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(The Gear Loop) - Originally gravel bikes were the 'do it all' machine, but the genre has increasingly become complicated by specific gravel racing bikes, which offer a more extreme take on the trail-riding world. Although the aero looks and high-end components of the racier bikes can be beguiling, the ratios and pricing makes the older school adventure bike more our jam. 

Designed for the exciting world of trails and bridleways, the gravel bike usually sports chunky tyres for off-road grip, low gear ratios to tackle steep and loose terrain, and relatively lightweight builds to reduce the effort of it all. Plus, you’re more likely to find attachments points for mudguards, racks and other storage solutions.

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The real value here is in the flexibility, with the ability to take on pretty much any terrain, but also perform as a winter commuter hack, or a tourer too. 

In short, a good gravel bike has a strong claim to be the only bike you need, which is why it is often worth parting with a little extra to bag that build that is going to last. 

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Here, we’ve collated our pick of some of the best gravel bikes out there, all selected for their mix of quality frames and components, while keeping the price down to a reasonable level.

The best affordable gravel bikes

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Specialized Crux Comp

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For

  • Super-light
  • Sharp handling
  • Sram Rival groupset

Against

  • Pricey
  • Wheels are so-so

The Specialized Crux Comp prides itself on being the lightest gravel bike in the world, for which you are admittedly paying a substantial wedge. 

The Crux FACT 10r Carbon frame here comes in at a laughable 825g, and loaded up with a SRAM Rival 1 hydraulic disc groupset and DT G540 Disc wheels, it’s a pretty storming combo. 

Indeed, when you look at the S-Works 12r frame at 725g (and £11.3k) you can see just how hard your £4,200 is working here. Inevitably there’s a full carbon fork and seatpost too, just to seal the deal, but this is one of those bikes that might stretch the finances, but it’ll keep delivering for many years, or at least that’s the excuse you can try out on your credit card provider. 

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Decathlon Gravel Bike Triban GRVL 520 Subcompact

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For

  • Keen price point
  • Decent equipment
  • Relatively lightweight

Against

  • Some cheap kit
  • Not the sleekest looking

It’s easy to sneer at Decathlon branded goods, but the reality is that they’re usually good - if not excellent  - value, and rarely anything other than solid choices. 

This bike is a particularly good example of that general ethos. It’s not the lightest, although at 10.5 kg it's no bloater, and priced at under £1200, you have to pay some attention. For that price you might only get an alloy frame, and a carbon bladed fork, but you also get a Shimano 105 drivetrain, disc brakes and gravel-specific bars.

Wheels are alloy Triban Gravel 7000x23c tubeless ready numbers, too. Overall, it’s a lot of bike for not a lot of cash, and will happily take on the day-to-day demands of gravel bike life with aplomb. Just expect to want to upgrade some of those components over time.

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Boardman ADV 8.6

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For

  • Excellent value
  • Solid spec for the money

Against

  • Easy to lust over better components
  • Brakes not the strongest

Very much in the old-school definition of gravel bike, the Boardman ADV 8.6 might be an alloy-framed, Shimano Sora-geared bike, but at £775 it’s got value firmly on its side. 

There’s a carbon bladed fork present and correct, Tektro MD-C511 disc brakes and tubeless-ready Boardman ADV wheels thrown into the bargain. A flared bar gives more control over the rough stuff, and mudguard and pannier rack mounts open up winter commuting and touring options too. 

For a solid performer on a tight budget, this Boardman is well worth a look - a fact shared by much of the Boardman range to be fair. 

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Scott Addict Gravel 20

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For

  • Stunning looks
  • Fast and responsive
  • Great components 

Against

  • Limited stock
  • Not super comfortable 

A lightweight, racy carbon gravel bike is never going to be the most comfortable over long distances, but what the Scott Addict Gravel 20 lacks in that department, it more than makes up for with crisp handling and overall responsiveness.

It has plenty of mounting points and tyre clearance to suit a wide variety of tyre widths too, while the groupset selection is on-point, with only premium brands used throughout. The Sram AXS electronic shifting does away with potential mechanical issues and the frame is kept extremely clean thanks to a lack of exposed cabling. 

To say it’s a handsome steed would be a massive understatement, but the extensive use of sleek carbon might not be as tough as some of the other materials mentioned on this list, and how good-looking do you really want a bike that’s going to be smashed around trails? 

Regardless, this is a serious bike of riders that want to cover rough terrain seriously fast.

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Alpkit Sonder Camino Ti Rival 1

For

  • Titanium frame
  • SRAM Rival set-up
  • Surprisingly light

Against

  • Challenger brand bias?
  • Limited colour options

Alpkit might be best known for keenly priced outdoor equipment, but a move a few years ago into bikes has been delivering well for the British brand, with numerous awards already snared. The Camino was first launched back in 2015, and aims to bring together the DNA of a cyclocross, gravel and adventure race bike. 

This entry-level titanium version might come in at under £1,900, but features a Sram Rival 11-speed groupset, carbon monocoque fork and tubeless Sonder Alpha 700c wheels. It’s also built to accommodate pretty much any tyre combo you fancy, and has mounts for everything you can imagine, from extra bottles to frame bags. Adventure-ready doesn’t begin to cover it. 

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What to look for when buying a gravel bike

Components 

Components are key on a gravel bike - wheelsets need to be robust but lightweight, which unfortunately is an expensive combination, while many of the specs familiar to good road bikes apply to the other parts. Brakes, gearing and finishing kit (saddles, bar tape etc) will all vary massively depending on the money you spend but remember, these are also the easiest parts to upgrade later.

Tyre clearance

Tyre clearance is a vital element of the mix, allowing you to run chunky off-road tyres, but also providing the ability to swap to skinnier road-orientated rubber for winter commuting, road touring and the like. Make sure there's enough space between the chainstays to accomodate your type of tyre.

Frame material

Frames should be lightweight and resilient, which opens up the full field of materials, particularly carbon (good for vibration absorption), titanium (good for emptying your wallet), and steel (good for being slim and robust), as well as aluminium for lightweight value. 

Overall it’s very much a matter of personal preference, and affordability in the wider sense, although it’s hard to argue with the benefits of titanium frames for gravel - if you ignore the cost. 

Bars and more

Bars tend to be wider or more flared than pure road bikes, allowing more scope for different hand positions on differing terrain, and also improving control on rougher surfaces. 

There’s also the potential to add bar bags to boost luggage capacity. If you’re planning extended trips (or a regular commute) then mudguard and pannier lugs are well worth having, even if you don’t need them for every occasion. 

Writing by Mark Mayne. Editing by Leon Poultney.