Whether you are an avid cyclist or not, a hybrid style bike is growing in popularity and attracting enthusiasts and amateurs alike — drawing them back into a world many left after childhood. Gravel or All Road bikes have made biking fun by combining some of the best aspects of road biking and mountain biking into one package.
What are Gravel Grinder Bikes?
Gravel bikes are essentially beefed up road bikes capable of riding smooth and rough surfaces alike, providing an efficient road ride and good gravel ride experience on the same bike.
Specifications will vary, but gravel bikes generally have a sturdier frame than road bikes, a slightly more relaxed riding angle, and wider, knobbier tires. On the road, gravel bikes maintain some of the benefits road bikes provide such as drop bars and a lightweight frame.
Where Do People Ride Gravel Bikes?
Everywhere. Some riders are simply looking for a fun bike to buzz around town on and capable of navigating some rough, unpaved surfaces. Others are riding and even racing hundreds of miles on dirt roads. Still others are adding racks to the bikes and riding cross country or doing shorter “bikepacking” trips.
I, Brian, have had my eyes on gravel grinders since noticing endurance athlete Anton Krupicka putting together big routes in Colorado including a mix of paved, gravel, and single-track riding. I happened to see him riding over Independence Pass while I headed to Aspen to run Four Pass Loop with Eric and Matt. This sealed the appeal in my mind.
The perceived freedom of roving for miles on a gravel grinder, including multi-day touring is nearly irresistible.
Examples of Gravel Bikes
A wide variety and price spectrum exists for gravel bikes. We’ll mention a few here to give an idea of some options. They are generally not cheap bikes.
Salsa Journeyman Apex 1 700
There are cheaper gravel bikes, but the Salsa Journeyman Apex is a great option for getting a bike with high quality components at a (comparatively) cheaper price than similar models.
The 700 is for the tire size which is about 29″ versus 650b wheels which is 27.5″
Price: $1,499 for the Salsa Journeyman Apex on REI
Cannondale Topstone 105
Ruin Your Knees was able to get its hands on a pair of late-2019 Cannondale Topstone 105 gravel bikes. I’ve tested the XL frame and Hanna has been riding the small frame. Perhaps our favorite thing to do so far is tour around town and take a mid-ride break for a snack at a local business.
Besides tooling around town with Hanna, I’ve gone for a couple 50 mile rides and tested the bike on many surfaces (road, gravel, singletrack) and conditions (including snow, ice, and mud).
I wrote a Topstone review and filmed a couple windy (sorry!) videos.
Price: ~$1,750 on REI for 2020 Cannondale Topstone 105 Aluminum Gravel Bike
Salsa Cutthroat Apex 1
The next tier of gravel bikes is all carbon frames. I made the mistake of trying a Salsa Cutthroat and immediately wished I hadn’t: carbon is light!
Price: ~$2,699 for the Salsa 2020 Cutthroat Apex 1 on REI
Bearclaw Titanium Thunderhawk Rival 1
Going beyond brands like Salsa seems to be an entry into more boutique or professional offerings (think race bikes) often promoted by the aforementioned (in the video) Anton Krupicka.
Price: Starting around ~$4,690 on Bearclaw website.
For those with a budget approaching motorcycle pricing, Canyon is another brand offering drool-inducing bikes with excellent components. Please send us a bike to test Canyon, we’ll be your pals forever!
Price: ~$5,000 for the Grail CF SLX 8.0 on Canyon.com
3T Exploro MAX EAGLE AXS 1X
Finally, 3T completes our tour of very high end gravel bikes with their immaculate Exploro Max Eagle AXS. We’ve never tested a bike this fancy, but are sure premium components across the board are nothing to complain about.
Price: ~$5,899 for Exploro Eagle AXS 1X on us.3t.bike
Common Gravel Bike Features
Bike differentiate in many nuanced ways, here are a few of the main components.
Gravel Bike Frames
Gravel bike frames are generally steel, aluminum, titanium, carbon, or some combination thereof. Steel tends to be heavier and cheaper, carbon is wildly expensive but feather light with aluminum splitting the difference between the two.
The best way to choose a frame is to test ride when possible. Some people swear by steel, saying it rides smooth and helps absorb shocks. I’ve been trying a combination frame which is all aluminum, but has a carbon fork.
Gravel Bike Tires
Wider forks allow for wider, knobby tires which majorly help with smoothing out bumpy rides and handling rough terrain. Wheel sizes are often available in 650b (~27.5″) and 700c (~29″).
Some brands like Bearclaw offer bikes with mountain bike-like tire widths such as 2.35″.
In order to handle roads smoothly, many tires are smoother in the middle and knobbier on the edges.
Gravel bike brake systems are mostly disc brakes in mechanical or hydraulic options.
Learn more about Gravel Biking
Hopefully, this gives you a decent introduction to gravel bikes. I learned quite a bit from the Path Less Pedaled channel on YouTube and highly suggest checking out the great videos there.