What makes a good gravel bike?9 May 2023
There are lots of gravel bikes on the market, and it can sometimes be difficult to decide which one is the bike for you. To help make the decision easier, we’ve compiled this guide to buying gravel bikes, their components, and gravel biking accessories. Keep reading to learn more.
How to choose a gravel bike
Gravel bikes are truly versatile and come with a wide variation of features and designs, it can be difficult to know how to pick what's right for you." The first step to choosing a gravel bike is to think about what kind of cycling you’re going to be doing. In other words, what role will the bike play in your collection?
For example, if you’re shopping for your first bike, you might prefer to choose a bike that has features that make it versatile all-rounder that’s great on the road as well as off it so you can try out different kinds of riding to find out which you like best. These bikes tend to have a pretty even balance between road and mountain bike-style features to give you the best of both worlds.
Another option is a bike specifically designed for touring or bikepacking. In general, these bikes feature a less aggressive riding position to keep you comfortable during long rides. On top of that, you may also notice they’re fitted with more mounting points for storage racks, water bottle cages and and may have more versatility with the ability to change wheel size.
When you’re making this decision, it’s also a good idea to think about any bikes you already own. For example, if you have a good quality mountain bike, you might want to opt for a gravel bike that leans more toward the road cycling end of the spectrum with drop bars, a more aggressive riding position and an aerodynamic design.
What to look for when buying a gravel bike
Once you’ve decided which type of bike you want, there will still be some variation between different models and brands. Which one you go for is down to personal preference in many cases, although performance considerations will also come into play. For example, if you’re looking to race on your gravel bike, opting for one with a carbon frame and fork can help you to shed weight for better acceleration.
Another thing to think about is whether you prefer flat handlebars or drop bars. Flat handlebars may be best if you’re used to mountain bikes, however drop bars may be more appropriate for longer distances. If you’re looking to get started with bikepacking or you’re already a fan, drop handlebars may be more comfortable, allowing you to change your hand position at regular intervals during your ride.
How to set up a gravel bike
It’s also a good idea to consider the finishing kit of your bike to make sure it’s as well tailored to you and your needs as possible. First, take a look at your options for pedals. While road bikes and mountain bikes tend to each have their own type of pedals, you don’t often come across gravel-specific pedals - so which do you get?
If you prefer a cleated set-up, it’s recommended to go for a recessed SPD pedal. The skeleton design allows for maximum mud-shedding - and trust us, you’re going to need it. The smaller surface area can decrease pedalling power, though, so a platform style may be more appropriate. Platform pedals are also very good for rougher terrain and other routes where you need to frequently get on and off your bike. If your bike is for commutes, you should definitely consider platform pedals.
You’ll also need to consider your tyres and wheelset. The right options for you vary based on the type of cycling you intend to do. However, cyclists generally opt for wider tyres and rims with deeper treads for more uneven ground. If you’re going to spend a lot of time on rough terrain, it might be a good idea to consider a tubeless set-up, as this can help to prevent pinch flats.
Once you’ve considered all your options and picked out the best bike for you, don’t forget to take the time to set it up right before your first ride. We know you just want to get out onto the trails and try out your new ride, but hold yourself back for an hour or so. Taking the time to set up your bike properly can massively improve the quality of your riding experience for smiles all round.