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On the search for a new gravel bike to add to your arsenal? Our team has researched over 20 of the best models on the market and bought 7 to put to the test in our updated review. Gravel riding has exploded in popularity in recent years, and there are so many models that choosing the right one can be a challenge. Our team of experienced riders and testers pedaled hours upon hours and clocked thousands of miles on gravel, tarmac, and even a bit of singletrack. We zeroed in on several vital performance metrics like uphill and downhill performance, versatility, weight, and build to accurately determine our award winners and bring you this in-depth review.
The Santa Cruz Stigmata took top honors in our gravel bike test. Formerly a cyclocross race bike, Santa Cruz redesigned it to update its geometry, increase tire clearance, and give it a more forgiving ride quality to meet the demands of the growing gravel market. Santa Cruz hit the nail on the head, and we were highly impressed by this bike's well-rounded performance and exceptionally balanced ride quality. The Stigmata is lightweight, stiff, fast, and efficient, yet the frame features just enough compliance to enhance rider comfort over rough terrain. The Rival build we tested is quality, and this bike is ready to jump into a gravel race or go on any back road adventure.
Our biggest qualm with the Stigmata is the price. The Rival build is the least expensive offered, yet it is one of the most expensive models we tested. We hope that in the future, Santa Cruz offers more frame options other than the high-end Carbon CC to make this award-winning performance more affordable. That said, we still feel that the Stigmata is a solid value to the consumer seeking high-end performance in a versatile top-quality model.
Frame Material: Carbon Fiber | Weight: 19 lbs 14 oz
REASONS TO BUY
Affordable for carbon
Excellent build for the price
REASONS TO AVOID
Limited handlebar adjustability and accessory compatibility
The Grail CF SL 7 is an excellent gravel bike offered at a very reasonable price. Canyon's direct-to-consumer sales model allows them to sell their bikes at prices that most brands can't match, and this is an excellent example of that. Its lightweight carbon frame, excellent component specification, and well-rounded performance rival the more expensive competition. At less than 20 lbs with a stiff carbon frame, this svelte bike is a feathery climber with excellent power transfer in or out of the saddle. The middle-of-the-road geometry is comfortable, and the Grail is stable at speed on the descents and remains agile with responsive and predictable handling. The build is well chosen, with a quality Shimano GRX drivetrain and brakes, tubeless wheels and tires, and a unique but comfortable cockpit setup. It was designed for gravel, but it works very well on tarmac and holds its own on smooth, mellow singletrack. We feel it is an excellent option for training, racing, and casual rides.
Canyon designed the Grail CF SL frame around their unique double-decker CP07 gravel cockpit. The setup features a single-piece handlebar and stem with a unique hover design intended to help reduce feedback and vibration. We found that it performs as advertised, although the looks certainly won't be for everyone, and it seriously limits handlebar adjustability and compatibility with computer and accessory mounts. Beyond that, we found little not to like about this affordable, high-performance gravel rig.
The Fezzari Shafer AL is the least expensive model in the brand's line of Shafer gravel bikes, and the only one that is built around an aluminum frame. This entry-level bike has a sleek design and comes equipped with budget-friendly but quality components that are ready to get out and explore the back roads straight out of the box. The moderate gravel geometry is quite easy to get along with, and while it doesn't necessarily feel racy, it performs admirably on both the climbs and descents. With a surprisingly light weight (for an aluminum framed model) of 21 lbs and 11 oz and a stiff aluminum frame paired with a rigid carbon fork, the Shafer AL feels responsive and efficient, and it is best suited to smooth gravel, pavement, and the mellowest of singletrack trails. While it may not have as many accessory mounts as some of the other models we tested, we feel it is still quite versatile and could handle everything from casual gravel rides with friends, jumping into some gravel events, commuting, road riding, and even bikepacking with frame, handlebar, and seat-mounted bags.
While it's hard to argue with the value proposition of the Shafer AL, we do have a few nits to pick. It is a rigid framed bike, and, not surprisingly, we found it to be a bit harsh over some of the rough gravel we often encountered while testing. We also found the relatively slick stock tires to offer less cornering, braking, and climbing traction than we would have liked, and the thin bar tape wasn't the most comfortable on the hands. It also has fewer accessory mounts than many other models we've tested, limiting your options for attaching gear to your bike, comparatively. That said, we feel this is a great option for riders getting into the sport that won't break the bank.
Frame Material: Carbon Fiber | Weight: 18 lbs 13 oz
REASONS TO BUY
Nice component spec
REASONS TO AVOID
Stiff frame can feel harsh on rough terrain
The Ibis Hakka MX is a lightweight and high-performance model that is an excellent option for racing. This bike features a super lightweight and very stiff carbon frame that offers unparalleled efficiency and responsiveness. This bike is quick; it accelerates like a race car and responds immediately to pedaling and steering input. The Hakka excels on smoother surfaces with a snappy and race-inspired feel both up and downhill. The outright efficiency of this bike makes it our first choice for racing, though it is just as well suited to casual endurance rides or road riding. It can also be purchased with either 700c or 27.5" wheels and tires to suit varying needs and demands for different styles of gravel riding.
While we loved the stiffness of the Hakka's frame for its speed and efficiency, we have to admit that its lack of compliance can feel somewhat jarring over rougher terrain. It's also one of the most expensive models we tested, and the high-end performance of the Hakka comes at a premium price. That said, riders with competitive aspirations or those seeking a refined and race-inspired feel would do well to give the Ibis Hakka MX a look.
Frame Material: Aluminum (also comes in carbon fiber) | Weight: 24 lbs 11 oz
REASONS TO BUY
30mm suspension fork
Stellar performance on descents and over rough gravel
Great build for the price
Available in aluminum and carbon in numerous builds
REASONS TO AVOID
Slightly longer reach
Canyon has been steadily growing its gravel and all-road offerings, and the Grizl is their latest gravel model that's geared toward adventure riding and rough surfaces. The aluminum-framed Grizl 7 Suspension is one of the most affordable in the lineup and it comes with a gravel-specific RockShox Rudy XPLR that provides 30mm of front suspension and girthy 45mm tires that suit this bike's intentions perfectly. While it doesn't sound like much, 30mm of suspension makes a huge difference, and along with the high-volume tires, makes this the most comfortable, stable, and smooth bike we've tested on the descents and over rough surfaces. This translates to the flats and climbs as well, where the forgiving ride enhances rider comfort and control and eliminates much of the harshness often found with rigid-framed models. While it is a bit longer in reach than the competition, we found it to be quite comfortable on both the climbs and descents. For the price, it comes with a very nice build that enhances its performance in all situations. The frame is equipped with numerous mounts for bottles and other gear with internal routing for dropper posts and clearance for tires up to 50mm wide. These details mean you can set it up however you like and make it a solid option for bike packing adventures. It also comes in carbon and aluminum frames and in a wide range of build options with and without front suspension.
The aluminum frame and suspension fork of the Grizl 7 Suspension add a bit of weight, and at 24 pounds and 11 ounces, it is the heaviest gravel bike we've tested. That weight is hard to overlook, although we found it to be an acceptable tradeoff for the comfort and confidence it provided on the descents and over rough surfaces. Racers and those concerned with weight, however, would be wise to check out other models or the lighter-weight carbon versions of this bike. The Grizl also has the longest reach of any bike we've tested, and while we were able to find a comfortable riding position, those with specific preferences would be wise to reference the geometry charts to find their ideal fit. Beyond those concerns, we feel the Grizl is an excellent, versatile gravel bike, and a great value too.
Our testing team for these bikes included riders who have had years of cycling experience. They used their knowledge and know-how to evaluate each bike after clocking hundreds of miles on various terrain, including gravel, tarmac, and even a bit of singletrack. The majority of our testing took place on gravel rides throughout the greater Lake Tahoe and Truckee area. There is no substitute for real-world testing, and each of these bikes was ridden as if they were our own to determine the nuanced and subtle performance differences between each model. We took detailed notes, and at the end of our test period, we tallied our scores to determine our winners.
Our testing of gravel bikes is divided across five rating metrics:
Downhill tests (30% of overall score rating)
Climbing tests (30% of overall score rating)
Versatility tests (20% of overall score rating)
Weight tests (10% of overall score rating)
Build tests (10% of overall score rating)
The head of our gravel bike test is Jeremy Benson. Benson is our Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor and an avid gravel rider and racer who competes in the "pro" class at endurance events throughout northern California. Benson has had some notable results in races like the 100-mile Lost and Found Gravel Grinder, the Truckee Dirt Fondo, and Grinduro, California. He spends an excessive amount of time training and is well versed in the subtleties of gravel riding. Benson was assisted by Dillon Osleger. Dillon also races in the pro class in XC, enduro, and gravel events throughout the mountain west. He is a talented rider with a critical eye and an appreciation for what makes a good gravel bike. Beyond gravel testing, Dillon has worked as a freelancer for OutdooorGearLab on several mountain bike reviews.
Analysis and Test Results
We selected seven popular and highly regarded models for our gravel bike testing to test and compare side by side. Our testers rode each of these bikes extensively on the vast and varied network of gravel roads throughout the northern Sierra of the greater Lake Tahoe area. We didn't limit these bikes to gravel only, and they saw their fair share of road and singletrack miles as well. Each of these bikes will work to get you out on a ride, though they vary in intended use, levels of performance, and versatility. We can help you decide on a bike that suits your needs and riding style.
Like any type of cycling, gravel biking can be expensive. You can easily spend as much on a new ride as you would on a nice used car, but you certainly don't have to. Luckily, gravel bikes can be found over a spectrum of prices, from nail-bitingly expensive to relatively affordable. All the models in this review fall towards the lower end of the price spectrum, and each bike is a good value in its own right. That said, the more expensive models we tested did provide a slightly higher level of performance. Consumer-direct brands skip the middleman and bring a lot of value to the table. The Canyon Grail CF SL 7 boasts a lightweight carbon frame, quality components, a light weight, and well-rounded performance for significantly less than the more expensive competition. Likewise, our least expensive competitors, the Salsa Journeyer Apex and the Fezzari Shafer AL cost less than half of our top-rated models and are comfortable and highly versatile entry-level bikes.
Gravel riding is a lot like road biking, except that it takes place on dirt/gravel roads. If you think about hurtling yourself down chunky or even smooth dirt roads on a road bike, it can be a pretty terrifying prospect. Fortunately, gravel bikes have been modified from their road bike brethren with more compliant frame designs, relaxed geometries, wider knobby tires, and components designed to enhance rider comfort and confidence on the descents and over rough surfaces. Because you will frequently encounter ups and downs on your rides, we weigh downhill performance at 30% of each bike's overall score. The models in this test were not created equal, and their downhill performance varies.
Without question, the most impressive bike on the descents was the Canyon Grizl 7 Suspension. This is thanks primarily to the 30mm RockShox Rudy XPLR suspension fork and high volume 45mm Schwalbe G-One Bite tires that provide a forgiving ride and enhance comfort and control, especially over rough surfaces. A relatively long wheelbase and reach promote additional stability, and our testers were amazed by the traction, composure, and ability to carry speed on a huge range of surfaces on everything from gravel roads to singletrack trails. The quality build doesn't hurt either, particularly the powerful Shimano GRX brakes.
The Santa Cruz Stigmata also impressed our testers on descents, earning one of the highest scores of the group. The Carbon CC frame is stiff and lightweight with a comfortable modern gravel bike geometry. The rigid frame responds well to pedaling and steering input. Yet, it has just enough compliance engineered into the design to give it a somewhat forgiving ride quality over rough surfaces. The build kit is also dialed, and the wide, flared handlebar is a nice touch that provides a high degree of comfort, balance, and steering leverage when punching it downhill. Likewise, the Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon has a new gravel geometry with a longer reach and wheelbase, a slacker head tube angle, and an increased offset fork. This bike is stable and confident on the descents, and the addition of 20mm of Future Shock 2.0 handlebar suspension takes some of the edge off vibration and impacts.
Not far behind the high bar set by the bikes mentioned above, the Canyon Grail CF SL 7 is a well-rounded descender. Its middle-of-the-road geometry feels comfortable in most situations, with good stability at speed and snappy handling. A little compliance in the frame and handlebar, high volume tires, and powerful brakes help enhance comfort and control. The Ibis Hakka MX is exceptionally lightweight, responsive, and super fast on the descents with an uncompromisingly stiff carbon frame. The Hakka's stiff frame is best on smoother terrain, where its efficiency is most appreciated as the lack of frame compliance can feel a little harsh compared to some when the going gets rough. That said, when paired with the 27.5" x 2.1" wheel and tire setup, the Hakka becomes a more forgiving downhill performer.
Both the Fezzari Shafer AL and the Salsa Journeyer Apex are affordable rigid aluminum-framed models that perform well enough on the descents but are best suited to smoother surfaces and less aggressive riding styles. Their moderate geometries are easy to get along with, but both bikes have relatively relaxed demeanors and are best when kept within their limits.
In general, gravel bikes travel flat ground and go up hills relatively well, which is because most models have rigid frames or at least fixed rear ends, and they are designed with efficiency in mind. Every bike we tested works pretty darn well on the climbs, but not surprisingly, the lightest and stiffest models typically performed the best. This metric accounts for 30% of a bike's overall score.
The Ibis Hakka MX is the lightest weight model we tested, plus it has a super stiff frame that gives it unparalleled efficiency on the climbs. Whether you're seated or out of the saddle sprinting up the next rise, there is seemingly no power wasted. Testers were faster when climbing on the Hakka, and it earned a 9 out of 10 in this metric. The Santa Cruz Stigmata wasn't far behind on the climbs, also earning a score of 9 out of 10. It's nearly as light as the Hakka, and the frame is nearly as stiff. The difference in climbing efficiency is almost negligible, and the Stigmata is more spirited and energetic than all of the other bikes we tested when it's pointed uphill. Those who ride rougher roads will also appreciate the slightly more compliant frame design and its comfort.
Weighing just under 20 lbs, the Canyon Grail CF SL 7 also proved to be a zippy climber. The stiff frame and comfortable geometry translate to efficient power transfer to the drivetrain. The Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon fell a little behind the competition on the climbs, primarily due to its slightly heavier weight. While it is still reasonably light, it does weigh a couple of pounds more than the lighter-weight competition. Its carbon frame is stiff and responsive, and it climbs just as well, seated or out of the saddle, although the 20mm of suspension integrated into the steerer tube/stem do result in some movement that takes a little getting used to.
The very nature of gravel bikes makes them highly versatile human-powered machines. This metric accounts for 20% of each bike's overall score, and we consider it an important metric for those who want to get the most out of their bike. These models are basically glorified road bikes with a relaxed geometry, knobby tires, and increased tire clearance, so all of the models we tested could easily double as a road bike or commuter. Some subtle differences among them make some models better suited for different riding styles than others.
The Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon is a very versatile bike. The 2-by drivetrain and fast-rolling tires help to make it an excellent option to double as a road bike, and a wealth of frame and fork mounts make it a great candidate for bike packing adventures. This bike has you covered for gravel races or a week-long adventure tour; the choice is yours with the Diverge. Likewise, the Canyon Grail CF SL 7 has a wide range 2-by drivetrain that makes it an excellent option for gravel and road riding, and it's light and fast enough to be a viable option for racing. It has limited frame mounts, but it comes with a protective sticker pack specifically for use with seat, handlebar, and front triangle mounting bags and accessories should you load it up for a bike-packing mission.
The Canyon Grizl 7 Suspension has features that make it quite versatile as well. The suspension fork and big tires make it more suitable and fun to ride over rough terrain than most rigid bikes, even "under biking" on singletrack trails. The frame has mounts for bottles and accessories (models with rigid forks also have three-pack mounts on the fork), a rear rack, and fenders, internal routing for dropper posts, and clearance for 50mm tires, so it be equipped for virtually any adventure.
The two lightest weight models we tested are the Ibis Hakka MX and the Santa Cruz Stigmata. Both bikes feature lightweight and stiff carbon frames and quality component specifications that make them the best candidates for gravel racing. Both bikes can hold their own on mellower singletrack trails, trust us, we've tried, and either could easily work as a road bike as well. The one caveat we have about these bikes for road use is the 1-by drivetrains, which may not offer enough top-end range for laying down the power in the flats. The Stigmata is offered in several builds, some of which come with 2-by drivetrains, however. Neither bike has bike packing specific features like accessory or rack mounts, so people wishing to use either bike for bike packing or touring will be limited to frame, saddle, handlebar, and front triangle mounting bags.
Versatility is one of the Salsa Journeyer's strongest suits. The frame and fork have numerous mounts for bike packing accessories, racks, and fenders, making it a no-brainer for people looking to attach all types of things to their bikes for an adventure. The Journeyer seems like it would be a great commuter or casual road bike as well. Due to the weight and somewhat more conservative geometry, it wouldn't be our first choice for racing, though one could certainly dip their toes in gravel events and races and still have a great time. Likewise, the Fezzari Shafer AL has a similar geometry that lends itself well to more casual riding pursuits. With mounts for fenders, a rear rack, and water bottles, you can set it up for gravel grinds, commuting, or week-long bike tours.
All other things being equal, lighter is generally considered better. This standard is especially true in all types of cycling, where people pay a premium price for lighter-weight frames and components. The lighter a bike's frame and the sum of all its parts, the faster you can accelerate, and the easier it becomes to pedal for long distances and climb up hills. High-performance riders and racers are typically most concerned with the weight of their bike since lighter is faster, and they will want to take every advantage they can get when racing the clock or other riders. More casual riders may not be as concerned with the weight of their bike but will benefit from the advantages of riding a lighter bike throughout a long ride or bike-packing adventure just the same. For these reasons, weight accounts for 10% of the overall score in this review.
The weight of the bikes in this review varies by approximately 6 pounds between the lightest and heaviest models we tested. Weight is the most objective metric we tested as we simply weighed each bike on our trusty hanging Park Tool bike scale. We set up each model as we would typically ride it, although a couple of bikes did not come with tubeless compatible tires and were weighed with tubes in them. We weighed all of the bikes without pedals.
The lightest bike we tested was the Ibis Hakka MX, which tipped our scales at a featherweight of 18 pounds and 13 ounces. This impressively lightweight is one of the main reasons this bike feels so fast and efficient and is easier to ride uphill than some of the competition. Weighing in a mere 5 ounces heavier than the Ibis was the Santa Cruz Stigmata at just 19 pounds and 2 ounces. This bike is also a true featherweight. These weights are especially impressive considering that both of these bikes have the least expensive build kits they're offered with; it's safe to assume that you can make both of these bikes significantly lighter with a higher-end component spec or a custom build. That said, these are also two of the most expensive models we tested.
Since it is so affordable, we were very impressed by the 19 pounds 14-ounce weight of the Canyon Grail CF SL 7. Bikes that cost less can rarely compete with their more expensive competition in terms of weight. Despite being one of the most expensive models we tested, the Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon weighed a full 2 pounds more than the Stigmata. While 21 pounds and 2 ounces isn't exactly heavy, you might notice the additional heft on race day or during a long ride. User-friendly features like SWAT storage and handlebar suspension are partly to blame for the extra weight and will likely represent a reasonable tradeoff for many riders.
Despite its aluminum frame and budget-conscious build kit, we were pretty impressed by the Fezzari Shafer AL's 21-pound and 11-ounce weight. This bike costs less than half of the Diverge, yet it only weighs 9 ounces more. The other aluminum-framed models we tested are a bit heavier but still reasonably lightweight in the grand scheme of things. The Salsa Journeyer Apex 1 weighed in at 24 pounds and 5 ounces, while the Canyon Grizl 7 Suspension was a little heavier at 24 pounds and 12 ounces.
Similar to the weight of bikes we tested, each model's component specifications vary and are dictated by price. We give this metric a 10% influence on the overall scores. Like anything else, bicycle components' performance level, quality, and weight vary wildly. One could easily spend upwards of ten thousand dollars on a new gravel bike with carbon fiber, and electronic everything bolted to a featherlight carbon frame. While you can spend that much, you certainly don't have to, and you can have a great time riding any of the more budget-friendly models. Our selection of test bikes features seven models that are all relatively reasonably priced in the grand scheme of things. None of these models has the fanciest components, but all of them get the job done out in the field.
It stands to reason that the most expensive bikes in this test have the nicest builds, and it turns out that is precisely the case. The Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon earned a 9 out of 10 and came with an impressive build that included a 2 x 11-speed Shimano GRX drivetrain and powerful GRX hydraulic disc brakes. These powerful brakes outperformed those on almost every other bike we tested and provided excellent, confidence-inspiring speed control. The house brand handlebar, tires, and especially the saddle worked impressively well. Interestingly, the Canyon Grail CF SL 7 comes with a build that is almost comparable to the Diverge, yet it costs about a third of the price. Again, this is due to Canyon's consumer-direct sales model, and you can't beat the price-to-build kit ratio.
Both the Ibis Hakka MX and the Santa Cruz Stigmata we tested both came with the Rival build kit. The 1 x 11-speed Rival drivetrain is lightweight and has a wide gear range and our testers like the simplicity of ditching the front derailleur. The Rival hydraulic disc brakes also work well. We think the wheels and tire setups between the two models are relatively comparable. The Stigmata just edged out the Hakka in this metric due to the more thoughtful cockpit setup with a wider flared handlebar that enhanced its comfort and downhill performance. Both of these bikes are ready to tackle some serious rides or even races in their stock configurations with no upgrades or component changes necessary.
The Canyon Grizl 7 Suspension also has a nice build, especially considering the price. The gravel-specific GRX components simply work well, and the addition of a suspension fork makes it impressively comfortable to ride over rough terrain.
There's a lot to consider when searching for a new bike, whether you are looking for road, trail, or anything in between. If you've narrowed it down to a gravel bike, we feel the most important thing is finding a model that suits your riding style, needs, and budget so you can get out and ride. As the sport of gravel riding continues to grow and evolve, we will continue to test and review new models as weather and bike availability allow to keep this review as up-to-date as possible.
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