If you are a cross-country cycler, you have probably run across plenty roads and trails that make you cringe when considering a road bike, but are a bit too urban for a mountain bike. Is there are a bike best suited for conditions between these two extremes? There is, and it is known as a gravel bike.
Besides acquainting you with the best gravel bikes under 1000 dollars, this guide is designed to:
• Provide you with a better understanding concerning the makeup and characteristics of a gravel bike.
• Examine some of the features and benefits to look for in the best gravel bikes.
• Review ten of the top contenders among gravel bikes under 1000 dollars.
• Answer some common questions about gravel bikes.
By the time we wrap up our guide, you should have a solid understanding of gravel bikes as well as a good idea which gravel bikes we reviewed is the best fit for you when it comes time to make a purchasing decision. With those objectives in mind, let’s start by establishing the factors which define a gravel bike.
What are Gravel Bikes?
Gravel bikes fill a niche between mountain bikes, which tend to navigate rough and unpredictable terrain and the more delicate and highly refined road bike used in the Tour de France. Also gravel bikes are called adventure bikes. Besides looking into some specific characteristics that set gravel bikes apart from others, one of the best ways to define a gravel bike is to compare it to cyclocross (CX) bikes, mountain bikes, and road bikes.
Adventure Bike vs Cyclocross
Gravel bikes and CX bikes share several characteristics, including: stiffer and more durable forks, curved style road handlebars, and most often 29 inch (74 cm) wheels. However, Spinatura points out the distinctions to be drawn between the two in five areas:
- Purpose. Gravel bikes are not made for speed and competition, where CX bikes are essentially road bikes designed to negotiate trails with a muddy or gravel surface.
- Geometry. Gravel bikes have a comfortable, stable frame for traveling long distances, but CX bikes tend to sacrifice a lot of these comforts for speed.
- Horizontal Tube. The horizontal tube tends to be curved for more stiffness on a gravel bike and tends to be parallel to the riding surface on a CX bike.
- Pedals. Gravel bikes tend to have the pedals in a lower, more relaxed position, where CX bikes have them higher to avoid obstacles that might be encountered in competition.
- Weight. The design and construction of gravel bikes are meant to carry loads and are heavier, but CX bikes tend to be lightweight.
Mountain Bike vs Gravel Bike
Distinctions can also be drawn between gravel bikes and mountains bikes in a similar fashion. In general, mountain bikes tend to make up the extreme while on the other side of the gravel bike. Utilizing the same formula above, for analysis, let’s compare these two types to get a more complete definition of what makes upa gravel bike:
- Purpose. Gravel bikes tend to be a little faster and geared more toward riding back roads, where mountain bikes are designed to get off the beaten path and onto trails that would crush a more delicate bike.
- Geometry. Mountain bikes tend to take away the curved road bike style handlebars and replace them with straight bars, they tend to be longer and lower, than gravel bikes as well.
- Horizontal tube. The tube on a mountain bike will be more steeply sloped, sometimes to the extreme.
- Pedals. The pedals on a mountain bike tend to be placed in a similar low position for greater control, but they tend to be wider and easier to find if/when your feet lose contact with them on rough terrain.
- Weight. The more durable construction necessary to keep a mountain bike from falling apart over rough terrain make it a bit heavier, but there are mountain bikes with strengthened alloys that approach similar weights to a gravel bike.
Gravel Bike vs Road Bike
In general, a gravel bike is a type of road bike that is designed for back roads instead of smoother surfaces faced on a road bike. Again, we’ll make use of the same set of criteria to compare these two types.
- Purpose. Road bikes differ from gravel bikes in that they are designed for getting out on the open road and cruising at high speed for competition, while gravel bikes better negotiate unpredictable back roads and are for a more leisurely ride.
- Geometry. The head angle on a gravel bike is slicker to provide for relaxed steering on back roads than a typical road bike. A longer wheelbase is also typical with a gravel bike.
- Horizontal tube. The horizontal tube on a gravel bike will tend to be more sloped or curved to make getting on and off easier, where this is not usually a major concern for road bikes.
- Pedals. The pedals on a gravel grinder will be lower to the ground for a more comfortable, long-distance riding position, where a road bike tends to have the pedals higher off the ground. In addition, road bike pedals are designed to keep your feet in place for the duration, while gravel bikes allow more freedom for taking your feet off the pedals and relaxing.
- Weight. Gravel bikes are pigs, when it comes to comparing weight with a road bike, though a larger number of gravel bikes are using higher grade alloys with more strength and durability with lighter weight.
What features make up the best gravel bike?
The comparisons we have just drawn between different bikes should be helpful, getting into some of the specific features you will find in agravel bike will help to home in on a more precise definition of what makes up a gravel bike.
What material is used for a gravel bike’s frame?
Frame material on gravel bikes have a wide range of diversity and there is also a wide variation of opinion as to which is the best. Let’s take a closer look at the three most common frames found on gravel bikes.
Heavier steel frames are common on lower end bikes and are certainly durable enough to handle terrain. You will find a large number of bikes utilize high carbon steel (HCT) in their forks, even when the overall build of the bike is aluminum or another alloy. What some riders experience with these frames is a little bit more jarring and vibration compared to other materials, which is less desirable on a long ride. Steel is more apt to rust over the long-term.
This steel alloy includes chrome and molybdenum. This is a lightweight, high strength steel that reacts well to heat treatment, shaping and welding as well. The most common alloy used in bike frames is 4130. It is typically shaped and butted to reduce excess weight. It is lighter than HCT, tends to be more flexible and removes some of the jarring and vibration common with standard steel frames.
Aluminum frames are typically a hardened alloy. The most common type is 6 series aluminum, which blends magnesium and silicone to create magnesium silicide within the metal. This alloy allows for a heat treatment, high formability, and welding with great strength while still remaining relatively light. The most common aluminum alloy you will see in a gravel bike is 6061-T6. It tends to be more flexible, rust resistant and reduces vibration, but it also tends to be more expensive.
The best way to describe carbon fiber is think of plywood. Several layers of carbon fibers are combined together to create plies. This makes for a very strong material that is also very lightweight. Compared to other materials, it tends to reduce vibration and jarring the most. The drawbacks to carbon fiber are its tendency to be brittle and its price. You won’t find a lot of gravel bikes under $1000 with a carbon fiber frame, but some will use this material in the forks.
What type of drive-train and shifters are used on gravel bikes?
When discussing drive-trains for gravel bikes, most of the attention is focused around the crankset, with less focus on the cassette and shifters. However, we will take a look at all three as we further specify the features you should expect to see on a gravel bike.
The crankset is the gearing or sprocket attached directly to the pedals or the crank of the bicycle. Cranksets can come in single-ring (1x), double-ring (2x), or three-ring (3x) styles on gravel bikes. You will get a variation of opinions when asked which cranksets are best suited for a gravel bike. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each:
- 1x cranksets are simpler because they do not have a second shifter and derailleur to deal with. In rougher terrain this simplicity can be an advantage, but it limits your options when it comes to smoother riding.
- 2x cranksets add issues to shifting and derailleurs that you don’t have with a 1x crankset. However, you get a wider range of gearing options. This type of crankset is more common than either of the others for gravel riding.
- 3x cranksets are similar to 2x cranksets, but provide you with a more refined choice in choosing gears. These are less common on gravel bikes because they don’t tend to be necessary for most of the terrain covered by gravel bikes where they are prized on road bikes.
When discussing cassettes, things shift to the additional variable the crankset type provides to the gearing equation. If a bike has a 1x crankset, the tendency is to go to a cassette with a larger number of rings and a wider range from the smallest to largest in order to provide a broader diversity of gearing options. With multiple 2x or 3x cranksets, the cassette can have fewer rings and a narrower range from smallest to largest and still provide a full range of gearing options.
There tends to be less of a controversy surrounding the type of shifters used on gravel bikes. In general, indexed shifters are the norm. The only variation in shifters tends to be between road bike style shifters and MTB style shifters. The tendency is toward the road bike style because this style is used on drop-style or curved handlebars. The shifting sets, which include the shifters and derailleurs, differ in quality and popularity from various manufacturers and designers. Common shifters found on most bikes under $1000 are made by Shimano.
What type of brakes are best for a gravel bike?
By and large, you are going to find disc brakes on the best gravel bikes under 1000. An excerpt from Tips & Concepts for Gravel Bike Setup, states:. ”Mechanical Disc brakes – Simple to configure, easy to adjust, and not prone to the overheating issues sometimes associated with hydraulic disc brakes. The negatives are power lacks compared to hydraulic brakes, and they are not self adjusting.” Though you might like to have a gravel bike with hydraulic disc brakes, they are not going to come standard on a model at this price point. They will have to be an aftermarket add-on.
With your understanding of what makes up a gravel bike, you are better equipped to compare how various gravel bikes incorporate the features and benefits characteristic of their type. The following reviews will help you get an even better understanding of what to expect when you shop for a gravel bike.