The fastest bikes on the podium? In search of the best, fastest, and hottest gravel race bike of 2024, we let the three of the most exciting gravel racers currently on the market face off against each other. Read on to find out how stark the differences are – even amongst three podium-topping bikes, and which of these three new gravel race bikes suits you best!

Not interested in mediocrity? Neither are we! We put three of the winning-est gravel race bikes to the test in an effort to answer the question of what the ultimate gravel race weapon should be capable of. May we introduce: The 2023 UCI Men’s Gravel World Championships winner, the 2023 UNBOUND winner, and the winner of the biggest gravel race bike group test of 2023 – conducted by GRAN FONDO, of course!

The 2024 MERIDA SILEX 10K, the 2024 Canyon Grail CFR Di2, and the 2024 Ridley Kanzo Fast: three race-proven bikes. But how big are the differences at this level? Which gravel race bike is right for you? And what should you look for in the details? Attentive readers of our 2023 gravel race bike group test know: gravel racing ≠ gravel racing!

Gravel race bike Champions League! – A shootout of the master class

Gravel racing – The hype is real

2023 was a big year for gravel racers. Can amateurs just quickly go and qualify for the Tour de France? Impossible! However, the premier class of gravel racing is still accessible to amateurs, even if the level of the racing is on par with the grand tours. The fledgling Trek UCI Gravel World Championships ran for the second time, allowing ambitious amateur racers to qualify for the World Championship in one of the international Trek UCI Gravel World Series races.

The World Championship qualifiers aren’t just the dream of many bike-fluencers. Gravel aficionados from around the world head to the start lines to see how they measure up against the pros. Large US gravel races like UNBOUND (formerly Dirty Kanza), Belgian Waffle Ride, and Grinduro are quickly booked out, and extreme, ultra-distance gravel races are increasingly making it into mainstream consciousness. Events like UNBOUND XL, Badlands, and the Atlas Mountain Race attract gravel fanatics who want to push themselves to their limits, covering up to 1,300 km.

Even though these events all fall under the “gravel racing” category, the demands on man and machine couldn’t be more different. Therefore, there’s no such thing as the perfect do-it-all gravel race bike. We picked three of the hottest gravel racers currently on the market to find out which bikes excel in which scenarios, and which model best suits your racing ambitions. To this end, we travelled to the Côte d’Azur and held an unofficial GRAN FONDO training camp.

Canyon Grail CFR Di2 2024

Canyon market the second generation of the Grail as a long-distance gravel racer for all terrain. That has UNBOUND written all over it! And indeed, the new Grail delivered on this promise at the 2023 UNBOUND gravel race. After the rain had turned the Kansas prairie into a mud bath, Carolin Schiff from Germany was able to prevail, riding her Canyon Grail to victory despite the adverse conditions on the 320 km route. That’s almost twice the distance of the UCI Gravel World Championships course, with track conditions that are significantly harder on the bike and rider. Coincidence? Or is the Canyon Grail just particularly well suited for long-distances and extreme conditions? Some of the details hint at the latter. The fact that Katarzyna Niewiadoma also took the win at the UCI Gravel World Championships on the Grail, suggests that it is just a great race bike overall.

The Canyon Grail CFR Di2 in detail

As usual from Canyon, the Grail CFR Di2 comes with some innovative features that underline the intended use: the in-house CP0039 cockpit can be easily fitted with aero bars thanks to the Gear Groove. Although they’re increasingly being banned from gravel races, Canyon’s solution is easy to transport and install.

The integrated storage compartment in the frame offers space for a multi-tool, pump, CO2 cartridge, and a spare tube. If that’s not enough, Canyon’s AERO-LOAD frame bag simply snaps into place via magnetic FIDLOCK clasps. It can be easily swapped out for a freshly refilled bag during a pit stop in a race, making refuelling super quick and simple. It also sits flush with the frame, offering a small aero advantage over bags with loose straps.

The 2x Shimano GRX Di2 groupset offers a sufficiently wide gear range. Thanks to the large 48 t chainring, there’s plenty of top-end speed available. The Canyon Grail CFR Di2 weighs in at 8.58 kg in size M, including the spare tube, pump, mini tool and CO2 cartridge you’ll find in the storage compartment, and costs € 6,999. This makes it the lightest and most affordable gravel race bike in the shootout!

Piqued your interest? Of course, we also took an in-depth look at the Canyon Grail CFR Di2 in an individual review here!

The Canyon Grail CFR Di2 on the race track

The second generation of the Canyon Grail has a clearer purpose than the original model: reaching top speed. And for maximum efficiency at speeds above 30 km/h, aerodynamic optimisation is a must. The biggest factor to consider here is the riding position. On the Canyon Grail, it’s compact, centred, and aggressive, though not nearly as stretched out as on traditional road bikes. This improves control and comfort, which is becoming increasingly important, especially on long distances, so you can stay fresher for longer. The tires are fully tuned for efficiency too, as Canyon equip the bike with 40 mm Schwalbe G-One RS models. They trumped the competition in our big gravel tire group test in terms of efficiency, and also fared well regarding puncture protection.

Good choice! That is, as long as things don’t get too wet or loose, in which case the fast tires tend to lack traction and demand an experienced rider to avoid sliding out through the corners.

The handling of the Canyon Grail CFR Di2 is balanced, erring more on the composed side of the spectrum. The MERIDA SILEX 10K and especially the Ridley Kanzo Fast are considerably more playful. It puts the Canyon at an advantage on fast straights, but at a disadvantage on winding routes with fast direction changes. The CFR frame, cockpit, D-shaped seat post, and 24 mm internal rim width of the DT Swiss wheels ensure sufficient compliance, effectively absorbing small bumps and vibrations. This spares your joints and muscles, something which becomes more and more important the longer the race. The 42 mm tire clearance limits the Canyon somewhat when it comes to rough terrain – if you max it out, there’s little clearance left for mud. If there’s one thing we learned from UNBOUND this year, it’s that this can be a real problem for gravel racers.


The SILEX 10K isn’t actually the race bike in MERIDA’s gravel line-up. That’s what the MERIDA SCULTURA GR is for, which is basically just MERIDA’s all-road bike with gravel tires and a few other component changes – confusing.

However, Matej Mohorič wasn’t deterred by this, winning the 2023 Trek UCI Gravel World Championships aboard the MERIDA SILEX. Of course, his SILEX wasn’t equipped with the standard spec, but professional race bikes rarely are. However, to make the MERIDA SILEX 10K a real gravel racer, even privateers should swap out a few of the standard components. What definitely doesn’t need to be changed, however, is the racy look, which exudes some serious race bike vibes thanks to the eye-catching finish and shiny components. The MERIDA SILEX 10K already performed convincingly in our big adventure gravel group test, but how does it stack up against the Canyon Grail CFR Di2 and Ridley Kanzo Fast?

Das MERIDA SILEX 10K 2024 in detail

The spec of the MERIDA SILEX 10K shows its adventure gravel bike intentions. The MAXXIS Rambler proved to be the most grippy model in our gravel tire group test, and certainly not made for gravel racing. The dropper post and mullet drivetrain also make sense off-road, improving control and climbing performance on steep trails, but they also make the bike heavier. Specced with these components, it weighs in at 9.08 kg in size M, and costs € 9,599. That makes it the heaviest and most expensive bike in the shootout! Is it also the most versatile?

For all the details on the 2024 MERIDA SILEX 10K, check out our detailed review here

Das MERIDA SILEX 10K on the race track

Despite its adventure orientation, the MERIDA SILEX 10K is amazingly quick out the gate, and you immediately know: this bike is no bikepacking mule! The 1,350 gram Reynolds BLG700 wheelset compensates for the increased weight and rolling resistance of the 45 mm wide MAXXIS Rambler tires. As such, quick sprints and climbs are a lot of fun, but the tires hold you back from maintaining a high pace on hardpack and asphalt. Racers should definitely swap them out for faster-rolling models.

The riding position is the most comfortable and thus also the most aerodynamically inefficient on test, yet it’s still relatively aggressive for an adventure gravel bike, and not far off from the Canyon Grail. What’s more, the stubby 80 mm stem is easy to swap out, leaving room for further riding position adjustments. However, a longer stem would also change the handling. Speaking of which, the original setup impresses with its high level of composure while remaining manoeuvrable, offering handling that’s more playful than the Canyon Grail CFR Di2. Only the Ridley Kanzo Fast can outperform it in terms of manoeuvrability and precision. The MERIDA SILEX 10K can fully exploit its combination of agility, control, and composure when going off-road on technical gravel tracks and tight trails, in which terrain it’s definitely ahead of the pack. While the dropper post does give you more control on the descents, it would have to be swapped for a lighter carbon model with a little more compliance for racing. In a race setting, the weight savings and increase in comfort are worth more than freedom of movement on the descents. Unless your name is Matej Mohorič, who won the Milan-San Remo race in 2022 with a dropper post on a road bike.

Even without the flex of a carbon seat post, the frame, wide tires, and cockpit offer sufficient compliance for gravel racing even on demanding tracks. The 45 mm tire clearance also allows the MERIDA SILEX 10K to tackle rough terrain, and should mean you won’t have to stop to unclog your wheels when things get muddy. Out-of-the-box, you get a sporty and capable all-rounder that can definitely be converted into a full-fledged race bike with a little tuning.

Ridley Kanzo Fast 2024

The Ridley Kanzo Fast is a thoroughbred race bike with no all-round ambitions. It specialises in exactly one task: winning gravel races! In our big 2023 gravel race bike group test, the Ridley Kanzo Fast convinced us with its uncompromising race focus, taking the group test victory. Florian Vermeersch was also riding a Ridley Kanzo Fast as the runner-up in the 2023 Trek UCI Gravel World Championships. What sets the Ridley Kanzo Fast apart, and how does it differ from the other two gravel race bikes?

The Ridley Kanzo Fast in detail

Racing through and through. The protrusions at the end of the fork legs called F-Wings are designed to improve aerodynamics. Just like the one-piece aero cockpit, D-shaped seatpost, and dropped seat stays with Ridley’s signature curved top tube. Like the Schwalbe G-One RS tires on the Canyon Grail CFR, the 38 mm wide Vittoria Terreno Dry tires rely on a smooth tread to minimise rolling resistance. However, the Vittoria Terreno Dry wasn’t entirely convincing in our gravel tire group test, lagging behind the equivalent model from Schwalbe both in the lab and in our real world tests. The 42 mm tire clearance is similar to that of the Canyon Grail CFR, and thus limits the versatility of the Ridley Kanzo Fast, barring it from the roughest gravel routes.

One of the most striking features on the Ridley Kanzo Fast is the big 50 t chainring of the 1×12 SRAM Rival drivetrain. What you don’t see is the wireless geared hub from Classified hidden in the rear wheel, which has two internal gears, and essentially turns it into a 2x drivetrain, thus ensuring a huge range.

You won’t find any mounting points, hidden tools, or integrated storage compartments on the Ridley Kanzo Fast. All you get is bosses for two bottle cages – that’s it. You’ll have to stow everything else in your jersey pockets. The Kanzo Fast can be specced with a Classified hub and Classified G30 carbon wheels in the configurator, bringing the price to € 7,398. This results in a stripped down 8.66 kg race build (size M), putting it in the middle of the other two bikes both in terms of price and weight.

Want to find out more about the Ridley Kanzo Fast? Read the individual review here to see how it secured the top spot in our group test.

Das Ridley Kanzo Fast on the racetrack

Riding the Kanzo Fast is sure to put a smile on your face thanks to the quick acceleration. In comparison, it’s the fastest to get up to speed and effortlessly maintains the pace once you’re there. The very stiff bottom bracket area makes it feel like every watt of input is directly converted into propulsion. The riding position is the most aggressive, though by no means uncomfortable. This ensures a high level of efficiency, but can lead to fatigue on rougher surfaces over time. The compliance is commendable for such a stiff frame, and sufficient for fast gravel races. However, you might be better off on one of the other bikes for the long haul, depending on your physique.

The handling of the Ridley Kanzo Fast is extremely precise and direct, making it playful and fun to ride. It doesn’t get nervous under any circumstances, though the Ridley is less forgiving of rider errors compared to the other two bikes. It’s perfect for tight corners, followed by sprints, and evasive manoeuvres in the peloton; not so optimal for staying on track when you’ve ridden 350 km and you’re exhausted.

Which is the best gravel race bike for you?

What do you dream about at night? A rainbow jersey, an oversized “UNBOUND Gravel Champion” belt, or a do-it-all bike in your garage? The characteristics and features that you should look for on a gravel race bike depend on your priorities. You want super direct handling, or a more composed ride so as not to make a mistake on the long haul? An absolutely stiff frame, or compliance for added comfort? Feature-packed or a stripped down racer? Your choice! To make it easier for you, here are three types of races and the best bike for the job:

Short distances with lots of corners and a sprint finish

30–130 km over a mix of gravel and asphalt, tight corners, elbow action, and a sprint finish? For uncompromising speed, the Ridley Kanzo Fast offers the best combination of acceleration, handling, precision, aero-optimisation, and an efficient riding position. It’s specialised for racing, with a rather limited use case. But the Ridley Kanzo Fast really comes into its own on tight corners, fast sprints, and punchy climbs, where it intuitively feels good, is fun and confidence-inspiring to ride, and motivates you to give it your all. On the other hand, it’s too playful for long distances of hundreds of kilometres through demanding terrain, offering too few mounting points, and no practical features to make your life easier.

The Ridley Kanzo Fast is not the kind of bike that you can ride to and from the races.

A gravel adventure with race potential

Whether it’s a short gravel adventure or a multi-day bikepacking tour, the MERIDA SILEX 10K has the all-rounder capabilities of direct handling, stability, compliance, and a balanced riding position for a good time across different scenarios.

Cool, but can it also go racing? The MERIDA SILEX 10K build with a dropper post, mullet drivetrain, short stem, and MAXXIS Rambler tires is made for gravel adventures, best suited to long days in the saddle with steep climbs on loose terrain, and descents with switchbacks and sharp turns. However, its playful, agile handling, and lively acceleration also form the basis for an excellent race bike. Apart from the look, it doesn’t feel like much of a race bike out-of-the-box – the riding position is too upright. If you want to turn the SILEX 10K into a gravel racer, you should definitely replace the cockpit, seat post, and tires with lighter, more race-oriented alternatives. That said, what you change and to what extent depends on the route, and also your own preferences.

To turn the adventure-buddy into a gravel racer, the MERIDA SILEX 10K needs some tuning.

Efficiency and a fast pace on long distances

A race bike to rack up the miles! The Canyon Grail convinced us the most on the long hauls. The riding position is efficient enough for high speeds, but not so stretched out that it makes you fatigued after many hours on rough surfaces. The balanced handling and high degree of stability are perfectly in line with this, allowing you to keep Grail on track even after many hours in the saddle. On the other hand, this means that the Canyon needs more input from the rider for quick direction changes on winding routes.

The Canyon Grail CFR delivers in terms of compliance, effectively absorbing vibrations and bumps without a noticeable loss in pedalling efficiency. That makes all the difference when trying to keep up the race pace after a long day in the saddle. The integrated features are also well adapted to the requirements of long-distance gravel races. The magnetically attached frame bag sits flush with the frame, saving time in the feed zone, and 1.5 watts at 45 km/h. The removable aero bars, and the integrated storage compartment with all the essentials complete the package.

The Canyon Grail CFR is a coherent overall concept that looks like it was designed especially for the UNBOUND victory.

Some bikes and accessories are true designer pieces and too beautiful to be left in the cellar. That’s why you should take a look at the article on bikes in the home in our sister magazine DOWNTOWN. We show you how you can beautifully display your favorite bike/accessory in your home.


Even at the competitive level, race bikes are still very different! The characteristics that matter depend on the type of race, the track, and your own preferences. Those who make a well-informed decision when buying a gravel race bike will have an advantage at the start line. The lively, agile, and stiff Ridley Kanzo Fast stands out as an uncompromising gravel racer when compared to the other two bikes. The Canyon Grail CFR would be our bike of choice for long gravel races due to its comfort, composure, efficiency, and practical features. For everyday racers, we recommend the versatile MERIDA SILEX 10K as it caters to a wide range of use cases, and it can even deliver on race day with a few changes to the stock build.

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Words: Jan Richter Photos: Antonia Feder