Gravel bikes: 13 best models of 2021 for your adventures
What are the best gravel bikes of 2021? If you are reading this article it is because, most likely, you are deciding to face the big step and buy a gravel bicycle. I will not dwell on what a gravel bike is or why you made this decision because these elements, although worthy of being treated, are not of interest to those like you who have to decide which gravel bike to buy.
Just know that in recent years more and more people have decided to marry this "philosophy" and try an intermediate vehicle between a racing bike and a mountain bike, for travelling or for day trips on the white roads near home. So I decided to do a short (and certainly not exhaustive) research, trying to understand which are the most popular gravel bikes and those that are used with more satisfaction by lovers of dirt roads. Then I recommend the best ten gravel bike models of 2021.
- Where were gravel bikes born?
- A gravel bicycle: what's that?
- Best gravel bikes: the criterion of choice
- Not only big names
Where were gravel bikes born?
Before I list the best gravel bikes of 2021 I would like to make a small introduction.
Gravel is a cycling discipline that, despite being quite new as we understand it today, has roots in the history of cycling: before the appearance of the asphalt, practically all road riders rode on gravel terrain.
The "new fashion", coming from the United States, can certainly no longer be defined new, since now even the largest manufacturers have in the catalogue one or more models of these bikes and more and more enthusiasts prefer these vehicles to classic road bikes or mountain bikes. The big advantage of being able to follow dirt roads out of traffic has allowed this discipline to grow and spread like wildfire, as demonstrated by the many events organized worldwide also in 2021.
A gravel bicycle: what's that?
If I said earlier that this new way of cycling is not innovative, instead the real innovation lies in the technology of making the best gravel bikes, increasingly comfortable and perhaps even performing means to meet everyone's needs.
Currently, the largest manufacturers have a catalogue of one or more models of these bikes and more and more fans and curious about this new world are approaching these bikes. But specifically, what are gravel bikes? What are the characteristics that distinguish them from other types of bikes? If you want to know other types of bikes for travelling you can find out the differences between gravel, adventure and cycle touring bikes in a specific article I'm preparing right now. In short, however, gravel bikes are quite performing bikes but with a more relaxed geometry than a racing bike, with drop handlebars or real gravel handlebars, with wider wheel clearance to be able to accommodate tires also suitable for tackling dirt roads but not so extreme to be compared to a mountain bike.
They are therefore suitable for mixed routes: smooth enough on asphalt but without fear if there must be some gravel to overcome! Of course, there are other characteristics that distinguish a gravel bike from other bikes, but this is not the right place to address the subject in detail. Most likely if you have arrived here, it is because you are looking for some tips to buy one of the best gravel bikes on the market, right? So let's try to understand how we selected the gravel bikes listed below.
Best gravel bikes: the criterion of choice
As always, when I make a list of the best proposals on the market, I want to underline how the choice is very subjective and often depends on personal habits and future uses. So saying which is the best gravel bike ever would mean doing all the others wrong.
This list is deliberately varied, with bikes that could be good for those who love speed and go out daily and others suitable for those who expect a more travelling soul from a gravel bike and use them for a few bikepacking weekends or even for longer trips. Even if gravel bikes are used and also designed for travel, if this is your main purpose, I still recommend you take a look also at the list of the best travel bikes because you could find your ideal bike there.
But no more talk... let's see what are my choices for this year.
Cannondale Topstone 2021
The Connecticut giant is proposing for 2021, among its best gravel bikes, the Topstone in numerous different models ranging between € 3399 for the Carbon 4 model and € 1199 for the aluminium model 4. Considering the top model, this bike features a Full Carbon frame with suspension that can work up to 30mm: the Kingpin, integrated into the rear stay to dissipate the greatest stresses. The transmission is Shimano GRX 810 and mounts 37mm tires. The pin is through, the seat post and handlebar are Full Carbon Save and there are some integrated eyelets for a rear rack, bottle cages and bikepacking bags. 160mm hydraulic disc brakes and internal cable routing complete the set-up of a top-of-the-range bike. The same US company also offers the Topstone Carbon with Lefty front suspension fork, with more exuberant costs.
Specialized Diverge 2021
Specialized also offers its gravel bikes in various different models, both in technical characteristics and in price. They range from the Diverge Expert Carbon which costs € 5469 to the Diverge E5 Base which stands at € 1249. In reality, there are also the S-Works Diverge and the Diverge LTD Carbon which cost between € 6799 and € 10899, but we are on really extreme levels and therefore I prefer not to consider them in this comparison. Specialized's other gravel bike is the Sequoia, but with a soul closer to bikepacking and travel.
Again focusing on Specialized's best gravel bike (excluding the S-Works and LTD), the Diverge Expert Carbon. The first thing that catches the eye in the technical characteristics is the presence of the Future Shock 2.0 system above the head tube to absorb stresses up to 20 mm. The Open Road geometry features a narrow wheelbase, a lower bottom bracket and a slightly more open head angle for greater fun and comfort. There are integrated mounts for luggage racks, also on the front fork and for bottle cages. The hydraulic disc brakes, the internal cable routing and the possibility of mounting 700x47mm or 650B wheels with 2.1 "tires complete the set-up of this bike making it very versatile and suitable for various uses.
3T Exploro 2021
The Bergamo-based company has made its way among the best in the production of gravel bikes thanks to the Exploro model. In this case, the 3T gravel bikes range from the Race series to the Max up to the Pro / Team, with prices from 3799 € to 5899 €. As in the previous cases, we evaluate below the top of the range, mounted with Sram single chainring electronic groupset with a generous 50-11 sprocket set to take you anywhere. The frame, as well as the fork, are made of carbon with internal cable routing, 160mm hydraulic disc brakes and 27.5 "wheels with 2" tires for any terrain. In this case, there are no eyelets to mount luggage racks or anything cages both on the front fork and on the rear stay but the race soul of this bike justifies the choice: those wishing to travel can always opt for a bikepacking setting.
Salsa Warbird 2021
The Minnesota brand is known to aficionados for its adventure bikes. The Salsa Warbird (in the various versions available, from the $ 5699 Carbon GRX 810 Di2 to the $ 2799 Carbon Apex 1), was born to compete and probably gives its best if you are looking for speed and agility even in a gravel bike. The 2021 models are currently identical to the 2020 ones.
The top-of-the-range Warbird gravel bike (the Carbon GRX 810 Di2) is a carbon bike that can fit 700c x 42mm but also 650B x 2.0 "wheels. This bike features integrated mountings on the top tube to better anchor the bag in that position. and lots of other possible bottle cage attachments (3 in the inner triangle, one under the down tube and possibly two on the fork). The bike features the Class 5 VRS (Vibration Reduction System) to absorb the heaviest shocks. in Full Carbon with thru-axle, a comfortable geometry, the internal cable routing and the possibility of mounting the Salsa Wanderlust luggage rack (with the purchase of the special saddle lock collar) make it clear how Salsa has tried to have maximum versatility also on the more performing bike in its gravel catalogue. As for aesthetics, as always Salsa tries to get noticed: in this case with a completely pink I just can't digest... but they are tastes, I guess many might like it!).
For those who do not want to spend too much but appreciate the American brand, the younger cousin Vaya can be the solution.
Trek Checkpoint 2021
Another giant with stars and stripes has also thrown headlong into the gravel world for a few years. Among the best gravel bikes of this year, we find the Checkpoint with various models ranging from the SL7 which costs € 6149 to the ALR4 sold for € 1999. The new flagship, the SL7, is the same as in 2020 and features an OCLV frame with IsoSpeed to absorb the strongest vibrations. This is one of the main features of Trek carbon frames for gravel bikes: in addition to lightness, the technology, which is called decoupler, allows to reduce vibrations without neglecting performance. The wireless electronic transmission is Sram, the cassette is 10-50 for each slope. The horizontal sliding stranglehold dropout is also an interesting feature of this bike and allows you to adapt the geometry of the bike to your style. Finally, the hydraulic disc brakes are flat mount and the tolerance is for wheels up to 45c.
Scott Addict 2021
Another famous brand that in recent years has done its utmost in the production of bicycles suitable for this new way of thinking about cycling. The gravel bicycle models are different and the price range ranges from € 5599 for the Addict Gravel 10 to € 1299 for the Speedster Gravel 40. Let's consider the top of the range: the Scott Addict Gravel 10; it has a high modulus carbon frame and fork and is equipped with Sram Force eTap AXS electronic shifting, double front chainring and a 10-33 cassette to ensure a wide range of gears. The braking system is with 160mm discs and 700x35c tires can be mounted, honestly, a bit limiting! There are no eyelets except for bottle cages and therefore it is suitable for bikepacking mode.
Norco Search 2021
The famous Canadian company did not miss the opportunity to occupy a slice of the market in the gravel sector. Compared to many brands, Norco produces gravel bikes at very competitive prices, ranging from Search XR C (€ 2999) to Search XR A2 (€ 1299). The top of the range is Full Carbon with a geometry suitable for absorbing vibrations. The transmission is Shimano GRX 810 with an 11-34 cassette and double front chainring. The brakes are hydraulic with 160mm discs and the cable routing is internal. 700x42c or 650b (27.5 ") tires with tire width 47mm can be mounted. The frame and fork are equipped with eyelets for mounting bottle cages and mudguards. Clearly, I see this type of bike, given its configuration, suitable for bikepacking trips.
Canyon Grail 2021
I always like those who try to go outside the box and Canyon, with its Grail, has tried it, thus entering my very personal list of the best gravel bikes of 2021. Also in this case the Grail range is wide, with many possible models to choose from: starting from € 4899 for the Grail CF SLX 8.0 eTap to go down to € 1499 for the Grail AL 6.0. The top of the range, equal to 2020 with a long wheelbase carbon frame, boasts - as the name suggests - the Sram eTap electronic gearbox with 10-36 cassette, the seat post clamp is integrated. The wheels are coupled with a 12mm thru-axle and tires up to 40mm can be mounted on the tubeless-ready rims. The brakes are hydraulic disc brakes with a diameter of 160mm and a flat-mount while the integrated eyelets are very few and require the use of bikepacking bags on this bike. The handlebar has two horizontal tubes, of which the upper one is suspended to exploit even more the elasticity of the carbon and absorb vibrations.
Genesis Croix de Fer TI 2021
The English company was the one chosen by Vero to buy her first real travel bike last year, the Genesis Tour de Fer 20 of which you can read the review. The Croix de Fer is the gravel sister of Vero's former bike and comes in various models ranging from the Croix de Fer Ti, costing £ 4399, to the Croix de Fer 10 Flat Bar at £ 999.
Aside from the titanium bike, all the others have an excellent value for money, ranging from £ 1899 for the Croix de Fer 30 to £ 1199 for the 10. The bike with a titanium frame features a carbon fork, the new Shimano GRX 810 group. 11 speeds. The Genesis adventure handlebar has an opening angle of 12°. The brakes are hydraulic disc brakes and the bike has a tolerance for wheels up to 42 mm (so if you are looking for a bike more suited to off-road this bike may limit you a bit). The front fork is equipped with eyelets, a practical solution for travelling in bikepacking mode. A great alternative to the usual notes.
Bombtrack Hook EXT-C 2021
The German company is one of the most active in the gravel-adventure field and the models available for lovers of two-wheeled adventures, from travel to gravel to all-road are really many and different. I chose the model that I think is the most versatile and that comes closest to the gravel philosophy, being really suitable for all terrains and not detracting from the performance. Also in the Bombtrack line, there are numerous variants and one of the most interesting of this year, the Hook EXT-C (3200 €) comes with 27.5 "x2.0" wheels. In this case, the orientation is decidedly less race and more adventure despite the presence of carbon: a lot of eyelets on the frame and fork make the Hook really attractive for those who want to use it for traveling. Other features are the drop handlebar and the Sram Rival 1x11 group (with the possibility of installing the front derailleur) which is a little less extreme having mounted a 10x42 sprocket set.
In this list of the best gravel bikes of 2021, another Italian brand cannot be missing after 3T. I'm talking about Basso, a historic Venetian company that has been producing bicycles for decades, including the gravel models Palta (from € 3335) and Tera (from € 1979). Staying on the top of the range, the Palta, a name that locally recalls the earth and mud, is Full Carbon: it features a frame with a comfortable and at the same time efficient geometry and a fork with a particular shape that better suits the gravel. There is the possibility to customize the bicycle according to your needs: from the classic or disc braking system to the specific rims to house or not the braking discs up to the transmission. The willingness of this company to include among the options the Italian Campagnolo Ekar group with a 40-tooth single chainring and a 9-42 sprocket set is commendable. It is fitted with 700x40c tires as standard and has no fender or luggage rack eyelets.
Giant Revolt 2021
The "giant" of the cycle for some years has thrown into the fray of the best gravel bikes with the Revolt model, proposed in various versions of which the Advanced 0 (€ 3599) is the most performing. The assembled group is Shimano GRX RX-810 while the innovative Contact XR D-Fuse handlebar works together with the D-Fuse seat post to absorb vibrations and shocks without sacrificing stiffness. The wheel clearance accommodates tires up to 45c. Also in this case Giant has created a bike more dedicated to day trips rather than travel, even if the fork and rear stay are equipped with eyelets to house the luggage racks.
Kona Libre 2021
I have always appreciated and admired the Kona Sutra and Rove bikes and since it was introduced I also really appreciate the Kona Libre, a mix and summary of the two aforementioned bikes, designed to be fast and versatile. There are three versions, Libre CR / DL (€ 3126), LiIbre CR (€ 2468) and Libre (€ 1563). The top of the range features a carbon frame with the Kona Verso Full Carbon fork with eyelets for luggage racks and fenders and flat mount disc brakes. The bike is dedicated to those looking for lightness in a gravel bike, especially to compete, but also suitable for those who love to travel. Among the various versions available, the components change but the setting remains the same, with drop handlebars, hydraulic disc brakes and frame housing adaptable to 29", 28" and 27.5" wheels with tolerance up to 45x700c wheels.
Not only big names
It's true, in the title I wrote that I would list the 13 best gravel bikes of this year but in the end, I thought it was right to mention some small/large local craftsman. The list could go on and on but as the market is large and the choice as well, I prefer to reserve an extra slot to give you some names of Italian craftsmen who produce at least one gravel bicycle. In this case, being precisely handcrafted gravel bikes, the big advantage lies in customization and the possibility of having a truly unique bike. The frames are made to measure (often in steel) and delivery times are therefore longer but the wait is often worth the product. Everyone can choose how to mount the bike and consequently how much to spend. Here are the bikes of Italian craftsmen who could whet your imagination:
- Bressan GTV: if we talk about craftsmanship we can only start from Veneto and here the experience on travel bikes is not lacking!
- Cicli Pigozzi Giarin: I stay in Verona passing on to a young but passionate craftsman whose friends, according to his manifesto on the site, say: "I was born with my feet on the pedals and my hands dirty with grease" ... is this not a guarantee?
- Ciclitorino Granturismo: from Veneto to Piedmont, for a bike that promises to make you have a lot of fun around the world.
- Erman Bike: another young reality that has its feet planted in the past but points to the future. They are from Modena and I had the pleasure of meeting one of them at the Adventure Awards Days a few years ago... crazy as hell, but can make bikes.
These are, in my opinion, the best gravel bikes of 2021. What about you? What bike do you dream about? What did I forget about? Let us know in the comments below!
ITA - Cicloviaggiatore lento con il pallino per la scrittura e la fotografia. Se non è in viaggio ama perdersi lungo i mille sentieri che solcano le splendide montagne del suo Trentino e dei dintorni del lago d'Iseo dove abita. Sia a piedi che in mountain bike. Eterno Peter Pan che ama realizzare i propri sogni senza lasciarli per troppo tempo nel cassetto, ha dedicato e dedica gran parte della vita al cicloturismo viaggiando in Europa, Asia, Sud America e Africa con Vero, compagna di viaggio e di vita e Nala.
EN - Slow cycle traveler with a passion for writing and photography. If he is not traveling, he loves to get lost along the thousands of paths that cross the splendid mountains of his Trentino and the surroundings of Lake Iseo where he lives. Both on foot and by mountain bike. Eternal Peter Pan who loves realizing his dreams without leaving them in the drawer for too long, has dedicated and dedicates a large part of his life to bicycle touring in Europe, Asia, South America and Africa with Vero, travel and life partner and Nala.
Latest from Leo
- Garmin Montana 700: what a disappointment!
- Holland - Australia by bicycle: the journey of Rudd and Michele
- 5 best long-distance bicycle routes in the U.S.
- Bike handlebar bag: how and which to choose
- Alpe Adria Cycle Route: from Salzburg to Grado by bicycle