The Best Gravel Bikes
Top 5 Product Ratings
Best Overall Gravel Bike
Santa Cruz Stigmata Carbon CC Rival
The Santa Cruz Stigmata takes home our award for Best Overall Gravel Bike. Formerly a cyclocross race bike, it was recently redesigned 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 extremely 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. This Rival is the least expensive build offered, yet it is the most expensive model 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 gravel bike.
Read review: Santa Cruz Stigmata Carbon CC Rival
Best Bang for the Buck
Salsa Journeyman Apex 1 700
The Salsa Journeyman Apex is an affordable and versatile gravel bike that is a great entry-level option for riders just getting into gravel riding. This is the least expensive model we tested, less than half the price of our top-rated models, and it was easy to give it our Best Buy Award. The Journeyman has a slightly more conservative geometry that is best suited to more casual riders and is suitable for everything from road and gravel riding to serious bike-packing or touring. The aluminum frame has a comfortable ride quality and is equipped with a wealth of rack, fender, and accessory mounts for all of your bike packing needs. The build is very budget-conscious, yet our testers were pleasantly surprised by its performance in the field.
The low price of the Journeyman directly correlates to the heavier weight of this bike. The aluminum frame and budget component specification combine to make this bike the heaviest in the test. Due to its weight and the more conservative geometry, the Journeyman wouldn't be our first choice for racing, although it could certainly get you out and participating in events. We'd also have preferred a tubeless tire setup, but at this price point, we aren't complaining, much. Beyond that, if you're looking for a reasonably priced and versatile gravel bike, we think the Salsa Journeyman is worth a look.
Read review: Salsa Journeyman Apex 1 700
Best for Racing
Ibis Hakka MX Rival
The Ibis Hakka MX is a lightweight and high-performance gravel bike that earned our Top Pick for Racing Award. 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. While it wasn't the most expensive model we tested, it wasn't far off, 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.
Read review: Ibis Hakka MX Rival
Why You Should Trust Us
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 bikes and 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 bike testing, Dillon has worked as a freelancer for OutdooorGearLab on several mountain bike reviews.
In addition to being involved in the gravel riding and racing scene, both Benson and Osleger stay up to date on industry trends and new bike models throughout the year. Our test team did extensive research before selecting the gravel bikes in this test. Once purchased, each bike was measured and weighed with the same methods and tools for consistency. 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 shake out the nuanced and subtle performance differences between each model. Detailed notes were taken, and at the end of our test period, we tallied our scores to determine our winners.
Related: How We Tested Best Gravel Bikes
Analysis and Test Results
For our first round of gravel bike testing, we selected five popular and highly regarded models to test and compare side by side. Our testers rode of 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. We rated each bike on the predetermined metrics of downhill performance (worth 30%), climbing performance (30%), versatility (20%), weight (10%), and build (10%). Each of these bikes will work to get you out on a ride, though they vary in intended use, levels of performance, and versatility.
Related: Buying Advice for Best Gravel Bikes
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. Gravel bikes are offered at a huge range of prices, from astronomically expensive to relatively affordable. All of the models in this review fall towards the lower end of the price spectrum in the grand scheme of things and each bike is a good value in its own right. That said, the most expensive model we tested is the Santa Cruz Stigmata, which also happens to be our highest-rated model. Our least expensive competitor, the Salsa Journeyman Apex, costs less than half of our top-rated models and is a comfortable and versatile bike that earned our Best Buy Award.
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 that are designed to enhance rider comfort and confidence on the descents. The bikes in this test were not created equal, and their downhill performance varies wildly.
The Santa Cruz Stigmata impressed our testers on the descents and was our highest-rated model in this metric. The Carbon CC frame is stiff and lightweight with a comfortable modern gravel bike geometry. The stiff 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 terrain. 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.
The Specialized Diverge Sport brought some unique technology and features to the table in the form of front suspension and a compliant composite seat post. These features help to give the Diverge a comfortable ride quality, especially on the descents, and help take the edge off of high-frequency vibration and some more significant impacts. On the other side of the coin, the Ibis Hakka MX is especially 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.
The Giant Revolt Advanced 3 is competent on the descents, although it has a more race-inspired geometry with a low-front end that felt somewhat awkward for our testers. That geometry, combined with the stock low-profile tires and inconsistent feeling budget brakes didn't inspire as much confidence as our top performers. Giant's D-Fuse handlebar and seatpost were nice touches, however, and did an excellent job of taking the edge off high-frequency vibration. The Salsa Journeyman has a more conservative and upright geometry with a taller front end. It goes downhill just fine, but it certainly prefers a more casual approach with a bit of a speed limit when compared to the other models in this test.
In general, gravel bikes travel across flat ground and go up hills relatively well. This is due to the fact that most gravel bikes have rigid frames or at least rigid 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 performed the best.
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 and pedaling or out of the saddle sprinting up the next rise, there is seemingly no power wasted. Testers were faster when climbing on the Hakka. The Santa Cruz Stigmata wasn't far off the high bar set by the competition for its climbing performance. 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 any 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 the comfort it provides.
The Specialized Diverge Sport slides in not far behind our top-rated climbers. It's a little heavier than either the Hakka or the Stigmata, though the weight isn't a crippling issue. The suspension design that is so nice on the descents takes a little getting used to while climbing, and it gives the bike a slightly less efficient feel when out of the saddle. Both the Giant Revolt Advanced 3 and the Salsa Journeyman also fell behind the best climbing bikes, mostly due to their weight and lower-end components. That said, none of these bikes are bad on the uphills, they just aren't as good as the best.
The very nature of gravel bikes makes them highly versatile human-powered machines. These bikes are basically glorified road bikes with a relaxed geometry, knobby tires, and increased tire clearance, so all of the models we tested would easily double as a road bike or commuter. Some subtle differences among them make some models better suited for different styles of riding than others.
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 we feel 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 1x drivetrains, which may not offer enough top-end range for laying down the power in the flats. 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.
The Salsa Journeyman has a performance and features that make it a highly versatile option. The frame and fork have numerous bike packing accessory, rack, and fender mounts, making it a no-brainer for people looking to attach all types of things to their bikes for an adventure. The Journeyman 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 participate in gravel events and still have a great time.
Both the Giant Revolt Advanced 3 and the Specialized Diverge Sport both work well as gravel bikes, and we feel they would also work well as road bikes too. This is in part due to the 2x drivetrains, which have a larger gear range for smashing on smooth gravel roads as well as pavement. Both bikes also come equipped with mounts to attach racks and fenders, enhancing their versatility in the bike packing or touring realm.
All other things being equal, lighter is generally considered better. This 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 over the course of a long ride or bike packing adventure just the same.
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 normally ride it, although a couple of bikes did not come with tubeless compatible tires and were weighed with tubes in them. All of the bikes were weighed without pedals. In the end, we found a direct correlation between price and weight, which wasn't exactly a surprise.
The lightest bike we tested was the Ibis Hakka MX, which tipped our scales at a featherweight 18 lbs and 13 oz. 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 lbs and 2 oz. This bike is also a true featherweight. These weights are especially impressive considering that both of these bikes have the least expensive build kits that 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 the two most expensive models we tested.
Landing exactly in the middle of the pack in terms of both weight and price, the Specialized Diverge Sport tipped the scales at 21 lbs and 5 oz. The Diverge will cost you a few hundred dollars less than the lightest models and it weighs a couple pounds more. One thing that weighs this bike down is the tubes in the tires, and upgrading to a tubeless setup would help to bring it down to a more competitive weight. Giant's Revolt Advanced 3 retails for nearly a thousand dollars less than the Diverge and weighs 22 lbs and 7 oz. Despite having a lightweight carbon frame, the Revolt has less expensive, and therefore heavier, components attached to it, resulting in this heavier weight. Higher-end builds of the Revolt will likely weigh less and perform better than the model we tested.
The Best Buy Award-winning Salsa Journeyman Apex is the least expensive model we tested, and not surprisingly, also the heaviest. The Journeyman is the only model in this review with an aluminum frame, and that is the primary reason it weighed more than the carbon competition. Combine the heavier frame with the budget-conscious build kit and tubes in the tires, and it wasn't a surprise to see the 24 lb and 5 oz weight of the Journeyman.
Similar to the weight of the bikes we tested, the component specification of each model varies and is dictated by price. Like anything else, the performance level, quality, and weight of bicycle components varies 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 five 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. Two of the bikes we tested have nearly identical builds, the Ibis Hakka MX and the Santa Cruz Stigmata, both are coincidentally the two most expensive options in this review, yet they are the least expensive builds offered for either model.
It stands to reason that the most expensive bikes in this test have the nicest builds, and that is exactly the case. Both the Ibis Hakka MX and the Santa Cruz Stigmata we tested came with the Rival build kit. The 1x11-speed Rival drivetrain is lightweight and has a wide gear range, and our testers generally prefer 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 in their stock configurations with no upgrades or component changes necessary.
The Specialized Diverge Sport also has a pretty solid build for the price. The 2x10 Shimano 105 drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes are quality and work well. The wheels on the Diverge also have a nice ride quality, and along with the compliant seatpost and front suspension, this bike is comfortable, smooth, and fast-rolling. We were a little dismayed by the lack of tubeless compatible tires, however, though that is an affordable upgrade we would likely make almost immediately.
The Giant Revolt Advanced 3 is a carbon-framed bike offered at a very reasonable price. The only way this is possible is by spec-ing it with very budget-conscious components and house-brand parts. The 2x10 Shimano Tiagra drivetrain, Giant disc brakes, Giant wheels, tires, and cockpit components are certainly functional, but they are heavy and have a somewhat clunkier feel. The Salsa Journeyman Apex 1 comes with a SRAM Apex 1x11-speed drivetrain. We were pleasantly surprised by the shifting performance of this setup, as well as the stopping power of the TRP mechanical disc brakes. The house brand cockpit components are fine, as are the wheels and tires, although the tubes in the tires were less than ideal.
There's a lot to consider when searching for a new gravel bike. We feel the most important thing is finding a bike that suits your riding style, needs, and budget so you can get out and ride. As of now, the Santa Cruz Stigmata is the best overall gravel bike we've tested. The stiff and lightweight Ibis Hakka MX takes our Top Pick for Racing award and the versatile and affordable Salsa Journeyman is our Best Buy Award winner. 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.
— Jeremy Benson, Dillon Osleger