Off-road, on-road, adventure trip or after work ride – you’ll only reach bike Nirvana if you’ve experienced all the horrors of road cycling. But which is the best bike on which to escape the rat race? Do you really need a gravel bike, a cyclocrosser, a mountain or an endurance bike? We tested 20 of the latest models to give you the answer.
At the end of 2018 we updated this group test and added 8 more bikes to the test field. For reference, we tested both the ‘Best of Test’ and ‘Best Value’ bikes again but couldn’t find a better model. Hence, the OPEN U.P. still is the best gravel bike out there while the Votec VRX Elite continues to be the best value for money gravel bike.
Riding your road bike on an actual road can be proper shit sometimes. Your dreams of perfectly surfaced, traffic-free mountain passes suddenly turn into a nightmare of raging tachycardia. It’s rush hour, you’re surrounded by metal boxes, and the erratic sounds of honking horns puncture your eardrums as hundreds of cars pass you at outrageous speeds, splashing sludgy water into your eyes. We’re the toughest bunch when climbing legendary mountain passes with the sole power of our legs. But we’re also the most vulnerable when fighting for space on busy roads protected only by thin lycra outfits. Roadies are switched-on and strong-willed, but there’s nothing they can do when an avalanche of metal surprises them from behind. The solution is as simple as it is obvious.
A road bike to leave the road behind? – is this a bicycle revolution?
For many of us gravel isn’t just hype or a trend to jump on, but a pragmatic solution to the many problems we face as road cyclists on a daily basis. We could see this as a revolution. Or simply as going back to our roots. It’s not surprising that this trend comes from the U.S., land of massive cars and reckless drivers who often seem happy to push cyclists off the road. Tragic headlines appear time and again. The fear of being run over is real – just like a line from Ludacris’s song Move bitch, get out the way “I’m D. U. I., hardly ever caught sober and you about to get ran the FUCK over”. Some battles aren’t worth fighting anymore. Especially when true paradise may actually be closer than you’d expect. Hidden in plain sight of most riders will be networks of field paths, forest roads, and secret trails just waiting to be discovered. Both the early heroes of the Tour de France who competed on unmade roads and today’s pros who tackle the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix are proof that drop-bar racing bikes indeed belong on terrain other than tarmac.
The test field – what is a gravel bike?
The actual question should be: what sort of bike do I need for a gravel trip? The definition of gravel is as broad as the applications to which you could put one of the bikes featured here. That’s why we gathered 12 of the most exciting concepts in one big group test to help you get an ultimate overview. Our test field includes steel, titanium, aluminium, and carbon bikes – covering everything from an € 11,000 custom steed to a bog-standard € 1,700 rig. We saw fat mountain bike tires, grippy cyclocross tires, and narrow semi-slick rubber, along with suspension elements, pannier mounts, and dyno-hub powered light systems.
|Bike||Weight (without pedals)||Frame Material||Tires||Price|
|DARE GFX S8||8.77 kg||Carbon||700 x 45 mm||€ 3,029|
|Canyon Grail CF SLX 8.0 Di2||8.20 kg||Carbon||700 x 40 mm||€ 4,499|
|CENTURION Backfire Carbon 4000||8.58 kg||Carbon||29″ x 2.2″||€ 5,599|
|GHOST ENDLESS ROAD RAGE 8.7||9.90 kg||Carbon||650B x 47 mm||€ 2,799|
|Lauf True Grit||8.12 kg||Carbon||700 x 40 mm||€ 4,410|
|MERIDA MISSION CX 8000||7.77 kg||Carbon||700 x 33 mm||€ 4,399|
|ROSE BACKROAD ULTEGRA Di2||8.59 kg||Carbon||700 x 40 mm||€ 3,199|
|SCOTT Addict Gravel 10||7.58 kg||Carbon||700 x 40 mm||€ 5,799|
|Festka One Gravel||7.80 kg||Carbon||700 x 28 mm||€ 4,490 (frame set)|
|Legor Cicli LWTUA||9.35 kg||Steel||27.5″ x 2.2″||€ 3,170 (frame set)|
|Merida Silex 9000||8.04 kg||Carbon||700 x 35 mm||€ 3,600|
|Moots Routt RSL||8.13 kg||Titanium||700 x 35 mm||€ 4,684 (frame set)|
|Open U.P.||7.68 kg||Carbon||700 x 40 mm||€ 3,200 (frame set)|
|Rondo Ruut CF2||8.98 kg||Carbon||700 x 35 mm||€ 2,999|
|Salsa Cutthroat Force 1||9.81 kg||Carbon||29″ x 2.1″||€ 4,499|
|Specialized Diverge Comp||9.21 kg||Carbon||700 x 30/32 mm||€ 2,999 €|
|Specialized Sequoia Elite||11.71 kg||Steel||700 x 42 mm||€ 1,899|
|Trek Crockett 7 Disc||8.51 kg||Aluminium||700 x 32 mm||€ 3,299|
|Trek Procaliber 9.9 SL RSL||9.02 kg||Carbon||29″ x 2.2″||€ 7,999|
|Votec VRX Elite||8.06 kg||Aluminium||700 x 35 mm||€ 2,599|
*Why are there two Specialized bikes in our test field? The Sequoia and the Diverge are both popular bikes among our readers and their abilities overlap. We wanted to find out the differences to help you make your decision.
Why is our test field this broad?
We are known for thinking outside the box, breaking boundaries, and refusing categories. After all it’s easily possible that a bike you wouldn’t have considered for a defined purpose at first glance will actually suit exactly that use. Restricting our test field would have been the same as only tasting beers while searching for the perfect drink….
Our test loop: What exactly is gravel and where can I ride?
Contrary to the adverts and cool videos that feed us images of epic Icelandic adventures, wild west backcountry races, or sabbaticals in Patagonia to get us hooked on gravel, we see the main potential in normal after-work rides and day trips. For this reason, we picked a compact but diverse 25 km test course which runs around our headquarters near Stuttgart. Here we were able to compare all bikes directly. The test course included flowy technical singletrack, gravel paths, cobbled sections, and roads with different types of tarmac. The track was completed by a steep 17 % gradient climb that fried our legs, a steep downhill section which challenged even the toughest mountain bikers among us, and a high-speed segment which pushed the riding composure of some bikes to the limit.
Test criteria: maximum riding fun!
Confidence, comfort, and the ability to attack any sort of terrain are essential virtues for a gravel bike. Depending on personal preference and intended use, criteria like speed for fast laps, adaptability for multi-day adventures, and all-round equipment for commuting play a crucial role too. Data fetishists and weight weenies might hate us for this, but our most important criterion was an emotional, subjective, and not objectively measurable one – riding fun!
What does riding fun mean? – Our test crew tells us
Tops and Flops
Often small details can make a huge difference: seamless integration, first-class ergonomics and carefully selected parts. Easier said than done – here are some of the tops and flops from this group test.
What’s the best gravel bike?
What’s the best gravel bike?
Even though there isn’t a universally accepted definition for gravel bikes, there is one clear winner in our test. Encapsulating all the most important criteria: riding pleasure, confidence, versatility, and comfort – our winner is the Open U.P. Thanks to a major frame update, this gravel pioneer can still prove itself against the strong competition and impresses with fantastic riding performance. Only available as a frameset (€ 3,200) it can be built in a variety of ways depending on the intended use.
Our “best in test” is closely followed by the Votec VRX Elite, which bagged our popular “best value” badge. With an affordable but very well-designed aluminium frame, superb riding characteristics, and an impeccable high-quality spec its € 2,599 price tag provides an unbeatable price to performance ratio.
For riders with special requirements we have three more interesting options:
If you have your own ideas of how a steel frame should be, take a closer look at the custom options from Legor Cicli in Barcelona. The LWTUA convinced us with the best components and proved that the pragmatic know-how of a frame builder is priceless.
The adventurers among us will be delighted with the Salsa Cutthroat Force 1, which not only offers room for a six pack but is also ready for adventure thanks to its racing-tractor feel. Crossers and speed freaks will find the Trek Crockett 7 Disc to be the perfect compromise. From the quick evening spin to the occasional weekend cyclocross race, it’s all doable. Even if the frame is missing some love in the details.
All bikes in test: Festka One Gravel | Legor Cicli LWTUA | Merida Silex 9000 | Moots Routt RSL | Open U.P. | Rondo Ruut CF2 | Salsa Cutthroat Force 1 | Specialized Diverge Comp | Specialized Sequoia Elite | Trek Crockett 7 Disc | Trek Procaliber 9.9 SL RSL | Votec VRX Elite | DARE GFX S8 | Canyon Grail CF SLX 8.0 Di2 | CENTURION Backfire Carbon 4000 | GHOST ENDLESS ROAD RAGE 8.7 | Lauf True Grit | MERIDA MISSION CX 8000 | ROSE BACKROAD ULTEGRA Di2 | SCOTT Addict Gravel 10
Text: Benjamin Topf, Manuel Buck, Benjamin Suhr, Robin Schmitt, Hannah Troop Photos: Valentin Rühl, David Rößler