One of the fastest growing categories in the cycling industry, gravel bikes are quickly emerging as a do-it-all option, capable of replacing a fleet of bikes a rider might have at their disposal.
With space for wider tyres and an efficient road bike-like riding position, a gravel bike is capable of just about any cycling adventure you can think of. So with such a buzz floating around these go-anywhere bikes, we set about selecting our picks of the best 2018 gravel bikes for AUD$3000 (or thereabouts).
What is a Gravel Bike
Complete with drop bars, clearance for wide knobby rubber and a rugged component list, put simply, a gravel bike is capable of tackling hotmix, fire trails and everything in between. For more information on how they differ from a standard road bike, check out our brief guide to gravel bikes.
What to Expect
Gravel bikes of this price point will typically feature an aluminium frame and carbon fibre fork. Not all gravel bikes are built with the same riding intended, some will offer slender tyre clearance and minimal fender or pannier mount options. While others will be built to go as far as your legs can.
If you’re keen to use your gravel bike for commuting, group road rides, dirt road exploring and perhaps a little gravel racing, then we’d suggest looking to the bikes closely based on cyclocross or road machines. However, if you dream of true escapes into the wilderness, look for the machines with generous water and luggage carrying capacity, and tyre clearance to afford a stable ride. Either way, consider your riding ambitions and pick accordingly.
At AUD$3,000, gravel-specific components such as 1x drivetrains (with a single chainring at the front as opposed to two), tubeless-ready wheelsets and hydraulic disc brakes all start to become available.
Expect drivetrains to be equipped with an 11-speed cassette, with a mix of conventional double crankset road and gravel/cyclocross specific 1x drivetrains available throughout the bikes selected. The main advantage of a 1x drivetrain over a conventional double chainring road crankset is the fewer moving parts involved. With no need for a front derailleur, and a wide range of gears found on the cassette outback, a 1x drivetrain is less likely to suffer a mechanical failure, plus has the added benefit of reducing weight.
Thru-axles are largely standard equipment at this price point, with the main advantage being improved wheel stiffness and increased steering feedback over quick release skewers.
Tubeless compatible wheels are also widely featured on most options, allowing for the use of lower tyre pressure with a decreased risk of puncturing on rough surfaces.
So without further delay, consider the following list, bikes that we’d put our own money on (in no particular order).
Cannondale CAADX 105 SE
Producing arguably some of the finest aluminium bike frames in the business, Cannondale is not short of options when it comes to adventure bikes. Manufactured from Cannondale’s own SmartForm C2 alloy, the CAADX SE features an aggressive cyclocross based geometry, designed to be ridden hard, whatever surface throws at you.
Cannondale’s SE range is all about gravel modifications to existing platforms, and the CAADX is the more affordable version of the SuperX SE we’ve looked at previously.
Shifting comes courtesy of Shimano in the form of its reliable 105 groupset, whilst TRP provides the cable disc brakes. Rolling stock comes completely from WTB, with tubeless ready STP i19 tubeless rims wrapped in 37c Riddler gumwall rubber.
Niner RLT 9 Steel 2 Star
Best known for its stellar range of 29er mountain bikes, Niner is a brand that lives for all things off-road. Its collection of RLT gravel bikes is no different and is available in a range of frame materials including steel, aluminium, and carbon.
With space for 44c tyres, the steel-framed RLT 9 is a bike that’s built to stand the test of time. Up front, Niner provides its full carbon RDO fork complete with mounting points for racks and fenders.
Whilst it’s available in a range of build options, the 2 star is economically fitted out with a list of high-value gravel ready components. SRAM provides it’s APEX 1 groupset, complete with hydraulic disc brakes front and rear. A Niner CX alloy wheelset wrapped with 35c Schwalbe G-ONE tyres completes the build.
Price: AUD$2,200 (Frameset Only), USD$2,500 (Complete Build)
Jamis Renegade Exploit
Founded in 1979, Jamis have a history of providing bicycles that represent great value for money. After entering the gravel market in 2015, the Renegade series has been expanded to encompass both steel and aluminium framesets, and both 650b and 700c wheel sizes.
The aluminium framed Renegade Exploit featured here comes equipped with Shimano 105 groupset, complete with hydraulic disc brakes and clearance for tyres up to size 47c. The Exploit is one of the few bikes on the list that ships with a mountain bike wheelset and provisions for a dropper seatpost to be added. Certainly a bike that’s ready to get a little rowdy.
Kona Rove NRB
Hawaiian-Inspired Canadian brand, Kona have a tradition of producing a quality, versatile range of bikes that are both reliable and affordable. These qualities flow through the entire product line-up and its gravel bikes are no exception.
Dubbed by Kona as the “quintessential modern road bike” the Rove NRB is capable of cruising comfortably on a variety of sealed or unsealed road surfaces. Shifting comes in the form of a mixed Shimano Ultegra/105 groupset complete with hydraulic disc brakes.
Proving the Rove is capable of going beyond where the tarmac ends, it’s finished off with 650b WTB i23 mountain bike wheels, wrapped with big bag 47c tyres.
Specialized Diverge Comp E5
With a long history in all things offroad, American brand Specialized is no stranger to the gravel movement, having offered a decided platform for a number of years now.
Now in its second generation, the Diverge line-up is available in a range of builds from the entry-level, through to an S-Works flagship option.
The featured Diverge Comp E5 is manufactured from Specialized’s own E5 aluminium and is outfitted with the American company’s own FutureShock progressive suspension beneath the stem, designed to provide a smooth and controlled ride. Shimano’s 105 groupset is matched with an adventure-sized Praxis 48/32T crankset and TRP mechanical disc brakes.
Trek Checkpoint ALR 5
The aluminium framed Checkpoint ALR 5 features a wide variety of fender, rack, and water carrying options, and is one of the more versatile rides on this list. Unlike its more expensive carbon siblings, this alloy version forgoes Trek’s IsoSpeed technology.
This bike comes outfitted with a considered, and rugged build kit comprised of a full Shimano 105 groupset with flat mount hydraulic disc brakes. Wheelset comes from in-house brand Bontrager and is wrapped with Schwalbe G-ONE Allround 35c rubber for a ride that’s capable of both fast road rides and gravel hauls.
American company Surly are well-known for producing a range tough, rugged and practical steel bikes. The light-hearted brand is responsible for bringing many emerging trends to the masses, and its sister brand, Salsa Cycles, is considered one of the most influential in the gravel scene.
Whilst admittedly there are a number of Surly bikes that fit the “adventure bike” moniker, the Straggler gets the nod purely because of how versatile it is.
With more mounts for fenders and racks then you can shake a diving rod at and space for tyres up to 45c, the Straggler is capable of everything from rough road riding, bikepacking, cyclocross racing, commuting and everything in between. Whilst it ships with a SRAM Rival 22-speed groupset, a Straggler frameset can also be built up with a 1x group, or as a single speed if you so wish.
Bianchi Impulso Allroad
Historic Italian manufacturer Bianchi brings its iconic Celeste colourway to the road less travelled. Best known for its stunning range of road bikes, the Impulso Allroad is the marque’s second crack at the fast-growing adventure bike category.
The triple hydroformed aluminium frame ensures the Impulso is equal parts lightweight and stiff, whilst gravel-specific carbon fork up front offers space for 40c tyres.
Shifting on the Impulso comes courtesy of Shimano with its dependable 105 groupset and is complemented by flat mount hydraulic disc brakes and large 160mm rotors. The wheelset on the Impulso Allroad is an in-house affair, outfitted with a tubeless ready Reparto Corse wheelset shod with Kenda Flintrage 35c tubeless tyres.
Scott Speedster 10
The Scott Speedster 10 Gravel proves that with a few tweaks to the build kit, a large number of cyclocross based racers can be converted into anyroad adventurers.
Whilst an aluminium cyclocross frame lies at the Speedsters heart (much like the Cannondale CAADX SE), a gravel specific fork boosts tyre clearance and alters the geometry slightly to increase comfort stability and comfort well suited to long days in the saddle. A 22speed Shimano 105 groupset is paired with flat-mount hydraulic disc brakes, whilst a Syncros wheelset shod with Schwalbe G-ONE 35c rubber completes the build.
Polygon Bend RV
Available for as low as AUD$1,699, the Bend is the cheapest bike listed here. Such a price is achieved by the Indonesian brand being its own manufacturer and sold predominantly online by a direct-to-consumer distributor.
At the heart of the Bend RV lies a 6061 Hydroformed aluminium frame paired with a carbon fork. A SRAM Rival 1x groupset with hydraulic disc brakes take care of the going and slowing whilst the build is completed with an Entity wheelset wrapped with Schwalbe G-ONE 35c rubber.
Focus Paralane 105
Renowned for its cyclocross range raced by some of the world’s best, German manufacturer Focus also caters for those wanting to traverse the road less travelled. Whilst not technically classed as a gravel bike, with space for 35mm rubber, a comparable endurance focussed geometry and mounts for racks and fenders, we think there’s enough here to fit the bill.
Shifting on the Paralane at this price point is Shimano’s 105 groupset paired with hydraulic disc brakes. Featuring a Shimano wheelset wrapped with Continental rubber, the Paralane ships set-up for road use, however with a few small component tweaks, it’s more than capable of tackling a variety of road surfaces.
We hope this content has been helpful. If you’re after more information on these capable steeds, check out our brief guide to gravel bikes