How to Buy a Gravel Bike7 March 2023
Thinking of buying a gravel bike? Getting the right bike is important no matter what type of riding you enjoy, and gravel adventure riding is no exception. To help you make the most appropriate choice, we’ve put together this article outlining the best reasons to get a gravel bike, what you should look out for when buying one, and a few pointers to decide if a gravel bike is right for you.
Why a gravel bike?
To answer that question, we first have to address the question of what a gravel bike is. Often referred to as a bike that features the best of both road and mountain bikes, gravel adventure bikes are where the two separate disciplines overlap. Gravel bikes are hardy enough to take on rougher terrains than road bikes can, but they’re also better suited to road cycling than mountain bikes.
So why buy a gravel bike rather than a road or mountain bike? Well, if you’re a cyclist who’s keen on both types of riding, getting one gravel bike is a cheaper alternative to getting a road bike and a mountain bike. If you’re not overly concerned with having the very best performance in each separate discipline, a gravel bike will do you well both on and off the road.
Gravel bikes also make great starter bikes for anyone who’s not sure which type of cycling they prefer yet. They represent a lower risk investment for newbies - if, for example, you discover road cycling isn’t for you, you’ve still got a great bit of kit that can handle many mountain biking trails, and vice versa.
And if you’re a racer, don’t be fooled into thinking that there are no events out there for a gravel cyclist. Gravel biking has swiftly become massively popular, with a range of gravel-specific races popping up all over the world. While it may not be as popular yet as road or mountain biking, it’s getting closer all the time.
What makes a good gravel bike?
Choosing the right gravel bike for your needs isn’t as simple as identifying what features make a gravel bike great. Because they’re so versatile, gravel bikes are good for pretty much anything, but that hasn’t stopped manufacturers from releasing new models that are tailored towards different points on the road to mountain biking scale. In other words, not all gravel bikes are made the same - and some may be better suited to your purposes than others.
If you’re a racer who favours road cycling, you’ll want to aim for a gravel bike with an aggressive riding position that allows you to reach a similar level of aerodynamic streamlining as you would on a road bike. You’ll also want to shave off the weight wherever you can, so remember to ride light and forego the racks and packs.
If you’d rather lean towards the off-roading side of things, you’ll want a frameset that allows for plenty of tyre clearance so you can fit your gravel bike with wide tyres for added stability. A suspension fork can also be very helpful for rougher terrains, and durable components are a must.
Alternatively, if you’re more of a casual, jack-of-all-trades cyclist, or you prefer commuting or leisurely rides, you can find a gravel bike to fit those needs too. For this kind of cycling, opt for a bike with an upright, comfortable riding position and maximise comfort wherever possible. Another feature to consider is the bike’s mounting points - perfect for loading up with bikepacking bags, storage racks and water bottles to keep you going.
Do I need a gravel bike?
It can be hard to decide whether or not a gravel bike is the right choice for you, especially if you mostly do one kind of cycling or the other. After all, a road bike isn’t that different from a gravel bike, right?
Wrong. Although they can look similar, gravel bikes have different geometry and different components. This makes them better suited to the rougher terrains that a road bike shouldn’t attempt.
While a road bike might just about be able to handle certain off-road trails, it’s best not to push the limits of what is safe. When bikes are tested, those tests are carried out for the expected conditions of usage - which means your trusty road bike probably hasn’t been assessed for its handling of gravel or mountain bike trails.
In short, pick a bike that’s suited to the discipline you want to pursue. If you’re into road cycling, choosing a high quality road bike will help you to achieve the best performance in a race scenario. Similarly, a top of the range mountain bike is a good idea if you’re looking to tackle the most challenging trails available. But if you’re somewhere in the middle, a gravel bike is sure to do you proud.