What is a Gravel Bike and why are they so popular?



Why is a Gravel Bike so good for a Cyclists? This is a question I am asked so much in my Ultra Endurance cycling, and it is because they are just great at doing so many different things.

In this article, I want to tell you what Gravel Bikes are and what makes a great gravel bike, and I want to give you some examples of great Gravel bikes on the market now.


What makes a good Gravel bike?

The first thing to remember is a gravel bike is not a road bike or a mountain bike. When it comes to getting an excellent Gravel bike, I believe in how it is put together in its components and can do what the rider expects it to do. Gravel bikes come in many different shapes and sizes, and it can be hard to know what you are looking for sometimes.

It comes down to what you want the bike to do. In my opinion, I feel Gravel Bikes come in three different categories, and you need to decide which one you want before looking at your next bike.

Light Gravel Bike

Light Gravel bikes will look a lot like road bike in size and geometry, but they will have disc brakes and have slightly larger tires than a road bike, for example, 35c to 37c. They will more than likely be made of Aluminium or Carbon, and they will sport 700c wheels and be made to be light.

These kinds of Gravel bike are aimed at people looking for a lot of road comfort and speed but want a little ability to go off-road. They won't be great at challenging trails, but they will give you options. So little gravel riding.

Mixed Gravel Bike

These bikes will also look like road bikes but will have flared handlebars and a much more low down relaxed geometry, think adventure bike geometry. They will come in all materials steel, aluminum, or even carbon.

You will see these on 650b and 700c wheelsets. They will have larger tires than a light gravel bike, roughly 40c to 47c. They won't be as fast on the road, but they will be much better equipped to be off road.

Off Road Gravel Bike

Off Road Gravel bikes will have frames like mountain bikes, low slung and ready to be controlled. They will come in all materials steel, carbon, and aluminum. They will have massive tires, commonly use mountain bike tires, and run 650b wheelsets.

They will typically have very flared bars for control or sometimes come with flat bars. These will be amazing off road but super laggy on the road. They are essentially the mountain bikes or gravel riding.


What do Gravel bike have that make it different from other bikes?

A question I get asked a lot is about components on a Gravel bike. What makes a gravel bike different from a road bike or a mountain bike. Most components on Gravel bikes are pretty unique, and in this section, I wanted to run through the various components and parts of the bike to tell you why they are different from road or mountain bikes.

Frames

The Frames on Gravel bikes are unique because they all differ from each other quite heavily. They can be fast, light, and aggressive like road bikes, or slow, heavy, and comfortable like a tourer. It's really what the companies deem the purpose of the bikes. They usually come in three primary materials, Aluminium and Steel. Carbon frames will be very light, they will be very stiff and responsive, and because of these traits, bikes made of carbon are extremely fast. Carbon frames are not cheap and can be very fragile. I wouldn't want to crash mine, as they are very tough to repair. Next, we have steel. These frames are pretty much the complete opposite of carbon. They are heavy, and they are flexible and very forgiving.

Although these might not sound very appealing on the surface, they do provide the rider with a considerable amount of comfort and are very cheap to produce. They are the chosen material of long distance tourers and can be repaired easily if broken. Then we have aluminum. This material shares a few qualities of Steel and Carbon. It's not as light as carbon, but it is lighter than steel. It's stiff like carbon and feels responsive. It's very cheap to produce but unfortunately is very difficult to repair.

Another honorable mention is Titanium, and it is near as light as carbon with the flexibility of steel. This produces a fast and forgiving ride and is great for long distance racing. Gravel Bike frames differ. In fact, they will come in all shapes and sizes, and quite often, you will see the craziest of designs. You will have low slung Mountain bike style frames with drop bars. You will find road bike frames with flat bars. It is anything goes when it comes to gravel.

Forks

Unlike Frames, Forks are much easier when it comes to Gravel Bikes. Gravel bikes normally don't run suspension forks. What you regularly get on Gravel bikes are just rigid forks with massive tire clearance. They usually will accommodate tires up to 47c or 2.1". The forks you usually get will be either Aluminium, Steel, or Carbon. The forks are made to fit both road and mountain bikes tires.

Each material produces a different effect. Carbon for lightness and stiffness. Aluminum for stiffness and to be semi lightweight. Then we have steel, heavy but very forgiving on the users hands.


Gearing and Groupsets

The gearing is quite mixed on Gravel bikes, and you will find depending on what style of bike you choose, it will change. A rough outline of what you will see on the market is Light Gravel Bikes. You will commonly see road groupsets and the use of a 2x front chainring.

A mixed Gravel bike will either have a Road Groupset or commonly a 1x Gravel Groupset such as the Shimano GRX. Finally, off road focused gravel bikes, you will generally see a 1x group set or sometimes even an MTB Groupset. Although these options are all different, they will offer a similar range to each other. I wouldn't overthink you gearing too much. As long as it can go nice and low, you will be fine.

Brakes

Brakes are essential, like really important. I will say when I look at gravel bikes. I see some lower end models with mechanical disc brakes. These are ok and will stop you, but they are not going to be amazing.

Then you have hydraulic brakes. These will be amazing and stop you on a pin. I personally wouldn't want to be on mechanical brakes. I much prefer hydraulic brakes when it comes to riding gravel.

Wheelsets and Tires

Wheelsets are pretty interesting when it comes to Gravel Bikes. They typically use two different sizes, 700c, and 650b. These both have advantages and disadvantages in the sizing. 700c is a bigger wheel than a 650b and traditionally is seen on road bikes. 650b is smaller and traditionally seen on mountain bikes.

The 700c on a gravel bike will usually have a tire anywhere from 35c to 42c. With the wheel being more significant, you struggle to fit larger tires into the frame. Also, many 700c wheels are smaller in width than a 650b.

The advantage of using a 700c wheel is the fact it is more prominent. It can roll over very rough terrain, and the tire will cover more surface area on the floor than a 650b. With the wheel being much bigger, it can also hold higher speeds, especially on thinner tires.

The disadvantages are that it takes more effort to get up to speed, and also because of the size also tends to feel much less agile than a 650b wheelset.

The 650b on a gravel bike will usually suit much larger tires, such as 45c to mountain bike 2.2". The smaller wheels make them much more agile to move around, and they are suited to technical riding. They will accelerate slightly quicker than a 700c wheel, but it can be more challenging when it comes to holding a higher pace.

I mentioned earlier that a 700c would have a thinner rim compared to a 650b. Because of this internal rim width, the 650b will shape a bigger tire much better than a 700c wheel.

If you are mainly on the road and fancy the odd trail, use a 700c wheel. If you are going off road a lot, use a 650b wheel. Most gravel bikes I find are 700c. The 650b gravel bikes you will spot a mile away will be very off road focused Gravel bikes.

Accessories

Not many people talk about accessories when it comes to gravel bikes, but there are many. Firstly, handlebars have flat bars, drop bars, flared drop bars, and even kitchen sink bars. Gravel bikes tend to be drop bar bikes or flared bars.

Many Gravel bikes will also have suspension, but not in their traditional form. It will come in maybe a shock-absorbing stem or even a seat post. You can even get some gravel bikes with the ability to change the rake on the fork, meaning you can change the way it handles and controls.

You will even see dropper posts like what they use in mountain biking. Many accessories are hitting the market for gravel riders, and it's worth seeing if the bike you're looking at has any.

Recommended Bikes

In this section, I want to speak about some excellent value for money right now on the Gravel market. Like most cyclists, I buy my bikes from Wiggle, Chain Reaction, and Ribble Cycles.

I am an Affiliate for these, and anything you might go through and buy does help support the website. It is at no extra cost to you. My Recommendations include Light Gravel, Mixed Gravel, and Off Road bikes enjoy.

Light Gravel

Fuji Jari

The Fuji Jari is an excellent example of a Light Gravel bike. Firstly it is road bike geometry, and quite close to a cyclocross bike. It's got an Aluminium Lightweight Frame full of mounting points for bottle cages. It is paired up with some beautiful Carbon Forks up on the front.


The Groupset is Road based and has the legendary Shimano Tiagra 2x10 Speed. It's on 700c Wheels, and these are combined with 37c WTB Riddler Tires. This is a superb entry-level groupset that offers excellent function and reliability. The Brakes are mechanical, and although not hydraulic, they can be forgiven as they are using twin 160mm rotors. It will be fine for paved roads but for aggressive mountain biking could be tough.



The Fuji is a cool bike, but it's going to be light gravel fast and probably your Bikepacking rig. It looks great and will be a lot of fun for the price of around £1100.


Pros

  • Light and Fast

  • Frame full of mounting points

  • Colour and looks

  • Outstanding value for money

Cons

  • Mechanical disc brakes

This can be purchased on Wiggle through this linK

Ribble CGR-SL Sport

While I was looking at Gravel bikes, I came very close to purchasing this one. It's beautiful. Ribble has done a fantastic job here. Let's start by saying how gorgeous it looks, with great lines and looks super road and aero. The frame is super lightweight carbon fiber with a carbon fork.


The groupset is the Shimano 105 11 speed twin, and well, we all know this is a fantastic groupset and seen on many bikes. The wheelset is Tubeless ready, and you have a nice set of 40c Schwalbe tires on there, ready to go.



This bike only weighs 9.4kg that's exceptionally lightweight. It is beautiful to look at and is ready for some serious adventure. It comes in at around £1700, and you can even upgrade your components or the paint job for an extra cost.


Pros

  • Super Light and Fast

  • Shimano 105 Twin Hydraulic Groupset

  • Colour and looks

  • Amazing value for money

Cons

  • Very road bike focused

You can find this bike on Ribble Cycles

Mixed Gravel Bikes

Rondo Ruut ST 2

I love the Rondo bikes. The Ruut is an excellent example of a good mixed Gravel Road bike. It's cool to look at and is capable of so much. This lightweight aluminum frame is paired with a carbon fork and not just any fork.


The Rondo Twin Tip can adjust its geometry. The groupset is a SRAM Apex 1x11. The wheelset is a 700c lightweight alloy, and these are paired up with some 40c WTB Nano tires. Brakes are mechanical, but they will stop you. If you were going heavy off road, I'd recommend hydraulic disc brakes.



It's a decent bike with a perfect kit on. The geometry, in my opinion, is comfort road, but the components are very gravel-focused, so it had to go into mixed. The bike comes in around £1800 and is an excellent choice if you want to do a bit of everything.


Pros

  • Light and Fast

  • Apex 1x Groupset

  • Colour and looks

  • Amazing value for money

Cons

  • Very road focused

  • Mechanical disc brakes

You will find this bike on Wiggle through this link.

Off Road Gravel

Ribble Gravel AL Sport

This bike is excellent. Firstly let's mention it is a rough and rugged aluminum frame with a set of carbon forks, and the geometry is suited a little bit more to the off road than anything else. It has the Shimano GRX400 Groupset. This is the 2x10 version and is bulletproof as a groupset.


The wheels are level and come in 650b, and they are tubeless ready paired with 47c tires as standard. The handlebars are flared, and it's ready for any adventure. The brakes are hydraulic disc brakes, and in true Shimano fashion, will stop you on a pin.



The best thing about this bike is the fact not only is it ready to tackle a lot of really tough stuff, but it is also the price. Coming is at around £1300 can you resist?


Pros

  • Equipped

  • Frame full of mounting points

  • Colour and looks

  • The best value for money

Cons

  • The heavy frame will be sluggish on the road.

To check this out, follow this link Ribble Cycles

Vitus Substance VRS-2

Vitus have come out of their shell in the last few years. They are producing some very high-quality bikes at some excellent prices. The Substance VRS-2 is a perfect example of this.


The frame is lightweight aluminum. The groupset is not just the Shimano GRX. It's the 600 with the 810 rear derailleur, so you are looking at excellent shifting and 11 speeds. The wheelset is a 650, and it's tubeless ready, sitting on 47c tires. It also has the ability to be on some mountain bike tyres. The brakes are GRX Hydraulic, and they will stop you on a pin.



This is a great gravel bike that really will be a great edition or take over for someone's bike collection. It’S going to make you really happy on paved roads or gravel roads It has everything to be epic, and I highly recommend it. All this for about £1600. Wow.


Pros

  • Light and Fast

  • Shimano GRX Upgraded Groupset

  • Amazing off road ability

  • Amazing value for money

Cons

  • Very road focused

  • Mechanical disc brakes

To view this bike on Wiggle click

Conclusion

Why are gravel bikes so good for cyclists? Gravel bikes are an excellent tool. Not only can they do pretty much everything, but they also make cycling affordable and fun. I always recommend Gravel bikes to new and experienced cyclists. They are taking over the sport, and I'm so glad we have them on the market now.

Editors Tip

Gravel biking is a great part of cycling. How much should I spend? When looking for that first gravel bike don’t be scared to spend a little more if you can see yourself gravel racing or a gravel bike being your one bike. If you go cheap on those long gravel rides you might find yourself regretting not spending the money for a little bit extra. Having just one bike for road riding, adventure riding, unpaved roads, the rough stuff, and hitting trails mean you might need to spend a little more.


FAQ'S

Are Gravel bikes Road bikes?

Yes and no, they will do the job of a road bike, but essentially these are bikes made for mixed terrain.

What are the advantages of Gravel bikes?

They are outstanding if you only want to own a single bike. They are entertaining and rugged when it comes to using them. They are comfortable, and I believe everyone should own one.

Can Gravel Bikes keep up with Road Bikes

One a straight Road Race, absolutely not road bikes are just that little bit quicker. On a gravel race, the Gravel Bike would destroy the road bike.