A good road bike's riding posture, centered on performance, will closely resemble an exceptional gravel race bike.
Aero features, snappier handling geometry, and lighter gravel bike wheels are now frequently found on the best gravel bikes for racing. In light of that, the following are excellent examples of some of the best gravel bikes for racing and speedy outdoor adventures.
The best bikes for gravel racing are:
- Specialized S-Works Diverge
- Vitus Substance CRS-2 ETAP AXS Rival
- Canyon Grizl CF SL 8 Suspension 1by
- Cannondale SuperSix EVO SE
- 3T Exploro Force AXS 1X Torno
- BMC URS 01 Three
- Trek Checkpoint SL 6
- Santa Cruz Stigmata CC Rival
- Allied Able Force AXS
- Salsa Cutthroat Carbon GRX 810
Gravel bike geometry is often a little more aggressive than a mountain bike and a bit more forgiving than a road bike. It demonstrates that it successfully balances the two. But it also means you're close to turning your gravel bike into a more focused machine with a few improvements. Fortunately, this list of excellent gravel bikes is one step closer to being the best.
After visiting various sites, including Procyclingstats.com and BikeRadar.com, conversing with gravel bike enthusiasts, and based on expert reviews, I have found some of the best gravel bikes for gravel racing in 2022 for every budget.
Best Bikes For Gravel Racing
The Unbound Gravel, a 200-mile race in the Flint Hills west of Emporia, saw riders take to the dirt on the 5th of June as the sun rose over Kansas. For the particularly wet Unbound Gravel, riders ensured their bikes had the fattest tires with the best tread.
It's not surprising that the bikes shown in Emporia were among the top gravel racing bikes of 2022, given that the professionals competing in Unbound Gravel had access to the best gear for tricky and challenging gravel races. With an excellent out-of-the-box attitude, the gravel bikes on this list aren't far behind the pro build in terms of racing capabilities.
So, beginning with the Specialized S-Works Diverge, let's look at how these gravel bikes deliver some of the best builds for gravel racing, along with some basic specs and pros and cons.
1. Specialized S-Works Diverge
I've long admired the Specialized S-Works Diverge and the ever-changing skill set of the Diverge series. The latest model has taken an already great recipe and refined it into yet another excellent product - it's Specialized's best gravel bike to date.
The new model's design is more advanced than prior versions, with a slacker head tube angle, a lengthier reach, and a shorter stem. In addition, the fork has also been tweaked, with a larger offset and a trail number that provides better steering responsiveness and front-end dexterity.
In addition, the lower bracket drop has been increased by 5mm across the board, though the chainstays have extended slightly to 425 millimeters. Moreover, the top-tier S-Works Diverge is outfitted with a mix of SRAM's mountain and road bike electrical components.
It's known as a mullet build because it syndicates AXS eTap road levers with a 10-50T cassette and an AXS Eagle rear derailleur - a setup that perfectly compliments the Diverge's refined expertise and out-of-the-box attitude.
A dropper post from X-Fusion Manic with 50 millimeters of travel, Roval Terra CLX gravel wheels, an 16-degree flare Easton EC70 AX Carbon bar, an integrated Bar Fly computer attachment with S-Works Future Stem, and an S-Works Specialized Power saddle are among noteworthy components.
The Specialized Diverge is the ultimate adventure motorcycle. It can easily ignore everything from fast-paced road rides to long-distance gravel expeditions to CX-style lap racing.
- Excellent geometry
- Responsive steering
- One of the lightest gravel bikes on the market
- A wide-ranging assortment that covers all pricing tiers
- Ultimately offers a dependable ride quality
- The dropper post adds excess weight
2. Vitus Substance CRS-2 ETAP AXS Rival
The Vitus Substance range is a great entry-level gravel race bike with a more affordable price tag. The Substance CRS-2 ETAP AXS Rival lives up to the great bikes at unbelievable prices for which Vitus has earned a reputation.
With a 2x12 electronic groupset and a complete carbon frame as standard, you would pay nearly twice as much for a bike with a similar specification from some of the more well-known bike manufacturers.
Although the extra gears and relatively lightweight undoubtedly improve the experience, the frame design is ultimately more crucial, and Vitus has also done an excellent job there. The Substance tends to be more rough and long-distance than other types of gravel.
It has bottle attachments on the fork legs and bottom of the downtube, 650b tires, and places to connect a rack and some panniers. For week-long travels, the Vitus Substance is a light and effective rig, but for tours lasting months rather than days, you'd want tubes made of metal instead of carbon.
The bike is somewhat undersold by the reported maximum tire clearance of 650b x 47mm or 700c x 42mm. Nevertheless, I believed there was enough room for 650b x 2.1in tires at the front and bigger tires at the back.
Following the recommended tire widths limits where you can ride this bike—or at the very least, it makes it slower than a Specialized Diverge with totally fat tires. Although this model isn't always available on the Sigmabikes website, Wiggle has a ton of alternatives, with costs ranging from $1,000 - $3,000+.
- Excellent value
- A wide selection of mounting points
- Superb SRAM AXS Rival 2x12 groupset
- Stable and confident handling
- It has a slightly narrow internal rim
- Does not excel at sharp, tight riding
3. Canyon Grizl CF SL 8 Suspension 1by
The Grizl CF SL 8 is Canyon's beefier gravel bike, making itself an exciting candidate for gravel racing. In addition, the Grizl is extremely adaptable since it can accommodate 50mm tires, has attachments for bags and fenders, and has a long geometry.
The bike has a DT Swiss wheels, a Shimano GRX groupset, a Canyon VCLS leaf-spring seat post, and a Fizik Argo Terra seat, all of which are high-quality components.
The pricing for this specification is incredibly competitive, which is unusual in today's bike market and what makes this bike so great. Although the Grizl is content on paved surfaces, it truly gains the spotlight off-road on the type of mixed gravel and dirt singletrack that makes up much of the gravel biking in the US.
Off-road riding benefits from the 1-by setups since they are lighter, simpler, easier to clean, and don't require a front derailleur. Enjoy the best of single-chainring simplicity.
- Excellent balance of agility and smoothness
- Quality frame
- Plenty of speed
- Fun to ride
- The gearing can get a little steep
- Heavier than most of its competitors
4. Cannondale SuperSix EVO SE
The Cannondale SuperSix EVO SE is a speed demon designed for slicing seconds, making snap judgments, and significant mud clearance. A new high-tier cyclocross and gravel race-ready bike from Cannondale is now available. The brand's distinctive Lefty fork is absent from the SuperSix EVO, courtesy of a more conventional rigid arrangement.
The CX and the SE are the two versions of gravel bikes that are available. For gravel purists who favor 2x shifting, there is the SE. For those who like to ride between the tape of a cyclocross course, the CX employs the same frame, although it offers component choices, such as a one-by drivetrain with lower gearing.
The SE delivers a carbon frame and fork with high-quality mechanisms for a reasonable mid-range pricing. In addition, riders receive a DT Swiss wheelset, Vittoria tires, an SRAM Rival AXS eTap two-by-12 drivetrain, and Rival SRAM brakes.
- Works well as a cyclocross alternative
- SRAM gearing
- Great aerodynamics
- Through-axle design with convenient speed release
- The stock tires are tubeless-ready but do not come tubeless and are relatively narrow
- Heavier cranks
5. 3T Exploro RaceMax Force AXS 1X Torno
The 3T Exploro RaceMax Force is one of the fastest aero gravel bikes to enter the list. When 3T introduced the Exploro, the cycling industry was unfamiliar with the notion of an aero gravel bike. Furthermore, most people felt that aerodynamics only benefited at speeds of roughly 25mph.
3T, on the other hand, politely disagreed, citing wind tunnel tests at 20mph that showed the Exploro saves 7 watts over a bike with round tubes and 24 watts at 30mph over the same bike.
The Exploro is on the hot wheels at the end of the range with a 71.1-degree head angle. Furthermore, it includes a 546-millimeter stack, and a 378-millimeter reach in a size medium with space for a 700x40c tire or a 650bx2.1-inch tire, thanks to a lowered drive-side chainstay. According to numerous reviews, no matter the terrain, it's a confidence-inspiring, agile ride.
The 3T Exploro is an aero gravel bike that excels on flowing singletrack and off-road climbs but is also quite adept on roads. Experts claim that if they were to create a versatile gravel bike, they wouldn't make many changes from what 3T did with the Exploro.
3T can tackle steep downhills like a mountain bike while maintaining the same dynamic feel as a road frame. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the Exploro has received several design accolades in recent years, given its adaptability and all-around excellence.
Overall, that four-hour Sunday ride becomes less and less common; instead, with the Exploro, you can experience the same router faster and more pleasurable on the same local trails.
- Highly durable without the added weight
- Race-ready geometry
- Reliable and forgiving riding experience
- One of the best aerodynamic builds
- Lightweight bike
- Limited frame bag storage due to compact front triangle
6. BMC URS 01 Three
The URS 01 Three is BMC's most daring achievement of all-terrain engineering and deserves a position on our list. BMC wants nothing more than to be at the forefront of the rapidly expanding gravel sector.
This elite gravel bike is extremely light and has race-ready speed and all-terrain compliance. The URS 01 Three is the most cost-effective version of this excellent URS 01 frame range. This bike is boundless and a lot of fun to ride, thanks to its BMC integration, accuracy, and gravel-specific shape.
BMC claims that riding on various terrain would be smoother and more pleasant than on other gravel bikes. In addition, the URS is stable at high speeds and has a bit more shock response to support your off-road adventures.
The frame of the BMC URS 01 is composed of BMC's 01 Premium Carbon. This material is extremely lightweight and rigid, giving it the sensation of an elite road bike. This frame's geometry is intended for today's gravel racers' new aggressive riding style.
Despite its quick and aggressive design, the BMC URS offers great compliance due to its Micro Travel Technology (MTT). This lightweight minimalist suspension offers 10mm of rear travel for confident control on difficult terrain and descents while also providing excellent power transmission.
This bike is designed to withstand the abrasiveness of current gravel riding and is ready to set the pace as a great start to gravel racing.
- Excellent MTT rear suspension
- Extra stability is offered by its advanced geometry
- Superb attention to detail in frame features
- Dropout protection for the downtube and fork
- Suspension tuning incurs additional expenditures.
7. Trek Checkpoint SL 6
While tiny, niche bike manufacturers dominated the gravel race scene for years, this expanding category has only lately begun to attract the larger giants. Trek enters the race with the Checkpoint SL 6, bringing decades of racing experience to the table.
The Checkpoint's most notable feature is its IsoSpeed, which acts similarly to a mountain bike's rear suspension. This technique efficiently minimizes vibrations and offers a less jarring, smoother ride by separating the top and seat tubes.
If you've ever driven at high speeds on washboard roads, you'll realize why this is vital. But, unfortunately, the innovative technology and outstanding performance do have a price. For comparison, the top-end model of the Giant Revolt Advanced (the "0") is $100 less expensive than the Trek while including much-improved parts such as carbon wheels (the SL 6's are aluminum).
The IsoSpeed decoupler further increases the design's complexity and necessitates periodic maintenance. Nevertheless, the Trek is undoubtedly worth the extra money if your cycling aspirations involve winning the Dirty Kanza 200, and its more forgiving ride unquestionably is a benefit over long, arduous miles. But several less expensive solutions are available for racers on a smaller budget.
- An amazing job of absorbing chatter and bumps
- Versatile and agile riding experience
- Capable of fitting wider tires
- Excellent IsoSpeed carbon frame
- The suspension raises the expense
- Relatively stiff front end
8. Santa Cruz Stigmata Carbon CC Rival
The Santa Cruz Stigmata CC Rival came out on top in various gravel bike tests by reputable reviewers. Formerly a cyclocross race bike, it was recently updated to fit the demands of the rising gravel industry by updating its geometry, increasing tire clearance, and providing a more forgiving riding quality.
Santa Cruz nailed the nail on the head, and many gravel racers were blown away by this bike's all-around performance and beautifully balanced ride quality. The Stigmata is light, rigid, swift, and efficient, with just enough compliance to improve rider comfort over rugged terrain.
The Rival construction we tried is of high quality, and this bike is suited for a gravel race or any back road excursion. My main issue with the Stigmata is the price. This Rival is the cheapest construction available, but it is also one of the most costly ones we evaluated.
I hope that Santa Cruz will provide other frame alternatives outside the high-end Carbon CC in the future to make its award-winning performance more accessible. That said, I continue to believe that the Stigmata is an excellent bargain for the consumer looking for high-end racing performance in a flexible top-quality model.
- Outstanding frame rigidity and compliance
- Quality specs
- A capable and versatile racer
- The front brake line should be routed more straightly into the fork
9. Allied Able Force AXS
The Allied Able Force AXS delivers something few other gravel brands can: aggressive geometry with massive tires, thanks to a revolutionary drive-side chainstay design. The Able is a high-performance off-road vehicle that favors the "mountain thin" side of the gravel section.
It likes a large tire but maintains a short rear end - in fact, it has the same 420mm as the Allroad. This is accomplished via the bike's most noticeable characteristic, the high drive-side chainstay. The Able is a nimble, quick, and high-speed bike that can still accommodate a wide range of tire sizes for different routes and situations.
The source? The bike made its debut in 2019 as the ride of choice for both the man and female champions in one of the world's most demanding events, as mentioned before, the Unbound Gravel in Emporia, Kansas.
One disadvantage of the design is that it can only support a single-by drivetrain (a setup many gravel enthusiasts favor anyway). However, the ride is responsive and fast on the plus side, making it ideal for hardpack, fire roads, and rocky gravel excursions.
- Compliant yet stiff frame
- Excellent and fast ride quality
- Extremely lightweight
- Custom builds are available
- Some bikers may not appreciate that it can only support a 1x drivetrain
10. Salsa Cutthroat Carbon GRX 810
With the 2,745-mile Tour Divide race squarely in its sights, the Salsa Cutthroat Carbon GR810 is less of a gravel bike and more of a gravel and mountain hybrid developed for ultra-endurance off-road racing. Even though it might seem specialized, it is competent and a lot of fun to ride.
Experts claim that compared to many road or gravel bikes, the riding stance seems more upright while you're sitting. It doesn't feel as quick as a more high-end gravel bike over smoother terrain, like roads or faster gravel tracks.
On an incline, though, it feels quicker the rougher the terrain is. Furthermore, reviewers claim to have chosen the drops on many challenging climbs since this position felt more comfortable and capable.
On steep uphills, the short front offers excellent control. In addition, the high, 74.5-degree seat tube angle of the Cutthroat, which places you in a position that allows for effective pedaling, makes it a great climber and incredibly comfortable.
Overall, the handling provides for a really comfortable ride, giving you the impression that you could overcome any obstacle. In addition, it struck a good mix between the requirement for distance and rugged terrain, offering everything from endless miles of forest road to steep, rocky sections and always keeping riders happy.
- Excellent performer on aggressive gravel
- Brilliant climber
- Effective geometry
- Overall comfortable and capable
- Not as fast as top-tier gravel bikes
- Heavier than competitors
About THE AUTHOR
Mountain biking is more than just a hobby for me - it's a way of life. I love the challenge and excitement that comes with it, and I'm always pushing myself to go faster and ride harder. Some people might think that mountain biking is dangerous, but I see it as the only way to live.Read More About Danny Lawson