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The Rise Of The Gravel Bike

Words by bike zone oxford on 01/02/2019 14:02:45

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So what exactly is a “gravel bike”? The name is a good pointer – a bike designed to be used off road, but you definitely wouldn't confuse these with mountain bikes!

Thanks to developments in cycle design and materials, manufacturers have been able to reconfigure key aspects of bike design and pour them in to a blender to create a new category of bike – giving us the versatile gravel bike. Looking at one of these, you might mistake it for a cutting edge road bike thanks to the drop bars and slick modern alloy or carbon frames set, but on closer inspection you will notice some radical changes that have made a massive differences to the bike's versatility. A typical gravel bike set-up will see the 25mm slick road tyres replaced by far more substantial 40-45mm tyres, still leaving clearance in the frame for mudguards - YES MUDGUARDS!

This is one of the key points that makes the bike so versatile - tyre clearance and plenty of it. No two tyre models are the same - each brings a different feel and ability to the bike. There is still the option to fit a set of road wheels with 25mm slick tyres for a fast road ride, but also, for winter road rides some more grippy and robust 28-32mm touring tyres. If you fancy a commute to work along a rough stretch of towpath, it is no problem to fit some 35mm puncture-resistant tyres. Or for a real adventure, fit some fully off-road capable 40-45mm tyres and ride out to the hilly trails!

A number of other changes help the bike perform well under harder and more demanding riding conditions . A longer wheel base gives a more planted and stable ride for off-road terrain, while having a higher headtube and more relaxed geometry will help with all day comfort and usable handling for a wide range of cycling styles. Many manufactures are using a mix of frame materials and design tweaks to produce a more compliant frame which allows the bike to be used in a wider variety of terrain. Bike frames need to be able to flex and dissipate vibration while staying efficient for power transmission. Many carbon frames do both these jobs very well but they can be quite pricey. Some manufacturers have managed to achieve a remarkable mix of performance and comfort using less expensive hydroformed aluminium frames. There are other innovations too - longer drop handlebars, thicker bar tape and different saddles can be useful to create a bike that's great to ride in many different environments.

The perfect commuter!

With most gravel bikes having built in rack-mounts and clearance for mudguards, so they are naturally very popular with commuter cyclists. They have the benefit of being quicker and lighter than traditional city hybrids, but retain the capability of taking a set of pannier bags (unlike many conventional road bikes).

So what do we think about the gravel bike category? In a nutshell, we love it. Loads of fun while being extremely practical and efficient. For many people its a bike they could use for almost everything and for bike enthusiasts who already own several bikes this is a type of bike you should have in your collection. If you're tempted, then come and have a look for yourself and take one for a test ride. Over the last year demand has out-stripped supply for the best of the gravel bikes, but the new 2019 models are now starting to land on the shop floor. We have agencies for some of the most interesting and competitively-priced gravel bikes on the market from manufacturers such as Trek, Bombtrack, Cube and Cannondale and have bikes in stock in a range of sizes for test-riding.

Our Top 4 Gravel Bikes

Bombtrack EXT-C

Not the cheapest of the bunch but it only takes a moment to see why. Faultless looks and top notch equipment puts the EXT-C up there with the best. The C standing for carbon, giving you a full carbon frame and fork while Bombtrack offer a alloy frame carbon fork option if you want to keep the budget down a little. Boasting a sublime set of Hunt 650b wheels and a Sram Rival hydraulic groupset, its ready to hit that hardest thing you can find straight out the box. For Price and spec click here.

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Trek Checkpoint ALR 5

The Checkpoint ALR 5 is the best value gravel bike in Trek’s line-up. It's a high-quality build that will that hold up for long, rugged miles on the road, dirt and even the most treacherous gravel tracks. But what sets this model apart is the performance parts and the wealth of features like adjustable Stranglehold dropouts, massive tyre clearance and extra mounts that make it easy to customise for your kind of adventure. For prices and specs click here.

checkpoint alr 5

Cube Nuroad

The Nuroad Race combines all the best qualities of Cubes road race and cyclocross series in a rugged, versatile and lively bike that'll have you seeking out new routes to explore. With wide Schwalbe tyres, Shimano's brand new 105 11 speed transmission and hydraulic disc brakes, and a CUBE cockpit designed especially for long hauls on gravel roads, it's fully equipped to keep going when other bikes have long since turned around and given up. Whether you fancy mixing up your training rides or have a longer trip in a remote area in mind, the Nuroad Race will reset your riding expectations and help you go further. For Prices and specs click here.


Cannondale Topstone

With its high-volume tires, confident rider position and sporty handling, Topstone is ready to smash out big miles on the backroads, explore routes less travelled, or smooth out the chop on your morning commute. Topstone shares similar stack and reach measurements with our Synapse endurance bikes, for a confident and sporty riding position. A slack head angle paired with a long 55mm fork rake delivers great stability at speed and great agility where needed. Just what you need for mixed-surface confidence or multi-day adventures.Full carbon forks on all models, with tapered steerers and 12mm thru-axles, for a light, comfortable and precise-steering front end. For specs and prices click here.