Best Gravel Bikes for up to £2,000
Gravel riding is an exciting discipline of off-road cycling – it’s about fun and freedom, adventure and even racing. Gravel originates from the USA, where rugged drop-handlebarred road bikes specified for the tough challenges of touring and exploring bumpy, dusty, unsurfaced roads developed a great following and spawned its own unique race scene. British bikers are more than ready for gravel’s fat, treaded road tyres, low, close gears, weatherproof disc brakes and bulletproof builds.
Like its cousin cyclocross, gravel has caught on fast here in the UK, with a number of British race series emerging – from the north, Dirty Reiver in Northumberland and Grinduro’s amazing loop round the Isle of Arran, way down south to the CW Century on the South Downs Way, with many in between.
But gravel’s far more than racing; the sheer versatility of these all-year-round bikes mean they’ll tackle muddy off-road trails yet will also serve you well on the weekend club run. Most gravel bikes boast mounts for racks and mudguards equipping them for commuting, while multiple bottle mount lugs lend themselves to adventure set-ups, endurance events and bike packing machines. A gravel bike can truly do it all, and for £2k, you get a lot of gravel bike at Hargroves Cycles. Here’s what to look out for…
GEOMETRY, TYRES & CLEARANCE
Tyre clearance is an important consideration. Most gravel bikes run the same 700c diameter as their road bike cousins, but they’re specified with more robust, wider-rimmed wheelsets to accommodate much wider rubber.
While road bikes generally run 25 or 28mm, gravel bikes could go from 32 to 46mm. Wider tyres with a deeper tread pattern are crucial for control on mud or gravel, and fuss-free tubeless tyre systems are becoming more commonplace.
Room for mud clearance between the tyre and the frame is also important, so you don’t get clogged in the worst of Britain’s winter quagmires!
Off-road demands mean gravel bikes need slightly different frame geometries to traditional road bikes. Their relatively long wheelbase and more relaxed headtube angle ensure stability and steadier, more assured steering. Gravel bikes have a taller headtube for ‘sit-up’ comfort over long days in the saddle – referencing the controlled poise of MTB position – while a low bottom bracket is part of the ‘strong and stable’ package.
MATERIALS & COMPONENTS
As gravel bikes are intended to take on many forms of riding, manufacturers approach their designs in different ways, so when considering the material its frame and fork are made from, think about what exactly you’d like to get from your bike.
If you plan to load up with luggage for long bike packing trips, look to the capability of steel. If you prefer a lightweight whip round your local trails, then consider a CX-style carbon build. For something in between, aluminium is your likely choice. As with road bikes //LINK feature 10// it’s not unusual for an alloy frame to find a ‘best of both worlds’ partnership with a carbon fork. It’s important to consider the components that best suit your riding. First select the right types, then match their level of specification to suit your budget.
While gravel bikes are available with cantilever brakes born from ’cross, disc brakes are de rigeur – and hydraulic systems, more powerful than lighter, cheaper mechanical disc brake systems, are becoming more prevalent.
Gravel bikes have lower gearing than road bikes, and it varies, so match to your intended use and preference. MTB-style 1x systems avoid the mud-catching complexity and weight of a front mech, while compact doubles – typically 50/34-tooth front chainrings and a cassette with 11/28 teeth – give you range and climbing ability. Super-compacts (48/32 or 46/30 front rings) push that further.
MEET THE CONTENDERS
The Scott Speedster Gravel 10 Disc 2018 (£1,499), //product LINK// reimagines the best of Scott’s proven Speedster road bike range for gravel riding. Its double-butted aluminium frame has redesigned geometry and a carbon-bladed fork boasting ample clearance for tyres up to 38mm wide, although its 35mm Schwalbe G-One Allround rubber does many jobs very well.
The full Shimano 105 groupset provides effortless shifting on a 20-speed compact double. Shimano’s BR-RS505 hydraulic disc system provides greater modulation of braking power so you can tackle descents with confidence.
Stepping up the gravel food chain, Specialized’s £2,000 Diverge Sport 2018 //product LINK// strikes a balance between steady off-road handling and sprightly tarmac performance thanks to Specialized’s Open Road Geometry. The road buzz dampening properties of its FACT 9r carbon frame is combined with Specialized’s Future Shock system; a suspension unit subtly integrated into the bike’s headset, offering a full 20mm of travel for control and comfort on the rough stuff.
Shimano’s dependable Tiagra groupset is a 20-speed compact double with 48/32t chainrings and an 11-34t cassette. Specialized 38c Trigger Sport tyres give grip on gravel and dirt yet still roll quickly on tarmac, while stopping is taken care of by TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes. With mounts for racks and fenders, as well as three bottle cage mounts, this is a truly versatile bike.
A women-specific model from the same stable, the £1,500 Women’s Diverge E5 Comp //product LINK// pairs a high quality aluminium frame – including the Specialized Future Shock 20mm suspension system – with a carbon fork. Spec’d with Shimano’s excellent 105 groupset with a lower 11/32 cassette, its geometry has been tailored to suit female riders, and is rounded out with the wider Myth Sport saddle and suitably sized crankarms and handlebars with a shallower drop.