As 2019 has drawn to a close and 2020 beckons, we - and sister site road.cc - have rounded up all the gravel and adventure bikes we've tested this year. Together, we've picked the best overall bike with separate prizes for the best bargain bike, a benchmark bike and the desirable editor's choice award. Keep reading for our picks and the reasons we think these bikes are so deserving...
We got our heads together with our gravel riding buddies at road.cc and after a few Christmas sherries and mince pies, we came up with a list of the ten best gravel and adventure bikes we tested in 2019. The awards begin below, listing from ten to one and also including spot awards for our Benchmark Bike, Bargain Buy and the Editor's Choice, finally culminating in the Gravel and Adventures Bike of the Year in the top spot at number one.
10. Triban RC 520 Gravel
The Triban RC 520 Gravel bike starts us off at number ten, a bike that is an excellent entry to the gravel and adventure market. At a penny less than £850 the Triban is a great place to start a foray into buying gravel bikes. The bike is specced with a carbon fork, TRP cable disc brakes, Shimano 105 mechs and 650B wheels and 42mm wide tyres. A lot of the finishing kit is own brand stuff, but then you get 150 quids change from 1k if you buy this bike.
It offers most of what you'd want from an entry-level gravel/adventure bike, all for a very good price, plus its weight is similar to bikes we are seeing at £500-£600 more.
If you want one bike to do a little bit of everything with relaxed geometry too, making it ideal for long distance rides or for those new to the sport, then it is definitely worth considering.
9. Vitus Energie CRX
In at number nine is the Vitus Energie CRX cyclo-cross bike is an absolute blast to ride thanks to sharp, fun handling along the trails or around tight, technical muddy circuits. It's great for a day out on the gravel, and you can chuck mudguards on it too if you fancy a high-speed, year-round commuter. Although our tester said the geometry was a little aggressive for off-road riding, a nod to its cyclocross roots no doubt. He also said it was a hoot to ride in lots of circumstances and great value too. For £1,899.99 you get a carbon frame a full SRAM Force 1x groupset, WTB STPi23 rims with Novatec disc-specific hubs offering quick engagement and WTB CrossBoss tyres, beating other similarly specced bikes on price.
Stu, our tester said, "the Vitus Energie CRX is one hell of a package for the money, and it is a great bike to ride too, whether you're racing or just playing around off the beaten track."
8. Bergamont Grandurance 6
Number eight in our top ten serves us up a great gravel bike from Bergamont, the Grandurance 6 is a well-equipped aluminium gravel bike or ‘all-road’ bike with a striking paint job. The value is awesome too, this bike cost £1,350 and for that sum gives you a 1x drivetrain with hydraulic brakes in the form of SRAM APEX stoppers. The geometry might not be the most progressive on the market and tyre clearance isn't a roomy as other gravel bikes but this classic endurance road bike with knobbly tyres is a great introduction to gravel. Our reviewer, Rachael sais, "it’ll make any owner a great weekend gravel adventure bike that will commute with ease on the weekdays too".
It's a truly versatile bike, we'd like to be able to fit up to 40c tyres in there but as an all-rounder, it’s hard to fault, especially given the fact that it costs less than £1,400 and looks this good!
7. Nukeproof Digger Pro
As you might expect from a mountain bike company such as Nukeproof, when they make a gravel bike it has very prominent mountain bike roots! The Nukeproof Digger Pro is a great bike if you love mountain biking and are looking for your first drop-bar bike for training on a variety of surfaces. Our reviewer Dave said there was lots to like about the well specced bike, including the premium alloy frame with internal cable routing and a threaded bottom bracket and the stable handling at speed.
He says "the chunky WTB Sendero tyres, dropper post, wide handlebar and short stem ensure it really shines on the dirt with great handling poise that’ll have you ripping, popping and sending in no time."
Take the Digger out and link up bridleways, country roads and byways, for getting out, exploring and riding everything that comes your way, the Digger Pro shines.
6. Cotic Escapade Gold 1x
In at number six is our first steel bike of our top ten, the Cotic Escapade in the Gold 1x spec. Taking inspiration from Cotic's mountain bike 'Longshot' geometry design, the Escapade pairs a comfortable steel frame, with a carbon fork a 1x SRAM groupset and 650B wheels producing an infectious ride so our tester says! The long and low geometry of the Cotic can really be exploited as the compliance of the frame soaks up bumps in the road or trail. This medium model has an effective top tube length of 560mm with a short 150mm head tube. Stu said it is quite an aggressive riding position, but it means the ride is loads of fun too.
The bike has larger tyre clearances than the older editions, that carbon fork is new and there is now a tapered head tube, all of which have now upped the performance and dropped the weight, making the new model an absolute joy to ride whether on or off-road.
5. Canyon Grail AL 7.0
In at number five is the ever popular Canyon Grail AL 7.0, a bike that actually topped off-road.cc 'most read review' list. The Grail proved to be a huge amount of fun on twisty trails and is able to provide good speed on a wide variety of surfaces, from road to gravel tracks.
Our tester said it provided fun and agile handling for not a huge amount of cash either, as we've come to expect from the direct buy brand. He did say the bike has some disappointing welds and he'd prefer a sub-compact chainset but for just £1,349 it's easy to forgive these misdemeanours and focus on the long wheelbase, slack headangle, the Shimano 105 groupset ad DT Swiss wheels.
For leisure riding, commuting, bikepacking or touring, there’s a lot going for the Canyon Grail. The changes over an endurance road bike or cyclocross ensure it’s more versatile and can easily be tailored towards different needs with just a few small changes or additions. If you’re tempted by a gravel or adventure bike then this is an easy bike to recommend.
4. Open WI.DE - Benchmark Bike
Number four in our list is the Open WI.DE, a bike that is also named as our 2019 Benchmark Bike. A benchmark bike is the one that offered the highest level of performance outright - it's a bike that sets the technical and performance standards against which all the rest are judged and price didn’t even come into it. Think of it as the money-no-object dream bike.
The Open WI.DE (Winding Detours) is a bike we tested as a frameset back in August. It's got room for wider tyres, up to 2.3" on 650B wheels and now has a 1x dedicated drive train to increase tyre clearance in comparison to the Open UP this bike is based on. Dave said in his review, "if the UP was an SUV capable of dealing with road and gravel, the new WI.DE is a jeep aimed at much more rugged off-road terrain where commonly a mountain bike might be the more obvious choice." He loved the wider tyres along with the stiff frame, plenty of room to mount gear and the versatility of the bike if you considered a wheel and tyre swap for road-going activities.
Dave says the Open WI.DE shares the same key numbers but has a slightly taller head tube which serves to push your weight backwards a benefit on steep descents. He says it makes the bike more comfortable on long hauls because it's a little less aggressive on your hip rotation and back angle. The geometry ensures the WI.DE is nimble at low speed when swerving around trees on singletrack, whilst being stable at higher speeds on loose gravel tracks, a defining feature of this review is that this is a fast bike.
We love the WI.DE as it succeeds is in offering the performance and feel of a fast endurance road bike with the benefits of mountain bike style wide tyres for really getting stuck into some off the beaten path adventures and gravel thrashing. It's simple, it's straightforward, it's gorgeous and we think it does gravel superbly, the essence of a drop bar road bike shining through with a great turn of speed, a huge fun factor and much more capability brought by those huge tyres. Yes, it is rather pricey at €3,200 but this is the Benchmark Bike category and we aren't too bothered about astronomical prices here, it's a bike that is very good at its job and we'd lust over one any day of the week.
3. GT Grade Carbon Expert - Editors Choice
The GT Grade Carbon Expert at number three also gets our Editors Choice award. A bit like our 'Best Buy' award from last year, the 'Editor's Choice' is a bike that, in our opinion, gives the best combination of performance and value for money. It's a bike that is not just a good bike for the money; it's a bike that's more than capable of shaming machines double or triple the price.
This specification of bike is second in line to the most expensive carbon bike in the range but still manages to come in at £2,000 with a full Shimano 105 groupset. That's the first reason for giving this bike the Editors Choice award and there are plenty more reasons too!
The next reason comes thanks to the ride quality, Dave says this bike "is brilliant at being fast and comfortable on rough roads, and right at home on forest trails and gravel roads. The new frame, with its 'floating stays' design, is impressively smooth at the saddle. Rough tracks, jagged roots and rippled fields are soaked up exceptionally well thanks to the seat post flexing backwards. It's freer to do this on the new frame since the seat tube can bow forward, unhindered by the seat stays".
There are other good things too, adjustable for dropouts enabling you to alter the 'trail' when you strap loads to the fork. There is an increased reach too, plus a shorter stem to aid balance and calmer handling and space for up to 47mm tyres on 650B wheels.
Dave reckons with that with this decent spec and a £2,000 price tag this new 2020 GT Grade is one of the star bikes in the current gravel bike market and one that we'd all be very happy to be taking bikepacking this summer.
2. Ribble CGR AL Shimano 105 - Bargain Buy
The runner up at number two in the charts is the Ribble CGR AL Shimano 105, a bike that is also awarded the Bargain Buy award this year. Our Bargain Buy is awarded to the bike that we feel gives the biggest bang for the least buck; basically picking a superb riding bike but with an emphasis on value for money.
The win here goes to Ribble and their banging value CGR AL Shimano 105, don't be put off by the "commuter like" look of this bike, it's a versatile steed with all the bells and whistles you could want to go fast off and on the road, making this not just a bargain but a versatile ride too.
What makes it such a good buy? Well, to start with its priced at £1,399 for an alloy frame, a carbon fork and 12mm thru-axles front and rear. Add to that a full Shimano 105 groupset, that's hydraulic brakes in there, Mavic wheels and some nice added extras such as mudguards. You can shove up to 45mm tyres in here on 700c wheels, plenty of scope for chunkier off-road forays or swap those wheels out for slightly chunkier 650B wheels and 47mm tyres.
Our Jon says that the aluminium frame isn't overly compliant and the kit needs a few tweaks (different tyres) if you intend to mostly stick to dirt, but that's easy enough to custom spec it to your heart's content when you order online at Ribble. He also says it rides a bit like a jack of all trades, but we reckon that's a good thing for this bike, it's likely buyers will likely be using it as such, both for road riding, commuting and a bit of gravel at the weekends.
We haven't found another bike to match it on price and spec throughout this year of testing, some bikes come close, the Bergmont Grandurance 6 being one of them and the Merlin Malt-G1X Apex being another but these are both 1x dedicated bikes and don't have as much versatility as is on offer from the Ribble.
1. Mason ISO - 2019 Gravel and Adventure Bike of the Year
The 'Gravel and Adventure Bike of the Year' is quite simply the best gravel bike we have tested in 2019. It's a bike we can safely say is the best due to its great performance and good value for money. It's a bike that we reckon, should you drop the dollar on buying one, will last you a lifetime and make you a very proud owner.
Our Gravel and Adventure Bike of the Year is the Mason ISO, a bike we saw at its launch at the Cycle Show in 2018. Our tester, Jim, says that this bike "redesigns what a drop bar bike is supposed to do or assumed to be capable of". He says that the brand has struck the perfect balance between all-day comfort and off-road agility. He says it has an epic carrying ability and whilst it is a utility machine it's still a hoot to ride, putting a smile on his face every time he rode it. In addition to this high praise, Jim says the bike encourages you to go and ride and that in itself is something very special indeed.
It's a bike with geometry that gives a decent nod to mountain bikes, it's clearly not got its roots in road biking, with that in mind it's worth mentioning the 29er wheels with 2.4" tyres, a set up giving lots of grip and a surefooted ride. The Italian made frame is a mix of custom-formed progressive-butted Dedacciai ‘Zero’ and Reynolds 853 steel tubes, which gives it a unique look and shape. There are also plenty of forward-thinking touches, with bolt through dropouts, disc brakes and all manner of thoughtful, functional detailing on the frame and fork.
No, it's not the cheapest bike you are ever going to buy but the price is representative of the level of craftsmanship, design and build that you are getting. It’s an uncompromising machine and one we think is utterly worth it. A bike that makes you want to get out and ride sounds like it has priceless qualities and more than worthy to be our Gravel and Adventure Bike of the Year in 2019.
Thanks for reading about our gravel bike awards, if mountain bikes are more your thing you can find our Mountain Bike of the Year awards here.
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