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Choosing a gravel bike

Photo by Chris Kochanski.

Gravel Bike Choice

The topography of the definition of “gravel riding” is as varied as the terrain we ride. What makes your favorite gravel loop might be very different from what makes ours, and that’s what makes it such a draw to so many riders - a gravel ride can be almost anything. But if a gravel ride can be almost anything, what’s the right bike? Exactly.

Just like any bike you would choose, this all depends as much on your personal riding style as it does on the terrain. Maybe even moreso.

 
  

Specialized Diverge

The Diverge is the textbook gravel offering from Specialized. It comes from the factory on 700x38 tires and can comfortably fit 700x42. A fairly traditional endurance road geometry keeps the handling mellow for long days in the saddle. Future Shock under the stem seems to disappear underneath you when the road is smooth, but when things are bumpy it does an amazing job of quieting the chatter. If your cycling background is mainly from the road, the Diverge could be just the right option for you.

 
  

Specialized Crux, Trek Boone

Think about it. Gravel riding might have been borne of the idea that cyclocross races are all just way too short. So why can’t a ‘cross bike be the right gravel bike? You’ve got us there. In fact, most of the bikebarn crew choose the Specialized Crux as our own gravel tool. Both the Crux and the Trek Boone offer up something a little different from the “traditional” gravel bike - and that something different holds a lot of appeal for riders who come from a mountain bike background. The slightly higher bottom bracket and tighter, steeper geometry of a cyclocross bike makes it more nimble when the terrain becomes a bit more challenging than a graded fire road (think powerline trail or even some chunky doubletrack).

 
  

Santa Cruz Stigmata, Cervelo Aspero

There are in-between bikes! Both the Stigmata and the Aspero are quick enough to race 'cross (both are raced by pros), but rugged and utilitarian enough to use for gravel or bikepacking. Higher bottom brackets than the Diverge combined with a shorter wheelbase and steeper angles enable these bikes to turn themselves on their head, but extra mounting points and insane tire clearance make them a bit more versatile than a cyclocross race bike. The best of both worlds!

 
  

Specialized Roubaix, Cervelo Caledonia

If you just love to put in long, fast miles and want a bike that can still keep up on the weekly sassy road ride, have a close look at the Cervelo Caledonia and the Specialized Roubaix. Both can accommodate a 700x28 tire with room to spare and have frames and forks designed to smooth out scrabbly roads while remaining always ready to accelerate the moment you decide to jump. The Roubaix adds Future Shock under the stem to turn bad roads good, but when the road is smooth you’ll hardly know it’s there.

 
 

Specialized Epic Hardtail? Santa Cruz Highball?

Flat bars! It’s all about the engine, after all. Whether your ride gets a little extra gnarly in spots or you just want the upright position and the smoothness of some really big tires. Mount up some intermediate treads, maybe swap in a narrower handlebar and/or longer stem. Maybe even ditch the suspension fork and go rigid to save a bit more weight.

In the end, gravel is so many different things to so many different people - and that’s all part of the allure. The only rule is to get out there and enjoy it.