Capable of off-road rough-and-tumble or tarmac terrorising, the gravel bike is quickly becoming one of cycling’s most popular sub-categories.
Do you need a gravel bike? The short answer is yes. The long answer is also yes, and in this guide to the gravel bike, you’ll find out why.
Also called adventure bikes or mixed terrain bikes, the gravel bike is a hybrid – part road bike with drop handlebars (although flat bar gravel bikes are also a thing) and part mountain bike, with hefty construction and wide gearing.
Taking a mountain bike on the road is just as joyless as taking on trails on a road bike (for different reasons) so the gravel bike’s agility on both is a big bonus.
Why are gravel bikes so popular?
OK, so you won’t be dropping off 20-feet tabletops on a gravel bike, or outrunning a TT bike on the road, but it’s what it can do that makes the adventure bike so attractive.
Sick of snapping your MTB to the back of your car to get to the trail? Why not ride to it by road instead?
Out on the asphalt and want to head up a remote fire road for no reason at all? Hey, the gravel bike has your back.
They're agile, fast, strong, easy to ride, and probably the most versatile two-wheeled vehicle going. Of course they're popular...
And if you need more convincing, just take a look at our recent gravel adventures on the South Downs Way and the King Alfred's Way.
The adventure cycle in detail
Gravel bikes are a melding of both mountain bike and road elements, combining MTB wheels, tyres, and frame and fork clearance with climbing bike geometry and drop handlebars.
And it’s the handlebars that are worth a mention here. It’s common to see flared handlebars on a gravel bike, used to widen the turning circle to give you more control on rocky descents.
Mountain bike groupsets also feature to facilitate steeper, slower climbs, especially when in the muck. Some gravel-specific groupsets have been released, such as Shimano’s GRX which is fitted to a number of models stocked by Wiggle. They often include disc brakes – a must for the demands of trial riding.
Go anywhere, do anything, and don't worry about scratches or scrapes - it's all part of the fun.
Gravel bike tyres
Adventure road bikes are usually fitted with semi-slick tyres, but it’s really a matter of personal choice – are you going to spend lots of time in the dirt, or will most of your riding be done on the road? Larger lugs will be perfect for off-roading while a slicker profile will help soften the road. That goes for tyre width too – more time on the road will probably require narrower treads, but not as narrow as an indigenous road tyre.
The bigger frames and fork clearance on gravel bikes gives you the choice of the most gnarly of MTB tread patterns or the slickest of super-slick road rubber - you’ll only be limited by your rim size.
Gravel bike, adventure bike, or CX bike?
CX bikes, or cyclocross bikes, fall within the adventure bike category, just as gravel bikes do. But with a bigger focus on speed, cyclocross cycles tend to have a more race-focused geometry, compared to the slacker, more comfortable gravel frame better suited to longer rides.
Which gravel bike is best?
One other huge advantage of gravel bikes is that because they don’t have the multitude of moving parts featured in full-sus mountain bike frames, or the weight-saving pedantry of road bikes, even the most luxuriously accessorised graveler is generally a bit cheaper compared to top end MTBs or road bikes.
This makes a gravel cycle the ideal second bike or winter training bike if you're a more specialised rider.
Gravel riding technique
Getting the right bike will only get you so far. Getting the right gravel riding technique will help you get the most from your ride.
Upgrading your gravel bike
Once you've grown to know and love your gravel bike, you might want to add a few personal touches to customise it to your own riding style.
Wiggle mechanic Sam talks us through some of the most common gravel bike upgrades you might want to consider.
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