Go Back  Bike Forums > Bike Forums > Cyclocross and Gravelbiking (Recreational)
Reload this Page >

How do you choose a gravel bike?

Notices
Cyclocross and Gravelbiking (Recreational) This has to be the most physically intense sport ever invented. It's high speed bicycle racing on a short off road course or riding the off pavement rides on gravel like : "Unbound Gravel". We also have a dedicated Racing forum for the Cyclocross Hard Core Racers.

How do you choose a gravel bike?

Old 07-07-23, 09:11 AM
  #1  
Some guy
Thread Starter
 
McGuillicuddy's Avatar
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 181
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
Likes: 0
Liked 1 Time in 1 Post
How do you choose a gravel bike?

I've been in the market for a gravel bike for combination pavement/dirt road/off-road doubletrack/mild singletrack usage (and very occasional backup roadbike duty), but I feel like the differences between the various mainstream brands available to me (Trek, Giant, Specialized, Cannondale, Norco, Rocky Mountain) are really subtle. And it seems like there isn't a gravel bike that reviewers don't like - they all review very positively. I just went through the research/purchase process choosing a new trail bike earlier this year (Rocky Mountain Instinct A50) and I quite enjoyed getting into the minutiae of it, but with gravel bikes it's noticeably harder to see differences on paper. It's really down to subtle geometry differences and groupset (SRAM Apex/Rival vs GRX400/600/800). And unfortunately there are very few bikes available to me locally in my size to test ride - most brands I will have to order from the website to be shipped to my LBS without being able to try-before-I-buy.

Anybody have any tips for making a choice here?

Some questions for consideration:
1) is carbon more or less important for gravel bikes than it is for road bikes? I don't really care about weight, but I do care about vibration/bump damping and general comfort.
2) if i have to choose, should I prioritize frame material or component spec (e.g. carbon GRX400 10sp vs alloy GRX600/800 11sp)?
3) do dropped seat stays really help/matter? Seems to be the rage among Specialized/Cannondale/Rocky Mountain/Giant but not on Trek/Norco.
4) how much does HTA tell me about whether a particular gravel bike is a dropbar MTB as opposed to a fat tire roadbike? e.g. >72=fat-tire roadbike, <71=dropbar MTB?

Last edited by McGuillicuddy; 07-07-23 at 09:17 AM.
McGuillicuddy is offline  
Old 07-07-23, 12:55 PM
  #2  
Junior Member
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: Norfolk, VA
Posts: 97

Bikes: 2005 LeMond Buenos Aires, 2009 Santana Tandem, 2023 Sanitas Custom Node

Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 5 Post(s)
Liked 3 Times in 1 Post
My wife and I just went through this process. I went with a custom Sanitas Ti that I spec'ed the parts. But for my wife, we shopped the LBS's and if they had a gravel bike it wouldn't be her size... We had a $2k price point and worked around that, one shop would order one without a purchase commitment. That allowed her to try before buying, we ended up going through four bikes until she found the right fit; that took about two months. It ended up being a Specialized Diverge Elite E5. The problem with buying a "off the shelf bike" is that you get the components that is has. Now that we just finished the GAP and C&O trails and I will be replacing the handlebars for real gravel bars and probably the wheel set. My bike has been awesome right from the get go.
2592 is offline  
Old 07-07-23, 02:02 PM
  #3  
Habitual User
 
Eric F's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2020
Location: Altadena, CA
Posts: 7,898

Bikes: 2023 Niner RLT 9 RDO, 2018 Trek Procaliber 9.9 RSL, 2018 Storck Fascenario.3 Platinum, 2003 Time VX Special Pro, 2001 Colnago VIP, 1999 Trek 9900 singlespeed, 1977 Nishiki ONP

Mentioned: 5 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 4901 Post(s)
Liked 7,972 Times in 3,771 Posts
Tires will make much more difference to ride quality than frame material or location of the seat stay junction. I tend to favor picking the better frame - components can be upgraded. If the frames are pretty close, better components will perform better and (probably) be lighter.

At the end of it all, pick the one that excites you to look at.
__________________
"Swedish fish. They're protein shaped." - livedarklions
Eric F is offline  
Likes For Eric F:
Old 07-07-23, 02:21 PM
  #4  
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: northern Deep South
Posts: 8,876

Bikes: Fuji Touring, Novara Randonee

Mentioned: 36 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 2587 Post(s)
Liked 1,917 Times in 1,202 Posts
I faced a similar situation to OP a while back, only I was looking for a touring bike instead of a gravel bike. I called around the nearest large city (four hours' drive away), and took a long weekend drive over there. The Cannondale I really wanted didn't feel quite right, stiff and the fit was a little off; Papa Bear's bike. Another touring bike was noodly; Mama Bear's. After visiting three bike shops, I went back to REI and bought their house brand (Novara Randonee), because it was like Baby Bear's -- just right.

I'd suggest something similar to OP. Analysis Paralysis is a fun way to spend winter nights, but today's gravel bikes are awfully similar on paper. If you want one, go try a bunch. Take some long test rides (my daughter, who went with me, said they came over and asked her where her dad was and how long he was going to be gone). Buy the one you want to go back to and ride some more.

P.S. Three years later, daughter and I rode across the U.S. on Randonees.
pdlamb is offline  
Likes For pdlamb:
Old 07-07-23, 05:54 PM
  #5  
Method to My Madness
 
Join Date: Nov 2020
Location: Orange County, California
Posts: 3,635

Bikes: Trek FX 2, Cannondale Synapse, Cannondale CAAD4, Santa Cruz Stigmata GRX

Mentioned: 4 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 1937 Post(s)
Liked 1,458 Times in 1,010 Posts
McGuillicuddy How you approach this depends on whether you are coming from road riding or looking to replace another gravel bike?

I can only answer your first two questions, and I agree with Eric F that tire choice and volume will make the greatest difference toward the ride compliance, so I would look for a bike with clearance for 45 mm tires for your stated terrain. (I am not necessary recommending 45 mm tires.) If budget is not an issue, CF frame, handlebar, and seat post would of course further increase compliance, but if budget is an issue, CF handlebar and seat post by themselves go a long way.
SoSmellyAir is offline  
Old 07-07-23, 06:10 PM
  #6  
ignominious poltroon
 
Polaris OBark's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2022
Posts: 3,987
Mentioned: 3 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 2215 Post(s)
Liked 3,396 Times in 1,772 Posts
1. Get a steel frame with carbon fork, handlebars and seat post.

2. Get GRX Di2.

3. Get the best wheels you can afford. These will have Chris King hubs in them. Stock wheels on most bikes suck.

4. Get Rene Herse tires. Cram the fattest tires on the bike you can find. Consider 650b wheels with wider tires vs. 700C with narrower tires.

5. Don't listen to anyone else.
Polaris OBark is offline  
Old 07-07-23, 07:57 PM
  #7  
Habitual User
 
Eric F's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2020
Location: Altadena, CA
Posts: 7,898

Bikes: 2023 Niner RLT 9 RDO, 2018 Trek Procaliber 9.9 RSL, 2018 Storck Fascenario.3 Platinum, 2003 Time VX Special Pro, 2001 Colnago VIP, 1999 Trek 9900 singlespeed, 1977 Nishiki ONP

Mentioned: 5 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 4901 Post(s)
Liked 7,972 Times in 3,771 Posts
Originally Posted by Polaris OBark
1. Get a steel frame with carbon fork, handlebars and seat post.

2. Get GRX Di2.

3. Get the best wheels you can afford. These will have Chris King hubs in them. Stock wheels on most bikes suck.

4. Get Rene Herse tires. Cram the fattest tires on the bike you can find. Consider 650b wheels with wider tires vs. 700C with narrower tires.

5. Don't listen to anyone else.
1. Not a bad option, but not the only one.
2. If the budget allows, but not at the expense of a good frame and wheels.
3. Good wheels are a good thing, but CK hubs are a splurge, not a necessity.
4. There are lots of excellent tires out there, and wider isnít always better. Personally, Iím riding all the stuff the OP described on Pirelli 700x35s and Iím very happy with them. Rolling efficiency is important to me.
5. My opinions are based on my preferences and experiences. Your preferences may vary, and thatís okay.
__________________
"Swedish fish. They're protein shaped." - livedarklions
Eric F is offline  
Old 07-07-23, 09:21 PM
  #8  
ignominious poltroon
 
Polaris OBark's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2022
Posts: 3,987
Mentioned: 3 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 2215 Post(s)
Liked 3,396 Times in 1,772 Posts
Irony is as dead as an aluminum fork.
Polaris OBark is offline  
Likes For Polaris OBark:
Old 07-08-23, 02:27 AM
  #9  
Banned
 
Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: Mississauga/Toronto, Ontario canada
Posts: 8,721

Bikes: I have 3 singlespeed/fixed gear bikes

Mentioned: 30 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 4227 Post(s)
Liked 2,488 Times in 1,286 Posts
Here is my personal criteria for choosing a bike which will be used for gravel and multi surface riding:
- steel frame and fork
- clearance to run minimum 45mm tires with full fenders
- braze ons for attaching racks and fenders
- no drop bars
- mechanical disc brakes
wolfchild is offline  
Old 07-08-23, 04:15 AM
  #10  
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 946
Mentioned: 2 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 286 Post(s)
Liked 260 Times in 129 Posts
My first 8-9 Ďgravelí bikes were like road bikes (geometry) with larger tire clearance. Some had hydraulic brakes, others mechanical, and my latest had mini V brakes. Todayís road bikes often have hydraulic brakes, so it was really about the tire clearance. Where I ride though, I could use a mountain bike, and have, but I dislike flat bars and donít need suspension. Now I have a drop-bar mountain (bikepacking) bike that is much, much more capable on the trails I ride.

Itís really about finding the right type of bike for where you ride and how you like to ride. That comes down to frame geometry, tire choice, easiest gear available (if you have very steep climbs), and then components.
Noonievut is offline  
Old 07-08-23, 10:03 AM
  #11  
Sunshine
 
mstateglfr's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2014
Location: Des Moines, IA
Posts: 16,585

Bikes: '18 class built steel roadbike, '19 Fairlight Secan, '88 Schwinn Premis , Black Mountain Cycles Monstercross V4, '89 Novara Trionfo

Mentioned: 123 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 10938 Post(s)
Liked 7,452 Times in 4,170 Posts
What I view as priorities, with first mentioned being most important.

- Figure out if you want a bike that is faster steering or a bike that is stable and slower to change line. Neither is right and neither is wrong. They are just different. Once you know, then look at bikes with trail numbers that match with what you want.
*If you want faster steering, so a wide tire road bike, get a gravel bike with 58-65mm of trail and chainstays that are 430mm or shorter.
*If you want slower steering, so more like a drop bar mtb, get a gravel bike with 72-90mm of trail and chainstays that are 440mm or shorter.

- Pick a frame that can clear at least 45mm tires and preferably 50mm. Even if you don't need tires Thst wide, having the space helps when there is mud/sticks/rocks being picked up.

- Buy the highest groupset level you can afford. It's dumb to upgrade after you buy a bike.




What isn't actually important or is not too important when it comes to a stock new bike purchase...

- Frame material is important, but more important is the details of each and those details are confusing or unclear most of the time. Carbon frames come in multiple quality levels. Same with titanium, aluminum, and steel. So more important than the frame material is the details of what level is used on the specific frames you are considering. Since this is such an unknown, just trust that any established brand will use quality materials and will over build in order to reduce issues.
Some bikes have flex points in the headset area or seat post area and if you geek for that, then cool. I think a carbon seatpost and 43mm tires is plenty if flex and comfort for how I ride, but others ride differently and want different things.

- The tires that come with the bike aren't something to really focus on. Don't pick the bike based on tires since what is on the bike is likely not what you want in terms of tread pattern, width, or rolling resistance. So go into the purchase knowing you may need to buy different tires.

- Wheels that come on the bike also likely aren't anything you will need to focus on. Unless it's a $5000 or higher bike, the wheels that come stock will likely work fine and be quite neutral and not anything to talk about. That isn't a good thing or a bad thing. Wheels are a common cost cutting spot on a bike and stock wheels are overall quite serviceable. There is little difference worth handwriting over on any stock wheelset that comes on bikes at the same price point.
If you want to cut weight off the bike, new wheels can help. Weight the old ones and spend $400-1000 depending on brand and material to get something lighter. It's common to spend $400-650 and save 400g on a wheel swap for bikes that are in the $2000 range.
mstateglfr is offline  
Old 07-09-23, 04:59 PM
  #12  
Senior Member
 
tempocyclist's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2021
Location: Australia
Posts: 821

Bikes: 2002 Trek 5200 (US POSTAL), 2020 Canyon Aeroad SL

Mentioned: 1 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 313 Post(s)
Liked 679 Times in 327 Posts
Figure out what type of "gravel riding" you'll be doing most on the bike first. Hard packed gravel roads with a fair bit of sealed road also? Bike packing? Gnarly singletrack? That should give you a pretty solid starting point as to what bikes available to you should suit.

As stated above, something with clearance for 45mm tyres is good, even if you don't run that wide (it's always an option later, and clearance = good).

Personally, I'm a fan of getting the best quality frame you can afford, then if you need to later you can upgrade groupsets, wheels, tyres, etc. Carbon is nice. Necessary? No.

Go for GRX600 over the older GRX400 10-speed if you can. It's quite a step up in quality.

Honestly though from all the big brands you listed, you'd be pretty hard pressed to buy a bad bike. They're all good these days, so this a very valid point:

Originally Posted by Eric F
At the end of it all, pick the one that excites you to look at.
😎
tempocyclist is offline  
Old 07-10-23, 08:29 AM
  #13  
Senior Member
 
msu2001la's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Chicago, IL, USA
Posts: 2,870
Mentioned: 2 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 1455 Post(s)
Liked 1,477 Times in 867 Posts
1) I find carbon frames to ride a little smoother, but I would not place frame material very high on my list of criteria. As others have noted, tire choice will play a much bigger role in ride quality than the frame material will. The weight differences are negligible at best - this is gravel riding, so fretting over a few hundred grams one way or another is a bit silly unless you're racing at a high level.
2) Component spec is more important than frame material, though generally speaking manufacturers will rarely put higher end components on aluminum frames, so they've made this decision for you already. I'd prioritize 11sp or 12sp drivetrains. Electronic is cool, but mechanical GRX600 is also really, really good.
3) Dropped seat stays? I would put this very low on the priority list. Arguably they make for a more comfortable ride, but this is well into marginal territory.
4) Head tube angles vary widely across different types of gravel bikes and on the more extreme ends of the spectrum can be an indication of how a bike will handle. I would use this info more as a general buyers guide than trying to strictly determine which bike you'd consider. Reviews are also a good start - you should quickly be able to determine if a gravel bike is more road oriented, or more trail/MTB oriented.
msu2001la is offline  
Old 07-10-23, 06:06 PM
  #14  
Method to My Madness
 
Join Date: Nov 2020
Location: Orange County, California
Posts: 3,635

Bikes: Trek FX 2, Cannondale Synapse, Cannondale CAAD4, Santa Cruz Stigmata GRX

Mentioned: 4 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 1937 Post(s)
Liked 1,458 Times in 1,010 Posts
This thread is crying out for input from Caliwild.
SoSmellyAir is offline  
Old 07-11-23, 11:17 AM
  #15  
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2023
Location: Eastern Shore MD
Posts: 854

Bikes: Lemond Zurich/Trek ALR/Giant TCX/Sette CX1

Mentioned: 1 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 550 Post(s)
Liked 738 Times in 387 Posts
Originally Posted by msu2001la
1) I find carbon frames to ride a little smoother, but I would not place frame material very high on my list of criteria. As others have noted, tire choice will play a much bigger role in ride quality than the frame material will. The weight differences are negligible at best - this is gravel riding, so fretting over a few hundred grams one way or another is a bit silly unless you're racing at a high level.
2) Component spec is more important than frame material, though generally speaking manufacturers will rarely put higher end components on aluminum frames, so they've made this decision for you already. I'd prioritize 11sp or 12sp drivetrains. Electronic is cool, but mechanical GRX600 is also really, really good.
3) Dropped seat stays? I would put this very low on the priority list. Arguably they make for a more comfortable ride, but this is well into marginal territory.
4) Head tube angles vary widely across different types of gravel bikes and on the more extreme ends of the spectrum can be an indication of how a bike will handle. I would use this info more as a general buyers guide than trying to strictly determine which bike you'd consider. Reviews are also a good start - you should quickly be able to determine if a gravel bike is more road oriented, or more trail/MTB oriented.
Tires - and frames in some cases.

My CF Giant TCX (cyclocross/gravel bike) has dropped stays, a "compliant" seat post and is harsh on 38mm, really harsh on 28mm. The ride is actually pretty jarring at times - vs. my aluminum Emonda, ride quality is night and day, the Emonda is very smooth in comparison, even on 28's pumped to 90 PSI.
Jughed is offline  

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Terms of Service -

Copyright © 2024 MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. All rights reserved. Use of this site indicates your consent to the Terms of Use.