Best Gravel Bikes
|Pros||Inexpensive, versatile, many frame mount options|
|Cons||Heavier than the competition, budget build|
|Bottom Line||Anyone interested in dabbling in the world of gravel riding should check out the versatile and affordable Salsa Journeyman|
|Rating Categories||Salsa Journeyman Apex 1 700|
|Measured Weight (w/o pedals)||24 lbs 5 oz (with tubes)|
|Wheelsize||700c (tested) or 650b|
|Frame Size Tested||57cm|
|Available Sizes||50, 52, 54, 55.5, 57, 59.5cm|
|Wheelset||WTB ST i19 TCS 2.0 700c rims with Novatec hubs|
|Front Tire||WTB Riddler Comp 700 x 37c|
|Rear Tire||WTB Riddler Comp 700 x 37c|
|Shifters||SRAM Apex 1|
|Rear Derailleur||SRAM Apex 1|
|Cassette||SRAM PG 1130, 11-42T|
|Crankset||SRAM Apex 1 X-Sync, 40T|
|Bottom Bracket||not specified|
|Fork||Fantail Deluxe Carbon|
|Saddle||WTB Volt Sport 142mm|
|Brakes||TRP Spyre-C mechanical|
|Measured Effective Top Tube (mm)||568|
|Measured Reach (mm)||380|
|Measured Head Tube Angle (degrees)||70|
|Measured Seat Tube Angle (degrees)||73|
|Measured Bottom Bracket Height (mm)||279|
|Measured Wheelbase (mm)||1060|
|Measured Chain Stay Length (mm)||440|
Best Overall Gravel Bike
Santa Cruz Stigmata Carbon CC Rival
The Santa Cruz Stigmata took top honors in our gravel bike test. 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 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.
Read review: Santa Cruz Stigmata Carbon CC Rival
Best Bang for the Buck Carbon
Canyon Grail CF SL 7
The Grail CF SL 7 is an excellent gravel bike that is 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 it own on mellow singletrack too. We feel it is an excellent option for training, racing, casual rides, and could also work well for overnight bike packing missions and adventure riding.
Canyon design 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 that is 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 as well as compatibility with computer and accessory mounts. Beyond that, we found little not to like about this affordable, high performance gravel rig.
Read review: Canyon Grail CF SL 7
Best Bang for the Buck
Salsa Journeyman Apex 1 700
The Salsa Journeyman Apex is an affordable and versatile 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. 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 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. 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
Best for Comfort
Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon 2021
Specialized recently updated their line of Diverge gravel bikes. The Comp Carbon build we tested features a new "gravel geometry" which includes a lengthened reach and wheelbase and a slightly slacker head tube angle. We feel these are positive changes for the Diverge, making it more stable at speed and confident on steeper and rougher descents. In addition to the geometry tweaks, they've added a convenient SWAT storage compartment in the downtube and upgraded the Future Shock to the 2.0 version. The new Future Shock 2.0 still provides 20mm of handlebar suspension, but now it has an adjustable damper and a much more controlled feel. This small amount of suspension, along with some compliance in the seatpost, helps make this one of the most comfortable gravel bikes we've tested. The Fact 9r carbon frame is stiff and responsive, and the Diverge is a swift and capable climber. It also comes with loads of frame and fork mounts to accommodate racks, fenders, or frame bags. Whether racing, training, or heading out for a week-long bike packing trip, the new Diverge has you covered.
The Diverge Comp Carbon is the most expensive model we tested by a slim margin. In a sport where price and weight typically go hand in hand, we found it interesting that it weighed two pounds more than the lightest competitor. We didn't find the Diverge to feel particularly heavy, though the extra heft is notable. Beyond that, we found little we didn't like about this well-rounded and versatile gravel bike.
Read review: Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon
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 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.
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 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 more expensive models we tested did provide a slightly higher level of performance. Consumer-direct brands skip the middle man and bring a lot of value to the table. The Canyon Grail CF SL 7 boasts a lightweight carbon frame, quality components, light weight, and well-rounded performance for significantly less than the more expensive competition. Likewise, our least expensive competitor, the Salsa Journeyman Apex, costs less than half of our top-rated models and is a comfortable and highly versatile entry-level bike.
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.
The Santa Cruz Stigmata impressed our testers on the descents. 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. Likewise, the Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon has a new gravel geometry with a longer reach and wheelbase along with a slacker head tube angle and 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 the edge off vibration and impacts.
Not far behind the high bar set by the above-mentioned bikes, 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, along with high volume tires and powerful brakes help enhance comfort and control. 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 models 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 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 behind on the climbs. 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 the comfort it provides.
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 transfer of power to the drivetrainThe Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon fell a little behind the competition on the climbs, mostly due to its heavier weight. While it is still reasonably light, it does weigh a couple pounds more than the lighter weight competition. Its carbon frame is stiff and responsive, and it climbs well seated or out of the saddle. Both the Giant Revolt Advanced 3 and the Salsa Journeyman 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 recently redesigned Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon is a very versatile bike. The 2x drivetrain and fast-rolling tires help to make it a good option to double as 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 race or a week-long adventure tour, the choice is yours with the Diverge. Likewise, the Canyon Grail CF SL 7 has a wide range 2x 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 does come with a protective sticker pack specifically for use with seat, handlebar, and front triangle mounting bags and accessories should you choose to load it up for a bike-packing mission.
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 dip their toes in gravel events and races and still have a great time.
The Giant Revolt Advanced 3 works well as a gravel bike, and we feel it would also work well as a road bike too. This is in part due to the 2x drivetrain, which has a larger gear range for smashing on smooth gravel roads as well as pavement. It also comes equipped with mounts to attach racks and fenders, enhancing its 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.
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 of the most expensive models we tested.
Since it is so affordable, we were very impressed by the 19 lbs 14 oz weight of the Canyon Grail CF SL 7. It's rare that bikes that cost less can compete with their more expensive competition in terms of weight. Despite being the most expensive model we tested, the Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon weighed a full 2 pounds more than the Stigmata. While 21 lbs and 2 oz 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 additional weight.
Giant's Revolt Advanced 3 retails for a lot less than the lightest models we tested 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 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 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 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 two of the 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. The Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon 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, also worked impressively well. Interestingly, the Canyon Grail CF SL 7 comes with a build that is almost comparable to the Diverge, yet its costs about a third of the price. Again, this is due to Canyon's consumer-direct sales model, and the price to build ratio can't be beat.
Both the Ibis Hakka MX and the Santa Cruz Stigmata we tested came with the Rival build kit. The 1 x 11-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 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 2 x 10 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 1 x 11-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 is our choice for racing, and the Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon is an excellent, versatile option for the rider who prioritizes comfort. For the price, we were very impressed the carbon-framed Canyon Grail CF SL 7 is a high-performance model and a very impressive value. The Salsa Journeyman is both versatile and affordable, and a great entry level option. 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