Also known as an adventure road bike, a gravel bikes is one of the better options for drop-bar commuting.
A gravel bike is essentially a cyclocross bike that's been redesigned as a general purpose machine for unsealed roads and tracks rather than for racing around muddy winter fields. Both bike types feature: a frame and fork with clearance for fatter tyres; a road bike drivetrain; and either disc brakes or (occasionally) cantilever brakes. But whereas a pure cyclocross bike may have no frame fittings other than bottle cage mounts, most gravel bikes have fittings for mudguards and a rear rack. These additions, along with frame geometry that isn't focused on head-down competition, make gravel bikes more practical commuters than cyclocross race bikes. They're like drop-bar hybrids.
Compared to a road bike, a gravel bike opens up your commuting route options. You don't have to stick to tarmac. When you do stay on road, however, the fatter (30-40mm wide) tyres will cope better with potholes and other poor surfaces, softening the ride and shrugging off potential pinch-punctures. Tyre choice will depend on the frame and fork, as well as on what you'll use the bike for. Most gravel bikes have room for tyres 28-32mm wide with full-length mudguards and 40mm or more without. Unless you really will spend most of your time off-road, however, avoid using knobbly cyclocross tyres. They will buzz audibly and sap your energy. Smoother tyres with a file-pattern or sipe-pattern tread will be much more efficient.
Gravel bikes under £1,000 will usually have an aluminium frame. Steel ones do exist. At higher prices, the fork may be carbon fibre; for most gravel bikes with a three-figure price tag, it will be aluminium. Compared to a road bike at the same price, where carbon forks are common above about £600, more of the manufacturer's budget goes on the brakes. Whether an aluminium fork matters is moot. It isn't the jarring experience on 40mm tyres that it can be on 25mm tyres.
Mechanical disc brakes are the default equipment on gravel bikes. Cheaper ones sometimes have mini-V brakes or cantilevers. Nearer £1,000, manufacturers sometimes fit hybrid disc brakes, with hydraulic callipers operated by cables. These work well but are quite bulky. Good cable-only disc brakes to look for are Tektro Spyre and Avid BB7
All gravel bikes use 700C wheels, like road bikes, cyclocross bikes and 29er mountain bikes. The rims are wider than road bike rims, the better to support wider tyres. Some will be advertised as 'tubeless compatible'. These have a tighter fit at the tyre bead, so that it's possible - given tubeless rims strips, valves, sealant, and suitable tyres - to run them without innertubes. This saves weight, improves rolling resistance, and means that small punctures will self-seal. Tubeless compatibility is worth looking for if you plan to make the switch; otherwise don't worry about it.
Integrated brake and gear levers are another staple of gravel bikes. Road bike shifters are designed to work with road derailleurs, so the chainset will usually be a compact double, such as 50-34, or a road triple, such as 50-40-30. The cassette will rarely be larger than 11-32. That's not a bad gear range, but for hilly riding it suits lighter loads better. If you plan to carry big panniers, a lower-geared tourer or trekking bike would be a wiser investment. Small panniers are a better bet for gravel bikes in any case, as the chainstays tend to be shorter than a tourer's; you might hit your heels on big bags.
Dawes Discovery 301
The Discovery 301 is a the perfect sports commuter with its subtle colour flashes on an aggressively formed aluminium frame with internal cable routing. Shimano 24 speed gears provide the speed to get you to work in record time but offer low enough ratios to allow you to enjoy the bike as a weekend leisure machine too, and when it comes to slowing down, the Shimano hydraulic disc brakes will take care of that with ease.
Cyclescheme price: £476.61
Marin Gestalt X10 2021
The Gestalt X is the mountain biker’s dropbar bike with reliable and simple 1x drive-trains, large tire clearance, and dropper post routing for better off road control, and on road descending stability.
Cyclescheme price: £821.25
Giant Revolt 1
Whether you ride dirt roads, trails, gravel, or a mix of everything, the challenges are the same. You want a bike that floats right through it, keeps you in control, and is comfortable for long days in the saddle. The new Revolt delivers on all accounts. It features a lightweight ALUXX aluminium frame and carbon fork, each engineered to balance stiffness (for efficiency) and compliance (for comfort and control). Components including the D-Fuse seatpost and handlebar further absorb road shocks and vibrations. The frame is integrated for disc brakes and it has clearance for larger tyres (up to 45c).
Cyclescheme price: £861.75
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