The gravel grinder is more than just a road bike with wide tires and disc brakes, it's more than a bog standard cyclocross bike - the gravel grinder has become an entity in its own right! When people in the know talk grinding gravel you might hear these things bandied around: tall headtube, long wheel base, slack head angle, low bottom bracket, short top tube, long chainstays...
In short, the gravel grinder could perhaps be summed up as a cyclocross bike that has been redesigned for endurance riding. By this we mean events, races, or just big back country days out on the bike for 100-200 miles! Nuts!
We picked a handful of bikes that, in some way, fit this measure. Not all these bikes are true gravel grinders in the purest sense, but they all share similar features that, if you squint, you would never know. Give the missus a kiss goodbye, we're going grinding.
BMC Gran Fondo GF01 Disc
Okay, not the best place to begin because the BMC Gran Fondo is a slightly revamped version of the endurance bike BMC designed for the spring classics like Paris-Roubaix. This bike does feature a taller headtube, a frame designed around compliance (it's comfortable on rough roads), and disc brakes so you could happily hit the gravel without much fuss. The compliance is described by BMC's Tuned Compliance Concept (TCC) which optimizes the ride qualities of the carbon frame and is reported to be pretty damn good.
This model is the Ultegra Di2 version, but the bike is available in anything from Shimano 105 upwards. BMC don't mess around and, to their credit, have used a complete Ultegra groupset down to the chain and cassette. DT Swiss tubeless wheels are spot-on for this type of bike, making punctures a thing of the past.
You pay a premium for best in class technology, but if you have the cash give it a try.
The Renegade is a new bike for 2015 from Jamis and looks truly awesome! A low bottom bracket and long chainstays mean this bike will be stable when hitting the gravel and comfort is taken care of with ultra- thin seatstays to assist vertical compliance and a tall headtube for an all-day rider position.
The Renegade also has built-in rack and fender mounts and the ability to handle very wide tires up to 40c. The wheels have a 30mm rim profile to handle the big volume rubber and are tubeless as well. The drivetrain (Ultegra 11 spd mechanical) and disc brakes are all Shimano.
This bike is pretty much a purpose-built adventure machine and sits comfortably as a potential gravel grinder racer. A great bike from Jamis and also top value.
Specialized CruX Expert
We have thrown in the Specialized CruX as an alternative for those who are racier at heart than the long haul gravel grinders out there. The CruX is basically a cyclocross race bike. In saying this, there is scope to put on slick tires and use it as a road bike, no problems, but this bike is made for speed off-road and isn't afraid of saying it.
This does make it, perhaps, not the bike many gravel grinder folk may be looking for. The lack of inbuilt rack and fender mounts may be a problem and launching into a 200 mile odyssey may be a little more uncomfortable than many other bikes out there (but you will certainly finish the ride more quickly!)
The Expert sits bang in the middle of the range and, similarly to many other bikes here, features Shimano Ultegra. Don't get us wrong, this is an awesome bike that could handle rough roads without flinching, but it is built for speed more than comfort, and really, how many gloss orange and yellow bikes do you come across these days?
Trek Boone 9 Disc
The Trek Boone, like the CruX, is a race bike adapted for cyclocross. This is another speed weapon that will probably offend gravel grinding purists for being included on this list. The way I see it is that not everyone wants a comfortable bike with fenders and 40c tires. There are many people grinding gravel for the sheer love of speed and the thrill of racing off-road over long distances.
The trick, as with every bike purchase, is to get the bike that suits your purpose, and if your purpose is no compromises on speed, the Boone is a great bike!
The Boone is a lightweight carbon bike based on an endurance platform that features Trek's ISOSpeed decoupler and fork for compliance and a tall head tube for rider comfort. The Shimano Di2 Ultegra is matched to a set of RS785 hydraulic disc brakes for the ultimate in stopping power.
The Boone features the latest technology and is perfect for cyclocross or gravel races or just the rider who wants the fastest off-road bike available.
Check out the comparison: Gravel grinders and cyclocross bikes – Our first 4 picks from BMC, Jamis, Specialized, Trek
BikeRoar Editor's Pick
Not many brands have focussed so exclusively on the segment of the market known unofficially as gravel grinders. Salsa have made adventure cycling their forte and are producing iconic and well-conceived bikes to fit this specific purpose. The Salsa Warbird is a great example.
The bike has been designed from the outset to be ridden on gravel roads all-day. Stability and endurance is paramount here, making the bike suitable for adventure cycling and 100-200 mile rides. This is shown with the use of a long wheelbase, slack head angle, and a tall head tube, making the cockpit a comfortable place to be for many hours.
Salsa has incorporated many other design characteristics like clearance for big tires, cable routing, and full-length cable housing to avoid mud build-up, help make the Warbird truly a go-to bike for adventure riding.
Check out any of these bikes at your local bike shop and test ride soon. The gravel awaits.
Check out the comparison: Gravel grinders and cyclocross bikes – Our last 4 picks from Jamis, Specialized, Trek, Salsa