The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

How We Tested Best Gravel Bikes

Monday April 27, 2020

Beyond weighing and measuring all of the bikes we test, the majority of our testing takes place in the field. Our expert testers are obsessive cyclists and racers who compete at the professional level in endurance gravel events. Their extensive product testing and athletic experience make our testers ideal candidates to scrutinize and evaluate the performance of these bikes in various situations. Each tester rides each bike as if it were there own on training rides, at races, or on casual laps with friends, all while focusing on the downhill and climbing performance, versatility, weight, and build quality of each model.

Gravel bikes can be loads of fun to ride downhill  some are better than others.
Gravel bikes can be loads of fun to ride downhill, some are better than others.

Downhill Performance


While testing these bikes, our testers ride them downhill, a lot. On descents of various lengths and road conditions, they considered how well each performed at high speeds and low speeds, in the drops and on the hoods. From smooth to chunky and rutted gravel roads, flowing singletracks to "you probably shouldn't try to ride a gravel bike down that," our testers rode it all on backyard loops and all-day crush fests. While riding, they considered how the bike's frame design, geometry, and components played a role in each's overall performance.

You'll probably spend the majority of your time on a gravel bike riding uphill  fortunately they are all pretty efficient climbers.
You'll probably spend the majority of your time on a gravel bike riding uphill, fortunately they are all pretty efficient climbers.

Climbing Performance


Similar to testing downhill performance, the only true way to test how a bike performs on the climbs is by riding it uphill. Thankfully our testers are masochists who thoroughly enjoy long rides and racking up lots of vertical. Short, punchy climbs, long slow grinds, they love to push their limits on any type of climb while constantly chasing PRs and training for the next big event. Geometry, weight, and components all play a role in how well a bike goes uphill and was considered when analyzing each model's climbing performance.

Bikes like this Salsa Journeyman are highly versatile with mounts for bike packing accessories and bags  fenders  and racks.
Bikes like this Salsa Journeyman are highly versatile with mounts for bike packing accessories and bags, fenders, and racks.

Versatility


The very nature of gravel bikes makes them all relatively versatile. Pretty much any gravel bike can be used for commuting, road riding, light-duty singletrack riding, and usually some bike packing or touring. Some bikes are lighter weight and better suited to racing than others, while others are more comfort-oriented and better for casual riding. Others can be purchased with either 700c or 650b wheels and tires. We did our best to suss out the differences between the different models and determine which would work best for what and why. Some things were obvious, like rack or accessory mounts for bike packing, or super light and stiff frames ideal for racing.

The lighter your bike the easier it is to fly uphill  downhill  and over obstacles in the road.
The lighter your bike the easier it is to fly uphill, downhill, and over obstacles in the road.

Weight


Weight is the most objective of all the metrics. The weight of each bike was determined by weighing them on a hanging bicycle scale without pedals. Whenever possible, we set up the bikes tubeless, although some models didn't have tubeless compatible tires and therefore were weighed with tubes.

The build of the bikes we tested varies as dramatically as their prices. Simple things like quality tires and comfortable handlebars make a huge difference on each model's performance.
The build of the bikes we tested varies as dramatically as their prices. Simple things like quality tires and comfortable handlebars make a huge difference on each model's performance.

Build


We rated each model on the build or component specification that it comes with. Obviously, bikes at different price points will come with varying build kits at different performance levels. Generally speaking, the quality of a bike's build is related to the price as more expensive components are usually lighter weight and higher quality. Our testers did their best to separate their perceptions of a bike's build quality from the actual performance in the field. They also did their best to consider the price to performance ratio of the bikes in this test in an attempt to level the playing field.

Conclusion


We did our best to test each of the gravel bikes in this review thoroughly. All of the gravel bikes we tested will definitely serve you better than none at all, and there are plenty of other models out there to choose from. The most important thing is getting a bike that fits you right, meets your needs, and that you can afford. Then getting out and riding it.