We recently attended the Core Bike Show which showcases smaller independent bike brands. The bikes on show there are usually a good indicator of what’s hot in the bike world and gravel bikes were centre stage again this year.
Gravel bikes have been around for a few years now with the trend having started in the states. Designed for riding, and racing, on unpaved American country roads gravel bikes are usually beefed up road bikes. They are designed to still be fast and aero but to be capable of taking some extra punishment and taking wider tyres.
In recent years gravel bikes have started to overlap with the endurance road bikes used to race early season classics like the Paris Roubaix which are run over cobbled roads. These endurance bikes have a similar set of requirements to gravel bikes. They need to be fast and aero but take punishment and be able to handle bigger tyres and a bit of mud.
All of the bike brands now have either an endurance road bike or a gravel bike offering in their range (in some cases both). Below we have picked some of the most popular ones on offer in 2018.
Trek Domane & Crockett
The Trek Domane was developed for races like Paris Roubaix and Strada Bianchi which are run on cobbled and gravel roads. The Domane frame provides a small amount of suspension via Treks IsoSpeed technology which allows the seat tube and head tube to ‘decouple’ when you hit a bump. Primarily though the Domane is designed for speed and to win races. It is a bike most at home on mixed terrain where you are going to be using roads and then the odd section of gravel, mud or other rough stuff. The Trek Domane is available in a huge choice of specifications with prices starting from around £600 and going to over £4000.
The next step up from the Domane in terms of toughness and off-road ability is the Trek Crockett. The Crockett is a cyclocross bike at heart so it is designed to be fast over rough ground and to grip well in muddy conditions. If your riding is going to involve more gravel than tarmac then the Crockett could be the way to go.
Specialized do not have a specific gravel bike offering but they do have the Diverge which they class as an adventure bike and fits the bill very nicely. Like the Trek Domane the Diverge comes with a small amount of built in suspension and road bike like styling. However, where the Trek Domane is decended from pro race bikes the Specialized Diverge is designed more to just be a super capable bike that is comfortable to ride on the road but will also handle off road sections. All of the 2018 Specialized Diverge bikes come with disc brakes for increased stopping power and thru axles for added stiffness. The Specialized Diverge is fast enough to keep up on your local club ride but won’t complain if you take it down the local cycle paths, or through the woods, on your morning commute.
Cannondale Synapse SE & Super X SE
Like Specializes, Cannondale don’t have a specific Gravel bike range but they do have ‘new road’ bikes. Cannondale’s new road section includes some of their cyclocross bikes but at the centre of the range are their Synapse SE bikes.
The standard Cannondale Synapse is an ‘endurance road’ bike. One that is designed to be fast but also comfortable enough to handle really big days out. The Synapse SE models take the same platform and add bigger tyres, disc brakes and lower gearing making them more capable to tackling rougher roads and paths and mix these in with road sections for a fast and versatile bike.
If you are going to be spending more time off-road then on then, like with the Trek range, Cannondale have cyclocross derived bikes as part of their ‘new road’ category. The Super X SE is a beefed up version of Cannondale’s carbon framed cyclocross race bike. As with the Synapse SE the Super X SE comes with bigger tyres but it also has loads of mud clearance and an 1x11 groupset.
Whyte Friston and Gisburn
Whyte started off as a mountain bike company but quickly expanded into hybrid and road bikes. All of the Whyte bikes are British designed and as a result their road bikes tend to be designed towards handling lumpy, potholed and dirty roads rather than pristine dry tarmac. At the most extreme end of their road bike range are their gravel and adventure bikes, the Friston and Gisburn.
The Friston and Gisburn look like cyclocross bikes but have been designed using input from Whyte’s mountain biking heritage. Unhappy with the components available off the shelf Whtye have designed their own handlebars and forks to get the performance they want from these bikes. As you would expect from a company that regularly gets t star reviews for it’s mountain bikes the Whyte bikes handle well off road and can be taken beyond gravel tracks and into the woods, across fields and up onto the moors. If you want a gravel bike that you can really push off-road then the Whyte’s are well worth a look.