Top 5 Gravel Race Bikes of 2019
By Ben Delaney - Roll Massif
What is the best gravel race bike? I don’t know, man; what is the best beer? Beyond your personal taste preference, where you live and what you like to race largely determines what’s best for you. But we agreed to put down The Best Gravel Bikes on digital paper, so here we are.
For context, my background is 20 years of cycling journalism, from VeloNews and Bicycle Retailer to BikeRadar and Cyclingnews. Whether that makes my qualified to weigh in here or outdated and irrelevant, I’m not sure!
Nonetheless, like you, I am stoked on riding gravel. Like many of my fellow riders in Colorado, I’ve been riding and racing on dirt roads before gravel bikes were a thing. And boy am I grateful that fat-tired road bikes are here and blowing up.
Here are my favorite five gravel race bikes. Sure, there are other great ones out there; these are the best of what I’ve ridden.
Two things here: smart details plus suspension. I raced this bike at Dirty Kanza in 2018 and loved it. The bike, that is. First, the suspension: Trek calls its pivot at the top tube/seatstay junction an IsoSpeed Decoupler. Big name for a pivot, but boy does it work well, allowing the seatmast and seat tube to bow a bit under load without any real weight penalty. Smart details include bottle (and fender/rack) mounts aplenty, should your idea of a fun time involve long, long gaps between civilization, a hefty rubber bumper under the down tube and sophisticated carbon construction. I know, smaller brands are cooler, but decades of experience with global carbon manufacturing isn’t nothing, you know.
See the Checkpoint at Trek Bikes
Until I tested a Litespeed gravel bike about a year ago, it had been, oh, a decade since I rode titanium. As a longtime roadie, I had left the material in the past as plush but heavy and outdated. Turns out, the silky, absorbent quality that made Merlin and Moots and Indy Fab and Seven such great bikes years ago still remains, and arguably is ideal for gravel where comfort matters more than a few grams here or there. I love the GT-1 for where and how I like to ride. Instead of a crazy slack head tube and 94 water bottle mounts, the GT-1 is built more like a hard-charging dirt-road bike with a road-like head angle and two bottle mounts, but with massive tire clearance.
See the GT-1 at Mosaic Cycles
The Mosaic and many other boutique bikes are gorgeous and romantic and lifetime-durable. But cheap they are not. Same deal for the top end Trek and Specialized listed here. Enter the Thesis OB1, a carbon bike with carbon wheels for $3,300. Further, the folks behind Thesis know what they are doing; this isn’t some cheap bike with random parts. Everything is carefully sourced, designed and selected with a progressive mindset. 700c or 650b - or both? Dropper post actuated by the SRAM shift lever? Yep. Shipped direct to you professionally assembled to save you considerable money? Check.
See the OB1 at Thesis.Bike
Yes, the front end looks like a giraffe in a turtleneck and the seatpost looks like a cobra. But I’m here to tell you that suspension works, people. The Diverge setup works best when you’re in the saddle, which is counterintuitive at first coming from a rigid bike; normally you stand to clear rough patches, right? But when blind bombing gravel courses in a giant, dusty peloton, you often just can’t see what you’re about to hit, so having a bike that soaks it up is a good thing. The S.W.A.T. flat-fix box is handy, too.
See the Diverge at Specialized Bikes
Credit where credit is due: the Warbird is the original gravel race bike. Now in its fourth edition, the Warbird eschews gimmicks for battle-tested design: flexing, bridgeless chain- and seatstays, long and low geometry, enormous tire clearance and a slew of mounts. Add in dope paint jobs and a carbon complete bike that starts at $2,399… bravo, Salsa. Bravo.
See the Warbird at Salsa Cycles