Gravel Bikes Offer an Unbeatably Versatile Ride for Fun-Loving Parents
Here are nine of the best gravel bikes for 2021.
Want a versatile bike to ride with friends, cruise with your kids, and maybe head out for an overnight adventure? You need a gravel bike. You’ve probably heard of these cool rides, and maybe you’ve wondered what all the fuss is about. A gravel bike takes the curly, drop bars and diamond-shaped frame of a classic Schwinn 10-speed and toughens it up for off-road adventuring. Gravel bikes feature wider tires, a more relaxed and comfortable position, and wider gear ranges, which makes them easier to pedal.
All these elements add up a to a fun, reliable bike that will take you just about anywhere, letting you cross effortlessly from pavement to dirt and back again. Most gravel bikes come equipped with multiple mounts for water bottles and bags, too. Pack up panniers or saddle bags with all the gear you’ll need for a weekend under the stars or load them up with a few provisions for a family picnic. Gravel bikes come with either 700c or 650b wheel sizes: The bigger 700c wheel size rolls faster, while 650 wheels typically offer more tire clearance for wider tires and easier maneuvering.
Do we recommend a gravel bike for commuters, off-roaders, and parents alike? Yes. But we should also warn you that bikes of all kinds can be difficult to find right now for a number of reasons. During Covid, demand for bikes went up wildly, as more of us have opted for self-propelled commutes or headed outdoors in search of safe fun. And while factories have struggled to keep up with demand, supply chain wrinkles — from materials shortages to shipping back-ups — have interrupted production.
If you’re patient and willing to search around a bit, there’s a cool ride out there for you. We’ve tried our best to help you out with that search. Here are nine bikes we love and that are either available now or should be soon.
The Best Gravel Bikes: Our Picks for 2021
Pinarello is charging hard from its Italian home into the American market, so if you're a longtime fan of the roads, you'll relish the chance to pick up its gravel-centric bike. Specially designed tube shapes and custom layup smooths bumps and bangs, while tweaked aerodynamics improves peak efforts on windy days. With Shimano components, including disc brakes and derailleur, you could certainly spend more, but this bike is ready to grind right out of the box.
Buy this bike if: You’re a fan of the Italian heritage of cycling and want an Old World take on a New World trend. With its push into the U.S., you can buy the bike direct from the company or through your favorite local or online shop.
Marin is ace at building quality bikes that are fun to ride and that won’t break the bank. The stylish Nicasio+ offers a steel frameset with a relaxed, stable geometry. Marin chooses 650B, as opposed to 700c, wheels for the Nicasio+ and the smaller wheel size allows clearance for wider tires, which means more traction for you. We love the flared drop bars, which offer a more balanced hand position for off-road riding than traditional road-style drops. The Nicasio+ features 9-speed shifting. Unlike a Schwinn 10-speed, all nine gears are in the rear of the bike, and controlled with a single shifter. Cruise downhill on the 11-tooth cog, or crush a climb with the massive 42-tooth gear on the bike’s wide-range rear cassette. Mechanical disc brakes, which use cables rather than hydraulic lines, are low-maintenance and offer solid stopping power. The Nicasio+ includes mounts for three waterbottle cages and multiple racks. Ready to commute, for weekend playtime, or for light touring, the Nicasio+ is a versatile, affordable ride.
Buy this bike if: You want a fun, versatile bike and you’re on a tight budget. Marin is receiving new bikes from their factory regularly and working overtime to get them out to dealers. Find a Marin dealer.
With the Apollo, Priority brings their low-maintenance design philosophy to a gravel bike. In place of a traditional metal chain, Priority uses a Gates belt drive, that’s reinforced with carbon fiber for strength, on the Apollo. That should mean less time cleaning your bike and more time riding it. Shifting takes place inside Shimano’s Alfine 11-speed hub at the rear of the bike, which keeps the moving parts out of the grime. Priority pairs an aluminum frame with a carbon fork for a frisky, lightweight ride. The Apollo ships with 700c wheels, and the frame has clearance for tires up to 40mm wide. It’ll accept 650b wheels, too. A 12-degree flare on the handlebar drops looks stylish, and offers a more stable hand position for off-road riding.
Buy this bike if: You like the idea of a low-maintenance, grease-free drivetrain and you want a lightweight, adventure-ready ride. Priority is currently taking orders online for an expected June delivery.
For the Kanzo A Apex 1, Ridley pairs an aluminum frame with SRAM Apex components. One of the world’s biggest component manufacturers, SRAM designed Apex as a reliable, entry-level groupset. You can expect predictable shifting without the fancy-pants lightweight materials that distinguish higher-priced options. You’ll also have cash left for a post-ride lunch stop. Similar to the Nicasio, the Kanzo features one-handed shifting, and a wide-range rear cassette which makes the Ridley ready for most any terrain. TRP Spyre C disc brakes are cable-actuated, rather than hydraulic, and will get the job done. Run 650b tires for more nimble handling and wider tire sizes, or 700c for faster rolling speeds — the Kanzo can accept either size. Ridley house brand saddle, seatpost, handlebar, and stem round out the build.
Buy this bike if: You don’t have a ton of cash to spend, but you want a capable bike for venturing off-road. Sizes M-XL are currently available at Backcountry.
Since Canyon began selling bikes in the U.S. in 2007, the German brand has built a reputation for high-quality rides at comparably low prices. The Grail 7 1By offers the simplicity of a single chainring in the front paired with the wide, hill-flattening wide-range cassette in the rear. This set-up means less time spent tinkering with shifting adjustments and maintenance. One shifter does it all. The Grail 7’s aluminum frame is built up with gravel-specific components from Shimano, and the quality of the parts alone readily justify the price for the Grail 7. Shimano’s hydraulic discs provide predictable and powerful braking, and we like the greater control hydraulics offer compared with cable-actuated discs. Durable gravel-ready wheels from DT Swiss and 40mm tires from Schwalbe complete this solid build.
Buy this bike if: You plan to play in the dirt road regularly, and you want a bike with an insane build for the price. The Grail 7 1By is available direct from Canyon, and expected to ship in June 2021.
We’ll go ahead and confess, they had us at the colorway: “Cyclone popsicle.” For the Nature Cross, All City pairs a steel frame with a lightweight carbon fork. Quality SRAM Rival 1 components smoothly handle shifting without the hassles of a front derailleur. Rival 1 is one of SRAM’s higher end component groups, and the upgrade means smoother and more accurate shifting. A wide-range cassette in the rear should get you over most climbs that come your way. TRP mechanical disc brakes keep the price down, while offering ample stopping power. The Nature Cross can accept tires up to 42mm wide, and comes stock with 700x33c Baby Limus tires from Challenge. All City does a nice job here of putting the high-dollar parts where they matter most — in the gears and shifting — and overall, it adds up to an affordable SRAM Rival build.
Buy this bike if: You want an eye-catching ride with high-quality parts. Limited sizes available now at Jenson USA.
For riders looking to spend more time on the bike, a carbon frame offers a nice upgrade. Modern carbon bikes are typically more lightweight and carefully tuned for ride feel and handling. The Diverge Base Carbon offers Specialized’s topflight carbon technology paired with an affordable set of components. With 20mm of suspension in the front fork, Specialized has built the Diverge specifically for improved traction and handling on gravel roads. Entry-level Apex 1 parts from SRAM handle shifting and Apex hydraulic brakes ensure that you don’t break the sound barrier — unless you want to. The Diverge offers multiple mounts for racks and bottle cages, so it’s ready for a ride along the bluffs with friends or for a multi-night adventure. Clearance for 47mm tires increases the bike’s versatility.
Buy this bike if: You want the comfort and feather weight of a well-tuned carbon frameset at an affordable price. The Diverge Base Carbon is not currently available online, but you can find select sizes at some Specialized dealers.
Niner starts with a carbon frame and fork in an effort to make the RLT 9 RDO feel lightweight, responsive, and fast. The smaller 650B wheel size creates space for tires sizes up to 50mm, which means more traction when the going gets rough. Niner has designed the frame geometry specifically for off-road riding with a low bottom bracket, long seat stays, and slacker head tube. The goal is to create a stable, smooth-riding bike, ready for any terrain. Top-level SRAM Rival components provide precise shifting and braking. The Nine RLT 9 RDO features 26 mounts for bags and water bottles. Ride it to work during the week, pack it up for a trip into the great beyond over the weekend. And if you’ve ever considered competing in a gravel race, the Niner RLT 9 RDO is ready to toe the starting line.
Buy this bike if: You have overnight adventures and the occasional gravel race in your sights. Available online in sizes 53cm, 56cm, and 59cm at Competitive Cyclist.
Ibis has set out to build as much versatility as possible into the Hakka MX. Ride it with 650B wheels and tires up to 2.1 inches wide, or 700c wheels with tires up to 40mm wide — Either way, it’ll almost certainly be fun. (Bike tire size conventions are a confusing business. The “c” in 700c, for example, is not a unit of measurement; instead “700c” denotes the size, and widths are measured in millimeters for 700c and inches for 650B.) The Hakka MX features a carbon frame and fork that’s ready to help you crush the climbs on your all-day adventure or add a little bling to your afterwork jam. Expect easy shifting from the SRAM’s mid-range Rival drivetrain and solid, predictable braking from SRAM’s hydraulic disc set-up. Fender Mounts make the Hakka MX a well-mannered companion for wet weather riding and commuting.
Buy this bike if: You have some cash to spend and you want a light bike that’ll go fast and play hard. Limited sizes available off and on at Backcountry. You can find local and online dealers at Ibis Cycles.
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