure bike
Giant AnyRoad 1 adventure road/gravel bike
Suited to any road (as the title might suggest), this aluminium frame comes with a carbon fork. For £1399 you get Shimano Tiagra shifting, hydraulic disc brakes, and 30c tubeless tyres.
UK buy now: Giant AnyRoad 1 at Rutland Cycles for £1188
Adventure and gravel bike frame geometry
An adventure road bike is built for a stable ride, which particularly comes into its own off road. So there will be a long wheelbase and low headtube angle which should result in controlled steering and less chance of washing out in wet or muddy conditions.
>>> Cycling Weekly Adventure Cross sportive series
The frame will be built for rider comfort too, typically having compliance zones and often a carbon seatpost for shock absorption. The head tube will be long and the top tube short to allow the rider to adopt a more upright position to move their weight around when negotiating off-road obstacles.
15mm thru axle and hydraulic discs on the GT Grade
Axle standards are increasingly being borrowed from mountain bikes. Although quick release wheels are still found – particularly at the rear – there is increasing use of 12mm and 15mm thru axles, which provide more rigidity to the wheel-frame junction and easier brake disc alignment. Rear axle spacing for disc braked wheels is usually 135mm or 142mm, with some even increasing that to 148mm which gives a more robust rear wheel.
>>> Raleigh’s 2016 adventure road bike range
Often the frame will come with mudguard eyelets and mounts for a rack too, so that the bike can be used as a rugged commuter or all-year road bike.
Gravel bike and adventure bike tyres
You can get adventure road and gravel bikes shod with tyres of pretty much any width between 28mm and 42mm. Since they are designed to perform well on the road as well as off it, adventure road bikes will typically come fitted with tyres with less aggressive tread patterns than cyclocross bikes.
Cannondale Slate is a gravel bike with 42mm tyres and a suspension fork
There’s not really a consensus on the best pattern, with some bikes coming with slick tyres, whilst others have file treads or low profile knobs. Depending on where you find yourself riding, it may be useful in the UK to use a set of more aggressively knobbed cyclocross tyres which afford more grip when it’s wet or muddy and are less likely to side slip when making turns on loose surfaces.
Alternatively, if you’re riding on a loose gravel surface you might find it beneficial to have a slick centre with more aggressive knobs on the sides.
>>> Cannondale Slate gravel bike range
Many adventure road bikes come with tubeless or tubeless-ready tyres and rims. This allows the tyres to be run at lower pressures, as there’s no risk of pinch flats. The sealant in the tyre will deal with many leaks without loss of pressure or needing to stop for a repair.
Gravel bike and adventure bike gearing
Adventure road bikes are designed to be ridden on the road as well as off, so they have a wider range of gears than a cyclocross bike to ensure that they can be pedalled faster on the road without spinning out.
>>> Road bike groupsets: A complete buyer’s guide (video)
SRAM 1X keeps gear it simple
This often means a compact or semi-compact double chainset, although – as with cyclocross bikes – SRAM’s 1x (pronounced One-By) single chainring groupset is becoming increasingly popular for its simpler set-up, mud clearance and control of chain slap.
Adventure and gravel bike pedals
Pedal system choice is a matter of personal taste and dependent on riding style. If you ride predominantly on roads and well-maintained paths where you rarely need to put a foot down, then road shoes and cleats may be a good choice.
Mountain bike style pedals make walking, mounting and dismounting easier
On the other hand, more demanding off-road riding may mean that you need to dismount and walk with the bike or put a foot down for stability. In this case, mountain bike pedals and shoes may be a better choice for their ease of walking, treaded soles and recessed cleats.
Adventure and gravel bike components
Adventure and gravel bikes almost exclusively use disc brakes for their better modulation and more consistent stopping in dry, wet and muddy conditions.
>>> Disc brakes in the WorldTour: are they necessary on road bikes?
On higher speced models the brakes will be hydraulic, whilst lower priced bikes will typically have mechanical calipers. With Shimano 105 now available with hydraulic disc brakes and the increasing use of SRAM 1x mechanicals, hydraulic systems are becoming increasingly prevalent.
Canyon’s double-decker handlebar
Different types of handlebars are also worth considering on adventure bikes. The wider the flare, the easier it is to fit a handlebar bag on the front of the bike and still be able to grip the drops and brake at the same time. Recently, the humble handlebar has come under scrutiny and seen a radical redevelopment with Canyon’s double-decker bar designed to add additional compliancy to the ride.