How one can Select a Gravel Bike

by jpc_touring-bicycle

Gravel biking has exploded in recognition as a type of journey, train, racing and exploration on varied kinds of terrain, each paved and unpaved. Many highway cyclists are turning to gravel outings to trip routes the place there are fewer vehicles, or to go bikepacking on multiday adventures that contain carrying gear on the bike. In comparison with highway bikes, gravel bikes supply extra versatility and off-pavement functionality.

A educated bike specialist at an REI retailer or different respected bike store can provide detailed data on choices for body supplies, body geometry and parts inside your value vary, so use this text as a place to begin that can assist you discover the suitable gravel bike for you. 

Store Gravel Bikes 

What Is a Gravel Bike?

A gravel bike includes a drop handlebar and permits you to cowl lengthy distances and over all kinds of terrain. Gravel bikes are inclined to have an extended wheelbase to make sure steady dealing with; a extra snug, relaxed geometry; wider (35 mm and up), usually knobby tires to extend grip on tough surfaces; and disc brakes for highly effective stopping in varied climate situations. With the number of gravel bikes out there, nearly each sort of rider can discover the suitable one, whether or not you’re a health fanatic, journey rider or a aggressive or noncompetitive occasion rider.

Is a Gravel Bike Proper for You?

For those who’re interested by driving unpaved surfaces or doing in a single day bike journeys, you might be questioning if you would like a gravel bike in comparison with a highway bike or a touring bike. Right here’s a fast information. 

If you wish to:

Contemplate getting:

…largely trip unpaved surfaces like grime or gravel roads, 4×4 tracks and even stretches of very easy singletrack; and also you’ll trip pavement to attach the unpaved parts. You might also be thinking about bikepacking—a type of multiday touring that additionally takes place on unpaved surfaces, and thus requires a motorcycle that may deal with baggage connected to a body.

…a gravel bike

…largely trip paved roads, and infrequently very easy, unpaved roads. You’ll primarily trip for health, recreation or competitors.  
…an endurance bike

 …largely trip multiday excursions on pavement.

…a touring bike

For a deeper dive into the varied kinds of bikes out there, learn the REI Knowledgeable Recommendation article Bicycles: How one can Select. 


Typical Gravel Bike Options

Right here’s a fast primer on widespread gravel bike options.  

Gravel Bike Options 
Body, wheels and parts that steadiness mild weight with sturdiness. 
A drop (curled) handlebar. (Although some are actually out there in flat bars).
Disc brakes that allow all-weather stopping and simpler braking on tough terrain.
Wheels and tires which are wider than a highway bike, however narrower than a mountain bike. Tires are sometimes treaded or knobby for higher sturdiness and traction.
Geometry choices that may vary from extra nimble and environment friendly to extra relaxed and stability-oriented.
No entrance or rear suspension (in most situations).
Gravel Bike Operate
Permit riders to journey for lengthy distances over all kinds of terrain. Choices for health fanatics, journey riders and each aggressive and noncompetitive occasion riders. 
Designed to excel on quite a lot of unpaved surfaces, from tough 4×4 paths to easy gravel roads to occasional easy singletrack; and to be environment friendly on the paved roads in between. Not suited to rides which are primarily singletrack (mountain bike terrain). 
Designed for lengthy rides in distant areas, and even multiday bikepacking journeys. Usually embrace further mounts for equipment like bike body baggage, further water bottle cages and bike cargo racks. 
Key Gravel Bike Shopping for Choices

Gravel driving can run the spectrum from long-distance endurance occasions and rides to multiday bikepacking journeys carrying gear connected to the bike. The bikes themselves thus additionally sit on a spectrum that vary from nimbler rigs that extra resemble highway bikes, to sturdier and extra steady rigs that extra resemble mountain bikes when it comes to geometry and tire dimension. 

Gravel Bike Geometry and Frames 

Gravel bikes which are nearer to highway bikes in geometry will sometimes have faster and extra nimble dealing with and be extra conscious of steering enter at larger speeds. These frames often accommodate tires as much as 40 mm huge and take 700c (highway bike diameter) wheels. Bikes on this finish of the spectrum have head tube angles which are about 71 levels or larger, and are well-suited for longer organized occasions or on a regular basis off-road driving, together with quicker group driving.

Gravel bikes nearer to mountain bikes in geometry will probably be extra steady at excessive speeds. They’re meant to be succesful on rougher or tougher terrain, together with straightforward singletrack trails; and to trip nicely whereas loaded with gear. They will usually take both 650b (27.5-inch diameter) wheels or the standard 700c (29-inch).

Tire Clearance and Wheels 

Tires are a key determinant for the terrain a motorcycle can deal with. The broader the tire, the extra succesful a motorcycle. Gravel bike tires can vary from 32 mm to 50 mm (1.25 inches to 2 inches) huge for 700c wheels, or as much as 54 mm (2.1 inches) huge on 650b wheels. They arrive in quite a lot of treads for varied situations.

Tires themselves are straightforward to swap, however each bike can solely match as much as a sure width of tire, so probably the most necessary options of a gravel bike is its tire clearance: the utmost width of a tire that may match inside the bike body or fork (often restricted by the bike’s rear triangle). Tire clearance just isn’t printed on the bike, and sometimes, a motorcycle can deal with a wider tire than the one it’s bought with. Ask a gross sales affiliate or go to the producer’s product web page for clearance questions.

For many gravel or grime roads, and a few occasional easy singletrack, a 40 mm tire on a 700c wheel is a lot. For riders who usually trip very tough terrain, or go bikepacking, extra tire clearance is smart. Some of these riders could contemplate a motorcycle that may clear as much as a 700c x 47 mm tire, or perhaps a bike with 650b x 55 mm wheels, because the smaller wheel diameter permits the bike to suit a 2.1-inch, mountain bike width tire. 

Tubeless tires: Many gravel bikers right now desire to trip with tubeless tires and rims. These wheel setups forego the interior tube for a system (rim, tire, sealant) sealant resolution that enables for inflation with out the usage of an interior tube and may nearly immediatley seal flats from small punctures. Going tubeless considerably reduces the possibilities of a pinch flat, and permits the rider to run decrease tire pressures, which means higher traction and a smoother trip.  

When bikes are bought, they often include tubes, however should you can, search for bikes that include wheels and tires which have a “TLR” or “TR” (tubless prepared) or “TCS” (tubeless suitable system) label or sticker, or in any other case point out that they are often arrange tubeless. If the bike you’re contemplating just isn’t tubeless-ready, know that tires are straightforward to swap, however wheels might be fairly costly.  

Study extra: How one can Set up Tubeless Tires


Body Supplies 

Your main body selections are aluminum, carbon fiber or metal. 

Most aluminum frames are superb at offering a easy trip, and they’re typically cheaper than carbon fiber. Most aluminum-frame highway bikes include a composite (carbon fiber) entrance fork to soak up some highway vibration and provides an improved trip high quality. 
A carbon-fiber bike body typically gives a extra snug, vibration-absorbing trip than an aluminum body. They’re usually lighter and costlier than aluminum-framed bikes resulting from their labor-intensive manufacturing course of.  
A metal bike body tends to be heavier than both carbon or aluminum, however presents the smoothest and most vibration-absorbing trip. Additionally they are usually extra sturdy and cheaper than the opposite body supplies.  

Shopping for tip: For those who should have the lightest, then a carbon-fiber body goes to attraction to you. Nevertheless, a number of the higher-end aluminum bikes (ones which are equally priced to the least-expensive carbon bikes) might be fairly mild. By saving some cash on the body, you may be capable to improve parts, like drivetrain and brakes, than on a similarly-priced carbon bike. Metal might be a cheap selection for riders who don’t thoughts further weight and taking a extra leisurely tempo up climbs. 

For a extra detailed have a look at body supplies, be taught extra within the REI Knowledgeable Recommendation article, Understanding Bike Body Supplies. 



One of many key selections you’ll make when shopping for a gravel bike is whether or not you desire a 1x (“one-by”) or a 2x (“two-by” or “double”) crankset. That is the componentry that the pedals flip to rotate the rear wheel through the chain. 

Single-chainring cranksets, higher often known as 1x (as in, 1×10, or 1×11, 1×12), have only one chainring in entrance, and are paired with 10- to 12-speed cassettes which have a wider vary of gearing. This setup first turned widespread on mountain bikes as a result of it was easy, eradicated the potential for cross-chaining (being in a foul mixture of entrance and rear gearing) and made it simpler to make important gearing modifications rapidly in extremely variable off-road terrain. Additionally they are inclined to exhibit higher chain retention, a profit for gravel driving over bumpier surfaces. However as a result of the overall variety of gears on a 1x may vary from 10 to 12 gears, it eliminates some means to fine-tune to one of the best gear for no matter terrain you’re on, making it much less appropriate for extra intense aggressive driving.

A 2x crankset has two chainrings up entrance, paired with a 10- to 12-speed cassette within the again, for a complete of 20 to 24 gear mixtures. Prior to now, gravel bikes sported compact cranksets, which had smaller chainrings than normal highway bike cranksets. Now, many gravel bikes have subcompact gearing, giving them the decrease, simpler vary of gears mandatory for grinding up steep and free unpaved roads and driving with heavy hundreds.

Shopping for tip: Most fashionable 2x and 1x gravel drivetrains exhibit related total gear ranges (highest and lowest gears), so whether or not you desire a double or single crankset will rely upon your private desire. Go for check rides and shift via gears on a hill to strive every sort out. 



All dependable modern-day gravel bikes include disc brakes, which characteristic brake pads that grip onto a brake rotor mounted to the wheel hub. They’re most well-liked for off-road driving as a result of they’re far superior to rim brakes when it comes to energy and all-conditions efficiency. You’ll be introduced with the choice of hydraulic or cable-actuated brakes.  

Hydraulic disc brakes function through a system that makes use of hydraulic fluid to switch stress from the brake lever to the brake caliper. They provide extra progressive and stronger braking with much less finger effort (useful for driving tough terrain or while you’re exhausted), they usually self-adjust for brake pad put on.  
Cable-actuated (also called mechanical) disc brakes function through a cable system. They want handbook adjusting because the pads put on. They’re usually extra reasonably priced than hydraulic programs, and are simpler to service, particularly if you end up in a distant space with out entry to bike providers. There are additionally hybrid disc brakes that incorporate each cable-actuated and hydraulic parts. These can supply extra energy than mechanical brakes, and are usually cheaper than full hydraulic disc brakes.

Shopping for tip: Hydraulic brakes trigger much less upper-body and hand fatigue, and allow higher bike management via the flexibility to extra subtly average pace. They’re well worth the funding should you can afford it.  


Brake Levers and Gear Shifters 

As soon as upon a time, these have been fully separate mechanisms positioned on totally different elements of the bike. Now, they’re usually built-in. The precise mode of operation can differ by the model and mannequin. 

By check driving totally different bikes, you might develop a private desire for the functioning of 1 type over one other. The 2 largest producers of motorcycle parts, together with shifters and brake levers, are SRAM and Shimano. On bikes outfitted with a SRAM drivetrain, a single lever positioned behind the brake lever is used to shift up or down. In the meantime, Shimano fashions makes use of two shifters, one to tug the cable for a shift, and a second degree positioned behind the brake lever to launch cable. 

Shopping for tip: Be certain you may keep a superb grip on the handlebars whereas braking or altering gears. Attempt shifting and braking together with your palms on prime of the bars in addition to within the drop place. When you’ve got smaller palms, ask if the levers have attain adjustment and the way that works. It may very well be a easy screw adjustment or a shim addition. 


A person tightens the buckles on a rear bike pannier.Body Mounts 

Due to the out-there nature of grime and gravel roads, gravel rides usually happen in distant areas with out many sources of water, meals or shelter, like fuel stations or comfort shops. The bikes, then, usually embrace extra mounts for equipment like further water bottle cages, body baggage and varied racks, so {that a} rider might be self-supported for hours and even days. Nevertheless, not all bikes embrace further mounts—extra race-oriented fashions, for instance, could have minimal attachment factors. Pay attention to these options and contemplate what sort of driving you’ll be doing earlier than making a shopping for determination. 


Getting the Right Body Dimension 

Most gravel bike fashions can be found in a number of totally different body sizes. You will need to get the suitable body dimension to your physique. Will probably be noticeably extra snug and exhibit higher dealing with traits than a body that’s too massive or small. 

Like highway bikes, gravel bike body sizes could also be expressed both in centimeters—which measures the size of the seat tube—or the extra generic XS via XL dimension vary.   

How do you discover out what body dimension fits you? Many bike manufactures will publish dimension tips based mostly on top, however your physique’s particular proportions could tip you towards one dimension or one other. An skilled bike salesperson can usually inform by your place on a motorcycle.  

If you have already got a highway or gravel bike that matches you nicely, you can too search for a motorcycle in a dimension that matches equally by trying up two key numbers on a geometry chart: attain, the gap between the bike’s backside bracket and the handlebar; and stack, the gap from the underside bracket to the highest of the pinnacle tube. Whereas measurements like top-tube size have an effect on match in another way from bike to bike, these two numbers are normal match measurements throughout fashions. The extra crucial one is attain: If, say, a motorcycle that matches you nicely has a attain of 534 mm in a dimension 54, you’ll seemingly match nicely on a special bike that additionally has a 534 mm attain, regardless that it might be a barely totally different dimension, like a 53. 

Merely being measured to find out your advisable body dimension just isn’t the identical as a motorcycle match. It’s simply the place to begin. Learn extra about bike match close to the top of this text. 



Along with the gravel bike itself, you might must put aside one other $60 to $100 for a set of fundamental pedals and $80 and up for a pair of biking footwear. (Most gravel and highway bikes are bought with out pedals, in order that riders can select their very own pedal and cleat system.) You’ll additionally desire a full device equipment for repairing flat tires and different mechanicals on a trip, particularly as a result of gravel rides are prone to take you to extra distant areas, probably with out cellphone service. For a similar motive, many gravel riders additionally wish to equip their bikes with body baggage for holding further instruments, snacks, water and layers. You’ll wish to make certain your body bag matches your body—they arrive in several sizes and styles. 

Store Bike Equipment 


On the Bike Store  Take Check Rides 

Ask should you can check trip a number of bikes. With the assistance of a gross sales specialist, it is best to be capable to slim down your choice to 2 or three bikes. Regardless that they could have related costs and parts, they are going to really feel totally different to trip. Take every for a ten to fifteen minute trip, ideally over some diversified terrain together with a brief hill. Most often, one bike is simply going to really feel higher for you than the others. You desire a bike to change into a pure extension of your physique. 

Shopping for tip: Go together with the bike that feels proper. Ideally, it ought to be appropriate to your present wants in addition to when your driving time and expertise degree enhance. 


Get Fitted for Consolation and Effectivity 

The right body dimension is a place to begin for a superb bike match. The opposite necessary step is having the bike store verify and set the correct seat top for you earlier than you head out the door. 

The following step up is to spend money on an expert bike becoming. This lets you optimize your driving expertise by fine-tuning your relationship with the bicycle. This service is obtainable by some REI shops and unbiased bike shops. 

An expert becoming contains commentary, measurement and adjustment to set your shoe cleat place, seat top and horizontal positioning, attain and drop to the handlebars, and physique angles in relation to the bike. The aim is to make you as snug as potential on the bike and scale back or eradicate any aches and pains. It additionally enhances your pedaling effectivity and bike dealing with. 


Getting Out There 

Whereas there are highway guidelines to abide by and driving etiquette to be taught, a lot of the gravel-riding expertise is as much as you to create. You may trip for half-hour or 6 hours. Chances are you’ll get pleasure from driving by yourself or with a bunch of associates. If you’re new to the game, attempt to discover a group trip, native biking membership or some prepared and in a position associates to offer steering. Largely importantly, have enjoyable! 

Discover a Gravel Class or Occasion at REI Experiences 


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How one can Select a Gravel Bike  
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