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How To Choose A New Gravel Bike

How To Choose A New Gravel Bike

(dramatic tone)
(typing) (whooshing) – So you’re thinking of
buying a new gravel bike, which one to get can
be a difficult decision because there are a
lot of different types. So we got together with
Shimano, who this year launched the first gravel specific
groupsets, GRX, to put together this video to help to
guide you through the maze. ‘Cause actually once you
understand just a few key points the whole thing begins to make sense and you’ll be able to choose
the right bike for you. And it doesn’t matter what your budget, the principles remain the same. (upbeat music) (typing) (whooshing) (upbeat music) Firstly, I want to introduce
you to the spectrum. Some gravel riding is basically just road riding but browner. And some gravel is not gravel at all, it’s actually just mountain biking. So the spectrum then is the
spread of all the terrains and surfaces that span
road to mountain bike. And it’s relevant because
while a gravel bike is truly a great dual
bike, some perform better at one end of the spectrum than the other. Now happily, most do fall
somewhere in the middle, but how do you know? Well, I’m going to give you some pointers. (upbeat music) Firstly clearance, because tire size is probably the biggest factor governing a bikes ability on different surfaces. Some gravel bikes have
clearance restricted to about 35 millimeters, whereas others will allow you to fit tires up to and in excess of 50 millimeters, which is kind of like mountain
bike territory really. Although, in the words of
our own J-Pow, Jeremy Powers, there’s nothing you can’t
handle on a 40 millimeter wide tire like this one, which is true. However, you might find
that on really rough and long days out in the saddle, you might want an even
wider tire than that just to add a little bit more comfort, the ability to run lower pressures, plus, you’re also able to
relax a little bit more when you’re going faster
on rougher terrain ’cause there’s much less
chance of you puncturing and dinging your wheels. Some gravel bikes actually
have a bit of a party trick in that you can fit smaller
diameter 650b wheels, and then correspondingly
much fatter tires. And that really does add
to their versatility, but you’ve obviously got
to buy two pairs of wheels. Basically though, more tire clearance means more versatility. But there is a trade-off and
that is that less tie clearance can mean that a bike feels
a little bit more zippy, a little bit more like a
road bike, but on steroids, which doesn’t sound like a bad thing. (upbeat music) Linked into that road bike feel, we also need to talk about the position that the bike puts you, the rider, into. So a road bike does tend to
be quite long and quite low, it’s faster because it
makes you more aerodynamic. If you’re doing longer
or even multi-day rides, then you tend to want to
be a little bit higher up and perhaps a little bit
shorter to increase the comfort. And the same is true for
riding off-road as well, except in that instance
it’s less about comfort and more about improved control. And you’ll see when you
start to look at gravel bikes that actually the
geometry of them can vary quite significantly depending on which end of the spectrum it’s on. So either fast and racy
or slow and relaxed, or like in this instance the Orbea Terra, it kind of fits in that middle ground in that it can kind of go either way. How do you know which one is which? Well, you will have to
compare geometry charts. Yes, you can always
find ’em on the web page of any bike that you’re interested in. And basically once you’ve found your size, you then need to seek out
the reach and stack numbers. They basically tell you how far forward and how high the front of the bike will be and they are the single best
measurement on the bike. Because while you can
more often than not find the right saddle height in
relation to your pedals, either by moving the seat post up and down or the saddle forwards and backwards, if your handlebars are in the wrong place you are much, much more limited. (siren ringing) If you’re comparing the geometry and fit of lots of different bikes, why not create your own
reach and stack spreadsheet, or better still, head
to, which is a website I happily
stumbled upon the other day where someone has basically
done it all for you. Amazing. (upbeat music) Let’s talk about gears next. We know to look out for tire size and also body position,
geometry on our frames, but what we choose to put on
there also has an influence on where your bike will sit
on that gravel spectrum. As I said at the beginning,
we’ve partnered with Shimano for this video so we are
of course going to be using their GRX groupsets to illustrate. Not long ago gravel bikes
just had road groupsets on, and that’s fine, they already
had compact gear ratio, so you could get some fairly low gears for steep, off-road climbing. So it’s fair to say then, you
don’t need anything specific, except for disc brakes, which
for me are an essential. Having the ability to have
predictable, consistent braking no matter what the road surface
nor the weather conditions. And also, they place zero restrictions on tire width, just ask fat bikers. Now furthermore, one
point I would make here, is that the difference
between hydraulic disc brakes and cable actuated disc brakes is vast. So, if there was ever anything
to stretch your budget for, then going for hydraulic disc brakes as opposed to cable
actuated disc brakes is it. They give you more power, more modulation, and more ability to
withstand crappy conditions. So, if you can afford it, do it. There have been several other
advances in recent years, not least the choice between
two-by drivetrains and one-by. Something this worthy of
a video all on its own, and it will indeed get
one, but in a nutshell, one-by drivetrains look a lot cleaner, and tend to be a little bit lighter, you can also still get a
really widespread of gears. But if you do choose wide ratios, you will get larger jumps between them. Now this isn’t a problem
off-road, but it’s something that does frustrate
some people on the road. Two-by meanwhile, (attempting snapping) (breathing hard) (breathing hard) Two-by meanwhile, (snapping) gives you the ability to
have wider gear ratios and smaller jumps between them, but something to bear in mind, that is that on a standard road groupset, the front derailleur puts a restriction on the maximum tire width. On GRX, Shimano have bumped up that maximum to 42 millimeters, so it does comfortably
exceed J-Pow’s minimum. But remember, that if you
want to fit really wide tires on your gravel bike, you
are going to need one-by. Another point to look out
for, if budget allows, is to get a rear derailleur
with a clutch on. Now with a one-by setup,
this and a specific chainring are important to keep the
chain on, but actually, I think it’s still desirable
on a two-by setup as well, because it keeps your
bike so much quieter. Not adding to your speed perhaps, but definitely to enjoyment. One other point that I often get asked questions on relates to gear ratios. Yes, such a sexy term that I would imagine if you’re watching this video
and anyone is within earshot, they’ve immediately
stopped what they’re doing, and they’re going to come
over and watch as well. If however, they missed it
first time round, I’ll say it once more for their benefit
so they don’t miss out. (shouting) Gear ratios! Yeah, there we go. Now, as terribly boring as it sounds, it is worth paying a
little bit of attention to. For example, if you are going
to be buying a gravel bike for the smoother end
of the gravel spectrum, it’s worth choosing
gears that are optimized for faster riding. However, do not get too concerned
about maximum gear sizes. Yes, if you’re racing, you
really don’t want to get dropped on a descent ’cause you
can’t peddle fast enough, but in the real world, I don’t
tend to get too concerned about pedaling beyond about 60ks an hour. And the 48 tooth chainring that’s on this particular GRX
setup, or the 46 that you often get on the other two-by version, is plenty big enough to be able to pedal beyond 60k and hour. And actually the one-by
setup as well, is quite happy doing that if you’re
comfortable spinning away. At the other end of the
spectrum, for rougher off-road riding, you definitely want to optimize your gears for
slower, slower climbs, particularly if you’re going
to be going up steep stuff. So again, on this instance, 31, 34 would be perfect for that. And also, if you’re going
to bikepack as well. Something that gravel bikes
often get pressed into service for, if you’re
carrying heavy luggage, bear in mind that you
want lower gears as well. (upbeat music) We’ve covered the basics then. Hopefully you know now
what to look out for in a frame in order to
make sure it’s tailored for the right kind of gravel
riding that you want to do. And you also know now what to
look out for in a groupset. But there are of course
other things to consider, not least the material of the frame. Do you go for carbon, or aluminum, or steel, or titanium, or even magnesium. On a budget, aluminum is great. I love it, it’s pretty
light, it’s pretty stiff, and it’s also robust, what’s not to like. Steel is significantly heavier,
but it has a lot of fans, partly for its image, and also partly for the way it feels to actually ride. Although, bear in mind, that
that steel feel really kicks in when you start to spend
a little bit more money. Carbon, is of course, super duper light, or it can be anyway. Plus, you can also do more to the material to really tailor it,
either for more comfort, through more compliance, or
indeed, for more stiffness. Then you have titanium, which is amazing, but a little bit heavier
and also expensive. And then lastly, magnesium. Which is new on the market
or at least new again. And it’s a little bit
unproven, but it does have some pretty punchy environmental
credentials, which is cool. For me though, honestly frame
material is not half such an important decision as the
ones we’ve already covered in this video, hence the reason, I guess, it wasn’t the first thing we started with. (upbeat music) One of the great gravel bike
traits, is the increased comfort that comes from the
wider tires fitted to them. But in respect to of that,
a lot of manufacturers boast comfort boosting
measures, either built into the frames or into the components
that are fitted to them, and this Grail is a prime example. We’ve got this split seatpost,
which effectively acts like a leaf spring,
and is super effective. And then also, got this
Hover Bar up front as well, which gives you increased compliance. And while increased
compliance definitely takes the edge off bumps and
it smooths out the ride, you shouldn’t confuse it with suspension, which is also a thing. Either the suspension fork
that you can plug in the front, or indeed, full suspension gravel bikes. But interestingly or perhaps not, the suspension that I’ve ridden on gravel hasn’t actually effected
where the bike sits on the gravel spectrum. That probably should’ve come in earlier as well shouldn’t it, sorry, should’ve given you some warning. (upbeat music) One last thing to look out for is bosses. So little bolts all over the bike that allow you to attach
extra stuff to it. Now it could be carrying extra water, which would be essential for
epics in arid wilderness. Or it could be attaching
luggage to your bike, now maybe not bikepacking luggage, but certainly old school
panniers and pannier racks. Or in this case, it could
be for attaching mudguards to your bike as well. Personally, this isn’t something that I’m all that fussed about on my gravel bikes. But it’s something to
bear in mind if you want a Swiss Army knife of
gravel bikes, or indeed, it’s just something you
want to have the option for. Whilst in this video, I
haven’t tried to tell you what the best gravel bike in the world is. Hopefully by watching
it you’ve realized that you can’t answer that question
because it depends on you and the type of riding
that you want to do on it. But now you’re more
empowered to make that choice ’cause you know about the
spectrum and you know how to work out where a gravel
bike sits on that spectrum. So you need to look, to recap,
at tire volume and position, the geometry of the bike principally, but then also the groupset as well. And little extras, like if you want to go on multi-day wilderness
epics, you will probably need every bolt imaginable to
attach stuff to your bike. Now, if you would like
to tackle another couple of questions right now
that are commonly asked, such as, why a gravel bike and not a cross-country mountain bike? Or indeed, why a gravel bike
and not a cyclocross bike? We have actually made
videos about those already, you can click through
to them onscreen now. Otherwise, please give
this one a big thumbs up, and I’m going to go for a ride.

100 comments on “How To Choose A New Gravel Bike

  1. Welcoming this vid, wanted to get one today, but then the seller told me it was already sold (after we made an appointment for the collection a week ago)

  2. Since gravel bikes seem to be a thing why not start a gravel specific channel so the people who couldn't care less about them don't get disappointed when they have a notification of a new video for it only to be about gravel? Leave the off road stuff to the guys at GMBN and continue creating the great content on road cycling that you guys are capable of. Just a thought cheers.

  3. Is Chris racing for Saint Piran in 2020 and is he leaving GCN or are you using it as an opportunity to film stuff in the British racing scene

  4. I have been riding an endurance road bike and love it for long rides. I ride a hybrid with gravel tires when I ride gravel, but I really am in love with drop bars. With the exception of tire clearance I see very little difference between my Specialized Roubaix and a gravel bike on the light to moderate end of the gravel spectrum. If I had to buy over again, I think I would buy a gravel bike and two sets of wheels/tires. That would allow me to replace two bikes with one. I wonder about the future of endurance road bikes.

  5. 1. no videos in the end linked
    2. wide tyres make a diference on my ciclocross bike that actually is intended more as a gravel bike
    3. what happen to your cricket SI? if am wrong correct me but that was your 1st gravel bike after all.

  6. Gravelbikes as a fairly new categorie getting some attention lately and it’s mentioned, that there is some more roadbike like. What I like to know is, if we can flip this around and if there’s roadbikes/ roadbike conversions that are capeable of being a good Allrounder too. So a roadbike that is able to be used on gravel or not perfekt tarmac roads

  7. I ride a 2019 Cube Cross Race Pro. A cross bike at heart, but my gravel bike for Dutch gravel. Really love the package with a two by, full 105 and hydraulic discs. The aluminum frame is rock solid. Price wise it is dirt cheap, I bought it for €1100!

  8. what a great website is!
    Used it to compare my current bike (TCR pro advanced 1) to my next season's pride and joy (Propel advanced disc 1 2020).
    Thanks Si!

  9. TUBELESS?Really surprised the mention of running tubeless wasn't brought up during the part about the tires.  While not a requirement it certainly makes a LOT of sense.For myself, I just bought a barely used cyclo-cross bike and turned it into a fast race oriented gravel bike with just a few minor changes.

  10. Can you make a graphic of the gravel spectrum?
    Like a road bike on one side, and a mountain bike on the other, with different gravel bikes in the middle where they would fit?
    That would be nice

  11. You don’t need a new bike, learn how to build bikes. These new bike names are bollocks… they’ve made all sorts of frames over the years that will allow you to build something very similar. Avoid the hype of this marketing ploy trash.

  12. I think the tire width, still depends of the gravel type and your power output/speed, possibly also body weight. If I have enough power, that I can ride 35+km/h on gravel, then that wider tire won't make me more comfy, (because my weight isn't on saddle and bike shakes less on that speed and it's even easier to pedal.) instead it tires me faster, so I'm not able to ride so fast so long.
    I rather ride fast a bit longer and then bear that uncomfortableness of 30mm tire, than ride slow and work hard. I often find, that the best speed on gravel, where I ride, is somewhere over 30kmh, but over 45 is already too fast, for 30mm tire. With wider tire I can go faster too on downhill. Though I won't be able to react in time, when road gets too bad, into washboard, because on gravel it's difficult to notice potholes and road waves(washboardness) from far. The worst it shakes on speeds betwen 20km/h and30km/h. Well people who are strong probably won't feel any difference whether it's 20mm tire or90mm wide tire. It's all same. Of course between manufacturers ant tire models there are difference too. Maybe those continental tires just are so good.. But no I still prefer 30mm tire, because it's more fun. With wider tire the bike gets too stable on these slow speeds that I ride, or too good roads that I ride. It will be so boring.

  13. I get that this is a paid promotion, but is it really fair to draw attention to GRX being the first Gravel Groupset when others have being doing it first? Many of these "Gravel specific" features have been seen before.

    SRAM have been doing gravel specific groupsets for years (wide cassette, narrow wide chainrings, sub and super compact chainrings, clutch derailleur). Shimano, if anything, is late to the game.

    Other than that, another great video.

  14. The only thing that was mentioned about the geometry is that it matters, wow. Very informative. How do I know which geometry is best for speed/relaxed riding?

  15. Would it be fair to say that the best gravel bike would be two gravel bikes? Then you could cover both ends of “the spectrum”.

  16. Could you do a video of the Conti Terras please? Considering them as a bikepacking tyre but there are currently no videos on them that I can find.

  17. Do not ride on anything but asphalt, concrete & cement. No dirt, gravel, trails, rock quarry, mtn trails or dirt paths. Enjoyed Presentation 🚲👍

  18. Great video GCN, but sometimes we do have questions for gravel bike. What if you put 100 to 110 mm stem on gravelbike that designed for 70 – 80 mm stem ?

  19. Any time you do a buying guide, may it be for Gravel or Road or Mountain, you need to reference the "Bontrager Axiom." The Bontrager Axiom stated simply: Lightweight, Durable, Inexpensive. Pick Two.

  20. I still like the look of the Orbea more than the Canyon even if it does not have the great paint job they had for the previous version.

    Thanks Si for the overview and the information.

  21. How to choose a new gravel bike? First ask yourself are there any unpaved roads in my area to ride on? Answer yes but I don’t fancy cycling through deep mud all winter and spring and some of the summer 😂

  22. How does running a 2x limit you to 40mm tires? I’m looking at a niner rlt 9 and the niner website claims 50mm clearance on the frame and a grx 2x setup. What limits the tire size from the crank?

  23. You mention that steel is “heavy”. That is not always the case. Some high end steel bikes are at least as light as high end aluminum framed bikes.

  24. About the tire clearance being limited on 2x setups: My Giant Revolt can fit up to 45 mm tires and even up to 50 mm with 650b wheels. I'd say that's more than ample tire clearance on a gravel bike.

  25. I disagree about the hydro and cable disc. I've owned both on gravel bikes and there isn't enough difference. I was totally happy with cable disc.

  26. I am in the midst of getting a gravel bike. I have been following all your programs. I am soo confused on what to get now?? I am currently a mountain biker but have been doing alot more flatter surface rides. Therefore, i want to transition into a gravel bike. I am planning to do a big investment so i need to make sure it is correct. If not, my wife will kill me for dropping $8k to $12k for a bike. In turn, one less subscriber to GCN

  27. A question for Si: I see you rode the Orbea Terra in this episode, and from what I can tell, it has their “all road handlebars” that have a 12 degree flare. What do you think about those compared to traditional perpendicular handles? I’m interested in buying the Orbea as an endurance grave bike to get into 100-200 mile endurance events. (I’ve been steadily building up training to get to this and am ready to get a new bike.) I’m interested to hear how you’d spec a Terra or comparable gravel bike for that sort of riding, and why? (My budget is $4k USD)

  28. It's like you searched my browsing history and made a video from it. I decided the yesterday that I'm going to buy a Canyon Grail CF SL in the New Year to keep my Aeroad company!

  29. Buying a bike is way more than a size chart on a website and stack and reach. You really need to go try a bike and better still test ride a bike that is on your radar. Some bike shops offer a chargeable fitting service that may help narrow down what might work for you but still better to ride first.

  30. Ashton Court?

    PS in the UK, there's not much "gravel", but lots of tracks, paths, etc. I'd suggest that here, a more racy bike is better.
    Or a 'cross bike…

  31. Thanks to Si's best presenting efforts, I know there are different types of gravel bikes, and they are at the crossroads between tarmac and MTB. Confused? In any case, they look really nice and make really good GCN content.

  32. Hi GCN, I alway enjoy your show and it’s inspiring me to try to ensemble a gravel bike but I’ve got an aero frame, would it be recomendable to make that kind of Quimera?

  33. The video says you need a 1x drivetrain to get a larger tire. Not true. I have a 2019 Felt Breed with 650B wheels and a 2x drivetrain, and I swapped out the tires for lightweight 2.2" 27.5 MTB tires without issue. Great fun to ride offroad.

  34. 1x 40 tooth with 11-42 cassette Shimano GRX / 650b / Steel frame / WTB Revolution tyres………. go wherever you like

  35. Looking for a gravel bike for my first commuter bike. Mix of road, woodland trails and cycle track. This video has helped. Nice one Si

  36. My canyon arrived with the GRX810. I feel like it is actually not that good of a group set. Sadly so.. Sram off road groupsets are better than shimano. Canyon flexing seat post is the best way to suspension gravel bike. it is there when you need with out ever compromising your power transfer and feels awesome. the handlebar does really not even flex that much. but that low head tube allows even lower handlebars so for racers its very aggressive.

  37. It's still a deal breaker if a bike has drop bars. For me, that grew up on motorcycles, atv's, jetskis and snowmobiles, they are just dangerous. I can get 2.2 tires in my hybrid frame. Sorry gravel bike.

  38. "but in the real world, i don't get too concerned about pedaling past 60kph", and how true this statement so is. the fact road bikes still get sold with 11-28's boggles my mind. i recently swapped to a 14-28 a couple months ago, and the first ride on it already had me thinking "why haven't i done this ages ago?"

  39. I just bought my first gravel bike. In fact, it's my first brand new bike that I know of (maybe got one as a kid – I dunno). I opted for the Cube Nuroad Pro FE which has dynamo, mudguards and bike rack. It's perfect for my commute. And when the days get longer and drier, I can whip them all off and go 'naked'. I got the 2019 model, which has been superseded by the 2020 model (which looks like it got a paint job and not much else) and saved about £300 off the RRP in the process. For the money, I'm an extremely happy bunny who can potter around the outskirts of Peterborough (flattest city in the universe) in my spare time and commute in comfort during the week. Living the dream.

  40. The GRX gearing is inadequate for an average rider. You will either need to hack it with a larger cassette (Wolftooth?), choose a different crankset with smaller chainrings, or move to Florida.

  41. Mentions geometry and shows geometrygeeks site (promising!) – then says "stack and reach are the best way to compare gravel bikes" while showing data for the Canyon Grail which has messed up stack/reach relative to other frames because of the funky handlebars the frame was designed around. Also no mention of wheelbase length, bottom bracket drop/height or front end geometry which all differ quite a bit between gravel bikes and affect under what conditions they will ride best…

  42. I just broke the bearings of the rear hub on my commuter doing some gravel riding on a wet winter day. I always use 23mm tires, I don't need comfort.

  43. Anyone else hate the aesthetics of 1x ? The tiny chainring and massive cassette? Urrgh.

    Purely aesthetics. I know its all about gear ratios, just saying, looks rubbish.

  44. I ride an aluminium disc brake hybrid with mechanical disc brakes and monoshock fork……cheers Si, I saved a fortune!

  45. Absolutely love my Bombtrack Hook EXT. I have 2 wheel sets for it and can explore all I want with tons of bosses for accessories.

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